The Milford Track has always held a place in my imagination. So when I learned that I could actually do a one-day “Milford Encounter” walk on the beginning part of the track, I jumped at the chance.
I took an early morning cab into Queenstown – a five minute drive – to meet up with the motor coach that would take me to the sleepy town of Te Anau, on the Lake of the same name, where my guide, Hunter, would meet me. Hunter works with an outfit called “Ultimate Hikes” that arranges guided hikes of the entire Milford Track as well as others such as the Routeburn Track.
For those embarking on the multi-day trek of the entire Milford track, the first day’s walk follows the Clinton River. We walked beneath a rain forest canopy of ferns and silver, red, and mountain beech trees, as Hunter pointed out the differences between each.
After a mile we reached the Glade Burn House, where we had a soup and salad lunch, before heading back out. Hikers doing the entire multi-day track can either camp out or choose accommodations in the Milford Track’s system of lodges where meals are also served. Glade Burn houses hikers on their first night of the track.
As we headed out after lunch, Hunter – a virtual encyclopedia — identified birds such as the Weka, by the sound of their song and appearance. He explained that non-native predators, such as stouts– weasel-like rodents –prey on birds, and, in an attempt to restore its bird population, New Zealand is making an effort to trap these invaders.
Crossing a swinging bridge over the Clinton, we saw a couple giant eels swimming in the river below. I was surprised to learn that these eels are actually native to New Zealand.
However, a look at the sky revealed that the weather was about to change, and we had to turn back in order to meet the return boat. Before we knew it, the Track’s changeable weather became a torrential downpour, as we headed back, taking a slight detour to climb up along a rock-strewn dry riverbed. Rain or shine, it was one unforgettable day.
My Milford Encounter was part of a custom South Island itinerary arranged by Goway, which included motorcoach transportation from Queenstown to Te Anau and the guided hike.