I had the absolute pleasure of walking New Zealand’s Milford Track in April 2016. Here are some tips and observations.
- There is an inverse relationship between the amount of time you are from the start of the walk and the amount of attention you pay to the weight of the items you’re packing. For example a few weeks before it seems like a great idea to take clean socks, underwear, handkerchiefs and cravats for each day, yet the night before it seems like a great idea to leave behind everything but two freeze-dried meals and an A5 sheet of paper.
- Despite the aforementioned relationship there will still be a young Canadian guy who’s decided to bring all his food in cans, making his backpack weigh about 70kg, but forgotten his raincoat.
- Freeze-dried meals really are light but make extremely grandiose claims as to their contents. From my testing Mediterranean Lamb with Black Olives, Chicken Tikka Masala and Apple Pie all taste pretty much the same.
- JAFA – Just Another Fucking Aucklander – is a term of endearment other New Zealanders use for their beloved brethren from the capital.
- Sleeping at close quarters with 39 other people has its moments. While snoring, farting and body odour can be challenging nothing compares to the late-night rustle-schwustle-schwustle as your cabinmates turn over or move their bodies slightly. And the rustle-schwulstle-zzzzzziiiiiiiiiiiiiippp-schwustle of the sleeping bag as your they head out for late-night ablutions at regular intervals during the night.
- Each hut has a resident Department of Environment ranger with what looks like a pretty incredible job. Most of these rangers could move easily into a career in standup comedy.
- Just like school camp there are rules in some of the cabins. In one the ranger said there was to be strictly no reading in bed at night. Also like school camp collective mutiny trumps the rules and the soft glow of head torch inside sleeping bag is evident in the bunkroom. (Let’s face it: the previously mentioned rustle-schwustle-schwustle rules out masturbation, so how else is anyone going to get to sleep?)
- The many rivers, creeks and waterfalls you’ll be walking alongside, over and/or through are crystal clear and highly drinkable. There are plenty of opportunities to swim if you enjoy being Really Fucking Cold.
- For those choosing to undertake the journey to take a break from heavy drinking the many suspension bridges along the way can simulate the experience of being pissed.
- Dropping something important, for example an expensive camera, from a ridge over one of the deeper river crossings can be a fun challenge for those fellow walkers who enjoy a game of ‘how long can I stay conscious whilst diving 4 metres down into a freezing river’ but will probably result in the camera staying behind.
- You may come across clean-looking walkers with miniature day packs – these people are doing a guided version of the walk with a company that provides accommodation, meals, wines and showers at luxury eco-lodges along the track. As you stumble past, cursing the extra cravats and handkerchiefs you packed, you can feel superior in your rugged independence.
- Some of the shelters along the way have two clearly marked sections, one for the independent walkers and another for guided walkers. This is weird as, apart from the gold-plated taps, 18-year-old single malt and Beluga caviar, the rooms look indentical.
- The one problem with the Milford Track, according to well-known naturalist Ridley Scott, is that there aren’t enough palm trees. Hence as we emerged blinking from our four day wilderness adventure and took the final crossing from Sandfly Point to Milford by boat, it was pleasing to see helicopters ferrying palm trees across the water to the film set for Alien: Covenant. Because you know, it’s an OK bit of wilderness but just not quite right.
Photo by Tim Scanlon.