I stand very still as a little bush robin cocks its head and looks me in the eye.
He hops towards my boot on spindly legs and starts tugging at my shoelace. He’s just one of many little birds darting from tree to tree in front of me as I hike one of the most famous trails in the world: the Milford Track.
I always wanted to ‘do’ the Milford Track, but I was concerned that my age and fitness level would preclude me from taking on this challenging walk on New Zealand’s South Island. However, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to give it a go.
I opted to walk in comfort with Ultimate Hikes over five days. Their packages include accommodation in permanent lodges. You start each day with a cooked breakfast and end it with a hot shower and a three-course meal with wine. A good night’s rest in a comfortable bed ensures you are refreshed and ready to take on the next section of the track with your guide. If you walk the Milford Track as an independent ‘freedom walker’, you have to carry everything — bedding, clothing and food. Walking with Ultimate Hikes means you only carry your clothing and lunch.
It takes most of the first day just to get to the start of the walk. We travel from Queenstown by bus and boat. The next day is the first real day of walking (16 kilometres) and I begin to wonder what I’d been so concerned about. Apart from a short climb towards the end, the track meanders comfortably through a beautiful beech forest. The sound of the river rushing over rocks on my right keeps me company. The water looks cool, crisp and clear.
Day three is a different story. The track zigzags 600 metres up a mountainside to the highest point at Mackinnon’s Pass. I stop to catch my breath and look back at the view of the magnificent mountains that surround me. The sun shines brightly and the mountains are silhouetted against the blue sky. We’ve been lucky on this trek so far. It often rains here. Some hardy hikers walk the track in heavy snow!
As I head down into the next valley, it becomes clear just how tough the track can be. The descent is very challenging. I have to concentrate on every step to ensure I don’t slip or fall. As is always the case on a long walk, the last kilometre feels like five.
I almost decide not to walk the optional 45-minutes to Sutherland Falls, but after a shower and a cup of tea I feel revived and ready to give it a go. Approaching the base of the falls, I gasp for breath as the power of the falling water creates a heavy mist that envelops everyone.
The fourth day is a long one — in distance that is. The 21-kilometre walk follows a river through more lush forest. The sandflies are bad here and I’m happy I have heavy duty repellant on hand. At last we reach our accommodation overlooking magnificent Milford Sound.
Our final day features a relaxing cruise on the sound. It’s a fitting end to a superb adventure — the challenges of which are well worth facing.
Do you have any tips for walking the Milford Track? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Joanne Karcz is a Sydney-based writer and blogger. She published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne has travelled through Europe, South America and Southern Africa. She loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs.