There’s a plant that grows along the lower stretches of the Milford Track. It’s like a stunted bamboo, all stick and a few sparse, pointed leaves. It grows like that until it gains a height above the reach of the extinct Moa where it suddenly flourishes. It still does this evolutionary tour de force even though the threat it so cleverly avoided no longer exists.
There’s a parallel in that to our Milford Track experience. Jennifer and I walked the track as independent walkers 24 years ago. In an area known as one of the rainiest in the World we had one of the rainiest days as we crossed the high-point of McKinnon Pass. We spent a thoroughly miserable and quite dangerous day wading through chest-high rivers and walking on slippery tracks under waterfalls that had popped up from nowhere. We actually booked to do the Milford Track this time as independent walkers, contemplated our last experience, looked at the kids, and changed our booking to the guided walk.
The guided walk still has you carrying your own clothes and equipment. The big difference is that there’s no need to carry food beyond lunch and snacks, there are warm beds and hot showers waiting at the end of the day and you get the occasional coffee stop along the way. These are all good things.
The first day on the Track was ridiculously easy. A relaxing two-hour coach trip from Queenstown to Te Anau was followed by a launch trip North passing the point where McKinnon, listed as the Track’s first explorer, perished and places were anonymous Maoris sheltered on their annual supply runs to the area.Then there was the first day’s walk. Wait for it… 1.2km. That’s about the distance to the local shops.
The walk may be short but it is pretty. It’s like arriving in an alternate universe called Green Fluffy World. Moss covers everything. The trees are covered in thick layers of it, it hangs in fronds from the branches. Everything is soft and rounded and green. There’s not a sharp angle to be seen it’s all buried under an emerald coat.
The lodge where we stay the night is luxury in the wilderness. Even though everything has to be brought in by boat or helicopter, there’s no lack of amenity. And of course water is no issue, they have more than enough of the freshest, clearest water imaginable. We were in a comfy bunk room designed for six people but assigned to only the four of us. A bathroom shared with the other bunkrooms was clean and even had a flush toilet. The shower was strong and hot. Pre-diner drinks were followed by a three-course meal of pumpkin soup, venison stew and apple strudel. Then fresh coffee and fudge.
All this was the cherry on top of the cake. We had chosen to go the guided route in response to the threat of rain and bad conditions. And like the plant that was still responding to the threat that no longer exists, we were stuck with our luxurious approach even though there wasn’t the slightest sign of rain. We laughed all the way to our cozy beds.