This entry covers the trip to Milford Sound and the walk on the Routeburn Track, so there.

‘Twas bright and early (about 7ish) that we boarded a Kiwi Experience bus for the Milford Sound trip. Our driver was Toffa, a Maori with a mullet, or maybe a mulleted Maori - maybe the mullet is some sort of special Maori haircut. Anyway, Toffa had done that route over 800 times so we were fairly confident that he could handle the bus.

The route started by skirting around the edge of lake Wakatipu, before heading off into a large valley full of sheep fields. After two hours we reached Te Anau, on the shore of Lake Te Anau - I think part of Lord of the Rings was filmed there. The bus then struck into more scenic country, with steeper valley walls lined with trees and still some snow at the top. This continued while the bus steadily climbed to the Homer Tunnel, which is at about 700m or so, is one lane, no lighting and a fairly steep descent. After that it was a very windy road down the mountains to Milford Sound, the most scenic place in the world (apparently).

The first thing about Milford Sound is that it is not a sound. A sound is where a V-shaped river valley is flooded by the rising sea, this is a fjord, where a U-shaped glacial valley was flooded by the sea. It is named by a welshman after Milford Haven.

We boarded the cruise boat and set off for the 3 hour cruise. For a while we had dolphins swimming along aside the boad, and occasionally jumping out of the water, which was really cool as it doesn’t always happen. We did a slow circuit of the fjord, looking at the valley walls which slope up almost vertically but still seem to manage to have trees on them. We also stopped in the underwater observatory, where you go down about 10m and look at coral and fish through very thick windows. The coral grows in little window boxes on the side of the observatory.

Finally the cruise ended and we got back on the bus for the trip back. I got off at Te Anau, to start the Routeburn Track the next day.

Routeburn Track Day1

The track starts at The Divide, at 532m, a sort of high point on the road. The track starts by going diagonally up the valley wall, which is very steep and covered with trees. The trees cling to a layer of organic matter which is formed from rottin moss - there is very little soil.

I think this is temperate rainforrest, which seems to involve loads of moss and lichen covering absolutely everything, and loads of ferns as well as trees. It is really beautiful especially around the numerous small creeks and waterfalls of which there are many.

At the top of the valley wall is an optional path to Key Summit, which I took as I had plenty of time and the weather was good so I could see the view. The path goes above the tree line and through an area of alpine bog, and gave a great view of the valley. It is all the better as there is a little cloud which was swirling around the top of the mountains.

Back on the main track the path continues through the forrest until Earland Falls, which are 80m high and very impressive, but hard to photograph in a way that captures the whole thing.

The path continues up, then eventually descends to MacKensie hut, at 1073m and the end of the day of walking. The hut consists of a large communal area with kitchen, a bunkroom above and a toilet block. I sat on the deck outside the front door and watched as the mountains became more dramatic as the clouds rolled in. Soon it started to get cold and started to rain so I went inside.

Day 2

This was the walk over Harris Saddle, the highest point in the track, to Routeburn Falls hut. The track started in the trees, which was good as it was raining. It soon passed out of the bushline and I started to get wet - my upper body was ok, protected by my jacket, but I was only wearing shorts so they got wet but it was not too much of a problem. I was walking in my beaten up DMs, which are full of holes to let the water in but people with proper gore-tex boots did not fare much better.

Once I had left the shelter of the valley the wind was very strong, driving the rain into my face and almost pushing me off the path at times - long drop down the side of the valley. Apparently the wind was reaching 80kph. I was absolutely freezing but eventually managed to get to Harris Shelter at 1255m where some other walkers took pity on me and gave me coffee - they had a stove with them.

The walk onwards was mostly downhill, and the wind and rain eased off long enough to get a good view of the valley and lake Harris. The mountains looked really pretty with dark rock and spots of white snow, but there was a lot of cloud so I couldn’t see the far away mountains. I found myself humming the music from Lord of the Rings again, for the first time in the day.

The wind and rain soon came back and I struggled on to Routeburn Falls hut, which is at 1000m and just within the tree line perched on a steep slope near the falls of the same name. I was really glad to be there as it meant that I could take my wet shoes and socks off and warm up by the fire. We all spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the wind and rain, I think that being soaking wet really makes you appreciate getting to the hut. The day’s walking only actually took about 4 hours, and everyone arrived in plenty of time that they could have walked to the end of the track if they had wanted to. Noone did.

Day 3

The day dawned bright and sunny, and I found out that the noise I had thought was rain when I was in bed was actually the waterfall nearby. As the weathere was good and I had plenty of time I walked around and photographed the falls.

I started on the track to the bottom of the valley. The trees are less dense than at the start and less covered by moss, but they were taller. A landslip in 1994 gave a great view into the valley, allowing you to see the forrested walls and the grassy bottom with river.

The river in question is the Route Burn, and is a tributary of the Dart river, used in the filming of Lord of the Rings and feeding into Lake Wakatipu, on the shore of which Queenstown is situated. I walk through the forrest with the river never far away, and I seem to frequently encounter waterfalls on the streams feeding into the river. The valley walls slope up sharply on either side and look spectacular when you can see them though the trees. The track crosses several rivers, using swing bridges - small suspension bridges which bounce and swing all over the place. Eat your heart out millenium bridge.

Slightly scary moments when I came to a section of wooden bridge which had been dameaged by falling rocks during the rain and associated piles of water. Luckily it held my weight, but loads of other people coming the other way had used it without incident. Near the end of the track, the whole path had been washed away in a landslip, which required a bit of a scramble - not easy with a big rucksack. Finally made it to the end and sat around on the grass for a couple of hours as I had plenty of time until the bus to take me back to queenstown.

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