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Trip Report Wash your Boots! A New Zealand Trip Report

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Cleaning our hiking boots for the trip was but one of many good pieces of advice I got from this and other travel forums. They really do inspect boots for dirt and mud upon arrival at the airport in New Zealand. Fortunately ours passed the inspection!

We traveled in January and it was so nice to escape dreary Seattle in mid-winter and return to summer, if only for a few weeks. "We" are a newly-retired very active couple in our late 60's.

Trip planning started a year in advance (January 2014) as we wanted to use airline miles to fly business class over the Pacific. I had read that it is nearly impossible to score seats in the premium cabins with miles on this route, but it turns out I had no trouble getting our two seats each way. Our miles are good on Qantas, not Air New Zealand, but since I didn't have an itinerary for our trip yet, and did not know what NZ airports we would want to use for arrival and departure, it worked out fine to book our flights as far as Australia and leave the NZ legs until later.

So. . . we had seats in First Class departing LAX for Sydney on December 30 (arriving January 1, so we missed New Year's Eve entirely!) and returning from Melbourne in Business Class on January 23. I chose Melbourne for the return as we are tennis fans and could get a day in at the Australian Open.

Then I set about planning our itinerary. We wanted an active trip, with at least one multi-day trek on one of New Zealand's famous walking tracks, plus a bit of bicycling and kayaking if possible. We wanted to see mountains, glaciers, beaches, and rain forest, and hopefully learn a bit about the native flora and fauna. Bungee-jumping and zorbing were not on the list!

I also wanted to keep driving to a minimum as I knew it would be stressful. My husband Bill volunteered to do all the driving as he had driven on the left before, but I wanted to make it as easy as possible for him. So we did part of the trip by train, water taxi, bus, and air before picking up a car for one week. We visited the South Island only.

The final itinerary looked like this: fly into Christchurch, take the Coastal Pacific train north to Picton (for the Queen Charlotts Track), bus to Nelson (for Abel Tasman National Park), fly back to Christchurch to pick up a car, and work our way to Queenstown over 6 days. At Queenstown we would return the car and head out for the Milford Track. I booked this as the "luxury" option with Ultimate Hikes rather than as a "freedom walk" using the DOC huts. Ultimate provided transport to and from the track, a Milford Sound cruise, and all meals, as well as accommodation in lodges with private rooms and ensuite bath. This turned out to be a good choice for us and well worth the cost. But that part comes later. . . .

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    Day 1 (January 5)

    Up early to catch the 7:00 am train from Christchurch to Picton. We flew into Christchurch the previous afternoon and spent the night at Chateau on the Park, a very nice hotel with lovely gardens and a decent restaurant. We did not have time to see Christchurch but did go for a run in the park and a swim in the small hotel pool before dinner.

    The taxi was waiting for us when my husband discovered he could not find his wallet. Panic. He frantically searched his luggage while I ran to check at the restaurant and front desk to see if it had been turned in. Nada. With 10 minutes left before last check-in time for the train we decided to just go---either the wallet was in his luggage, or it would be found at the hotel, or it was lost and no amount of searching the room would recover it.

    We did make the train in time, checked our luggage (mandatory on this train) and found our seats. Bill called the hotel to make sure they had our phone numbers while I started mentally rearranging the trip in case the wallet was not found. There was no way I was going to drive, so if we did not get the wallet (and Bill's drivers license) back, we would have to use public transport, and skip some of the stops we had planned.

    The train must have gone out of cell phone range for a time, because next we noticed we had both received phone calls that went unanswered. Bill had a NZ SIM card in his iphone and could not figure out how to retrieve voice mail or even see the number that called. I had our regular ATT service on my phone but could not retrieve voice mail either (I never can while traveling abroad, so please do not call me!) But I could see the number and yes, it was the hotel that called. So Bill called them and thank goodness they had his wallet. (He left it on the table at the restaurant the night before. Don't ask). They said it would be held in their safe until we could return to retrieve it. Fortunately a return to Christchurch was already in our itinerary, so we did not have to change anything. But I would be paying for everything for the next 4 days. (Maybe he did this on purpose????)

    So now we could relax and enjoy the train ride and scenery. The train goes along the coast part of the way, so close to the water than we saw dolphins leaping and playing. Then it turned inland and we passed through scenery much like Sonoma County in northern California. I was surprised at how "not green" it was; although early summer there the hills were golden brown. They must have been experiencing a drought.

