It had to happen eventually. On the ninth day, the clouds parted, the sun came out (causing us to momentarily huddle in our camper-van fearful of this strange new ball of fire in the sky). We were signed up to take the day hike on the Milford Track. There is a series of long multiple-day hiking trails in New Zealand, most with a series of huts a day’s march apart for backpackers, they call “tracks”. Of which one of the most famous is the Milford Track. It’s a 4 day, 3 night trek, where everyone goes northwest from the Te Anau to Milford Sound and you can do it two ways, either as an independent hiker (where you still stay in the huts, but you carry all your food and gear) or as a guided hiker (where they provide the food and you have hot showers and clean sheets and you only carry a day pack with your camera and food for lunch). I didn’t want to commit to a 4 day trip because we really didn’t have that time, but I signed us up for the day hike where you go to the first hut, Clinton Hut, and back.
It’s possible to do the day hike without the guide, but they really don’t like that. They have a story that claims that in some vague time in the past — last year, a couple years ago, recently — someone, maybe a woman, decided that they were going to speed hike the Milford Track in a single day. The Milford Track is not very steep or challenging, except for the last day where there’s a high pass, MacKinnon Pass, you have to traverse and it’s supposed to be rather difficult going down the backside of the pass. And this person got as far as the pass before night fell and then they had to be rescued off the top of the pass by helicopter. Which of course made no sense because even if you were intending to hike it in a single day, you would have a day pack. You’d have an emergency blanket in there, a flashlight, and some protein bars, so that you could do an emergency bivouac. Worse case, you would backtrack to the last hut. Getting caught by nightfall would not require a helicopter rescue. But they use that as an excuse for charging you a hundred dollars more for the naturalist and keeping you herded together as a group.
An interesting book, I picked up the day before in Te Anau was, The Land of Doing Without : Davey Gunn of the Hollyford by Julia Bradshaw about how the man who developed this area, leaving his wife and children in Oamaru, running cattle in the dense silver beech rainforests. He and others, living here on the margins in some very undesirable land, created the tracks and the hut systems and worked as guides to bring in the hikers. And in the end the government declared it all a national park, cancelled his leases, and he died penniless, drown in an accident involving a bad horse and a rain swollen river, trying to get his cattle out of there. His body was never found.
You take an hour long boat ride to the start of the Milford Track because the alternative is a 2 day hike over the Earl Mountains through the Dore Pass that is so steep on the backside coming down that people have fallen to their deaths and the National Park Service no longer maintains the trail to discourage people from taking it. And it was an immensely pleasant boat ride past blooming Pohutukawa trees. Past the island where there’s a monument to Quintin MacKinnon, the first guide on the Milford Track, who drown in the lake in 1892 and his body was never found. (Hmm, that’s becoming a repeated theme here…) And have I forgot to mention that New Zealand has a thing about boots. I hate to use the word, fetish, because it seems too strong, but every time I turned around, someone wanted to check my boots. We had to go through biohazard inspection at the airport and here at the edge of the lake, we had to walk through disinfectant. You see there’s something called didymo or river snot that’s an algae that used to be confined to a very few places in North America, like Lake Michigan, until a couple years ago when there was some sort of “event” and it exploded worldwide and now it’s busy clogging up places like New Zealand. There are signs in the areas that are contaminated that tell you to take your boots home, clean them with lye or bleach and then throw the boots away and get new boots.
You may be wonder why at this point there’s no pictures in this entry. Beautiful day. Went for a hike on the world’s more famous hiking path. And, well, there were pictures, but somehow in the course of a 3 week vacation, I lost the pictures to this one day. I don’t know if the card fell out of my pocket or I accidently put it in with the unused cards and it got recycled. But this one day is gone. The one cloudless, sunny, hot day, and I have no photographic proof.
I will say that this was our introduction to sand flies. Oh, my gawd. Scourge of the earth, one of the plagues of Egypt. Clouds of nasty tiny little gnats sucking your blood. I grew up with mosquitoes, they bite you, you itch for a day or two, life goes on. These things — you don’t itch until 2 days after you’re bitten and then it’s a burning itch that goes on for weeks. Seriously, been home for 3 weeks, still have sand fly welts.
And we had our first taste of a New Zealand swing bridge, which Dean did not like at all. 🙂