South Island, New Zealand: Part 2 – The Milford Sound

As of March 18 my parents came to meet me in Queenstown. Together we traveled for three weeks all around the South Island. After picking up my parents at the airport we spent a very relaxed day enjoying a lovely brunch spot and then settling in nicely to our hotel. We emerged for Birthday dinner which involved a braised and slow roasted lamb shoulder. Mmmm.

That next day we went wine tasting in the Gibbston Valley just north of queenstown. We found some delicious wines and bluff oysters that were in season at the moment. After eating so much all day and night, the next day we decided to head to Glenorchy for a small day hike. Glenorchy is also where they did a lot of filming of horseback riding shots in Lord of the Rings. They announced this everywhere in the small town. We decided to do a day hike on what’s called the Routeburn track. Typically a 3 day hike across a fairly rugged mountain wilderness. As a simple day hike we did about 12 miles. It was enough to get us into somewhat shape to prepare for our Milford track adventures. After crossing many swing bridges and hiking through moss covered rain forests and crystal clear blue waterfalls we reached the ridge and waterfalls. For most people this was their stopping point and hut location, unfortunately we still had to go back down. Nonetheless it was a beautiful hike.

For our final day in Queenstown before our Milford Expedition we slept in, had a late brunch, walked around the city and enjoyed a day of quiet relaxation then hectic packing. We met our group that afternoon and was given a briefing of what to expect on the hike, what to pack, what not to bring, and who all was on the trip. By this meeting alone I was quick to realize that I was the youngest person on the trip. No matter though – the group had incredible individuals among them. The following day we departed for the milford track, which through buses and boats and our own two feet took really all day to get to our first stopping point.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Milford Track or Milford Sounds they are located in the southwestern part of the south island of New Zealand. They are called Fiordlands because the glacier carved out large fiords that connect to the ocean. A fiord is used to describe a mountain near the ocean that has been carved by glaciers to create deep chasms and passes. The scenery is absolutely stunning.

Anywhoo – Milford Sound – a guided hike since the early 1900’s for all types of adventure seekers. Huts were established along the way and no camping was allowed until the mid 60’s when a group of rebellious youths camped all along the well established trail in protest. They believed that, what is now called ‘freedom camping’, should be allowed within the park. Meaning that you can hike the trail without being on a guided tour. They have now established a ‘freedom camper’ hut system that you must stay in if you’re not hiking with the guided groups. You can’t tent camp anywhere in the area to protect the environment. But our accommodations were a bit more lush, shall we say, complete with showers and a full fledged dinner and a bar. Everything we truly need. We spent 5 days with a group of people all ranging from my age to people in their 40’s to people well into their 70’s.

It was absolutely inspiring to hike this 33.2 mile trail with 70 year olds who once hiked the track in their youth. Each night we would have dinner in a large dinning room meeting people from across the world and hearing their life tales.  The trail takes you through lush valleys surrounded by intimidating craggy peaks that have been carved by glaciers over thousands of years. There are ancient forests covered in moss, towering trees and the uninterrupted chattering of birds rings through the air. A wilderness area so pristine that we could drink directly from the hundred of flowing streams without treating the water.  A humbling and awe-inspiring land to be sure. I feel so lucky to have witnessed this with my parents. The final day of the trek we were taken on a boat ride through the milford sounds. It was such a foggy cold morning it made the mountains seem even more ominous and untouched. The water was an icy black color and your thoughts would stray to explorers who had first discovered these vast, imposing waterways.

…wow.

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