Milford Sound Day 4: Going the distance

Sleep is probably the swiftest road to recovery for a hiker, but on my last day of the Milford Track this wasn’t enough. Having slept in the common room by the fire I’d been woken early by all those enviable early-risers, and getting up some 20 minutes later was a chore. My legs were stiff and my feet were tender.  I hobbled around collecting my belongings, packing them for the last time.

Spirits were running a little lower this morning as people gathered their damp clothes and soggy boots from around the hut. My boots were cold and wet to the core – wearing them was not going to be pleasant. Yesterday’s rain had definitely left its mark. On the plus side I’d eaten enough of my food supplies that packing had become easier and I could feel a difference in the weight of my bag.

There was a boat to catch at the end of this day, so I felt a little more pressure to be fast. I also had the greatest distance to cover (11.2 miles), but it was pretty much flat the whole way. I ate my customary Nutella and pita bread for breakfast and set off fairly early.

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My feet were in an incredible amount of pain from the word go. I’d owned my hiking boots for 5 years and walked miles upon miles in them, and during this time only ever developed one blister on the ball of my foot (a symptom of long distance walking as opposed to anything else). But walking for one day whilst they were wet had given me blisters and soreness all over, and especially on the edges of my toes. Wet feet is an absolute killer when hiking. Then the several hours of jogging and hopping down rocks the day before had tired my legs out considerably too. I was a bit of a mess, basically.

With all of this in mind I decided to powerwalk my way through the day for as long as I could. I put on a suitably loud and energetic playlist.

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It was the first sunny morning of the hike, with the temperature already climbing. It was magical. The path was indeed very flat and quite wide in a lot of areas, following the Arthur River. This river would lead us all the way to our final destination: Milford Sound.

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Apart from several awesome suspension bridges that give some beautiful sweeping views down the valley, the path is hemmed in by thick green forests for most of the time. It’s once again an easy spot to put your head down and make good ground. I found myself tearing past the first several mile markers.

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After an hour or so I reached what became my favourite waterfall of the hike: Mackay Falls, a minute’s detour off the main track. It’s nowhere near as large as Sutherland Falls but tucked away in a lush green corner with bright turquoise water it’s incredibly beautiful. And it still kicks out a whole lot of cold spray for good measure. 

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I spent quite some time there just admiring it and trying to take a photo without getting water on my lens (fail). Unfortunately when I set off again it meant that my adrenaline levels had dropped enough that I could feel the pain in my feet. It took a while to walk through the pain again.

The river grew wider and moved slower and there was scarcely a cloud in the sky. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of the people hiking a day behind me who were heading to the summit, though I was incredibly grateful to not have to walk in rain again.

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There were a number of gorgeous views across the river, but I did not stop frequently or long to look at them on this day. It didn’t take too long to reach the halfway point, but physcially it felt like I’d been walking for a long time. For the first time I paid a lot of attention to the mile markers – probably a sign that I was keen to finish.

By the time you reach Giant Gate Falls, another gorgeous spot, you can start to relax; the end isn’t so far from here – about 1.5 hours. This waterfall is particularly striking because you get to look at it from a suspension bridge that crosses the river it cascades into. It’s also a good spot to have lunch and a paddle. There’s a shelter a short distance before it, too.

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By this point I knew I’d reach the end in good time, and with that knowledge my energy ebbed away; my powerwalk became a rather leisurely hobble. My feet had become too sore to ignore, too. Fortunately the path had become even flatter and wider – it felt more like a walk in a park, ironically.

I couldn’t stop thinking about when I’d see the next marker as I walked through the endless forests. They were beautiful, but I wasn’t so enthralled by them. Pehaps it was because I’d been spoilt by yesterday’s views, perhaps it was because I was in too much discomfort. I’d walk to the beat of the music to forget about my feet and keep my pace up. I started to measure distance by songs, too; I’d keep track of how many I had listened to and add their approximate lengths together. From that I’d figure out roughly how many miles I’d just walked.  Yep, things were getting desperate.

I knew the hike was 33-something miles long, and when I saw the 33 mile marker I screamed for joy. It really wasn’t long to go now. I took a photo to commemorate this moment; not a good photo by any means, it was hazy from all the moisture in my lens/camera and from the grease on the filter I could only seem to spread around. But perhaps it was the most accurate photo; a modest little marker shining out from all the hazy undefined green.

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I was preparing for another 20 minutes walk or so from this point, but in the space of one song or so I spotted a little hut poking out from the trees. Was that it? Was this the end? I withheld my excitement just to make sure.

It was. ‘Welcome to Sandfly Point’ it said. They certainly weren’t lying about the sandflies.

The place was empty, which felt a little strange. But as I looked through the window I saw one of my hiking buddies who had been waiting for me. Like me he was the last to get up and the last to leave. Unlike me he was incredibly fit and very fast, and always finished hours ahead of me. I didn’t think I’d see him again, I was so happy! We gave each other a smelly I-haven’t-washed-or-showered-for-days celebratory hug.

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We walked to the edge of the jetty, which had undoubtedly the best view of the day; the Milford Sound.

A number of triumphant photos had to be taken, of course.

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A short while later a little speedboat pulled up beside the jetty. It was nowhere near as formal as I’d expected; it basically just made the short journey across the mouth of the river whenever there were enough people to carry. Soom after the Australian family arrived. These were the first guys I had met on the hike, four days ago on that first jetty on Lake Te Anau. This lovely family had given me all sorts of food and support along the way, including a woolly hat at the summit, and I was once again elated to see them. It felt a little like a family reunion.

We got on that boat and it jetted us across the river. The sun was beating down and I was in disbelief at everything that had happened. I had booked the hike over 6 months ago and now it was over. In a short while we were on the other side, back in a little pocket of beautiful civilisation called Milford Sound.

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I was sad to leave my hiking buddies. The beauty and challenges of the Milford Track had given us a special connection that I hadn’t experienced anywhere else. I waved goodbye and headed off to the hostel – the final humble steps of my adventure.

 

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Hiking the Milford Track

I’m taking on all nine of New Zealand’s great walks and sharing the stories, details and photos here on my blog. First up is the Milford Track. Here’s what I’m covering (all the headings will be clickable once the posts are done!):

Introduction

OUT ON THE TRACK
Milford Sound Day 1: Into the wilderness

Milford Sound Day 2: The difference an hour makes
Milford Sound Day 3: The edge of the world
Milford Sound Day 4: Going the distance

WHAT TO EXPECT: The good, the bad, the ugly

WHAT TO BRING: Food, Clothes, and everything else

COMPARISONS [coming later!]

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8 thoughts on “Milford Sound Day 4: Going the distance

  1. Kia Ora what a lovely blog! By any chance were you on the Milford between 27th and 30th of March? I think I remember you hiking with your big tripod and camera. The pictures are awesome and your obviously very dedicated to your craft. Glad you got some good pics in some difficult weather :)

    1. Thank you so much!!! And yes I did!!!!! I just clicked on your blog and totally remember you guys :) So good to hear from you! Have you been on lots of other hikes since?

      1. Oh cool! Yeah we have been over to Hawaii, not long after Milford and did quite a few hikes over there. We live in Wellington so we are always out in the tararuas- our favourite. Are you still in N.Z?

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