After three weeks of work at the Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park, as Housekeeper (more details in an upcoming article), I got four consecutive days off again! Not a second of hesitation, I decided to take the opportunity to do another Great Walks (the most beautiful multi-days hikes in NZ). It remains to choose which one. After my hike on the Kepler Track, I thought that my next hike would be the Routeburn Track. But in the end, I decide to do the Milford Track the so-called, best hike of all the Great Walks.
According to brochure, the hike need three/four days with a majority of time in the bottom of the valley in the forest. Not the kind of hike I prefer. I hesitate a bit. But this is my only opportunity to do the Milford Track. Indeed, it is almost the opening of the “summer” season, which begins October 25 and lasts until the end of April. During this period, performing the Grandes Walks is more like a guided tour than a real hike. During the season, you must pay ($ 54) and reserve your place in advance in the huts to sleep at night. If all the places have already been taken, well it is not possible to go hiking! Also, it is compulsory to pay $ 54 for a bed, even for people who already own a Backcountry Hut Pass (like me). Which means that I paid the pass ($ 100) to be able to sleep in any huts, but that during the summer season, if I want to do the Great Walks, I have to pay extra!!! (But I can use my pass all the year without problem for all the huts located on “normal” hikes).
And about the Milford Track, so-called classified as the most beautiful hike in the world, all tourists rush to do it, like butterflies on a lamppost. So during the season it is almost impossible to find a free bed. Yes, all huts are fully booked months in advance! Madness. So, being in on days-off, Saturday 22, Sunday 23 and Monday 24, it is perfect! The opening season being Tuesday 25, I can hike quietly without booking and pay again for the huts.
I hope I didn’t lose you on the way, because the complications are not over! To reach the beginning of the hiking trail, we must take the bus to Te Anau Downs (one hour from Te Anau), then a boat for 45 minutes to reach the northern end of Lake Te Anau! And the same at the end of the hike !! You have to take the boat for about thirty minutes to reach the entrance of the fjord then a bus (2h30 duration) to return to Te Anau! And of course it is impossible to do that on its own. We must take the “Transport Package” offered by three companies: Tracknet, Trips & Tramps and Fiordland Water Taxi. And the price is, be prepared, $ 190 !!
When I saw the price, I was ready to give up. Way too expensive for a hike. Then I remembered that I work at the Lakeview Holiday Park which owns the Tracknet transport company! Which means, discount on prices !! So, a few days before my days-off I went to inquire at the reception. Problem, it has been almost two weeks that the weather was bad and apart from Friday, the weather expected to be bad on the weekend. So, Napia, the manager of Tracknet, told me that there was a shuttle that was leaving Friday morning but for now, only two other people had expressed their willingness to leave on Saturday morning. Which is not a large enough number to set up a shuttle. So Napia told me to check back on Thursday or Friday, if the number of people interested had increased, and if that was the case, well no worries, the shuttle would leave at 8:30 am and I would pay only $ 70 for all transports! Alléluia !! So I prayed very hard for a good weather on the weekend (which means more people interested on Saturday), and I returned to check on Friday. And thank you Gods of the weather, a dozen people wanted to leave the next day. So I reserved my place.
The organization concerning the hike being finally settled, Jiri and I went shopping. Indeed, I will go hiking with Jiri, a young Czech arrived at the Holiday Park to work also as a Housekeeper, a few days ago and with whom I sympathized. As he has just arrived in New Zealand, he doesn’t have an IRD (Inland Revenue Department number) yet, a tax ID number that every person needs to get to work here. So he can’t start working. He too was interested in hiking so we decided to do it together.
