My boyfriend's folks have wanted to visit New Zealand for many years now. This year, they decided to make that dream a reality, and Max and I took them through a week of New Zealand backcountry to start off their trip. We began with a 4-day backpacking trip on the Milford Track, took a day to regroup and do laundry, and then headed off on the Kepler Track for another 4 days.
Maybe it was the joy of starting vacation in one of my favorite countries, or maybe it was because the Milford Track is jaw-dropping, but we had a totally epic time out in the middle of nowhere.
Carb-loading in Queenstown, NZ
Day 1: Lake Te Anau to Clinton Hut
The Milford Track starts with a boat ride across Lake Te Anau, where hikers are dropped off and head to the first backcountry hut. This was my first time staying in a hut, and it was a lot of fun. Our hut ranger was knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, and brought us on a short nature walk in the area. We played cards and enjoyed getting to know the others on the hike.
Clinton Hut, Milford Track, NZ
Day 2: Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut
If you're unfamiliar with hut hiking (I definitely was) especially on the Milford Track, you tend to see the same 40 people every day. We aren't necessarily walking together (heck, I didn't even walk with my boyfriend of his parents for some of it!), but we all tend to regroup at shelters for lunch and the huts for dinner.
The second day was one of the most beautiful days on the track. We had unbelievably clear weather the entire trek, and being in the valley, looking up at Mackinnon Pass, was spectacular. The snow runoff from the high mountains above allowed for thousands and thousands of waterfalls gushing off the sides of the cliffs. I've never seen anything like it and I was speechless the entire walk.
En Route to Mintaro Hut, Milford Track, NZ
Day 3: Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut
Day 3 was the hardest of the days. We climbed up and over Mackinnon Pass, the highest point on the trek. There was snow a week before we arrived, and in preparation of Mackinnon Pass being in an avalanche zone, we actually had to book helicopters to bring us over the pass before we took off on foot. By the time we got to the area, luckily, we just had to take an "emergency" track down the mountain instead of crossing the avalanche bowl. The emergency track was a steep, steep downclimb that thrashes whatever is left in your legs. There's also an optional 40-minute out and back to Sutherland Falls, the 5th tallest waterfall in the world (and the largest in NZ) that we couldn't decline. All in all, it was a 13-mile day, which doesn't seem like much, but when you're tramping through snow up and down a mountain with a large pack on your back, it
took a lot out of us.
Sutherland Falls, Milford Track, NZ
Day 4: Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point
The last day on the track is a very mellow, pretty flat route to Sandfly Point. There are two boats that bring ~20 people back from the track to Milford Sound. We timed it just right where we didn't get totally devoured by sandflies -- and trust me, Sandfly Point is aptly named; they were AWFUL the entire way. Milford Sound was such a beautiful ending point. We had about 3 hours there before our bus came to bring us back to Te Anau.
Milford Sound, Milford Track, NZ
I'm so proud of my boyfriend's folks for taking on this journey. I hope when I'm retired, I'm motivated to climb up and down mountains in a foreign country with a whole bunch of strangers.