Well Worth the Wait (Part Five) – My First Milford Track Adventure

“On a Mish” #218 Well Worth the Wait (Part Five) – My First adventure on the Milford Track. Fiordland National Park. 5.12.2010. To know a view before you see it in real life can elevate the experience. After a few years working for Ultimate Hikes I had seen the famous view looking down Piopiotahi / Milford Sound in signs and brochures, and now after completing my first Milford Track mish I was going to actually see it for the first time…

On one side of the fiord stood the jagged steeple of Mitre Peak(1683m), and on the other side the ice-covered giant Mt Pembroke(2015m). The water on the fiord was getting blasted by the predictable afternoon breeze, and my two far more experienced fellow guides took me down from the bow of the Anita Bay just before the waves began to wash onto the boat’s deck. As we got close to the harbour in Freshwater Basin we got our first view of the tiny settlement of Milford Sound, nestled below the towering granite walls of Barren Peak(1561m). Our boat was dwarfed by the huge tourist boats as we docked in Freshwater Basin.

From the wharf a quick bus trip took us to Mitre Peak Lodge for a taste of the outside world (almost). Even though the lodge is located in the mountainous heart of Fiordland, there is something about seeing cars, buses and trucks that takes a little bit of the remoteness away when compared with the experience while hiking the Milford Track.

At the lodge and now wearing ‘fancy’ clothes, we enjoyed our last dinner together and then we migrated to possibly the best view seen from a hotel lounge anywhere.

Just like on the Routeburn Track, the guests are all given a certificate, and that’s when the reality of finishing the hike really started to sink in. After the certificate ceremony our night wasn’t quite over yet, as we took a one minute stroll for a drink at the famous Blue Duck Cafe/Bar (RIP) before everyone retreated to their rooms.

Piopiotahi/Milford Sound

An early-ish start the next morning had us enjoying our last breakfast together, and outside the weather was far from what we had been used to. A dark grey sky signalled a change in the weather, and luckily for us this was happening after our hike.

I was given the options of: A stay at the lodge and strip the sheets off the beds, or B head out for a cruise around Piopiotahi/Milford Sound… The cloud was low on the mountains as I and the other passengers on the boat left the harbour, and made our way towards Sinbad Gully, and the massive cliff faces on the eastern side of Mitre Peak(1683m). Even with cloud barring views of the mountain tops every moment of the cruise was incredible. The towering walls of the fiord seemed to have no vertical limits, as we looked up at the huge cliffs sticking out of the water and into the clouds high above.

After rounding Dale Point we felt the swell of the Tasman Sea, as the massive body of ocean water was being stirred up by the wind of the oncoming storm. After a quick look at the rolling waves we returned to the calmer waters of the fiord and began our return journey back to Deepwater Basin.

The local Kekeno/Fur Seal weren’t going to let a little wind spoil their day lazing about out the rocks on the shoreline and the boat took us in for a look at an animal that almost became extinct. Next was the largest waterfall in the fiord, Stirling Falls(151m). Even with the lack of rain, the water was still pumping and its daunting height made up for any lack of water.

We got back to the wharf and were reunited with the other guides, then together we began the long trip back to Queenstown.

As this was my first time to Piopiotahi/Milford Sound it meant it was also going to be my first journey on the world famous Milford Road. The spectacular scenery certainly didn’t ease up on the excellent drive home.

Starting with following the crystal clear waters of the Cleddau River, the road goes from dense forest to the alpine world of the Darran Mountains at the Homer Tunnel. It then drops into the deep Hollyford Valley before one last climb takes you up and over the Divide and then into the Eglington Valley. After a stop at Knobs Flat we left Fiordland National Park, and made our way through the farms of Te Anau Downs Station enroute to Te Anau. The circuit was completed as we drove past the wharf where the adventure had begun four days before, and at this point about 90% of the people on the bus were asleep.

The finest walk in the world was a slogan adopted by the Milford Track in the early 1900s, and it’s a near perfect way to describe the track. I have always believed that the best time on a track is always the first time, and this will be a first time I know I will never forget.

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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