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On the eve of Day 4, we enjoyed ourselves some of the finer things in life.  We’d just finished a four-day 55 km hike (as you will remember), so it was only natural to celebrate with glass after glass of cold delicious cider and rounds of the Settlers of Catan.  Yes, even hiking in the middle of the woods we can find fellow Settlers players…

Day 5, we woke up to a classic Milford day: absolutely raining buckets.  The Milford Sound has been dubbed the world’s eighth wonder (by Rudyard Kipling) and one of the wettest places of the world.  Interestingly enough, the Milford Sound is not a sound at all (a valley carved and filled by running water, such as river runoff or rain) but is a fjord, a deep canyon carved by glaciers and backfilled by the sea.  No idea when or why the misnomer arose, but there’s a bit of scientific edumaction for you.

From pictures we had viewed before the trip, I can assure you Milford Sound is astoundingly beautiful. Pictures of our cruise on the sound, however, may not prove this to you. It was raining so hard that it was difficult to be outside on the ship’s decks for more than a few minutes, and even harder to get a decent picture. No sooner would I wipe the lens then another splash would land… We subsequently heard from the captain that, had he realized the extent of the rain and wind earlier, he wouldn’t have taken the boat out for safety reasons.

But looking on the bright side, where there’s water, there will be waterfalls.  And where there’s wind and water, there will be…. upward flowing waterfalls???

Yep, that’s right.  The Milford Sound had in that day of rain filled with literally dozens of temporary waterfalls from the deluge of rain, including ones so fleeting that the gale-force winds disrupted their flow and caused disappearing acts and upward flowing falls.

Once we had from our cruise disembarked, our bus ride back to Queenstown took us through the surrounding valleys.  By this time, the falls had increased in frequency and strength.  It was like the Sound was crying at the thought of us leaving.  Such a beautiful send-off.

Final pictures from the epic Milford Sound Track on the photos page.

Day 4, our last day hiking.  After summitting and descending the McKinnon Pass, all that was left was the 22-kilometer (13 mile) stroll to Sandfly Point, the end of our epic hike.  This portion of the hike was long but flat, and exposed us to a myriad of additional water features as we traipsed over swinging suspension bridges and alongside more dazzling waterfalls. It was also the day of our hike on which, we were promised, it would rain.  This fact motivated us to keep a quick pace, while the knowledge that our hike would be over at the end of Day 4 caused the occasional pause for reflection and capture of “just-one-more” beautiful sight.

After spending the morning together as a pack of 4 happy hikers, Steve & I broke off in the afternoon for the last leg to the end of the trail.  Sure enough, as had been predicted, rain started to fall at mile 31.  Normally one would think this a negative development, but personally, I appreciate a good walk in the rain.  We walked the last 2 hard miles with the refreshing splashes on our face, the sweet smell of musty earth on our noses, and a supreme sense of accomplishment pervading our psyches.

Wet and happy, we had reached the end of the Milford Track.

Full pictures of our last day of the hike.  Don’t be too sad the journey is over, there’s still Day 5 — a cruise on the Milford Sound (in torrential rain) — to come!

Day 3 was the most challenging day of the 5-day journey: 15 kms (9 miles) distance, 800 meters elevation gain up and over the McKinnon Pass, then another 1,000 meters down the other side of the peak into Arthur Valley.  We (OK, maybe just me) shouted out the turns of the 11 switchbacks as we zigged and zagged up the mountain side, compelling and propelling ourselves forward for the view at the top.  And what a view it was…

The way down, always hardest on the knees, was peppered with gorgeous sights.  Mist flowed over the backside of McKinnon Pass, weka (think brown NZ chicken) hopped through brush along the trail, and a cascading waterfall dripped and pooled for hundreds of meters. At the bottom, we dropped our packs for a side excursion to Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand.  And what a view it was….

We took less photos on Day 3 (might have had something to do with all the physical exertion…) but still plenty to more to view.  Check out the full pictures.

Day 2 was our first real day of hiking: 16 kms (10 miles) through the flat plains along the meandering Clinton River.  It was a gorgeous day–so warm that our packs were weighed down holding all the heavy layers we had brought in anticipation of chilly 60ºF days.  We took full advantage of the weather and relatively easy itinerary to leisurely stroll through the woods, stopping frequently to snap photos along the way.  We couldn’t be sure we’d have another day this brilliant, so we relished our day-long meander. 

With sights like these around every turn, wouldn’t you?  More pictures of Day 2 of the trek on the photos page!

Pictures of the Milford Sound Trek are finally here!  Our 5 day walk to Milford Sound took us across a deep fiord lake, through the rainforest, along a river so clear it appeared emerald-green from the lush forest reflection and past countless waterfalls. All in all we walked approximately 55kms (just over 33 miles), and gained 1,000 meters (over 3,000 feet) in elevation change, over roughly 3 days.

We enjoyed spectacular weather for a region where it can rain nearly every day (March, average 18 days).  It was one of the most memorable moments of my life; there is simply nothing like the absolute peace of mind that comes from 10 hours days in the outdoors, with no sounds other than the rushing wind, chirping birds, flowing water, and pace of your own breath.  An absolutely amazing journey, which we were blessed to be able to share with dad and donna.

The days will unfold over a series of posts.   Day 1: bus trip from Queesntown to Te Anu, 1.5 hour boat ride on Lake Te Anu, 1km walk to the Glade House, followed by a nature walk and nighttime star-gazing.  A very short walk for the “first day of hiking”, but enough beautiful sights to leave us itching for more…

Check out the full pictures.

After our hike on Fox Glaicer, we spent another day in Glacier Country on the beach at Okarito and visiting some of the hundreds of waterfalls in the Southern Alps.  Glacier what??  More pictures to behold

As if going to New Zealand’s South Island for 10 days to do one of NZ’s the most iconic walks, the Milford Track, wasn’t enough, we made our way to Queenstown, adventure capital of NZ and the starting point for our trek, on a circuitous route through Glacier Country.  We could tell from the drive that we were in mountainous territory, but in the pitch black of Friday night all we could see were some serious hairpin turns.

The next morning, we woke up in Franz Joseph, a sleepy little town that literally moves at a glacial pace, and one look up told us everything we needed to know.  Massive towering green mountain peaks, with snow caps off in the distance.  We had arrived at Glacier Country, and we were off for a hike on Fox Glacier.

The glacial valley, with a decent view of the base of the glacier, is open to the public, but to really experience the beauty of the glacier you’ve gotta get on the ice.  We went on a tour with a fantastic guide, who took on an uphill climb through the rainforest in the glacial valley and down onto the ice.

For the next 4 hours, we traversed the icey blue peaks as our guide literally carved the way with an ice ax, roughing up the ice for traction and creating ice steps up and down the fractured faces of the glacier.

It was definitely the most unique hike I’ve ever been on.  The idea of hiking through the rainforest to get onto a glacier is crazy enough.  While it was tee-shirt hot going through the forest, once we were on the ice, a bone-chilling katabatic wind would periodically sweep down the face of the glacier.

And the ice itself – a contrast of snow white with incredible shades of ice blue – covered in piles of dirty grey rock to remind you of the awesome power that the docile and seemingly motionless ice you’re standing on can wield as it slowly scrapes down the valley, dragging pieces of the mountain along with it.

It was absolutely unforgettable.

There’s only one thing to say in closing… more pictures on the photos page!

New Zealand, here we come!