We’re here at last! The final day! We had another six hours of walking to get to the end of the trail, but since it was mostly level ground we figured it would be relatively easy going. After the immense challenge of the previous day’s hike even the crack of dawn crowd needed a little extra shut eye, so Alana and I remained in a blissful slumber until the morning demolition crew started bringing down their sleeping apparatus at the late hour of 7:00. As the saying goes: if you can’t beat them, join them, so Alana and I hopped out of our beds and ran around, stomping our feet and throwing our packs into any hard surface we could find until everything was all packed up and ready to go.
After our morning breakfast routine (which you’re probably familiar with at this point, if not please feel free to consult the previous two posts) we were on our way! I hate to admit it, but it was hard not to feel like I was rushing a bit this last day. We had heard that there was a 1:30 boat to Milford Sound and a 2:30 bus back to Te Anau Downs that might have extra seats available. Our original booking was for the 3:00 boat and 5:00 bus. This would have us getting back to Te Anau Downs at around 6:30, and from there it was a three hour drive to our next AirBnb. I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of such a long drive after a day full of hiking, so the thought of moving everything up a few hours sounded pretty good.
This is when some steep up and down would have come in handy. Nothing like a seemingly endless physical struggle to keep you focused on enjoying the present moment. However today’s easy track gave me ample opportunity to turn on autopilot and let my mind wander towards these worries about this evenings plans. Ok, ok, I’m just making excuses here. The track isn’t to blame. Like any situation in life it can be easy to get distracted and find your mind in another place and time worrying about this, that, and the other. Fortunately, I was surrounded by giant reminders that I was in a totally cool and unique place that I could enjoy right then. I made up my mind (or maybe resigned myself, something in between I suppose) that today was just going to be a really long day, and I would enjoy this amazing scenery while I still could.
There was another really nice waterfall along the way that we took some time to stop at and have a snack. Our hut ranger had told us that this was considered the coldest water on the trail. I was tempted to take a dip, but we still had a bit of walking to do so I decided against it. The spray coming off of the waterfall created a nice natural sandfly repellent (another reason we stopped here for a while).
We set out again at a little after noon. The trail was a bit more crowded today since the lack of elevation change had everyone moving at a uniformly brisk pace. It was a bit of a shock at times. The previous three days we typically found ourselves all alone as we made our way from one hut to the next, but today we were rarely without company on the trail. I missed the relatively solitary immersion in nature that the last few days had offered.
We made it to Sandfly Point, the end of the trail (which was really one of the less sandfly infested places we stopped on our four days here), just in time to catch the 1:30 boat. However it turned out there wasn’t actually a 1:30 boat! Ha! That’ll teach me to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. But fortunately, even though we had given up on getting out early, the fates smiled on us and there were some extra seats on the 2:00 boat! It was only a fifteen minute ride to Milford Sound.
We decided to search out the 2:30 bus to ask if they had any extra seats. Alana honed in on it with her keen sense of intuition just as it was pulling up to the stop. Some other hikers were there already and we overheard them tell the driver that there were a bunch of people inside looking for extra seats. He replied that he’d see what he could do, but he was pretty full. We didn’t have much hope, but Alana approached the driver and asked if he had two extra seats available. Turns out there were three open seats so we were all set! So the moral of the story is: it pays to show up early and talk to the driver.
The drive back to Te Anau Downs was pretty scenic in its own right, but Alana, possessing the ability to instantly fall asleep in any moving vehicle, slept the entire way. We got back to our car and loaded up our gear. We were both pretty hungry at this point, so we decided to stop in Te Anau (20 minutes down the road) for a late lunch before starting our drive. We stopped in a little place called Miles Better Pies. Pies (not like American apple or pumpkin pie, more like little chicken pot pies but with different fillings) are a big thing here in New Zealand. Despite being in New Zealand for eight months now we hadn’t eaten any pies. It was about time we gave them a try. They had a huge variety of flavors and great prices. It was love at first bite for me, a perfect post hike meal. I now consider myself a pie convert. I have seen the light, surrounded by a golden flaky crust.
Since Alana had a nice afternoon bus nap, she was kind enough to drive the three hours to Cromwell, a little town about an hour east of Queenstown, where we’d be spending the next four days. Why stay in a little town so far removed from the popular destination that is Queenstown? Cheap accommodation of course! Queenstown is cool, but also very popular and thus almost impossible to find a place to stay within our usual budget.
The ride to Cromwell wasn’t too bad. We were both feeling energized thanks to the magic of pies (and coffee I suppose). The South Island is full of long drives so it helps to have something to relieve the inevitable boredom. We’ve been trying and having great success thanks to audiobooks. We’re currently listening to The Martian. It’s pretty entertaining and great for those sections of highway where we can’t get anything on the radio. We made it to our AirBnb and having a real bed made it extremely difficult for me to stay up and record the days events in my journal. Needless to say we slept very well that night.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, I thought this post was about the Milford Track,” you say. “What’s all this rubbish about pies and audiobooks?” Hey take it easy, this is my story and this is all part of the complete Milford Track journey. But getting back to the question I posed in part one, is it worth it? Alana and I would both agree it is. New Zealand is known for its beautiful and unique outdoor scenery, and the Milford Track is an amazing slice of that. The fact that you have to stay in huts makes it more approachable if you’re not comfortable full out tent camping. If you’re looking for a really luxurious experience (and don’t mind paying for it) they also have guided walks with even nicer amenities. Just remember, if you’re thinking about walking it, book early and be prepared. For more information check out the DOC site.
I hope you enjoyed this hiking tale, and be sure to stay tuned, as Alana and I are about to depart on Great Walk #3: The Routeburn Track!