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Milford Track

Day 1 of 4

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Tuesday, March 19th
Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut
2.9 miles
70 vertical feet (ascent)
40 vertical feet (descent)
1:19

It was cloudy in Queenstown. In fact it started to rain as the bus picked us up at 7:30am from the hotel. By the time we picked everyone up and left Queenstown, however, it had subsided. There were about a dozen people on the small bus for the 2 hour drive to Te Anau. Along the way the driver provided us with some commentary on the land and its history and future.

As we passed Remarkable Rocks the driver said that golf courses would be built near the lake. There's already at least one there already, and more are in the works. Americans are buying up a lot of the land around Queenstown and they want to develop it with golf courses, casinos, and resorts. I hope Queenstown doesn't grow too much and turn into South Lake Tahoe; I like it just the way it is.

As we went further the skies began to clear a bit and we started seeing rainbows. It did, however, get quite windy. We arrived in Te Anau at 10:15am and while it was bright and sunny, the winds were gusting. We took a short shuttle from the bus stop back to the DoC visitor center next to the lake. We checked in and obtained our permits which we'd reserved back in December. You can only pick up your permits once you reach Te Anau.

I suddenly realized something was wrong. I'd left my tripod in the bus we'd taken from Queenstown. We started walking back to the bus stop, about a 20 minute walk made difficult by the gusting 40 or 50 mph winds and the backpacks we were still carrying. I knew that the bus was already on its way to Milford Sound by now, but I was hoping the driver had found it and left it somewhere. Unfortunately, the bus was gone and there was no place to leave it.

We wandered the streets of Te Anau looking for someplace to buy another tripod to replace it. I eventually found one which was much larger and heavier. In fact it was about twice the weight and would add about 1 1/2 pounds to my pack weight. But I figured I could handle it. It wasn't too expensive, either -- $99 NZD ($43.56 USD).

We stopped in a cafe for lunch. Our next bus didn't leave until 1:15pm, so we had plenty of time. After lunch we happened to find a booking office for the bus company. We went in and told them about the forgotten tripod and if they would be so nice as to leave it in the office in Queenstown for us to pick up when we returned. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

We got back to the DoC center in plenty of time to sit around and wait. The bus was a bit late and in fact didn't have enough room. A few of us had to board a small van which was used for the overflow. We arrived at the boat dock at 1:50pm, just in time for our 2pm launch. The boat had about 15-20 independent walkers (those of us who came from the Te Anau DoC center) and about 40 guided walkers. The boat started out a little rough and I had to sit down to avoid getting sick. It would get better later, though.

We arrived at Glade Wharf at 3pm. All the other independent walkers started the hike while we were still getting our equipment ready. The guided walkers all took pictures of each other before heading off and leaving us in peace. A lone guide remained and asked if we were part of the group, but we assured her we weren't. The bad thing about standing there so long was that the sand flies kept coming at us, so as soon as I finished taking my pictures we were on our way.

Ferry at Glade Wharf

We would later find out that there had been torrential rains in the morning, and the group of hikers one day ahead of us had to wade through flooded trails. We were lucky in that regard. By the time we reached the trail (albeit a different part than what they did today) there were just pools of water here and there. Certainly nothing we had to wade through.

The trail passes through lush green rainforest. The trail itself is a gravel hard-packed surface with good drainage -- practically a paved path. Less than 20 minutes after starting we passed Glade House. All the guided walkers were here, preparing for a nature walk at 4pm. They all had plush beds and well, I'll talk more about them later. We, on the other hand, trudged forward, crossing the Clinton River on a large swing bridge. The water flowing beneath me had an odd vertigo-inducing effect on me as I crossed -- something that hadn't happened to me before. I suspect it was the fact that the flood waters made the water flow quickly and murky. It just didn't seem natural. Apparently if the waters are clear you can see eels, but there was no chance of that today.

Jean on the bridge over the Clinton River

After we crossed the bridge we encountered an ATV coming in the opposite direction, a driver escorting a woman back to Glade House I presume. You can only hike the Milford Track in one direction, so I wasn't expecting any traffic coming from the other direction. But soon after we passed the ATV, we encountered a woman running down the trail in the opposite direction. She wasn't carrying anything and was dressed in red; I assume she was a guide but I have no idea why she was running (no, there aren't any bears here!).

The trail pretty much follows the Clinton River, all the way to Mintaro Hut (our stay tomorrow night). There aren't really very many good views -- just beech forest. There's a side path to the hut itself. The ground here is covered with green moss. The hut has a big wide deck with a bunkhouse on the left, the kitchen on the right, and another bunkhouse at the back. We chose the bunkhouse in the back. It has about 20 or 22 bunk beds.

Trail to the hut

Moss growing underneath the trees

I walked back to the mossy area to take some pictures, then walked along the planks between the bunkhouses to a platform with a view. I could see beech forest extending outward with mountains all around. I set up my tripod and took a few pictures, just missing a rainbow. A couple was on the platform with me and the man (I found out later his name is Trevor and he's from South Africa) asked me what kind of film I was using. I told him I was using Velvia. He was explaining to his wife that the slow film explained the long exposure times. I didn't bother telling him that what he really heard was the 2-second delay of the mirror lock-up feature of my camera. The exposure time was actually about 1/15th of a second, not 2 seconds.

View from the platform

The sand flies were starting to swarm around me, so I went back inside. At dinner the hut warden came by around 6:30pm to give us a little talk. It turned out the talk was mostly about safety. He didn't seem like a very friendly person. He mentioned that stoats (also known as short-tailed weasels) were killing birds in the area, and that the rangers set traps to kill the stoats, and to leave the traps alone. The warden collected our tickets and left.

We met a few people at dinner that night. There was Jessica from San Francisco, on a 2 year vacation. She brought a pack of cards and played solitaire on the table. There was Tom and Rhonda, from Montana. Rhonda had been cycle touring in New Zealand. There was Heike and Martin from Germany. We also introduced ourselves to a Japanese girl, but we wouldn't converse much with her during the trip. There was also another girl from San Francisco, Melissa. There were about 40 of us in all who would share the next 4 days together.

Mintaro Hut at night


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