After two days of bussing myself from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South, I arrived in Te Anau, a small lakeside town where many travellers stay on their way to Fjordland National park. I stayed two nights in a YHA hostel, filing up on food before my upcoming excursion into the park.
A small tour bus picked me up to take me to Milford Sound, the quintessentail New Zealand Fjord. After a couple of hours and some stops to admire the scenerey–some incredible jaw dropping expanses of plains, jagged mountains, and forrest–we arrived at the sound. It was a relatively clear day, if a bit foggy, and I had a pretty good veiw of the sound, which is quite beautiful. While everyone else on the bus made their way to the docks for a tour boat, I trekked a half mile over to the heliport.
I was to take a heli over the mountains to the start of my track, but I was left waiting a while for it it take off. In the meantime I got acquainted with the local sandfly– which the Maori people claim was left in the sound so that man would not linger and forget his mortality. Sums it right up. Here you are, staring at some of the most amazing land you’ve ever laid eyes on, and the moment you come to a full stop to admire it the sandflies are on you. Maybe just a couple at first, but withn a minute there are droves of them looking to latch on to your sweet flesh and suck your blood! These things are like mosquitoes that never rest and travel in centuries. I started battling them in the airport like Drunken Master while the pilots scratched their heads and laughed me off.
Finally I was able to get in the helicopter and shortly thereafter we took off for Martin’s Bay. If you have never been in a helicopoter I highly reccommend it should you get the chance! We soared over Milford and through the mountain tops. My mouth was wide with amazement but thankfully the sandfly population in the helicopter was noticably smaller.
I landed not at Martin’s bay as I thought I would, but at a privately owned hut on the track specializing in the wealthy tourist that won’t leave behind their creature comforts. In fact, my helicpoter had been carting in beer and wine to stock the place! I set off towards the bay, which I discovered was much further than I thought. I was hiking in the wrong direction–away from where I was to be picked up–but I wanted to see the bay. So I was faced with the choice to trek on and spend an unplanned night in Martin’s Bay hut, or continue on my track as usual. I decided to press on and see the bay.
The bay was nice…I walked along the beach to get to Martin’s Bay hut to spend the night. I shared the hut with a German couple who were doing the whole loop and a New Zealand man and his two sons who had just finished the Hollyford. Confronted with sandfly infested toiletts I nearly broke down and was quite homesick.
The next morning I set out early. I needed to cover twice the distance I thought I would–making my way to Hokuri Hut (which I had planned for the 1st day) and then on to the Demon Trail Hut. The beach I had walked on the day before however was non-existant as rain and high tide had covered the trail. I had to walk out of the bay through about three feet of water, making the regrettable decision to leave my waterproof boots on (Mind you, waterproof boots are equally capable of holding water in and creating swimming pool for your foot!) The rest of the first leg was easy enough despite wet socks– mostly level, well paved track and some lakeside paths, a creek crossing. I covered the 13km in about 3 hours compared to the estimated 5. Reaching Hokuri by 11:30am, I decided to press on to the Demon Trail.
This section of the track is aptly named. It runs along the edge of Lake Mackerrow, but up in the thick brush, following a rocky, winding trail that continuously rises and falls along its 9.6km. It took me about 5 hours through wet, slippery conditions to reach the demon trail hut. I slipped once or twice and nearly twisted my ankle about a dozen times. After a so much distance covered in the morning and my feet constantly slipping on wet rocks, it was slow going. When I finally reached the Demon Trail Hut at 5pm, I felt like the New Zealand Rainforrest had chewed me up and spit me out a hobbled mess. I spent the night with a couple of Americans studying abroad in Dunedin, and slept late.
The next day I was still quite sore from the Demon Trail but the skies had cleared and I was rewarded with beautiful views of the mountains. I took my time to get to Lake Alabaster hut over track that was at times just as brutal and strewn with fallen trees and crumbling paths. One section had me climbing into a small brook and stepping over the precipice of a waterfall to reach the next section of trail! I reached lake Alabaster hut late in the afternoon, achey and wobbly, at about the same time as Amit, a young Burmese man who had twisted his ankle on the Pyke-Big Bay route and had to turn back.
As I knew vipassana had come out of Burma, I asked him about it. It turns out he had done some and actually travelled with Goenka!
The next day I did another double length hike, intending to make it to the road. My knees were beginning to give me trouble but the trail was much easier here and well maitained. I made my way along the Hollyford River, past a couple of big waterfalls, and lunched on Peanut Butter and Nutella at Hidden falls hut. Shortly after, at Hidden Falls themselves, I met an Israeli Couple who walked most of the way out with me. Crossing over the final footbridge which marked the end of my trek, I stripped off my boots and stretched out on the pavement. The Israeli’s had left their lights on and their battery had died! No jumper cables could be found but some American tourists with a rental car stripped a bit of cable off the footbridge and used that to jump the battery! After dining on warm tortillas and chocolate spread with the Israelis, my ride arrived. Looking forward to a hot shower and a bed, I returned to Te Anau.