“The Finest Walk In The World”
That’s a mighty big proclamation to make. Even in a country known for great hiking. The Milford Track has a lot to live up to, not just that quote, which gets bandied about quite a bit in regards to the Milford, but also from general word of mouth that places it as an outstanding 4 days.
When I had made my booking for the Milford Track back in November, I had yet to set foot on any hike longer than a day. 4 months later, I had tackled 4 Great Walks and 3 other multi-day hikes. But none had the reputation the Milford has, not even the fantastic Routeburn and Tongariro Circuit walks. I really didn’t think the Milford could beat my favourite hike, the Tongariro Circuit, and most people had considered the Routeburn superior than the Milford (and in it’s own right, one of the best hikes in the world). I really didn’t see HOW the Milford could even approach it’s reputation, as the negatives to the hike hit on a few major issues I have with hiking in New Zealand:
- The trek is primarily lower level, so walking among the trees rather than the peaks. Forest all seem to look the same after a while, and I’ve hiked in a LOT of forest here in New Zealand.
- Sandflies. And they make them extra voracious it seems on the Milford.
- Rain. Rain rain rain. The Milford area is one of the wettest in the world. Hiking in the rain…not fun. Especially when you get days of it.
And so, on March 13th, 2012, I found myself on a boat heading to Glade Wharf, with a sense of trepidation and doubt. I just couldn’t see how this track could live up remotely to what it had been built up to. There were just too many things stacking up against the Milford in my mind, and the forecast wasn’t promising either. The first day was to be great, 2nd day deteriorating and the 3rd day, the longest hiking day involving the highest section of track…heavy (severe) rain. Yuck.
But for the time being, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we crossed Lake Te Anau. It was a beautiful day to start hiking.
Everyone has those kinds of days where everything just seems to go right. It usually isn’t planned to be a great day, but somehow, everything comes up roses and you are left with a feeling when the sun sets that you had an unexpectedly FANTASTIC time. This was one of those days for me.
It all began simply enough. I had met a fellow Canadian traveler named Becky the day prior and we had discussed hiking the Kepler Great Walk in a couple of weeks (as I had the Milford coming up first), and also checking out the Wanaka A&P (Agricultural and Pastoral) show the next day. The A&P show in Wanaka is a big deal, and even costs an entry fee of $10. Still, it’s like a big carnival. With absolutely ridiculously themed slides:
Probably the most popular walk in the Wanaka region is to see the Rob Roy Glacier. The track has got it all – Glaciers, Mountains, Waterfalls, Rivers, Trees and Kea (didn’t see them myself though). What’s not to like?
So I found myself on a sunny March day heading towards the Raspberry Flats car park. The hike for the Rob Roy Glacier is considered a fairly full day – partly because it takes a full hour just to get to the car park, a good part of which is spent on a rough dirt road. The hike itself takes about 3-4 hours return and isn’t too strenuous.
I lucked out with a near perfect hiking day when I started my hike, into the Mt. Aspiring National Park.
Some may recall that I posted long ago that New Zealand has backwards ‘give way’ rules on the road.
In less than 12 hours, New Zealand joins the entire rest of the world in who gives way while driving. Now, those making the ‘easy’ turn have the right of way to proceed unabated with their turn, while those turning across traffic have to wait. Just like everyone expects it to. I imagine tomorrow might be an interesting day on the roads for Kiwis, and while I’ve gotten used to their backwards road rule, I’m looking forward to going back to the sensible, common sense approach that has prevailed! 🙂
One of the great things with New Zealand is, you are never far from somewhere new and different. And just as importantly, if the weather isn’t pleasant where you are, drive for an hour and you might find something completely different in the skies above.
And that was exactly what I found in Wanaka. After staying in depressed little Cromwell for 2 nights, under continuously dark, drab and soggy clouds, I scrapped my plans for a bike ride (possibly to try again at the end of March) and made my way to Wanaka. Wanaka was a place I had heard lots about, but had yet to visit. Purportedly a wonderful little town with similar scenery and charms to Queenstown…but with a tiny fraction of the insane number of tourists. Sounded like my kind of place.
On your way into town you have the option of hiking a nearby hill, called Mt. Iron. Having sat around far too much in the past couple weeks, I opted for the stroll to the top. The weather had cleared on the drive, and I was keen to take advantage.
After 17 days of travel with Sabrina, Marc and Alexandra, we said our goodbyes at the Queenstown airport on March 3rd (yes, I know, quite a while ago!), and I went back to doing my own little thing. It was a fun, exhausting 17 days together. The weather didn’t help a lot, but it often was tolerable. The Routeburn was great, I was very happy to get out on the Tasman Glacier Lake and see some glacial icebergs, and climbing Fox Glacier is one of my highlights here in New Zealand. Marc and Alexandra got to experience skydiving in Kaikoura, Sabrina found some great wines in the Waipara and the 4 of us survived a stay in jail. I would have liked to go Paragliding in Queenstown with Alexandra (something she is still trying to get a refund for), and having better weather in a lot of places would have been enjoyable, but we made the most of it.
Originally, I had planned for March to kick off for me with a mountain bike ride across central Otago. The weather had other things in mind however, so after a few days of relaxing and listening to the rain pound down on my tent, I found myself wandering into a town called Wanaka.
Near Fox Glacier lies Lake Matheson. Not a stunning lake by itself, but it’s location lends it to something special that features in numerous postcards from New Zealand. That something special, is a reflection of Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps.
After staying in Christchurch, we hit up Kaikoura next, with some success. The first day was fantastic – the other 3 got out onto a Whale Watching tour, saw 3 whales, some albatrosses and several dolphins. Marc and Alexandra then went skydiving, something that was high on their list of things to do in New Zealand, but hadn’t had the weather for so far. And we had a very tasty dinner. All in all, a very good day!
The next day the weather wasn’t cooperating, so the three unfortunately had their dolphin swim cancelled (one of my favourite memories here in New Zealand). That was very disappointing, but we still enjoyed the Kaikoura Peninsula walk before heading through the scenic Lindis Pass over to Greymouth, to spend the night there.
The next morning we drove up to Pancake Rocks, took in the sights, and then headed to a very soggy walk of Franz Josef glacier. The forecast for the next day was finally calling for some decent weather though…just in time.
We were headed to Fox Glacier to do some ice climbing! (note: A few pictures are courtesy of Alexandra and Sabrina)