Overnight Hikes in New Zealand
The Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great walks had been on my bucket list for quiet sometime. This October with 8 lovely ladies in tow, I got the chance to tick it off.
The last time I attempted a multi-day hike was back in my school days, that was some time ago, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I packed all the gear, the usual things being a sleeping back, 3 days’ worth of food consisting of dehydrated meals, cheese, nuts and fruit, I packed oats for breakfast and extra snacks should I need some energy. Clothing wise I had a couple of thermal layers, quick dry tights, my camera, goal zero charger and my kindle.
I had been so busy leading up to the hike and realised I was super unprepared. I learned that it would be pouring with rain and we may have to jump in a helicopter over some sections of the track. I needed to rethink my gear and be prepared for all weathers. I borrowed my husband’s huge camouflage hunting raincoat and grabbed a pair of men’s waterproof pants from the warehouse. I knew that I looked absolutely ridiculous but both items proved to be lifesavers.
I packed everything into my 85L Kathmandu hiking pack and set off, Te Anau bound ready to catch the 1pm ferry to the start of the track. After picking up our tickets from the DOC office we drove an extra half an hour to Te Anau downs, left our cars and boarded the ferry to the start of the track. All the other hikers embarking on the same journey looked the part, waterproof garters, brand new raincoats and waterproof pack covers… I felt very out of my depth.
Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut – 2 hours
The ferry took around an hour to the starting point of the Milford Track. We hoisted out bags onto our backs and we were off. The start of the track was flat and wide, just what you want to begin, we walked three apiece and although it was raining pretty heavily the mighty forest sheltered us from the downpour. I had to tuck my ears out of the side of my hood resulting in me looking like a wee pixie so I could hear the other girls chatting. The first hut came into view after around an hour, but this is for the fancy hikers. They get nice accommodation and hot meals cooked for them, the smell of tea and biscuits wafted out the door as we trudged past into the rain. The track opened up and we crossed our first swing bridge before reaching the first nights’ accommodation, Clinton Hut.
We made it before 4pm so after setting up our sleeping bags we headed into the camp kitchen and made cups of tea, warming up after walking in the rain. Ross arrived, our hut warden took us on a little nature walk pointing out all the native flowers, fauna and wildlife. Throughout the whole tramp our hut wardens provided excellent entertainment, a perfect pick me up for us weary hikers. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how the track was formed by Mr Sutherland and Mackay, two Australians who spent several months bush bashing through Fiordland by day and sleeping in Bivy’s at night, I really felt for them as I ate my dehydrated potato’s and mince in the relative warmth of the hut.
Day 2 – Clinton Hut to Mintaro hut – 6/7 hours
When we woke the next morning, we had to hang fire until after 9am. Ross had to make certain that the track wasn’t flooded. We eventually got the go ahead even though there would be one section of water we would have to wade through. It was raining, hard and it didn’t take us long before we stumbled across the first section of flooded track. Here is where I made a silly mistake. I thought it would be easier to take my boots of, keep them dry and wade through bare foot. Bad move Kate, the rocky track was killing my poor feet and it wasn’t long before another 5 sections of flooded track appeared. I resigned myself to the fact my boots would get wet and it wouldn’t be all that bad. The only positive to the rain was the 100’s of waterfalls we saw cascading down the valley.
We took refuge under a shelter to eat our lunch out of the rain before completing the second half of the day. The track started to veer upwards and the scenery was everything expected from Milford. Moody, mystical and magical, New Zealand at its absolute finest. With one hour to go the weight of my pack started to take a toll on my dodgy shoulder and I started to lag behind. A pain started to shoot up my neck with every step and by the time I reached the hut I was in tears and I couldn’t even lift my arms above my head. I had lost all my energy and the girls helped lift my wet clothes off my body and into my sleeping bag for a rest. Luckily, we had an Osteopath in our crew, and she adjusted my body before sleep, gave me painkillers a hot water bottle and chocolate, what else does a girl need? I read my kindle in the bunks and got some rest.
Day 3 – Mintaro hut to Dumping Hut – 6/7 Hours
We woke the next morning to a break in the weather, the rain had eased as I stepped outside for some fresh air. A cheeky Weka hopped on by as I made my way to the bathrooms and disappeared into the forest. I had to smile, this is the reason I love my country so much. I am constantly in awe of its natural untouched beauty.
The view from Mintaro hut was just gorgeous. Misty mountains in every direction and views for days. Sadly, despite our efforts of placing clothes and boots around the log burner overnight nothing had dried. By now we were used to a little damp, we lightened the mood with a hot hearty breakfast. After last night’s episode the girls had offered to carry some of my gear, resulting in a much lighter pack. My camera gear weighed 7KG alone, but I wasn’t about to let that out of my sight.
We spent the first few hours on a series of switchbacks up to the top of the MacKinnon pass. This part of the track was manageable, and I didn’t mind it at all. We kept ourselves amused by drinking rain water out of leaves as my my friend forgot her drink bottle and was desperate for a drink. Did I mention it wasn’t raining?! The sun was shining, and we were feeling GOOD! I dropped my pack as soon as we reached the summit. The Keas were circling above, and we were fully exposed to 360 degrees of New Zealand goodness. There was a photogenic tarn, towering mountains and keas, I was happy to have lugged my camera gear up here for this exact moment. An hour later and we entered my favourite part of the track. It started to lightly snow as we took shelter for lunch. Our descent to the valley floor had begun. There was lots of streams, creeks and waterfalls and we were quickly back down in the forest.
We all decided to take a side trip to Sutherland falls. It was very impressive and super powerful; the spray was that intense I couldn’t even take photos. The last section was downhill, flat and highly enjoyable. We made it to the cutest named hut in the land, Dumpling Hut. The sun was shining giving us the opportunity to dry all our gear outside. This was my favourite hut and I witnessed the most beautiful pretty pink sunrise the next morning.
Day 4 – Dumping Hut to Sandfly point – Home – 6/7 Hours
The last day was here, four days of hiking through New Zealand’s backcountry was nearly over. I regrouped all of my possessions and packed my bag. My friends had done enough, carrying and caring for me. We set off at a cracking pace enjoying the flat track and girly yarns along the way. Greeted with swing bridges and plenty of waterfalls on this section and crossing a landslide section where a lonely tree stood all alone. After three hours we stopped for lunch, I divulged in the cheese and crackers I had left. Sutherland falls came into view and it was the prettiest waterfall on the whole trip. One of the girls stripped down and went for a skinny dip, she looked like a mermaid and after an impromptu photoshoot we caught up with the rest of our crew.
It wasn’t long before Sandfly point came into view. We had been warned about the Sandflies, New Zealand’s only annoyance in my eyes. They weren’t biting today though so we happily hung out in the sun and waited for our ferry. The ferry arrived and dropped us in Milford Sound, straight on to the bus back to Te Anau downs and our cars.
At times I fantasied about a rescue helicopter appearing and whisking me out of the track and for hot sunny days as I trudged through the rain, but I made it and overall the experience was enjoyable, and more often than not I found myself walking with a smile firmly on my face. I am a huge nature lover so being immersed in the wild, remote Milford scenery was incredible.
Would I do it again? If someone offers to carry my pack for me, in a heartbeat.