Updated: May 4, 2019
A month ago I hiked the Milford Track with my partner, Lucas, Mum and friend, Tracey. If you follow me on Instagram you have probably seen a few updates on how it went but I thought I’d go a little deeper into my experience and thoughts throughout the 4 day hike.
The Milford Track as the name suggests, starts at Glade Wharf (at the top of Lake Te Anau) and ends at Sandfly Point in Milford Sound. A 4 day, 33.5 mile, 54km hike through the picturesque scenery that is Fiordland National Park. Fiordland National Park is in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island. My first multi-day hike, which I quickly found out is also known as ‘Tramping’.
Tramping; the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country.
Before we left I had minimal expectations on what the hike and huts would be like, besides what Mum had told me about her previous experiences, I had never really looked into it. I probably didn’t spend enough time training at home, nor did I do very much exercise for the 2 weeks prior whilst being in New Zealand. I felt good, but I definitely wasn’t at my ‘peak’ in terms of fitness. We went to a yoga class on Sunday morning, the day before our hike for a last minute stretch and strengthen, which was really nice for 3 out of the 4 of us. Lucas enjoyed the class a little too much and accidentally over stretched and ended up pulling a muscle in his middle back. As you could imagine, the timing was impeccable.
The one thing I wish I did do before we started, was weigh my pack. Once you have to carry everything you need on your back, suddenly you don’t need very much. We guessed it was around 15kgs to start, which got lighter each day as we ate the food, but it would have been nice to know exactly how much I was carrying!
The first day sort of eased us into it,
it was short in comparison to the other days, just 5kms and fairly flat. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad, I thought to myself when we arrived at our first hut. The huts were beautiful wooden buildings with basic equipment to cook and clean. Sleeping arrangements were bunk beds with plastic covered mattresses that made a noise every time someone moved. Mix that with the odd snorer and you quickly realise ear plugs are a tramping essential. Luckily, my previous 4 month hostel stint through Europe had prepared me for that.
The second day was longer at 16.5kms and started with a man down. Quite literally, Lucas bent down to stretch out his sore back within the first hour of walking and he could not get back up. His back had seized and he ended up on the ground. Here I was thinking Lucas would have to get air lifted out of the forest and then two lovely ladies who happened to be nurses, walked up after us! They were fully prepared for every situation and gave Lucas an anti-inflammatory and pain killer which got him off the ground 15 minutes later. Funnily enough, whilst this was going on a helicopter actually landed almost next to us.. We stood their confused wondering how they found out we needed help so quickly, however they were simply dropping in rangers to work on the track and swiftly took off again. Leaving us with a good laugh and making light of the situation.
The first day had clear and easy tracks that looked extremely well kept and open. It was the second day that introduced us to unclear and rocky paths, with star pickets sticking out of the ground to let us know which direction we should be walking. We hiked through areas that reminded me of the enchanted forests I could only dream of when I was younger. I was mesmerised by the beauty that surrounded me. We also climbed in elevation slightly, so my pack all of a sudden felt a little heavier than the day before. The second day gave me a little reality check – my legs were tired and my shoulders were sore, maybe this wouldn’t be so easy.
The third day was the big one, less in distance at 14kms but a lot more in effort, stamina, will-power and determination. We climbed to the top of MacKinnon’s Pass which reached 1154m above sea level at the highest point, before going straight back down the other side. We had separated as we hiked at our own pace, Lucas and Tracey powered ahead, while Mum and I took it a little slower. I kept my distant eye on Mum, stopping occasionally to check in and have a drink, but spent most of my time alone. Once we reached the top, we sat down and enjoyed the views for a bit. I thought to myself, that wasn’t so bad and we made it to the top a lot quicker than I expected. If that was the hard part then the rest should be a lot easier.. How wrong was I.