Day 1. October 2016 | 21.5 kilometers
Saturday morning, early wake up under a beautiful sun. The bus leaves at 8am. About fifteen people, also loaded with more or less large backpack await the bus. The bus driver gathers us and delivers us a very frightening speech about the dangerousness of the hike. According to him, the Milford Track is one of the most isolated hike in the world, dangerous (do not stray from the road, do not cross flooded rivers, it will be very difficult to come to your rescue if you get hurt, a person died on the trail a few years ago carried away by a flooded river, certain areas are dangerous, especially during the passage of the pass where in case of strong wind combined with rain, it is possible to dehydrate very quickly and even die, etc) and it is absolutely necessary to have a beacon locator so that the rescue team can locate us in case of a problem.
Enumeration of the number of persons having a beacon: only one person out of the fifteen present. Oops. The driver therefore invites the irresponsible persons that we are to stay as close as possible to the guy with the beacon. “Be prepared to earn your life to this guy”. Word for word what the driver said. On these alarming words (and completely useless as you will read later (unless you are someone who has never done a hike and with zero sense of reality), we finally leave the Holiday Park to stop 5 minutes later at the DOC center located just next to the Park. DOC employees (managing National Parks and Great Walks) are supposed to repeat the same speech to us. We spend 15 minutes in the center without any speech being delivered to us. It seems more like a sponsored stop to buy the products sold by the DOC (souvenirs, hiking maps, hiking products). Then we finally leave for good.
An hour later we arrived at Te Anau Downs where the bus disembarks us. We embark in a small boat driven by Clint! The owner of the Holiday Park I met a month ago when Allan, Julie’s dad (the lady from the farm where I spent two months working before) took me with him to visit the beginning of the Doubtful Sound. I’m glad to see him again. Forty five minutes of crossing on Lake Te Anau marveling at the landscape and sympathizing with two other French guys. Despite the cold wind that shears us a bit (we are sitting on the back outside deck), Jiri has a giant smile on his face. Me too.
We finally reach the northern end of the lake. Small discussion with Clint then Jiri and I finally start the beginning of the hike. The weather is nice but we are a little cold after the crossing. We walk quickly to warm up and try to put some space between us and the rest of the group in order to have tranquility. We quickly reach the Clinton River with fantastic green waters and where is located the first hut of the trail.
After cleaning the soles of our shoes in order to avoid the propagation of Didymo,, an invasive alga that begin to pollute the rivers of the Fiordland, we continue through the Clinton valley alternating passages in yellow grasses meadows and in new zealand beech forest. The trail rises a little bit. The few passages in open air allow us to appreciate the roughness of the mountains surrounding us. Other than that, it’s mostly in the forest. Jiri and I discuss cultural differences. Since he does not speak English very well, the discussion is sometimes complicated but it allows him to practice the language, the only effective way to actually learn to speak a foreign language.
We regularly meet signs reminding us that we are in a possible avalanche zone and that it is dangerous to stop. “Beware, Avalanche risks, no stopping for the next 1km”. Lunch break shortened due to a Sandflies synchronized attack (mid-fly monster, mid-mosquito, blood sucker). A small snack break under an emergency shelter where we meet a Weka, a large New Zealand flightless bird. He turns around us in search of breadcrumbs to peck and it does not seem at all worried by our presence. In the late afternoon after passing several dry rivers to dry we meet a young guy without bag heading in the opposite direction to our. Stephane, a Belgian, made the trip in the opposite way from Sandfly Point to Mintaro hut where we are going to sleep tonight. The last few kilometers to the hut are quiet though a bit long. The weather is beautiful and we sometimes have beautiful views of Mackinnon Pass and the impressive wall that forms the pass.
Absolutely nothing complicated for this first day of hike. But we arrive at the hut, greeted by the cries and laughs of a group of ten Americans who apparently do not know the words “respect” and “silence”. After a day of walking, having a whole group of Americans partying in the hut is not my cup of tea. Jiri and I set up our stuffs in the common dormitory and go back downstairs to prepare our meal. Loud dinner with the other French people present on the hike. Several Wekas wander through the exteriors of the hut. We go to bed early, our minds tired by so much noise.
