My mum voiced her interest in going on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, which are said to be some of the most amazing walks in the world. After going, its sure hard to say they’re wrong. There were two plausible choicest for us: the Milford Sound track, or the Routeburn track. We chose the Routeburn Track because it’s a bit shorter and has a very diverse habitat. There are three ways to do this track. The first, and most primitive option is to freedom camp, where you can camp anywhere along the track, as long as it’s more than 500 meters from the trail or at designated camping sites. The second option is to stay in a DOC hut, which is dorm accommodation and has cooking facilities. The third option, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say we did, is essentially five star backpacking – Ultimate Hikes Guided Walk. We stayed in a lodge, and had a semi private bedroom, but shared toilets and showers. No food was needed to be brought in by us, it is helicoptered in and chefs at the lodge prepared it for us. There is breakfast, a packed lunch and snacks, with a three course dinner. Sounds pretty cushy right? In addition, we had four guides to answer questions and make sure we didn’t fall off a cliff or something. We still had to walk 15-20 km a day, but since we’re on a three month trip, and didn’t bring our assortment of gear to do it independently, it was the most practical option. If this walk was nearer to home, we probably would have done it ourselves and known to reserve a year in advance for space in the DOC huts or campgrounds.
Our guides, Izzie, Moana, Fumi-san, and Marissa, were very helpful, knowledgeable, and fun. We had a group of 31, and there was usually a guide in front, one at the back, and two somewhere the middle. They changed positions throughout the day, and got to know everyone. When we were getting close to the lodge for the night, the front guide would relinquish their spot (it’s kinda hard to get lost on the trail) and I would beetle ahead. At the lodge, I was greeted by someone, and they would give me the rundown on where stuff was, and I was basically free to roam until whenever dinner was. Both lodges have staff that work two weeks on and one week off. They are the ones who take care of all the housekeeping and prepare our food.
They cook the the same menu for every group that comes through, but boy, is it good. There are three options of meals each night and the first night, the options were some part of a chicken with skin (I got that), beef, and a vegetarian option, which I think no one in our group chose. It was a big meal, not to mention the fish and bread appetizer, and date cake with ice cream and butterscotch sauce for dessert. The next nights options were lamb chop (my choice), salmon, and another vegetarian option. The appetizer was a herb and spinach soup, with a lemon and ginger cake dessert. Both breakfasts were the same aside from the hot option: cereal, toast and porridge. The hot option on day two was eggs Benedict, and I am not a fan at all, but the third day, it was scrambled eggs, bacon, and a croissant, which is more my style. Before breakfast, we prepared our lunch, for me I made the same thing both days. I essentially had a meat and cheese sandwich, minus the bread and add the lettuce. I also had a lot of the snacks: nuts, chocolate, and fruits, to keep me going the entire day.
All three days, we hiked more than 10 km, and on the first two I walked about 20 km. Even though it was pretty tough, the scenery was amazing and different almost every hour, and there were lots of waterfalls and pools where we stopped along the way to swim in. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but if I had to pick it’d have to be the second day. Even though there were a lot less places to stop and swim, we were above the treeline most of the day, and along with that being my favorite habitat, the views were amazing. In the morning, we zig zagged our way upwards, away from our lodge before walking most of the day along the face of the mountain, which looked down into a river valley and across to a taller range of snow capped mountains. Just before noon, we pulled up through a pass to the lunch hut. The rest of the day was spent walking in a sloping downwards direction, following a river, and occasionally walking through an alpine meadow. Right before the lodge it became very steep, as we walked alongside a series of pools and waterfalls, which I swam in later that day, and that night. The other two days were mainly spent in temperate rainforest, and was very hot and humid, but was still amazing, with moss hanging from trees in great beards, and the occasional bird flying across the path.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was swimming in the pools and waterfalls along the way. There were so many options, and the weather was perfect for it, with the water not to cold – most of the time. The first day I swam on three separate occasions, one nearer the beginning in a lake – just a quick dip. The second spot was at Earland Falls, a waterfall (duh) that cascades down 174 meters in few but large sections. I went directly under it and got a hard, cold, back massage. At the lodge, I went for a dip in Mackenzie Lake, which was really mucky. On the second day, the only place I went swimming was at the Routeburn falls, a series of falls and pools, making for great exploring. Later that night, the guides showed another participant and I a spot from which to jump off a rock about 5 meters up into a pool at the base of a fall. I jumped off a couple times. On the third day during lunch, there was a section of the river that is deep and slow moving, but cold. Very cold. All anyone did there was dip their toes or do a quick dive and hop right back out.
I’m really grateful for the people who did everything for us and were super helpful on our hike. These three days allowed me to see what the New Zealand bush is like, and learn a bit about the native flora and fauna while I was at it. I learned some of the plants that the Maori peoples would eat, like snowberries and pepper plant, which has spicy leaves. I also learned New Zealand is dealing with an imported stoat problem they have, with traps and poisons. And I think it’s pretty funny that the biggest predator in New Zealand is a bush chicken. The people we met were a big part of the trip. We played cards, hiked, ate, and swam together, which made us good friends in such a small amount of time. I learned a card game from some of the other hikers called Screw Your Neighbor. We have exchanged emails with most of the people on the trip and are getting in touch with them, and sharing photos. I would seriously recommend doing one of the Great Walks, and also would definitely advise you to consider this unique option.