Category Archives: Milford

Key Summit

[landscapephotograph description=”Key Summit Panorama, looking toward Lake Marion” photoname=”Key Summit” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/KeySummitPan3.jpg” photourl=”http://illuminataphoto.zenfolio.com/p606278338/h5729FD90#h5729fd90″][/landscapephotograph]

Let’s see…  It’s been more than a year since we hiked/tramped up to Key Summit in Fiordland National Park in southwest New Zealand. In may ways, it feels like it was just yesterday and in other ways it feels like I was another person then. Key Summit was one of our favorite hikes for the whole year – outstanding views, great weather and a hike that was “just right” – except for the part where Mom said, “hey, let’s go just a little bit further…” I believe that the “little bit further” parts doubled the length of the whole hike.

 

 

The Key Summit Track follows the route of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s many famous multi-day tramps, for the first couple of kilometers. We had spent the night in Te Anau, I believe, and then drop the road towards Milford. About 45 minutes from Te Anau is a parking area called “The Divide,” and this is the starting point for the Routeburn Track and Key Summit Track. There’s also a bus stop at The Divide for those folks who are looking for transportation to/from the Routeburn Track so that they can hike from one end to the other, and leave they’re vehicle at the other end (or, be picked up by the bus).

 

 

The day that we hiked started out pleasantly cool (hats and gloves weather) and once we got a bit higher and above the trees it was time to open the jackets and air out a bit. I don’t recall the route being all that memorable until you get to the top of Key Summit and then the vistas open up in all directions! SPECTACULAR! There’s not a lot to write about the hike itself. It wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t easy. It takes a bit of effort to hike upward to Key Summit, but once you’re “on top,” most of the hiking is relatively flat. And, like many hikes, it was easier to hike downhill back to the car at The Divide.

 

 

There were a few other hikers/trampers already up on Key Summit, so we weren’t alone. At the main point of interest, there are several beautiful, fragile little tarns (alpine ponds/lakes). You can see for many miles in every direction from atop Key Summit. One of our favorite views from Key Summit was looking across the valley to see Lake Marion, a beautiful lake to which we had hiked a couple of months earlier, a few days before Christmas.

 

 

As noted earlier, someone in our party kept saying “hey, let’s hike just a little farther…”  The additional steps were interesting and gave us a different perspective hiking along the ridge between Lake Fergus and Lake McKellar, more time in the warm sun, and more time to growl – are we there yet? After another mile or two of walking south on a poorly defined track, we came to a knoll and the our learless feeder said that we could return to the car.

 

 

Unlike other postings that I’ve written, the gallery for this one is not extensive – you’ll be able to enjoy it in a few minutes – and, I do hope that you’ll enjoy it. And, I’ve thrown in a couple of other photographs from Te Anau and a nearby waterfall, Humboldt Falls, which is at the end of a long drive in Fiordland National Park.

 

 

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN signing off…

 

 

Also posted in Fiordland, Key Summit, Lake Marian, New Zealand Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Home Again!

[landscapephotograph description=”Mitre Peak & Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most famous scenes.” photoname=”Mitre Peak” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/MitrePeak-1.jpg” photourl=”http://illuminataphoto.zenfolio.com/milford_sound/h4B7B094C#h4b7b094c”][/landscapephotograph]

 

 

To:              Whom it may concern (i.e., our friends and family; Sharyon, Cynthia & Kerry at Waverley Park School; Robyn, Angus, Tracey, Roger, Tom and the Brannamans at Southland Hospital; Jan, wherever in the world you are; and the Ackermans in Deutschland)

  

From:                Tim Mulholland

  

Subject:            The Cultural Differences between New Zealand and the United States

 

  

As most everyone is aware, we’re back home in the US – Fitchburg, Wisconsin, to be exact. And, it’s good to be “home.”

 

  

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

  

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Now that we are back home it’s back to business as usual. A bit of an oversight… we need to hire a landscaping service. Yeah, it kind of already needed work at the time we left so we came back to a bit more of a mess than I can handle. I’m going to call the guys I always, if you’re in the market for a good landscaping service for yourself, check here. They’re quite reliable.

  

While we were in New Zealand we had many queries as to whether we would choose to stay there for a longer time. We loved our time in New Zealand and we wouldn’t trade this past year there for anything. We have so many wonderful, beautiful memories of our time in New Zealand and we met so many wonderful, loving people there. If I’d been born and raised in New Zealand, I feel that I would absolutely love it there.  But, I was raised in this American culture, and the US is home for better and for worse.  (I suspect that Asta is much more flexible on this than me, since she immigrated to the US fifteen, twenty years ago.)

  

I want to use this blog entry to highlight some of the differences between American and Kiwi culture. I truly had a fun year being an amateur, embedded anthropologist.

  

First, most everything is the same in New Zealand – and everything is different. Everyday in New Zealand, I had to have my antennae up because while “something” might appear to be the same as we knew it in the US, there also was a good chance that it was just slightly different. There were many times that I’d start to do something in NZ and find out that the process is slightly different, or purchase a product only to later find that the product was slightly different. This speaks to how much I spend my life on automatic pilot most of my time here in the US. I’ll try to be more specific as I write more.

  

FOOD:  Kiwi food is healthy and nutritious, so anyone can survive there, kiwi is one of the best foods for special diets from https://askhealthnews.com. In fact, I put on about five kgs/ten lbs during our first six months. You can find most anything in the grocery store there that you’d find here, so no worries, mate!

  

But, Kiwi food has strong roots in English food so it’s not terribly flavorful or exciting. Our favorite restaurant in Invercargill was Little India. We learned when we ordered our food that we needed to specify that we wanted our food to be “Indian spicy” which is not to be confused with (New Zealand) “spicy.” If we just ordered our food as “spicy,” it would taste more like mild to medium spicy by our standards. I have eaten spicy food at most every meal since returning – I have to catch up and increase my serum capsaicin concentrations!

  

DRIVING: Most everyone knows that Kiwis drive on the “wrong” side of the road – the left side.  It really didn’t take too long to get used to that, and it was an easy transition coming back to the States. And, I have to say that I love roundabouts – they are easy to negotiate and keep traffic moving. I can understand that folks here don’t like to change, but roundabouts really are a good thing!

  

Driver etiquette in New Zealand (in fact, all etiquette) seems to be more civilized and nicer. Drivers tend to drive more slowly and thoughtfully in town – they’re not in such a “hurry.” So far, I’m driving like I did in NZ, and it appears to be irritating the drivers behind me. And, crosswalks in NZ are WONDERFUL!!! Drivers actually stop and allow a walker to safely cross to the other side of the street. Back here, I had to get used to waiting for a gap in traffic and praying, rather than calmly ambling into the street.

  

One last thing: gas cost about $7/gallon (NZ$2.25/L). You get used to it. It seems that people there just drive less, too. That’s the way it is when you import all of your petroleum resources.

  

WILDLIFE:  OK, America has a very clear advantage here. The diversity of New Zealand’s wildlife is rather limited. But hey, it’s an island nation, and the various human immigrants over the past millennia or so brought their rats, dogs, cats, rabbits, stoats/weasels, and so on with them. These alien pests have done significant damage to New Zealand’s wildlife (especially birds) populations. And, it doesn’t help that the Maori hunted the moa to extinction, which also doomed the Haast eagle, which fed on the moa. New Zealand likely was a veritable Garden of Eden before “Adam’s and Eve’s” arrival. But, New Zealand has a much better landscape, especially when compared to Wisconsin, and especially if you happen to focus on landscape photography.

  

One thing that we’ve REALLY enjoyed since returning is our very special “home entertainment system.” We have several different species of birds that are flocking to our bird feeders outside our kitchen windows – chickadees, nuthatches, house finches, eastern goldfinches/wild canaries, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows (yes, the English kind, just like New Zealand –surprise!), and ruby-throated hummingbirds. And we’re also reacquainting ourselves with red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, robins (the American, red-breasted kind), ducks, geese and wild turkeys. The squirrels and chipmunks are chittering around our backyard and with the cooler weather coming we’re expecting to see “our” groundhogs and deer.

  

We don’t miss New Zealand’s sandflies. However, our mosquitoes are more annoying than theirs, mostly because it’s warmer here and there’s less wind.

  

New Zealand definitely has more sheep than Wisconsin, and is trying to catch up in dairy cattle.

  

CLOUDS: This one goes to the country in the south. New Zealand, a.k.a., Aotearoa, “The Land of the Long White Cloud,” has some of the most beautiful clouds I’ve ever seen – consistently puffy and beautiful! On the other hand, it is so nice to get back and see these massive, towering cumulo-nimbus storm clouds that we have in the Midwest – awesome! And, New Zealand has a lot more rainbows than we do in the Midwest, something to do with having more rain. But, seriously, while it was more humid and may have rained a bit more in NZ, it wasn’t depressing at all – and this comes from a guy with S.A.D.! The clouds roll in and out there, while we get these long drab periods, particularly in the winter.

  

SCHOOL: The kids loved their Kiwi school – Waverley Park School. The curriculum seems to be very similar as here at Stoner Prairie Elementary School. Schools in NZ seem to be housed in several smaller buildings, whereas here in the States we tend toward these large buildings.  I don’t know why the difference – climate? funding?

  

Another difference – so far – is that there doesn’t yet seem to be quite the emphasis on standardized testing. Testing is coming, though. The principal at Waverley Park School is not a supporter of standardized testing as a major tool for measuring student performance for the same reason that a lot of people (including me) don’t support it in the US – it’s only a singular measure of a very complex social and developmental issue. (The principal at Waverley Park School is one of my favorite people that I met in NZ.)

  

Our kids spent a lot of time running around barefoot at school, which is really healthy in my opinion, at least that’s what the Inspire team told me. They’d go to school with their shoes/jandals (flip flops) on their feet and then shed them. The major problem with running around barefoot is that if it’s a little cool outdoors, it’s easier to not put your shoes on and head out in your socks.  So, we went through more socks than previously.

  

RUGBY vs. FOOTBALL:  This one is a toss-up.  If I better understood the rules and strategies of rugby, I’d probably like it better – hard hitting, no padding other than what you’ve grown into your body.  I just wish that I could get the All Blacks’ games on my computer when they play – any suggestions?

  

NICE PEOPLE: Frankly, the people of NZ are nicer than your average American. Several travel surveys have come to the same conclusion. One of my metrics for this is that I was only flipped off once in my year in NZ, and that was by our friend, Tracey, in good fun.

  

CLIMATE:  This is a tough one. NZ’s climate is sort of a cool Mediterranean climate, especially where we were in extreme southern NZ. The Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea have a nice moderating influence on the climate. The daily temperature range was narrower than living here in the middle of the US. The humidity was higher, which causes a few different issues – window condensation, mold – but it also helps the slightly cooler temps to be very bearable.

  

HOMES: The Kiwi homes that we experienced were generally smaller than American homes – no big deal.  American homes tend to be too big, so this wasn’t a surprise. The biggest problem, for me, living in a smaller home is that my introverted side didn’t get enough “space” away from the family, particularly in the evenings. Yes, I know – that’s my issue.

  

Since the climate is cooler there wasn’t much air conditioning where we lived.  In fact, I can hardly remember feeling AC the whole year in NZ. But, heating is a very different beast. Where we lived in southern Invercargill, there were enough homes that were heated with coal or wood that the air quality was a noticeable issue on cool mornings. Thank goodness for the wind! Our home had a single heat pump in the living room. The living room would be pleasant enough on cool days, but the further you went into the bedrooms, the cooler it became. J It was interesting to see how many homes opened their windows a bit during the daytime, no matter the temperature; I think that this was mostly a reflection on the buildup of moisture in homes (any Kiwis want to set me straight?).

  

Following onto this heating issue, it also was interesting to see that commercial businesses usually kept their doors open during business hours when the weather wasn’t too windy and cool. If I was out shopping, then I’d keep my coat on in the stores so that I’d stay warm – and the staff usually wore warm sweaters (“jumpers”) and additional layers to stay comfy.

  

HEALTH: While “health” is more of Asta’s venue, I’ll wade in here. Again, I feel that the health status of most Kiwis was pretty similar to that of an American person.

  

I felt that there might be a greater prevalence of smoking in NZ and that appears to be true, and obesity also seemed to be lower (again affirmed by the stats).  There appeared to be many fewer morbidly obese people in NZ when compared to the US.

  

The NZ health care is a socialized medicine system (which is a part of the reason that we were there). While everyone in NZ is a part of the national health care system (ergo, no uninsured/underinsured citizens as in the US), the option exists (if you can afford it) to purchase private health care and private health insurance through a parallel (?) private health care system.  Again, this is an “observation” based on I don’t know what, but most Kiwis seem to be more tolerant (or, have lower expectations?) of it’s socialized health care system that does not promise “immediate relief” like Americans expect of our health care system. I guess that we have lower tolerance of pain and discomfort here in the US.

  

Per capita health care spending in NZ is only about a third of that in the US and the healthiness of Kiwis appears to be similar to Americans.  Hmm….

  

VIOLENCE/GUNS: OK, this is an obvious difference, I hope. One of the more frequent questions I experienced from curious Kiwis regarded the American obsession with guns and the consequent violence. I couldn’t give them a decent answer since I don’t get it either! Yes, there is violence in NZ. I suspect (but don’t know) that domestic violence in NZ is on par with the US. There are stories in the NZ media about shootings and stabbings. But, on a per capita basis, it seems that violence in NZ is much, much less than in the US.

  

Writing about this issue got my curiosity up, so I “googled” it and I was correct (sadly). According to the NZ Ministry of Justice, in 2000, the US violent crime rate was 506 incidents/100,000 people, while in NZ the figure was 133 incidents/100,000.  Yikes!

  

Here’s a different set of statistics from NationMaster.com (I’ve not heard of this source before and some of the stats that I saw here looked fishy). In NZ, ~13.5% of homicides involve firearms (10 murders with firearms), while the figure is 39.6% in the US (9,369 murders with firearms). Also according to NationMaster, the incarceration rate in NZ is about 20% of the US rate (I’m not surprised), the rape rate is about three times higher in NZ (I was surprised by that!), and the suicide rate is about double in NZ.

  

POLITICS: No contest – NZ political life is much more sane!

  

THE ECONOMY: This is a tough issue about which to write, so I’ll turn to NationMaster again.  According to their stats, the US GDP per capita is about 70% higher than NZ’s GDP per capita. But, NZ didn’t “feel” to us to be significantly different in terms of its economy. Our “economic experience” in NZ felt that NZ wasn’t quite as high as the US, but life in NZ still felt comfortable.

  

QUALITY OF LIFE: So, here’s the big difference to piggy back onto my economic feelings. We seriously felt that the quality of life in NZ was on par or better than what we experience in the US. Yes, we did feel that the economic quality of life wasn’t quite as high, but overall quality of life there did feel better because of the friendlier people, lower crime rates, slower drivers and a slower, more pleasant, less frenetic lifestyle.  And, let’s not forget about the wonderful, breathtaking recreation opportunities in New Zealand – woo hoo!

  

THE 60’s!: I’ll close this piece with another anecdotal observation about NZ. We heard this from several folks who have visited NZ, so it’s not starting with us.

  

There is an observation by some visitors about New Zealand that it feels sort of like they’ve been transported back to the 1960s. Why? Life is a bit slower there. People are a bit friendlier in NZ. Kiwis seem to be genuinely focused on their families and friends. I can understand how visitors might feel that way, particularly if they live in a big, fast city. When I’ve heard people express this feeling about New Zealand, I’ve sometimes heard in a condescending way. But, while I agree that some folks might feel that way about New Zealand, I have to also say that I take it as a compliment for this beautiful, wonderful, friendly country!

  

OK, if you are a Kiwi who would like to set me straight, please feel free to do so!  I truly do not mean to step on any Kiwi toes, so if I did, I apologize. Similarly, if you’ve visited New Zealand and want to share your different observations and experiences or write shout-out here to New Zealand as a wonderful place, I also hope to hear from you!

   

 

46 S. EnZed signing off… (and, it’s time to find a new closing)

   

Also posted in New Zealand, Uncategorized, Wisconsin Tagged , , , , , |

Lake Marian

Just a few days before Christmas and a couple of days after Muir arrived (and, he still had a bit of jet lag), we took a day trip to Fiordland National Park with the intent of tramping (hiking) to Lake Marian.  In October, we had hiked to Marian Falls, which was only about a half mile, but we got drenched in the process.  Hiking to Lake Marian has been on our radar ever since.

  

So, we loaded up the car and made the three-hour drive to the trailhead.  One of the nice parts of the hike is that there’s a suspension bridge just as you begin that crosses the Hollyford River and gives you a little early excitement. The hike is “only” about two miles, but it felt like it was a little longer than that.  We were surrounded by the forest much of the time and didn’t realize (until recently – more in a later post) how much of an uphill trudge it was to get to Lake Marian.  Another reason that the hike seemed a little longer is that I was carrying my heavy load of camera equipment as well as food, water and some spare clothes (the weather did seem a bit cool and dodgy that day).  The Lake Marian Track is a very popular route in Fiordland National Park as evidenced by the trail erosion.  And, another factor in the trail erosion were the couple of very obvious rockslides. It’s very easy to locate rockslides on New Zealand’s trails – they have signs that say “DO NOT STOP FOR THE NEXT 200 METERS!”

  

After about an hour of sorta strenuous hiking, all of the sudden we came out into this opening with a very large glacial cirque/bowl that’s filled with a beautiful turquoise lake!  There were only a few other trampers/hikers at the lake and it was absolutely gorgeous place to enjoy a picnic lunch and lighten the rucksacks.  I think that Muir enjoyed one of his first major tastes of New Zealand’s landscape!  I hope that the gallery at the end of this post does justice to Lake Marian.  And, Lake Marian provided a beautiful setting for a very special family portrait.

  

  

After hiking down from Lake Marian, we “forced” Muir to ride to the end of the road and see Milford Sound and he did seem to be a bit impressed.  I was also able to capture one of my favorite photographs (so far) from New Zealand.  This photograph was taken looking west from near the Homer Tunnel entrance and down the Cleddau River Valley:

  

 

  

After enjoying Fiordland, we stopped in Te Anau and enjoyed supper before driving home.  Surprisingly, on the way home, Muir quickly fell asleep – so much for being a high-energy young adult (with jet lag).

  

And, we understand that our friends Jolanta, Asta and Gedis also enjoyed the Lake Marian hike when they visited Fiordland in early February – it’s a truly special place and hike!

  

  

46 S EnZed signing off…

    

Also posted in Fiordland, Lake Marian, New Zealand Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Christchurch Milford Tour Gallery

I’m not going to write a whole lot in this posting, and I’ll leave it to my photographs to tell the story.  Returning to our saga, in the first half of October we went on a campervan trip from Queenstown to Mount Cook/Aoraki, Lake Tekapo,  Christchurch, Arthurs Pass, Hokitika, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Haast and back to Queenstown, and then on to Milford Sound for a cruise.  Along the way, though, we got sidelined in Milford Sound by a rockslide.  Since we’ve been so busy with travels, I never really got around to posting any of my landscape photographs of this trip, although I did publish a quick gallery of our fun photos at Holiday Photo Gallery.

Here’s the gallery of landscape photographs taken from that trip.  Turn the screen size up to Full Screen, sit back and enjoy!  This will take a few minutes…  🙂

46 S EnZed signing off…

Also posted in Arthurs Pass, Campervan, Castle Hill, Mt. Cook, New Zealand Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Milford from the air

If you’ll recall our sagas here in New Zealand, you’ll recall that we were stranded in Milford Sound for a few days – that blog piece is here.

 

 

You might also recall that Asta needed to fly out of Milford Sound so that she could return to work, whilst Aras, Julija and I stayed around Milford Sound and got to know it better than we had ever expected.

 

On Asta’s flight out of Milford Sound, she managed to take some nice photos from the air that will provide you with a different perspective on New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  They’re even more spectacular from the air!!!

 

Enjoy!

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

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Milford Track

Many years ago, (ten to be exact), a beautiful young woman started a life-long conversation with a man. One of the early parts of the conversation was how this woman wanted to move to New Zealand someday and work there for a while. Well, this man, who was quite smitten, thought that moving to New Zealand with this woman would be pretty cool, since he enjoyed travel, adventure and this woman. And, it also struck this man that moving to New Zealand might be a GREAT opportunity for him to pursue one of those things on his bucket list, namely, hiking the Milford Track. He had pretty much assumed that this particular item on his bucket list might be pretty remote until he met this woman…

 

As the conversation continued, it morphed into a long-term relationship, a.k.a., a marriage. And, this couple morphed into a family. Their roles changed in that relationship and he became a chef/chauffeur/shopper/stay-at-home-with-the-sick-kids-dad/trophy husband/landscape photographer. And, this beautiful woman morphed into She Who Must be Obeyed (as well as She Who Reads This Blog)…

 

Eventually, this family actually moved to New Zealand! And, this man had birthday. And, with her great magnanimity, She Who Must be Obeyed granted this man a long weekend off from his family chores (as long as he filled the freezer for her before he left) so that he could walk the Milford Track…

 

Or, something like that…
_______________________

 

So, on the last weekend of October 2012, I had the great fortune of realizing a long-held dream of walking/hiking/tramping the Milford Track. I don’t remember when I first heard about the Milford Track or having some desire to walk it, but it has been for many years.

 

Topo map of Milford Track; route is in red

The Milford Track is one of nine “Great Walks” in New Zealand, along with hundreds of other formal tramping routes – some long, some short. The Milford Track is the most famous of these Great Walks. It’s a 53 kilometer walk up the Clinton River valley in Fiordland National Park, over the MacKinnon Pass, and down the Arthur River valley. The prime hiking season on the Milford Track is roughly November through January because the weather is better and school is out for late December through January. Hiking the Milford Track requires a permit from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) from late October through April, and only forty permits are granted for each day for independent trampers. (The other option is one of the fifty spots each day that Milford Track Guided Walks offers, although the price is a tad bit higher [$2000]– and the food and lodging significantly better!) Currently, the Milford Track is completely booked for independent trampers from November through January (summer season) – a sign of its popularity. As much as I wanted to go when the weather might be better, the only bookings available (in mid-September) at a time that also was convenient for Asta was for me to go in late October. You also can enjoy the Milford Track the rest of the year, but at your own risk; DOC leaves the huts open and that’s about it.  During the prime season, you can only walk from Glade Wharf to Sandfly Point, another difference between “in” and “out” of season.

 

The Milford Track was originally scouted through the rain forest by Maori’s looking for a route to the sea. In the late 1880s, explorere Quintin MacKinnon formalized the route in the young country of New Zealand. The purpose was to establish a route from inland New Zealand to the Tasman Sea with the hope that this would turn into a trade route. That never really came to fruition due to many different difficulties, but it did become a famous hiking path. Around 100 years ago, in an article that appeared in the London Spectator, the poet Blanche Baughan declared the Milford Track to be “the finest walk in the world.”

 

“This is truly the “region of the perpendicular” – the mountains are split right straight down from their summits to within a few hundred feet of sea level. The other valley-side, perhaps half-a-mile from its fellow, is equally steep and just as precipitous; and presently, as the track ascends, as the trees lessen both in size and number, and the frowning white-tipped walls begin to draw together above the canyon, you realise that you are walking at the bottom of a gigantic furrow of the earth.”

 

As for my journey on the Milford Track, it was a medium-difficulty hike/walk, wet, fun and the views at the top of MacKinnon Pass were spectacular! The Milford Track begins at the north end of Lake Te Anau at Glade Wharf. There are no roads that get you to Glade Wharf. You can hike seven kilometers from the Te Anau-Milford Sound Highway to Glade Wharf or take a Real Journey’s ferry boat there.

 

When you book your walk through the DOC website, you are automatically booked into each of the three successive DOC huts along the Milford Track – Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut and Dumpling Hut. DOC wants you to keep moving along the track and not stop for wet weather (which is quite common). Additionally, the DOC booking service helps you by assisting your booking for:

• a bus from the DOC office in Te Anau (the nearest town) to Te Anau Downs (the site of the ferry service that gets you to Glade Wharf),
• the ferry to Glade Wharf,
• the ferry at the terminus to get you from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound, and,
• bus service back from Milford Sound to Te Anau (if needed).

 

My day began in Invercargill from where I took two TrackNet buses and a couple of hours to get to Te Anau. I arrived about fifteen minutes before my bus to Te Anau Downs was to depart. This gave me time to pick up my DOC permits for the Milford Track. While picking up my permits, I was told that it was likely that a portion of the Track would be closed on my second day due to concerns about avalanches and that I also needed to purchase a ticket for a helicopter shuttle over that portion.

 

As an aside here, I was perturbed with this idea that I needed to be protected from avalanches. I’m an American who likes my time alone in the very wild wilderness! In America, it’s the policy (I believe) of the National Park Service, US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that if you get yourself into trouble, then it’s your responsibility to bail yourself out. They’ll assist with your rescue, etc., but you’ll pay for it!!! When I took my American Environmental Policy class in grad school, one of the books that we read was Joseph Sax’s Mountains Without Handrails. Again, if you’re going to be in the outdoors, then you’d better be prepared to deal with those risks. Darn nanny state of New Zealand, trying to protect the reputation of its tourism industry. Yes, I’ve been told to stay off of certain trails by the National Park Service because of grizzly bear sightings, and I did. More later…

 

We (there were 23 trampers who made the trip this day) finally arrived at Glade Wharf at mid-afternoon under a grey sky. Rain was in the forecast and it’s about a five kilometer hike to Clinton Hut. I decided to hoof it with the hope that I’d make it to the hut before the rain. The walk along the Clinton River was relatively flat, pleasant and uneventful. And, yes, it did begin to rain just before I got to the hut.

 

The huts along the Milford Track are pretty basic and spartan. They consist of two or more bunkrooms (a total of forty beds with mattresses) and a common room with communal cooking and cleaning facilities, and nice toilet facilities. Bring ear plugs – everyone else snores, those mattresses can be noisy and folks are getting up at all hours to go to the latrine. No hot water or showers – that’s what the river is for. Drinking water comes from the sky – collected rain water or stream water. During the tourist season, DOC provides propane for cooking, so it’s pretty easy to take care of your cooking needs and you don’t need to bring your own stove. Each kitchen area held several sinks and two-burner stoves. The common room also held several tables, benches, chairs and a small wood stove. These spaces were decent with the 23 of us and I’m glad that I didn’t have to share all of this with forty people! The first people to arrive each day usually fired up the stove, but it still took several hours for this room to warm. As you might expect, it’s common courtesy to clean up after yourself and it appeared that everyone on my trip was quite courteous. ☺ Since the Fiordlands “enjoy” about seven meters of rain a year (yes, that’s not a typo) and there’s a 70% chance of rain on any given day, these huts have lots of overhang areas, outdoor drying lines and pegs/hooks for hanging clothes and boots. Now, that doesn’t guarantee that your clothes will be dry by the next morning, but they will be less wet. And, hanging your boots on the pegs protects them from being chewed/stolen by the keas.

 

A major feature of these huts is that they are staffed by a DOC conservation warden during the hiking season (late October through April). Our wardens – Peter Jackson (yes, that’s his real name), Ed Waite and I didn’t catch the last warden’s name – were all very knowledgeable, experienced, fun, pleasant and informative. If you need serious help, they’ll get it for you via their telecommunications system. One of their major roles is to share the upcoming weather forecast with you. And, it seems that they’ll leave you to enjoy your experience on your own, if you wish. But, as we heard, their main role is to ensure that you have a safe experience.

 

At Clinton Hut we were told that it was likely that we would be partaking of the helicopter shuttle on our second day. The plan was that we’d leave as a group so that we’d arrive at the shuttle point en masse. (Again, a bit of seething on my part…) So, on Day Two, we faithfully departed at 8:45 am (a late start by my standards) in the rain. Yuck!

 

I haven’t spent that much time hiking in the rain, but I do remember not enjoying it. This time, I was better prepared (this is New Zealand). I wore my water repellant (not water proof) boots, gaiters, rain pants and raincoat. Other hikers wore shorts and ponchos. Frankly, I don’t think that it made any difference. You got wet from the outside (rain) and the inside (perspiration). I was as wet as anyone else at the end of the day. The contents of my backpack were mostly dry, thanks to many large plastic bags. Most importantly, while my feet were damp/wet, they also were warm. My boots allowed water to slowly soak in, and my two pair of socks and gaiters allowed my body to warm the bit of water that was getting in. My boots also dried decently during overnight – not bone dry, but decent enough. I do think that the hikers who wore less clothing were colder than me.

 

The other thing about hiking in the rain along the Milford Track is that the track is very well maintained and it’s frequently the lowest point in the forest. Since it’s the lowest point, the rain water pools in the track and you end up walking through major puddles. The puddles may be shallow or ankle deep, even with the drainage that DOC carves into the sides of the track. And there are frequent streams to cross that might be more than ankle deep. When the rain hits those glacially carved valleys, underlain with all of that solid granite, the rain really has only one way to go – downhill and overland. While hiking in the rain is not really that pleasant, you have to just grin and bear it. The pleasant side of the rain in Fiordland is all of the beautiful waterfalls and streams!

 

On our second day, rather than hiking the entire 16 kilometers and climbing about 400 meters, we walked about ten or eleven kilometers to an area called The Prairie. Before we arrived at The Prairie, we were joined by a DOC conservation warden, Grizz Hamish, who coordinated our helicopter shuttle. At The Prairie, Grizz called in the copter, had us pile our backpacks at the landing zone, and then helped us get into the chopper about six at a time. The last load of hikers brought along the backpacks in a net dangling from the chopper. The flight was short and exhilarating, leaving us at the Mintaro Hut helicopter landing pad. (Each hut has it’s own helicopter landing pad, just in case.) Since we arrived at Mintaro Hut a couple of hours earlier than we normally would have anticipated, there was a lot of time to dry out and better get to know each other.

Preparing for the helicopter shuttle

 

One of the features of such a hike is the people whom you join. The group of folks on my hike was very nice and mostly young (by my standards) and about two-thirds male. About a third of our group was from Germany, while the rest were from France, Australia, Canada, Japan, England, South Africa and Argentina – plus the lone American. With everyone mingling in the communal room, it was a great chance to talk together, play cards, share a cup of tea or coffee, share life stories and so on. I have to say that I put a LOT of energy and research into preparing for the walk, but very little energy into considering the social aspects of the hike (that’s me, the introvert). But, enjoying each other’s company was really one of the better parts of the Milford Track and a very much underappreciated part of the experience.

 

On the third day, we received the good news that the weather was expected to be fine and mostly sunny, and that we should have a very good walk heading over MacKinnon Pass. But, we also had heard that one of the best side trips of the Milford Track, the walk to Sutherland Falls, was closed due to a major landslide caused by all of the rain – bummer. While a few people took off early, most everyone else slowly ambled on about 8:00 am. The first kilometer or so from Mintaro Hut was relatively flat. And then, you start up the switchbacks to the Pass. It takes about two hours to get from Mintaro Hut to MacKinnon Pass. Those two hours aren’t easy, but they aren’t tough either. MacKinnon Pass tops out at a bit over 1100 meters and I wasn’t sucking wind like happens on big hikes in the Rocky Mountains.

 

Tim @ MacKinnon Pass

The view from MacKinnon Pass is spectacular – I’ll just let my photographs speak to that. The sun was shining, the clouds were blowing through, and the temps were pleasant. There also was a bit of fresh snow from the day before. And, atop the Pass is a memorial to Quintin MacKinnnon.

 

MacKinnon Pass, Milford Track

This slideshow is best viewed full screen.

As I was hiking to MacKinnon Pass, and standing on top of it, and then heading down the other side, there was a nearly a constant clatter of rockslides and the occasional small avalanche. Maybe that helicopter ride wasn’t such a bad thing after all… I’ve come to understand that avalanches in the Fiordlands are different from the avalanches in the Rockies that I’ve seen on TV. In the Rockies, the mountains are basically these large cones that snuggle up to each other. The avalanches run down their sides and then pile up in chutes where the mountains overlap at their flanks. Here in New Zealand, the mountains are packed a bit tighter. And, not all of the areas between the mountains are “gentle” slopes but there are quite a few U-shaped glacial valleys. The snow piles up on top of the mountains. When there’s enough snow and/or rain, the snow lets go and moves as an avalanche – no different from what happens in the Rockies or many of the mountains here. The difference in these glacial valleys is that the snow then slides off of the top of these mountains and over the lip of valley – and then descends nearly vertically (and quickly) to the valley floor. An avalanche in these glacial areas is basically a big dump. The avalanche happens nearly directly above you, where you’re not looking, and it falls straight down. The avalanche lands with a big WHUMP and blast of wind that knocks everything around it down. If you’re lucky to not be hit by the falling snow, then you likely won’t escape/survive the wind blast – at up to 300 km/hr. Plants don’t get a chance to grow very tall in the areas where the avalanches are common. So, again, maybe that helicopter wasn’t such a bad thing after all…

 

