“We realized the beauty of this hike is not to see great mountains in the sunshine,
but rather to see all the waterfalls in the rain.”
New Zealand has several “great walks” of which the country is very proud. These great walks involve staying at backcountry huts, as we have been doing, but typically need advance reservations and are more expensive. The trails are maintained and in good enough condition that the walks are “for everyone”.
The Milford Sound Great Walk is acclaimed as one of the best in the country, if not the world, and usually books full a year in advance.
Just our luck, two spots opened up while we were in the national park visitor center (we assume by chance but who knows), and the days available just happened to fit our schedule perfectly.
So, who cares if its $600 (for 3 nights – our most expensive yet!), we wanted to see what all the hype was about, and compare to the $15/night huts we had already experienced.
Did I mention that it rains more here than most places on earth? For a 4-day hike, we expected rain. And the weather promised to deliver rain the entire time.
We bought food – but less this time than when we did Nelson Lakes, and instead, used the extra space/available weight to bring bottles of wine.
Day 1 – Ferry to the trailhead, hike 3 miles to Clinton Hut
Off to a rough start in the wind.
A nice green walk – and no rain yet! A celebratory yoga stretch. Until the sand flies got us – they were out in force and by the 100s. No fun, we went inside.
Curious what a FULL hut would look like with 40 people, we got our answer. Not quite the cozy nights we had been having alone, but fun nonetheless.
GLOW WORMS – one of the most amazing things that I had hoped to see. We stayed up extra late this night to see them. Glow worms are actually not worms but larvae. They use phosphorescence to attract insects to their sticky exude, trap and eat them. We found this group in a earthen shelf, about 5-feet off the ground.
Day 2 – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut, 10 miles
This was a rainy, wet day. It rain, poured, rained more, all day. A couple times the fog lifted and rain slowed, allowing us a few photographs. We realized the beauty of this hike: it is not to see great mountains in the sunshine, but rather to see all the waterfalls in the rain.
After our wet 10-mile slog we arrived at the hut, around 1pm. We were among the first to arrive so we got prime real estate in the bunks (upstairs by a window) as well as front row on the drying racks above the wood stove. Good thing – we were soaked. Turns out raincoats are really just meant to keep the light water off, but all day heavy rain is going to soak through. And just imagine: within 5 hours the remaining 30+ people arrived with ALL wet gear, and wanted to squeeze by the wood stove and on the drying racks.
Since Griffin made the fire and tended to it, we camped out in prime location. A few others offered to help, but the majority just soaked up the heat and got in the way.
Celebrating with a bottle of wine:
Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut. 10 miles. Over the Pass.
Another day of rain. Predicted to go all day. Sad, as this was the day we are to go over “the pass”, where there could be great views of the valleys below. We decided the earlier start the better, as it the weather tends to be worse in the afternoons than mornings.
I was worried about this “pass”. After the 18,000′ pass we did in Nepal in 2009, and after getting over our heads in Nelson Lakes, I felt I knew enough of what the world can throw at you, and I was worried. The ranger warned us from the 2000’+ drop-offs and to stay away from the edge, especially in heavy winds. Yikes. Especially because as we hiked higher the thunder started. And then a bit of hail.
Well, turns out, I was being silly and this pass, while it did have drop-offs, was windy, and horridly chilly up top, it really just wasn’t that bad. A walk in the park. Suppose that’s where the “great walk” name comes from. (and no, Griffin was never worried.)
And best of all, the rain stopped, the clouds lifted, and we got that view we had hoped for. Really spectacular!
Heading down there was a glacier-fall danger on the regular track, so we had to take the alternate route (this is part of what the $600 goes towards – warnings of danger).
The rest of the day was lovely.
Our last night in the huts. We had another bottle of wine and enjoyed hanging out with our new friends.
Day 4 – hike from Dumpling Hut to Sand Fly Point, boat ride, bus back to our car. 11.5 miles.
Finally – a sunny day! It was beautiful! We now remember what it was like to live in New England, where when summer comes and it gets warm, how good it can feel. We thought we wouldn’t care, but it was just so nice to be warm in the sun. And the trail was just gorgeous.
Lovely underwater “gardens”:
Why would we want to go here? *sigh*, and onward to Sand Fly Point.
And finally, after Sand Fly Point, the boat ride out was just as amazing:
All in all, for $600, how did this stack up?
The footing was better, the rivers had bridges to aid in crossing, the huts more luxurious, and the trail in general was not all that challenging. But it sure was beautiful, and the most expensive part of the walk – the bus and boat transports – were equally beautiful. So in all, YES, worth the money, time, and being soaked to the bone for a couple days.