Day 2. October 2016 | 14 kilometers
And same the next morning. Hardly awake, the Americans awaken the entire hut with their laughter and uninteresting discussions. We breakfast quickly and start the path again. Passage to Lake Mintaro which (contrary to the photos) has nothing exceptional and does not show us its pretty blue-green colors. Two hours of climb to reach the pass under a little covered weather. We are chased by the Americans shouting all the way up the rise. Help! At least we can finally have a nice view of the valley that we surveyed yesterday and realize its narrowness.
Towards the end of the ascent, we see the morning mist coming from the fjord crossing the pass and scatter in the valley below us. The summits are still covered with snow.
The pass is about 1000m above sea level. A small plateau covered with yellow gras, small lakes and a memorial to explorer Quintin McKinnon awaits us. The valley on the other side is revealed at times through the mist swept by the wind. The group of Americans arrives and the tranquility disappears. They have fun taking pictures balanced above the void or plunging into the largest of the small lakes. Jiri and I run away from the hustle and bustle. Arriving at the emergency shelter at 1154m, the highest point of the pass, a few minutes later, we make a small snack break. The weather is getting more and more covered.
We leave again under a fine rain. The trail descends strongly through the forest. A Weka awaits us on the edge of the trail. Seems that the Milford Track is filled with these big birds. Lucky us ! We play hide-and-seek for a moment and then he sink into the grass. We cross several waterfalls walking under a stronger rain.
In the early afternoon we arrive at Quintin shelter, located just beside the Quintin lodge, a large complex with accommodation and restaurant for hikers making the Milford Track with a guide. For now, the lodge is still closed, the “official” season only opening in two days. The size of the installation seems a bit ridiculous. No real feelings of adventure or true hiking, for me, with such a thing.
After having lunch, Jiri and I make a little detour to see Sutherland Falls, a good hour round trip, impressive waterfall of 580 meters pouring from Lake Quill above. Along the way we admire a strange hole in the mountain in front of us. The waterfall is impressive. Difficult to stay at its feet, the water pouring out with a deafening noise, splashing the surroundings.
We arrive at Dumpling hut towards 5pm and take the last beds available! 6 people arrive after us and will be forced to sleep on the ground! In the common area, it is again americain party time but fortunately the room has two zones separated by a small wall. Dinner again in the company of the others French in a relatively quiet corner. Back to our dorm with the idea of going to bed early to get up at 6am the next day. Except that some of the Americans do yoga in the middle of the room. God. Jiri and I go for a walk in the falling night, along the Roaring Burn River to enjoy the quiet. Back at the dormitory, the group left. We go to bed quickly. Not the most restful night, since I am woken several times by the sounds of someone moving on his mattress or by one of the Americans talking in his sleep !! Ah ah ah. It is so ridiculous that it becomes laughable.
Day 3. October 2016 | 18 kilometers
Fast wake up and breakfast and we leave among the first to try to have a last quiet day. It is gray and rainy. Nothing very special for this last part of the journey. We walk along the banks of the Arthur River, mainly in the forest. The landscape does not vary much. The most beautiful waterfall of the trails (according to me), the Mackay waterfall appears in front of us to offer us a few variations. The blue color of its waters is magnificent. We surpass the few others people in front of us (a New Zealander grandpa and a group of Austrians (I think)). The last three kilometers are on a wide, gravel-covered path that was built by prisoners between 1890 and 1892.
We arrive first at Sandfly Point, the end of the hike. It is noon. We have two hours to wait before the boat arrives to bring us to Milford Sound where is located the bus stop to return to Te Anau. We lunch appreciating the tranquility of the place, quickly interrupted since the rest of the hikers arrive. An impressive Phasm is lounging on one of the water tanks. It is almost ten centimeters long! Despite the bad weather, the view of the beginning of the fiord in the distance remains magnificent, the fog adding a mysterious aspect to the place. I almost feel vibrating in the air the power of nature around me.
