Wednesday, 22 April 2015

We have a new game to play!

Isabelle & Nikita introduced the game 'cookie'. It's fun learning something different!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Milford Track - described by Rudyard Kipling as 'the eighth wonder of the world'

So many waterfalls...
Last Monday 6 of us headed off to walk the Milford Track - have you heard of it? The Milford Track is one of NZ's Great Walks and renowned as the 'finest walk in the world'. It goes through lush rainforest, pristine rivers and dramatic waterfalls, (it was also used as a location for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy).

This 53.5km (33.5 miles) track travels through two glacial valleys (created over the last two million years) and over the impressive Mackinnon Pass finishing at spectacular Milford Sound, in the heart of Fiordland, Western Southland.

History of the track: In 1888 the government funded the first track-making expeditions in the Arthur and Clinton valleys. Quintin McKinnon and Earnest Mitchell found the Mackinnon Pass the same year, and McKinnon quickly established himself as the first guide on the Milford Track.

Here is a recap of our days on the track! I've tried to keep it succinct, although may have failed in that department. :)
At Glade Wharf - raring to go!
Day One (30/3/15) Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut, 5km, 1-1hr 30min: We left Wanaka at 7:30am Monday morning to begin the 3 hour journey over the Crown Range to Queenstown, then headed further south and west to Fiordland, specifically to Te Anau. The boat to the start of the track departed from Te Anau Downs (25km from Te Anau). It was a beautiful and wind-swept 1.5 hour cruise across the lake. From the start it is a 5km walk through an attractive beech forest along the banks of the Clinton River to the first hut. 

This river is startlingly clear and green and you just want to jump in a tyre and tube down it. Our packs weighed about 13kg each and we carried all our food and cooking equipment for 4 days. There were about 40 people doing the unguided walk and about another 50 people doing the guided walk. The guided walk is super expensive and these people stay in separate lodges which are like 5 star hotels. They even get a hot shower at the end of the day! The unguided trekkers have to make do with wet wipes and jumping in random swimming holes along the way to refresh themselves, (which is a way better deal if you ask me!). We got in, grabbed a bunk, ate scroggin and played cards for a couple of hours. This was to be the routine for the next 3 nights. As well as talking with the other hikers, from a range of different places; Canada, Tahiti, England, Australia, USA, France, Israel and Hong Kong. Tonight's dinner was alfredo pasta with bacon and cheese. We gulped it down, just in time to listen to the 8pm 'hut talk', by the DOC ranger, Ross. Ross, in my opinion, looked like the BFG. If you've read Roald Dahl you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. The BFG talked for almost an hour about the Milford Track and the different plants and wildlife we were likely to come across. 

Here are some of them: the blue duck/whio is a unique and endangered species, found only in NZ. They can be seen in cold, fast-flowing streams such as the Clinton and Arthur rivers along the Milford Track. The male whistles a call of 'fee-o', which gives the duck its Maori name, while the female growls - that's the only way the rangers can tell the difference apparently! 

Sundews are carnivorous plants that like sunny, wet places with nutrient-poor soil. They are common in alpine and wetland areas. We had to think of these as our friend because their main diet in these parts are sandflies! 

The kea is a unique and endangered parrot that is found only in the Southern Alps of NZ. Considered to be one of the most intelligent birds in the world, the cheeky kea often put on a show to distract us while his friends raided people's packs! 

We saw many longfin eels/tuna. These are one of the largest eels in the world and are found only in NZ. During the day, the eels are secretive, hiding under logs and boulders or under riverbanks. Most of their hunting takes place at night. 

There are lights in the dining room hut till 10pm but most people snuck off to their bunk rooms and were in their sleeping bags by 9/9:30pm. In this hut, there were 2 large bunk rooms where everyone slept. Basically it's first in, first served. I shoved my ear plugs in my ear and hunkered down into my sleeping bag, hoping not to be awakened by serial snorers which always seem to appear on trips like these!

Day Two (31/3/15) Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut, 16.5km, 6hr: Well the serial snorer on this trip is an extremely obese man from Hong Kong. Nobody got any sleep in his bunk room. Luckily it wasn't ours! After a tasty breakfast of porridge we packed up and got on the track by 9am - last to leave, but there's no rush. Today we climbed gradually from Clinton Hut and followed the Clinton River up towards the Mintaro Hut. Between the 5 and 6 mile markers we crossed a large open area formed by a landslide (due to an earthquake), which occurred in 1982. 

This created a small lake, known as 'Dead Lake' because of the dead beech trees seen here. Around here the track is prone to flooding during heavy rain. The vegetation started to change on this climb, reflecting the higher altitude and heavier rainfall. Ferns, mosses and lichen are abundant here on the track.

Did you know this area gets on average between 8 and 9 metres of rainfall annually? The average annual rainfall for Christchurch is between 600mm and 1500mm!

Here is Jane (my sister) and Colin wearing their sandfly headnets! It's something I would probably get for next time. 

