I guess my loyal readers know that I'm already home. It's been almost 2 months since I wrote my last post. At the end of our trip I got a little tired of writing the blog in my tablet and things weren't as exciting as they were in the Fiordland. Writing on the Milford track was probably too hard for me, in some bizarre way, it was as if I admit that the best of New Zealand was over. Maya and I saw beautiful places over the next month (after the Milford track) but I think we both realized right then: it won't get better.
"You have to go to New Zealand, I must see the photos you'll take there" – it's actually not a quote but an inaccurate translated version of what Eran told me about 2 years ago. I was still a student, dreaming on a second "big journey" like the one to South America, but I cannot recall that New Zealand was my favorite destination, so, Eran might be the one who planted the seed of New Zealand. He also told me right then "You have to buy tickets to the Milford track half a year before". Damm, we bought tickets to the Milford before we even knew if we will end up in New Zealand, we didn't have flying tickets, but boy, we got those Milford tickets at July 2014.
You might have noticed that the weather in New Zealand is crazy. Planning a track of 4 days, 7 months in advance is nothing but gambling. We're not gamblers but we didn't really have a choice, the tickets for this track were sold out in August. Sure, there are cancelations, but even if we could find 2 tickets 2 or 3 weeks before, it won't make a difference. An average of 17 days of rain in February and about 8000 mm of rain a year makes the Milford area one of the wettest and unpredictable places on earth.
If you're reading this and the milford track is already full (or the Routeburn/Kepler) you might find nztracker.nz website very usefull, you can get notifications when someone cancel his reservation and immediately book it.
February 7th, the day has come and the weather forecast for the first day was excellent but for the second and third day it was bad, especially for the third day which suppose to be the most beautiful day on the track. Well, the forecast for the Kepler was bad too but eventually we got lucky and had perfect weather for the second day, which was the only day with a view other than bush.
I decided, and Maya had to agree, if the weather will be good on the second day, we'll climb the Mackinnon Pass (6km from the second hut) that day and also the day after. With that in mind, we packed all our rain proof gear, got some pies from Miles Better Pies and went to the DOC to catch our ride to the starting point of the track. 30 minutes drive got us to the dock and from there we took an hour cruise. This is the only way to get to the Milford track. It's also the only track in New Zealand in which you have to sleep in each hut, you cannot skip huts and make it in 3 or 2 days, even though it's possible in terms of distance. The first day is only 4.7km of flat walk, which took us an hour. The weather was unbelievable, not a cloud in the sky. There's not much to do in the hut so we took the camera and went to a nice place along the river. The freezing water was not welcoming. The sky stayed clear over the night and I managed to get up twice to take some photos. The first time was around 23:00 and the second around 05:00. Not my best stars photography, but it was a good sign for the second day.
We could not believe our good fortune, it was sunny! We walked fast, hoping to get as soon as possible to the hut, leave our stuff and climb to the pass before it will be covered with clouds. It took us 4 hours to complete the 16.5 km and by 13:00 we were after lunch, starting to climb the pass, about 600 meters of climbing over 6km. We arrive around 14:00 just to find out that clouds were emerging continuously from the valley and blocking the view. We didn't hurry and decided to wait for the weather to clear, after all, tomorrow will be probably worse. It paid off, after an hour we started to see some parts of the valley and around 16:00 we could almost see everything. We were so happy, we made it! We saw the Mackinnon Pass! Such a long (28.5km) great day was worth celebrating with the Whiskey I carried around for two months – also a tip from Eran.
That night I woke up at 04:00 to the sound of the heavy rain, I guessed our luck was run out and I was preparing myself to the worst. We took our time in the morning and waited for the rain to stop for a while before leaving the hut. Around 08:30 the rain stopped and against all odds, we didn't see a single drop for the rest of the track. We actually completed the Milford without walking in the rain at all. The view from the pass was amazing even when we saw it the second time. Climbing with all our gear didn't slowed us down too much, it took us 1:15 hours and we stayed at the pass for another 45 minutes, admiring the power of the surrounding mountains. From the pass it took us 1:45 hours to the Quintin Shelter where the Sutherland Falls side track starts. We stopped there for a quick lunch and after another 30 minutes walk we got to the highest waterfall in New Zealand. The 580 meters waterfall was so powerful we couldn't get too close. From Quintin Shelter it took us another 45 minutes to get to the Dumpling Hut.
The last day was easy, it's an 18km walk but mostly flat and there are 2 beautiful waterfalls on the way. It took us 4:10 hours including the photography stops with the tripod and long exposure, HDR, panoramic shots.
The Milford track is considered to be the most beautiful track in the world. It's not possible to compare tracks and I don't think it's the number 1 track, but it's definitely one of the best tracks in the world.
This was our last track, well, we did a day hike to the Key Summit and also did the Mueller Hut, but that was the last long track. After about 16 tracks in less than 2 month it was time to rest. Our next stop was Chris and Margaret, you'll hear about them in the next post.