A small canoe arrives about two hours to load a dozen backpacks. Followed quickly by a small boat that can carry only eight passengers at a time! A first group embarks. Jiri and I decide to take the second shuttle. Thirty minutes later, it’s our turn. Verification of our names. We deposit our bags in the boat and then embark in the boat.
We sail slowly on the river, speed being limited by shallow waters. I enjoy the view of the mountains around me, ghostly giant full of mysteries. Alas, the boat does not make the planned route: is supposed to bring us in the beginning of Milford Sound in order to be able to appreciate the sight of the fiord and drop us to the pontoon of the cruising boats. But no, the boat drops us on a small peninsula at the mouth of the river before the entrance of the fiord! No view for us! Since I have already done the cruise on Milford Sound, this is not a very disillusion for me but for Jiri and the rest of the hikers the disappointment is big. Especially since the price of transportation ($ 190 full price) the news is not well appreciated.
It’s Allan, Julie’s dad, (the lady I worked with for two months on a dairy farm) who comes to pick us up. I ask him why the point of arrival is not the same and he answers me that it is due to the fact that the usual boat, a bigger shuttle, was wrecked the previous season! Apparently the boat struck a rock in the shallow waters of the river. And it’s still not fixed! So the transport company uses a small shuttle, thus requiring a lot of back and forth to transport all the hikers and it is not possible to make the long journey into the fiord, it would take too long. What a pity !
We board into the shuttle and wait for the rest of the hikers. My French companions with whom I sympathized during the three days are greatly disappointed by the end of the trip. They ask Allan if it is possible to make a detour with the bus in order to see the fiord but since we already are an hour late on the departure time and still lacking passengers, it’s not possible. The last laggards finally arrive and we leave in the direction of Te Anau. In the bus the conversations stop quickly and sleep wins most of us. Must say that bad weather, fatigue and disappointment do not help.
We make a stop at The Divide, to drop a Scottish guy who is going to do the Routeburn Track! He has lot of motivation! Allan drops us around 7 pm, all sleepy at the Holiday Park, exhausted and having in mind only one desire: take a good hot shower!
In the end, what to say about this hike on Milford Road. It is a nice hike, if you like spending a majority of time in the forest. Compared to the Kepler Track, the Milford Track was a disappointment. Especially since we couldn’t make the prettiest part (the view on the fiord). And this is absolutely not the most beautiful hike in New Zealand or in the world !!! The DOC or brochures sell this hike as the top of the hikes, while in reality it is not true at all! The Kepler Track and the Routeburn Track (the third Great Walks in the area) are much nicer, as well as many other walks in NZ. And this is by no means the most beautiful hike in the world! There are in France and probably in many other countries, hikes much nicer than this one. Anyway. Any lover of hiking should do the track to enjoy New Zealand nature. But be aware of the huge number of people on the track and do not expect to be marveled.
Summary: The Milford Track is one of the nine Great Walks to discover the New Zealand nature. Two / three days hiking on the valleys covered with beeches to arrive at the beginning of Milford Sound.
Location: South Island. The start of the hike is from Te Anau Downs to Sandfly Point at the mouth of Milford Sound.
Duration: From two days to four days. During the official season, it is obligatory to stop at all huts. So the hike takes you four days.
Distance: 53.4 kilometers. During the season, the hike is only in the direction Te Anau Downs to Sandfly Point.
_ in the area
Two days hiking through the ridges of the Fiordland Mountains and beautiful lakes. It is probablmenet the most beautiful of the three Great Walks of the region.
A four-day hike along the shores of Te Anau and Manapouri lakes and on the ridges of the Kepler Mountains.
Hiking stories is a love letter to nature, to walking and camping. And to all that’s come with it: weather troubles, muscles pain and noisy tourists on the trails.
All the photographies published in this article are my creations. They are not free of rights. Please do not use them without prior authorization.