Here is a tid bit of information about the sandfly. The first instance of the word sandfly (rather than blackfly) for the New Zealand species is in the journal of James Cook. He came across the insects at Fiordland’s Dusky Sound, possibly at a sandy beach, in May 1773. His journal reads:

‘The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly which are exceeding numerous … wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small Pox.’ 
How wonderful.
Mintaro Hut was great because the fire was already lit when we arrived, by DOC ranger Trev. Also, there were two smaller bunk rooms (8 beds in each) beside the fire and a large one upstairs. Even though we were last to leave today, we seemed to pass everyone along the way and were among the first to arrive at Mintaro, therefore we got one of the smaller bunk rooms with 8 beds in it. There were 6 in our party and no one else came in...apart from the serial snorer's wife! She made him sleep in with the Aussies next door, so I think she wanted a break from it too! So once again, saved from the serial snorer! 

Day Three (1/4/15) Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, 14km, 6-7hr: This morning I woke up at 6:45 and got up straightaway to boil the water for porridge and the teas and coffees. Most people were up and about, it had been raining in the night and a couple of keas were screeching outside.

 Each night we were told to bring our boots in or tie them together because keas can fly away with one but not two boots. The group of Aussies next door to us had no sleep because the serial snorer was in with they were a bit grumpy! We knew today would be a big day - up and over Mackinnon Pass and down to Dumpling Hut. It was going to be steep, rainy and most likely windy and cold at the top. We were among the last to leave again, and slowly but surely trudged up the zig zag track passing people along the way. It's really rocky, slippery and it started raining heavily as we got closer to the top.

 The top was freezing - 1154m high, extremely foggy and we all put a few extra layers on there. A big bunch of us gathered at the top and waited for about 15 minutes in the hope of it clearing. When it did, the view was incredible and very awe-inspiring having sheer canyons all around us. 

Mackinnon Pass - 1154m

Two rainbows also appeared, one under the other, which made for some good photos! 

Best toilet view in Fiordland!

Along the pass a bit, we stopped at the Mackinnon Pass Day Shelter which is supplied with a gas-cooker to brew a cuppa and it also has the toilet with the best view in Fiordland!

From here we hiked 8km downhill dropping 970m over rocky, uneven terrain. We saw numerous waterfalls and followed a few boardwalks. At the bottom of the pass we left our packs at Quintin Shelter and took a side track to the magnificent Sutherland Falls. This is NZ's tallest waterfall, it drops 580m in three leaps from Lake Quill.

Look how clear the water is!

Stopping for a snack...
After this, the track continued along to Dumpling Hut. My friend walking this track with me, was pretty excited about this hut. He said he was envisaging a South Korean restaurant serving dumplings with waitresses running everywhere...I mean why else would it be named Dumpling Hut?! The dumplings were not to be, but there was an amazing swimming hole where you could jump off huge rocks into the glacier filled water...freezing, but felt good on the millions of sandfly bites which covered our bodies! 

That evening we had DOC ranger Ian giving our hut talk about the following day and what to expect. I was actually only half paying attention as I am half way through the third Percy Jackson book and was quite engrossed. And hooray - we've managed to avoid the serial snorer again! He's in the bunk room next to us...we don't end up hearing him luckily, the people in his room...not so lucky!

Day Four (2/4/15) Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point, 18km, 5hr 30min - 6hr: Everyone was up and at 'em by 6am this morning...except us, as usual! We arrived to breakfast at 7 and there was only our group and the French girl who was walking by herself left. 
I think everyone was panicking they wouldn't get to Sandfly Point by 2pm for the boat. It was only a 5-6 hour walk so they were just going to have to sit with the sandflies for an hour or two before boarding!

400m to go!
From this hut the track followed the Arthur River, crossed a huge swing bridge and arrived at beautiful MacKay Falls and Bell Rock. This rock was carved from water over millions of years and is in the shape of a bell. Ranger Ian told us last night that 22 Japanese tourists have fit under the bell at one time!
Arriving into Milford Sound - view of Mitre Peak.

We admired the rock cuttings alongside the Arthur River and Lake Ada which were blasted and hand-cut by labourers when the track was first constructed over a hundred years ago. The final two miles of the track is smooth and wide and was built by a prison labour gang in the late 19th century. 

The Aussies wearing their headnets!
The boat was due to leave at 2pm and we arrived at 1:50pm! Perfect timing - jumped on, swatted away the sand flies and we rode the 20 minutes to Milford Sound, passing Mitre Peak along the way. 

Mitre Peak is the highest mountain (1,690m) in the world that rises from the sea floor and it is pretty impressive. We managed to get onto an earlier bus and travelled the hour and a half back through the Homer Tunnel (one of the most scenic drives in NZ) to Te Anau Downs and our cars. We were all pretty excited to get to our motel in Te Anau, have a shower, and go out for tea! What a great trip. A definite must do - you all need to do it one day. NZ is the most stunning country, and it's great to be in the complete wilderness with no access to wi-fi!