After about thirty minutes on MacKinnon Pass, shooting and shooting the mountain scenes, I headed onward. While I was quite pleased with myself that I’d climbed the 500 meters up to MacKinnon Pass and enjoyed its beauty, I now had to get down the other side. Here’s the part that they don’t really tell you – you now have to go down about 1000 meters. Oh, and because of the avalanche danger, a part of the main Track was closed and we had to use the emergency track, which is steeper, not as well maintained, etc. Oh my aching legs!! Even if the path to Sutherland Falls had been open, I don’t know if I would have wanted to do it because I was tired enough climbing down from MacKinnon Pass. It’s a fourteen kilometer trip from Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, but there’s also the 500 meters up and 1000 meters down. It took me about seven hours that day. Everyone at Dumpling Hut was moving slowly and sorely, but enjoying the warmth of the sun. A little splashing around in the river helped to rinse off the day’s sweat, at least ‘til the those pesky sandflies showed up.

 

On the last day, the eighteen kilometers to Sandfly Point are pretty tame, especially after being at MacKinnon Pass the day before. There are a couple of very nice waterfalls – Mackay Falls and Giants Gate Falls. There’s also Bell Rock, right next to Mackay Falls, which is a former streambed grinder that appears to have fallen from someplace much higher and come to rest upside down. But, your muscles are sore and you’re ready to get back to civilization. Everyone was up and out earlier than usual, in part because they were hoping to be on the 2:00 pm boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound. If you miss that ferry, then there’s a 3:00 pm ferry. This was the warmest day of the trip, pleasantly so, and no rain. Finally reaching Sandfly Point is a very nice goal and everyone was smiling when they wandered in, happy to be finished.  And, this blog post ends about the same as tramping on the Milford Track – unceremoniously, with a smile, and you’re glad to be done with it…

Tim @ Sandfly Point, the end of the Milford Track

So, was this the “finest walk in the world”? Well, no, but it’s a very fine walk, and I’m not going to start an argument with the New Zealand tourism industry’s PR people… 😉

 

Which Great Walk should I do next? The Routeburn Track sounds pretty interesting and it’s shorter… And, maybe I can take my girlfriend with me, that is, if she’s still talking to me…  Oh, and anyone wanna take care of the kids for us?

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

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Rockslide!

So, we were enjoying our merry holiday around the South Island of New Zealand.  Our last major stop was to be an overnight visit to Milford Sound.   When we left Queenstown, the weather was pretty good – or, as they say in New Zealand, “fine.”  The closer that got to Te Anau, the poorer the weather looked.

 

After a Friday night stay in Te Anau we continued to Milford.  Along the way, we thought that it would be a good idea to enjoy some short hikes, even though the rain was picking up.  At one stop, for a twenty-minute hike to Marian Falls, we came back to the car and were drenched.  After that, the thought of hiking anymore was replaced by sanity.  And, we also had planned on stopping along the way for a picnic lunch, but that gave way to the rain, too.

 

The high point of the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel.  It’s a tight, narrow, dark tunnel that’s at a pretty significant grade, and a little hairy when the windows on your car are fogging over a bit.  After the Homer Tunnel, which separates the “ocean” side of the mountains at Milford Sound from the “inland” side, the rain became heavier.  In fact, the rain even changed over to snow.  At that point, the windows were totally fogged over and we had to stop for several minutes for the windows to clear.  The road on down to Milford Sound is marked with several avalanche zones and you’re not permitted to stop during that length.  We finally made it to the village of Milford Sound after about a four-hour drive from Te Anau, and stopped at the Blue Duck Café for lunch.

 

The most remarkable thing about the drive were all of the waterfalls that we saw after we crossed the divide toward the ocean-side of the mountains!  The quantity of waterfalls was like nothing that we had ever seen before – small ribbons and massive gushers.  It was one of the most beautiful water displays that we’ve ever seen.  Every time that we turned a corner, our jaws were dropping!  Unfortunately, we couldn’t really stop because of the avalanche zones.

 

Water cascading down the mountainside along Highway 94, Friday, Oct 12th, 2012.

 

 

In Milford Sound, we stayed at the Milford Sound Lodge in one of their riverside chalets.  Again, outside our windows, the views of the waterfalls all around was stunning.  Our chalet sat on the banks of the Cleddau River.  I do have to insert here that the environmental scientist in me was a bit worried as the river raged by, and I could tell that it was slowly rising – we would have to evacuate during the night???   It was just needless worrying on my part since the Lodge sits well above the river.  It ended up raining about 4″ overnight, which is alot for most anywhere.

 

Milford Sound Video by Asta – click here!

 

 

The rain let up during the night (but didn’t fully stop – this is New Zealand, right?) and the river dropped considerably.  After breakfast, we wandered over to the reception area of the Lodge and discovered that all of the rain had loosened a rockslide across the road (Highway 94) during the night.  No problems, we thought; we’ll go on our rainy Milford Sound cruise in the morning and then enjoy a beautiful day in Milford, and then drive out after the road is opened that day.

 

Well, on Sunday, we awoke to absolutely beautiful weather – clear and gorgeous.  There also was a sign in the Lodge reception area that said that the road was still closed – bummer.  The Lodge staff had spent a great deal of time on Saturday helping various guests fly out of Milford Sound, and Asta decided that it was her turn to do the same on Sunday.  After she left us, we wandered around a bit, took care of ourselves as we moved from the luxurious digs of a chalet to a backpacker dorm room outfitted with two bunk beds – Aras & Julija were both very happy to be able to sleep on the top of a bunk!

