Throughout the many years I spent dreaming and planning this New Zealand trip with F, Milford Sound was always a place that we were going to visit. I had always assumed, however, that F would want to simply book a cruise around the famous Fiordland tourist site; so you can imagine my surprise when F (someone who has never gone camping or multi-day hiking before, and likes general cleanliness) instead announced that she wanted to hike the Milford Track. I agreed to accompany her and show her the ropes on her first outdoor adventure, but only on the condition that we would complete the Track as independent walkers (or “trampers”, as they call us in New Zealand) rather than as part of the overly expensive (and in my opinion, unnecessary for our youth and level of fitness) “guided” package offered by Ultimate Hikes.
Today was our first day on the beautiful Milford Track in the Fiordland National Park, which is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”. We booked our track permits back in July to secure our spots, because we were planning to travel during the high season. The number of places on this popular walk is limited to 40 independent walkers per day, which is the maximum occupancy of the smallest Department of Conservation (DOC) hut on the 4 day/3 night tramp. Just as well as we booked early, because we were hiking the Track at the same time as a school group from Singapore. They were all surprisingly very well-behaved, so this also turned out to be a blessing as it meant that we were able to get to know the other independent walkers well and have full use of the kitchen facilities when it was convenient to us, because the schedules set by the adults supervising the school group were designed to minimise disturbance to members of the public.
The first day involved very little hiking, being mainly designated for getting to and onto the Milford Track, which is only accessible by ferry at both ends. We got up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus from Queenstown to Te Anau with all the day trippers headed to Milford Sound (a few of whom were fascinated by the two young girls decked out in “very impressive” hiking gear and packs). We spent the morning in Te Anau, where we collected out track and hut permits from the DOC and arranged for lockers at the nearby Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park to store our luggage for the next few days (much more secure than leaving them at a backpackers in another town!). We then had a bit of time to relax in town and grabbed a delicious bite to eat at the famous Miles Better Pies before boarding our bus to Te Anau Downs alongside the other independent walkers and some other walkers destined for another of the “Great Walks”, the Routeburn Track. At Te Anau Downs, those of us headed for the Milford Track caught a ferry with the Ultimate Hikes walkers to Glade Wharf – the start of the Milford Track. It is my understanding that there is usually an earlier bus/ferry option available for booking, but this was taken up by the school group in our case.
From Glade Wharf, it was an easy 5 km walk to our first night’s accommodation at Clinton Hut. Many of our fellow independent walkers used this as an excuse to bring steak, wine, and other luxuries for a fancy meal on the first night!