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Stauchy Blog » Blog Archive » What It’s All About - Nov 14-17, 2007 (JRS)

What It’s All About - Nov 14-17, 2007 (JRS)


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A couple of days ago, while we were walking through a stunning valley looking at unimaginably steep slopes to tremendous peaks that can’t be seen over the sheer walls of the valley, passing waterfall after glorious waterfall, skirting in and out of the forest, I thought, “This is what it’s all about”.  This is the Milford Track.  The other thing I thought was, “what can I possibly write about this place to give it its due justice.”  The answer is: nothing.  Nothing I can say can describe this place.  My advice: get on the New Zealand department of conservation (DOC) webpage and reserve your spot on the Milford Track as soon as you can.  This is a place that must been seen for yourself.  That said, here’s some words and a few pictures (more can be found in the gallery: http://www.stauchy.net/gallery).

071116_milfordday3_031-38.jpg (The georgous panorama from near the top of the track)

It’s a 4-day hut-to-hut trip, dubbed by Kiwis as “The finest walk in the world.”  While I will stop short of agreeing (how could I, I haven’t yet taken all the walks in the world, after all), I will say that it must give any other walk a run for its money.  It is a bit more than a walk at times, particularly day 3, which is the day that the pass is crossed.  Day 1 is an easy 1.5 hours to the first hut, which we followed with a relaxed afternoon putting a puzzle together, taking in the dramatic scenery, and feeding the sand flies with our feet (which would prove to keep us awake at night with an agonizing itch – the only downside to the trip).

071114_milfordday1_28.jpg (the hut for the first night)

Day 2 is a longer day (about 6 hours), but not particularly difficult.  I didn’t count the waterfalls as we passed them, but there were at least several dozen, all starting high up on the sheer walls of the valley, pummeling down onto the rocks near the bottom.  The falls were not very voluminous, but most were quite tall (at least 100 meters, probably up to 300 meters) and I don’t recall any point on day 2 when at least half a dozen waterfalls were visible from where I stood.  The walls were so steep, that the tops of the ridges could rarely be seen from where we were in the valley below.  Several areas were marked as no-stopping zones because of avalanche hazards due to snow above that could not be seen.  We end at a hut that is almost entirely surrounded by sheer walls, the tops of which we could actually see.  Although we could not see very far, the view was jaw-dropping, and the clouds that had joined us for most of the day (although very little rain had fallen) receded into the evening, showing off more and more of the peaks around us.  By dark, we could see all of the peaks around us, leading most of the folks with us to the helicopter pad to soak in the views.

071115_milfordday2_064.jpg (The theme for day 2 is waterfalls!)

071115_milfordday2_118.jpg (our group out on the deck of the second hut)

Day 3 is the toughest and longest day.  The ascent to the pass starts immediately and rarely gives relief until close to the highest elevation of the track.  When we reached the ridge, the other side of the pass flooded into view and we were spoiled with a 360 panorama that rivals anything I’ve seen before (and the list of views that I seen before is fairly decent, and getting longer by the day).  We stopped for a snack on top of the aptly named cliff, “12-second drop”.  From there, we could see our entire ascent and descent, including the guided-hut far in the valley below (there were two sets of huts, one for the guided groups and one for the independent trampers.  We stayed in the independent huts, opting not to spend 10x as much on the guided trip, which includes luxuries such as hot meals that are prepared on the trail in addition to at the huts, hot showers, and much lighter pack since everything is taken care of for you).  From there, there is a gentle ascent to the highest elevation, which also offers a spectacular view that is not much different than the view at 12-second drop.

071116_milfordday3_068.jpg (Here we are near the summit of the track)

The descent is just as unrelenting as the ascent, only longer (if memory serves, the ascent is about 600 vertical meters, while the descent is more like 900).  When we reached the guided-tour hut, we took the optional side-trip to Sutherland Falls (at 580 meters, the tallest falls in New Zealand, and fifth tallest continuous falls in the world, according to the literature at one of the huts).  It was nice to drop our packs for a while, and the falls were well worth seeing.  A couple of folks in our group (Neal and Leah) decided to go behind the falls and got soaked.  We then went back, grabbed our packs and headed down a much more gentle slope for about an hour back to the hut.  All in all, it was about an 8-hour day, including the side-trip to Sutherland Falls.  Most of us went down to the river by the hut to soak our aching feet, and I decided to jump in, which was a real weenie shrinker, but refreshing none-the less.

071116_milfordday3_187.jpg (Lynette and Janelle at Sutherland Falls)

Day 4 was about 5 hours of hiking, all a very gradual downhill slope following the river into Milford Sound (which oddly enough, isn’t a sound at all, it’s a fjord, but at least they fixed the problem by naming the region fiordland, although they spelled it wrong).  The last half of the day, although filled with great views, turned into a push to get to the finish as everyone’s legs and feet were fairly sore by that time.  We finished the trip with a short, but directly into the wind, kayak stint across the “sound” into the small town of Milford where we stayed for the night.

071117_milfordday4_066.jpg (our group at the end of the track, phew!)

The following day, we got up and kayaked around the “sound” for several hours with Roscoes (same company as our last trip, see day 8 of our previous trip web page: http://www.stauchy.net/2004_NZ).   We got to go further out this time, and we kayaked almost directly under a waterfall that’s about half way out the sound.

071118_milfordsound01.jpg (a beautiful day for kayaking)

The most astonishing thing about our whole experience was the weather.  They say it rains 2 out of every 3 days in the Milford area (the ranger at the last hut said you can get the forecast in the morning by stepping outside: “If you can see Dumpling Peak, it’s going to rain, if you can’t see it, it’s raining”), but we were only rained on for about an hour on day 2.  Otherwise, the weather was great with some cloud cover in the mornings, but clearing up in the afternoons.  On our day in Milford, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  So, if you take my advice and sign up for the Milford Track, don’t necessarily expect the same great weather as we had, but do expect a fantastic experience either way.

-JRS

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