Coming down the mountain saw a mixture of tracks - some not as steep as others, some even ground while most were rocky, a section of slippery board walk and steep stairs that went down along beautiful waterfalls and crystal clear pools. I tried to take in the amazing scenery as often as I could, but it meant I had to stop walking because there was no way I could look anywhere else other than where I was placing my feet in front of me. I wore a knee brace on both knees for extra support but I had not anticipated just how physically and mentally tough coming down the mountain would be.
I was alone for the most part, and I spoke to myself a lot. It was nice to have a bit of both because talking with others made time go quickly, but hiking alone meant it was just myself and my thoughts. I went through so many emotions, my eyes welled up when I tripped for the 18th time, I laughed with myself when my mind wandered so far I had to retrace my thoughts to figure out how I got there, I felt anger when the next mile post took (what felt like) 3 miles to show up. I had to stay in control, motivate myself and continue to tell myself to keep moving when I wanted to stop. I focused a lot on engaging the muscles around my knees to hopefully protect them, as well as making quick decisions on where my next foot placement would be because it could be the difference between a twisted ankle and staying upright. All this while still trying to enjoy and take in what was around me! Wow.
Another quick realisation was just how lucky we were to do it all in beautiful weather. Afternoon showers were predicted everyday while we were on the track, but not one single drop was felt over the four days! For a place that gets 9000mm per year, luck was on our side. Adding the element of water would have taken my ‘tramp’ to a whole new level, a level I was okay not experiencing.
Because we hadn’t done enough tramping on the third day, we also had the opportunity to hike out to the tallest waterfall in New Zealand – Sutherland Falls. I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for being able to take our packs off and leave them in a shelter where the guided tours stayed. This added an extra 2 hours onto our day but it was definitely worth it. The waterfall was 580m high and incredible to watch. I was tied between sitting down and admiring the view or starting the hike back to the main track to finish off the last leg of our day. The hut felt so close but still so far.
When we reached the last hut, I took my pack off, laid on the ground and put my legs straight up the wall. Oh, how great it felt to get the blood flowing in the opposite direction. This was short lived as my body quickly began to feel like I’d been hit by a bus, train and plane all at the same time. Mind over matter became extremely important with the realisation we still had the longest day of the 4 ahead of us.
The fourth day was 18kms to the finish line, but 18kms of fairly flat, even ground. We left in the dark, unsure how long it would take us to get to the end. We were booked on the 2pm boat out of here, so we had a time limit. I tried to find a balance between taking it all in for the last day and powering through to get to the finish line (and take my pack off). Since we started earlier than usual we got to hear some of the early birds sing in the forest - it was so beautiful to listen to. I also hoped to see a Kiwi while it was still dark because they are nocturnal, but the shy little birds didn’t make an appearance. The four of us met again at our lunch stop, we arrived 1.5hours ahead of time. We were down to our last rations. I cut up the last of our 5 day old sourdough with a butter knife, and scraped the last of our butter and vegemite evenly between the slices. Each mouthful was followed by excitement for the meal I was going to eat that night!
After lunch and for the remainder of the hike, I stayed behind Mum. I could tell she was burning out so if I stayed behind her she would keep moving. There were some sections where she powered off in front and I couldn’t keep up with her bursts of energy, but as each mile post seemed to move further and further away, Mum was losing steam. The four of us all ended up at the last mile (33) post together for a selfie, and we walked to the finish line as a family. Let me tell you, it was the longest half mile of my life. I couldn’t count on my hands how many times Lucas said ‘we are almost there’, I was struggling to find the thin line between motivational speaking and being annoying (haha, sorry Mum!), but with light hearts, a little humour and a smile on our faces – we made it to the end.
What an accomplishment. I was so proud of myself for completing my first ever multi-day hike, of Lucas for pushing through until the end, of Tracey for showing the world just how much of a boss lady she really is, but most of all of Mum, for believing in putting one foot in front of the other and continuing to push herself outside her comfort zone. At the time I said I don’t think I can do another multi day hike, but now I’m saying when is the next one!?
Love Han, xx