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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Monday, 29 Jan 2007

Location: Fiordland, New Zealand

MapWe had a long journey to New Zealand - about 30 hours travelling plus crossing the date line (any dateline conversations cause Col to cover his ears and say "not listening, not listening" - he has enough trouble working out how the clocks change in England). We stopped briefly at Easter Island (warm, dark and raining), changed planes in Tahiti (warm, dark and raining), went through immigration in Auckland (cool and dry) and then flew straight down to Queenstown in the South Island (dry and sunny).

It was really strange to arrive in New Zealand and to be back in an English speaking country - well almost English. The vowel shifts still crack us up - the Dutch guy behind us at "the check-in" at Auckland airport had no idea why the assistant was talking to him about "the chicken", we've have been told to hang on to our "hits" (or hats), and the fish restaurant opposite our hostel takes advantage of it and advertises "fush and chups".

It was all slightly deflating after the "foreigness" of South America - Midsomer Murders on TV - what had we done? Also we've been to Queenstown (the self-styled Adventure Capital of the World) before so it wasn't new and exciting. But the reason for flying into Queenstown was that we had booked the Milford Track - one of the NZ Great Walks and supposed to be one of the finest walks in the world (not sure who chooses) followed by a 2 day kayaking trip in Doubtful Sound. Anyway we stayed at a nice relaxing b&b (Adelaide Street Guesthouse) - with lake views from our room and spent what seemed like 2 days buying our sleeping bags (how warm / how heavy, cheap and throwaway vs good quality to keep etc etc). We ended up with some nice down ones to send back home at some stage.

We moved on to Te Anau and stayed at another b&b - the House of Wood with Cliff and Merle (more of them later). Te Anau is a small town on the shore of Lake Te Anau - the starting point for the walk. More preparations here - we also had to buy our food for the walk and our bowls and billies.

But on to the Milford Track - it was absolutely great and lived up to all expectations. It's hugely popular and booked out months in advance. It's a 4 day walk, limited to 40 independent walkers a day plus up to 60 guided walkers who stay in separate accommodation. It's a bus then boat journey to the end of Lake Te Anau at Glade Down and then a 53.5km (33.5 mile) walk to Milford Sound through beautiful forests, valleys and across the MacKinnon Pass. We saw numerous waterfalls including Sutherland Falls, the highest in NZ (and 6th highest in world).

The walking is mixed - the first day is just 5km to Clinton Hut and the next day is 16.5km and is a gradual climb along the Clinton River to its source, Lake Mintaro and Mintaro Hut. The third day was hardest - only 14km but a climb of about two hours to the Mackinnon Memorial and Pass (about 500m up) and then a long knee killing descent (970m) from the pass to the Dumpling Hut. The final day is 18 km down the Arthur valley to Sandfly Point to catch the boat across Milford Sound. We were very lucky with the weather - some rain and mist on the third day (regrettably as we walked up the pass which limited the views but added to the atmosphere and it cleared before we walked down) but sunshine the rest of the time.

We stayed in huts - with bunkrooms, cooking facilities and toilets. The other walkers were great - mostly Aussies including a group from Tasmania with 2 ukeleles (just the things to carry on a long, potentially wet walk!) plus 2 each of Kiwis, Dutch and Poles. There weren't any showers - Colin braved the extremely cold river one day but I was put off by the evil sandflies - despite long trousers, socks, deet, we were still regularly bitten and the thought of exposed skin was just too much as even paddling led to bitten toes. We discovered the mixed delights of freeze dried food (can just about recommend Thai Chicken curry but the apricot crumble topping was pink coloured and reminiscent of dog biscuits to look at - although it tasted all right). Somewhat to our surprise we spent a couple of evenings doing crosswords with 2 very nice teachers from Melbourne - Ronnie and Xandie.

At the end of the walk we celebrated with cappucinos and brownies in Milford before a scenic bus ride back to Te Anau with the ukelele band causing more amusement. Back to the House of Wood for the delights of hot showers and a quiet room. We then had a day to organise ourselves for the kayaking trip - unfortunately it was cancelled due to forecast severe weather and gale force winds (didn't sound like fun). Cliff and Merle offered to take us out to the local observation point for views over the lake as we didn't have a car - this turned into a 4-hour guided scenic tour of the area, which was very kind of them but not entirely what we expected! Met up with Ronnie and Xandie for dinner and had a really good laugh talking about the walk. That night we finally saw Comet McNaught, which everybody had been talking about - very impressive.