Ask any hiker and he or she will tell you it is a dream to one day hike the hut-to-hut Milford Track in New Zealand’s wildly scenic South Island. So, this is what Dov and I decided to do for our annual End of the Year Adventure.
Despite being a pretty good hiker, I am also a pretty good worrier: How hard will it be? Will I make it? Is the climb too steep? Is the downhill obnoxious? And, of course, will I be the slowest one so everyone will have to wait for me?
Two years ago, we hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro—all 19,341 feet of it! But we hadn’t really prepared properly—unless running up and down our steep driveway seven times counts. So, the Kili climb was a bit of a struggle (understatement!!!), but the downhill was the real killer. My legs were jello by the time we reached the last camp—and, let me tell you, it is really, really hard to walk on jello-legs.
I swore I would be better prepared for Milford. So Dov and I spent the summer hiking on our local Mt. Tamalpais, Marin’s most famous (and only) mountain. Still, despite training, I kept reading and rereading the details of the trip—5 days, but only 3 days of hiking—9, 10, and 13 miles, respectively.
The Milford trip starts with a beautiful boat ride to the beginning of the Track and then a short walk to the first hut—a lodge really—called Glade House. This set the tone for the rest of the trip. After a brief nature hike, we munched appetizers and sipped delicious New Zealand wines while looking out at the beautiful Clinton River. A three-course dinner filled us up and more than made up for the meager caloric burn of the day.
The first real hike was to the Pompolona Lodge, 9 miles away. We followed the river hiking (tramping if you are a Kiwi) in a temperate rain forest, largely made up of various species of beech trees.
The third day was supposed to be the toughest as we ascended to the Mackinnon Pass (3,740 feet—only slightly higher than Mt. Tam). But the downhill was a bit rough because the usual gentle switchbacks were supplemented with “emergency” paths that were rockier and steeper due to avalanche activity in the area—the legs were pretty wobbly (but not completely jello) by the time I reached the Quintin Lodge. I was close to the last one in but I had plenty of company as I tramped with a group of five middle-aged women from Japan who pretty much owned the back of the pack.
The last day of tramping (Day 4 of the trip) clinched the trip as magical. It was a 13 mile, flat, flat, flat trail mostly along the side of a river. It started raining the night before—our first rain of the trip—somewhat of a miracle to have had the previous 4 days without rain according to the guides. But it continued to pour as the day wore on—big juicy drops that swelled the creeks into little rivers that we had to cross—making us give up on any hope of keeping our feet dry after about the first hour of the hike. It poured and poured and poured…and poured. It was amazing (and it kept the pesky sandflies at bay—hooray.)
After 4-5 hours, we reached our lunch site, a lovely open shelter that was completely flooded. Gobbling down my sandwich, I set out again. Pop up waterfalls were everywhere you looked. Sometimes, four or five on one mountain face.
This was a day of walking in water. This was the Milford magic.