The Milford Track is the most famous, and most popular, of the Great Walks. It starts at the bottom of the Clinton Valley, formed by the eponymous river which features a few times in the gallery of square photos further down. The first two nights of the three-night, four-day hike are spent within the Clinton Valley, hiking from the boat drop at the northernmost end of Lake Te Anau where the Clinton River feeds it, up to McKinnon Pass where the images above and the whole slide show below were taken. After the slide show, you’ll see a variety of views from other sections of the trail: rivers, waterfalls, dramatic valleys and trail segments snuggled into a rock face alongside the Arthur River at the end of the track, where it meets up with Milford Sound. Milford Sound has been cited by many magazines as one of the most beautiful places on earth; and Milford Track as has been cited as one of the most spectacular hikes on earth. I certainly found McKinnon pass to be one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen, and I found many of the miles along the Clinton Valley quite beautiful in an ever-changing, other-worldly manner that was different yet again from the other-worldliness of the glaciers featured in my last post.
But allow me to say this, of the Milford Track: it is indescribably wet. We hiked it in the midst of the southern summer, during peak season. Peak season is also, strangely, the rainiest season; but even the driest season has plenty of rain. And the drier winter season is, we were told, the season of such landslides as the one just below where you see the trail marker placed to navigate walkers across the rubble field. I can imagine that a mostly-dry hike over this trail would be an unbelievably great experience. And I can certainly attest the truth of that oft-quoted adage that rain makes waterfalls, which are the joy of the trail. But can I just say that my own brain can only really appreciate xx-many waterfalls, and after a certain point both my feet and my soul wish to be dry, warm and comfortable again? So I ended this trail – which, indeed, gave me more spectacular scenery than most other hikes I’ve done – with the sense that it won’t likely call to me again…whereas the Abel Tasman, for all its comparatively mundane (hah!) scenery, is one I’d readily return to again and again – in part because it’s just so much more warm and comfortable as a hiking experience. (Even the Kepler, another Great Walk within the extraordinary Fiordland National Park, showcases a wider range of terrain with a lower preponderance of heavily rainy days — witness this post: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/kepler-track-fiordland-national-park/
But don’t get me wrong: even the most amazing of these photos (some of which still give me vertigo) can’t convey the gift of being present to feel and hear the roar of wind and rain, marvel at the shifting windows of sunlight along a mountainside, or see a rainbow materialize above one of those windows…with the sense perhaps you’re the only human positioned so as to appreciate that particular ephemeral wonder. Whatever the case, I encourage anyone who loves the great outdoors and appreciates natural beauty to bump NZ up your must-visit list, if you’ve not done so already. Feel free to research on this blog (from 2009, 2013-14, and 2015!) some of the many wonders you might consider experiencing in person. Enjoy. 🙂
…about the blurry spots you’ll see in some of the rainier images: my camera has survived but there were days where the lens never really got dry. Most of the rain-splattered photos are deleted, but I felt some of these convey what words cannot about the omnipresence of water at times…
With this third visit to New Zealand, I’ve grown more aware of how the country lives in the outside imagination. For many, it’s the middle earth of certain much-loved fantasy films. For me – and clearly many more – it’s probably the single best place on earth to get an amazing range of very well supported and managed backpacking options. Hut-to-hut hikes abound throughout North Island, South Island, and Rakiura/Stewart Island, meaning one can travel a bit lighter without a tent if one chooses, and – particularly important down in Fiordland – have a solid roof and walls around one when the rains fall and/or the temperatures plummet even in high summer. The best known and most popular of these hikes are managed as ‘Great Walks’ by the superb NZ Department of Conservation. When I first learned of them, while planning my very first trip to NZ more than six years ago, I think I read there were eight Great Walks at the time. Now it’s up to nine; and I’ve hiked three of them in their entirety, while touching on a fourth during both my first trip and the most recent one. Some friends have said they’re saving developed-world tourism for later, and focusing on less-developed cultural-adventure type travel now, while they’ve got the physical and mental energy and fitness to handle travel to relatively challenging locations without great tourist infrastructure or support. I fully understand that logic, and I’ve heard it applied also to the US by many European friends.
However, let me through some of these posts suggest that places like NZ, and the great national parks of the Western US, offer outdoor adventures which are more difficult when one’s body has lost the appetite for overnight camping and backpacking…and if you miss out on these places now, you might regret it when you visit them later and are limited to their cities and paved roads, unable to get off the highway and into the wilderness. Herewith a few too many shots of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, as support to my argument. This is an unbelievably beautiful place that I am incredibly happy to have hiked and would very gladly return to many times. By hiking it, and waking up early to cross certain estuaries at low tide with my shoes tied together and strung around my neck, I’ve had the unique opportunity to lay down the first set of footprints on the soft sand of those estuaries, to see the sun brighten the sky and rise above the horizon or the moon sink below it, to greet the sun with a mug of tea from my thermos while reveling in the absence of any sound other than waves or bird song…and generally to experience that mystical oneness with my universe that, sadly, I for one simply cannot quite achieve while behind my computer or the steering wheel of any motorized vehicle. Tasman is neither the most famous, nor the most over-subscribed of the Great Walks…but I’d definitely do this one again. Believe it or not, I really did cut out a TON of photos from this post but there are still a lot, for anyone interested in getting a more thorough feel for what it might mean if you were to lace up your boots, grab your walking stick, and step out onto this lovely trek. To reduce the length of the post, condensed two sets into galleries and one set into a slide show. (The gallery just below this focuses on tidal crossings and other cool visual and experiential effects of the tide’s action along this trail.) I hope you enjoy!