 

In the afternoon, since the weather was so nice and beautiful, we decided to take another Milford Sound cruise, again with Southern Discoveries – kids ride free!  The second cruise wasn’t  as exciting as the first cruise, but it was still wonderful.  The waterfalls were a bit reduced, but the skies were blue.

 

By this time, we were hearing and reading more on-line that the rockslide might be worse than we had hoped.  It turns out that there was a humungous boulder that had fallen on the road (~200 tons they said) and that it was going be very difficult to move.  And, later on we heard that there hadn’t been a single rockslide, but at least five rockslides along with a snow avalanche.   No worries, mate!  We’ll just leave on Monday!

 

http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/downpours-gales-and-massive-slip-5128429

 

On Monday morning, we slept in.  When we went to the reception area, we found that the road was still closed.  Bummer again.  Monday turned out to be a nice day to just chill out and relax.  Aras’ chickenpox (I didn’t mention that part earlier, did I?) seem to have peaked on Monday, and it was good for him to have a slow, restful day.

 

Tuesday morning, slept in.  We went to the reception area with low expectations and we were not disappointed!  The road was still closed.  The road crews had been making good progress.   They were building a detour around the largest of the rockslides, so that traffic might get in and out.  But, it was still slow going, and now the weather is expected to get worse, which will slow their work because of safety considerations – fear of more rockslides and avalanches.  When will we get out of here, get the kids back to school, and allow Dad to regain his solitude and sanity???

 

So, you’ve been reading about the less than appealing aspects of this moment in our lives.  But, there are a LOT of great moments in this difficult time.   The most notable is the quality and warmth of the staff at the Milford Sound Lodge.  They are just awesome and I can’t say enough about them and their efforts to keep us comfortable.  They recognize that they can’t do anything about the road, and we recognize it, too.  But, they have been bending over backwards to help guests fly out of Milford Sound – booking flights, arranging buses at the other destinations and so on.

 

On Monday evening, we walked into the Blue Duck Café & Bar to find that they bartender, Paul, was wearing a cheesehead!  He’s originally from Richmond, VA, and a Green Bay Packer’s fan!  He was celebrating the Packers victory over the Houston Texans.

 

One of my favorite stories is how the staff, especially Emma and Japke (along with Lorena, Parker, Jorunn, Nicolas and others),  helped guests with alternate arrangements.   When we arrived, there were several different guests here in their rented cars and camper vans.  A couple from England needed to fly out of Milford Sound and back to “civilization” so that they could make their connections home.  Well, their rental car company wanted to charge them rental fees for the car that they would be leaving in Milford Sound as well as the new rental car that they would pick up in Queenstown.  Well, the Lodge staff weren’t too keen on this potential arrangement.  They helped the car rental company to understand that this disaster was receiving a fair amount of media attention and to consider how might it look if the glowing feelings of kiwi hospitality might be tarnished by reports of specific and NAMED rental car companies appeared in the newspapers?  The rental car company quickly changed their tune.  J  Similar situations appeared for the folks with camper vans who needed to move on; the camper van companies easily found alternate vans for these guests, at no additional cost.

 

The number of guests at the Milford Sound Lodge is now down to about ten very patient lodgers.  A couple of families are here in camper vans, and the rest of us are in the lodge.  Aras & Julija have been borrowing movie after movie to entertain themselves.   They’ve also been crawling around beneath the slatted decks around the lodge (they’re badgers, right?).  They found about ten room keys that have been lost over who knows how long of a period of time, as well as about twenty five dollars in coins!  (They’ve made more money today than me!)

 

On Tuesday, the staff arranged with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks to take a gratis two-hour kayak trip in the backwaters of the Sound, near the wharves here.  Again, the hospitality of Hory and Blake at Rosco’s was amazing.  Yes, they’re a bit bored, too, since they don’t have any clients, but they didn’t have to take us out.  What’s in it for them?  I guess a few beers at the Blue Duck Bar and Café!

 

Here it is Wednesday, and it appears that the road will be opened to “essential traffic” on Thursday.  The official word to the general public is that the road will be closed for many more days, but we’re hearing that we’ll be able to get out on Thursday.  And, today, the staff is arranging a movie presentation in the Lodge’s lounge – the New Zealand classic “Whale Rider.”  They’re so nice and thoughtful!!

 

Thursday morning arrives with good news!  The “official” word is that Highway 94 should open at 1:00 pm.  We take our time, pack and enjoy our declining food supply (no, we didn’t starve – not even close).   About 12:30, we bid adieu to all of the wonderful folks at Milford Sound Lodge and drive up to the gate across the road.  Annoyingly, it appears that “essential traffic” means allowing hordes of tourists (buses, cars and campers) access to Milford Sound and its cruises before allowing those of us of who have been holed up at Milford Sound to leave.  Oh well…

 

 

An excavator works on clearing the rockslide debris on Highway 94, the highway to Milford Sound.

 

 

Finally, on our way out on the road, we slow down at the major landslide and it is pretty impressive and massive.  The highlight, though, is that after our wave of vehicles passes by the landslide, a TV cameraman for TV3 stops us for a chat with the camera in our faces.  Once he started to interview Julija, I knew that she’d be on the news.  Who can resist a cute, little girl?

 

http://www.3news.co.nz/Road-re-opens-with-a-bang/tabid/423/articleID/273257/Default.aspx

 

So, our saga ends.  What was supposed to a eleven-day trip ends up being about a sixteen-day trip.  And, my feeling is that of all of our adventures on this trip, Aras & Julija will most remember the coins and room keys that they found beneath the decks at the Milford Sound Lodge…  Me, I’ve got a lot more and different memories.

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

P.S. – I’m going back to Milford Sound on the weekend of October 27th, but I’ll be approaching it from the south – on the Milford Track!!  woo hoo!

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