New Zealand (Part 2)
So it was an early get up at our guesthouse in Queenstown. We did our final packing, had a delicious breakfast, and then headed down the very steep hill into downtown Queenstown to meet at the Ultimate Hikes Trek Center. Now I had missed the pre-briefing the day before since I was sampling the healthcare services in NZ, but Sarah Beth had given me a pretty good rundown of the meeting so I was pretty prepared. Well, as prepared as I was going to be. They had recommended thermal layers, long pants, etc. And I was in shorts. And cotton shorts no less. Yes I had on my black pullover, but once you got into the sun it was really quite nice. For me. Anyways, we walked into the Trek Center and it was bustling with people. There were 48 people on our trip. And oddly enough, I think Sarah Beth and I were on the lower end of the age range. Lots of retired folks. In addition to a pretty sizable US and Japan contingent, there were some Kiwis, some Aussies, an Italian, and an Israeli. What I found fascinating was that the majority of the tour were women. The Japanese contingent had something like 10 women and 2 men. And there were two lesbian couples as well.
We loaded up onto the tour bus and started heading south around Lake Wakatipu heading toward the town of Te Anua which is the jumping off point for all of the treks and trips in the Fiordland National Park. I was fighting my TBN the whole way and we did have a very entertaining (and cute) bus driver. So that helped. What didn't help was the Japanese folks behind me who talked the whole way. And Japanese is not soothing language. Anyways, we made it to Ta Anua and stopped for lunch. Then it was a short drive to Te Anua Downs where we caught the boat across Lake Te Anua to the start of the Milford Track. The water was just super calm and the scenery as we sailed up the lake was just amazing. And you know how I like a good boat ride.
So there are two ways you can do the Milford Track. You can do an unaccompanied trek where you stay in Department of Conservation (DOC) huts but you have to bring your own sleeping bags, food, and cooking gear. To do the unaccompanied trek, you have to sign up over a year in advance. It's that popular. The other way (which we are doing) is the accompanied trek where you stay in lodges where they have running water for showers and toilets, real beds for you to sleep in, a bar for your post trekking beverage of your choice, and cooked food for your meals. It's a bit more pricey than the DOC hut trekking, but so much nicer. So once we landed on the far shore of Lake Ta Anua, the first thing we did was put on bug repellant. The flies and insects were lusting after our blood. So we sprayed ourselves liberally with some Deet. Then we hiked for about 20 minutes to get to our first lodge, the Glade House. After dumping our bags in our room (ensuite thank you!), we went for a group picture and then did a nature hike around the lodge.
So the forest on the Milford Track is mainly Red Beech, Silver Beech, and at the higher elevations, Mountain Beech. As we entered the forest, it was just so green and lush. Lots of ferns and moss covering the trees. There is a very shallow amount of soil over the top of the granite that makes up the base of the forest, so the beech trees have a very shallow, but expansive root system. I mention this because for basically the whole hike I was looking down to make sure I didn't trip over a root or sprain my ankle. Seriously, there were roots everywhere and we were climbing over rocks, fallen trees, you name it. So a little bit hard core for a "nature" walk. But we survived. So our guide pointed out some traps they have set for stoats which was small weasel like animals. They were introduced into NZ and don't have any natural repeaters, so they have grown dramatically in population and are wreaking havoc on the local bird population. With the exception of some bats, there are no native mammals in NZ. They were all brought over from Europe. NZ's primary wildlife is birds. Which evolved with no natural predators and whose population has been decimated by the mammals brought over to NZ. Something like 50% of the bird species in NZ are extinct.
At the highest point of the nature walk, we came upon the Glade Burn which is lovely mountain stream tumbling down a rock filled gully. It was really lovely and the water was drinkable. So SB and I had some water and it was cold and delicious. After some pics, we headed back down the roots and rocky trail back to the Glade House. Happy Hour starts at 5PM, so we didn't want to be late! We made it down without any injuries (#Winning!) and enjoyed some beer and wine before dinner. They cut the electricity off at 10PM, so no late night partying here on the Milford Track.