    At Kaikoura the train made a prolonged (10 minute) stop, announced so that smokers could get off and have their cigs. (We were surprised to see so much smoking in New Zealand). Rather than join the smokers on the platform, we walked to the rear of the train where there is an open car, and stood to enjoy the scene. We did not hear a whistle, but the train pulled forward, and as it did so a woman on the platform looked up with a startled expression and we saw her mouth say "S*#%!" She grabbed the hands of two small children and tried to run to the train, but the kids were slow and the train was already underway. Passengers all called out and apparently the conductor sent word up to the engineer to stop, but we went a good 500 yards before coming to a full stop. The conductor went back to help the family walk up and board, and everyone cheered. I wonder if a train in Europe would have stopped like that?

    We were now running late and I was glad I had not booked the first water taxi out of Picton. We were headed out to Lochmara Lodge near the Queen Charlotte Track, and wanted to allow time in Picton to get lunch and do a bit of shopping for wine and snacks to take out to the lodge. Upon arrival in Picton, we went to the water taxi office to leave our luggage, then found a small grocery with a deli and nice selection of salads for our picnic lunch, as well as the wine and snacks for our two-night stay at Lochmara. There was a nice little grassy park by the water for our picnic.

    The water taxi was right on time and we boarded with two other couples, and our luggage. We exchanged names---Pete and Ann, David and Eric---but there was too much engine noise and splashing for any conversation. The ride across the Sound was a bit rough and it was good the boat driver had put up the plastic screen on one side or we would have been soaked. fortunately it was a short ride---15 minutes or so.

    Lochmara Lodge is an eco-resort, wildlife recovery center, and art center (with sculptures scattered around the property). They offer rooms, family suites, and chalets, with balcony or patio and views to the bay. There is a dining room for meals with indoor and outdoor seating. The food was very good. Kayaks and stand-up paddle boards are available for guest use (free) and there is a connection by trail to the Queen Charlotte Track. It is a beautiful place with tree ferns and other trees, looking much like Hawaii. We had two nights there and made good use of the kayaks and hiking trails, as well as enjoying the cuisine and the views from our little patio table. I recommend this place highly.

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    Hi Enzian - we were in NZ December '13, as part of a longer trip to HK, OZ, NZ and back to Oz again - 5 ½ weeks in all, of which we spent 17 nights in NZ, 4 on the NI and 13 on the SI.

    nice start to your trip, and your TR. your story about your DH's wallet reminds me of the time when DH left his jacket including his passport on the back of a chair in a fleabitten bar in the French Pyenees; we only discovered this when we got to the spanish border so we had to go all the way back to the bar, and, having found his jacket exactly where he left it, passport and wallet intact, all the way back to the border again. not a lot was said, really.

    could you post links to the places you stayed as you go along? It would be nice to be able to look at the pics as well as reading your descriptions.

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    What a hectic start to your trip with your husband's lost wallet. Glad it was resolved early and hope that the rest of your journey was better from here. Following along and enjoying your account.

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    the lodge looks lovely, enzian. We thought about staying on the Marlborough Sounds but plumped for Nelson in the end - there just isn't enough time to see it all, is there?

    hopefully, next time!

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    Days 2, 3, and 4---Kayaking with Jellyfish and on to Nelson/Abel Tasman NP

    Day 2 dawned bright and clear. We enjoyed a tasty but expensive breakfast at the lodge and then packed up snacks, water bottles and sunscreen for our hike on the Queen Charlotte Track. Each time we walked through the Lochmara property we found a new trail to explore, and this time we came across two alpacas grazing peacefully. They have quite a few farm animals there---feeding the pigs and chooks is one of the favored activities for children who visit for the day.

    The trail worked its way up to nice views over Lochmara Bay and eventually joined the main track. We turned left to head to the spur trail to a lookout point which was our goal. The 360 degree view from the top over Queen Charlotte Sounds and the various landforms was lovely. We had seen no one else on the trail until a Danish couple arrived with their baby sleeping peacefully in a backpack. They were making good use of the maternity/paternity leave provided by Denmark to travel the world. By this time the sun was overhead and there was no shade up there, so we all headed down---they went to Lochmara for tea and a water taxi; we continued the other direction toward Mosquito Bay to find a shady spot for our picnic. Then we turned around and walked back to Lochmara hoping for a swim and time in the kayaks.

    There were kayaks available so we headed out and immediately found ourselves among hundreds of moon jellies--the small white ones. It was eerie to be gliding above so many. When we reached a current farther out they disappeared, and we turned up the bay to see some of the vacation houses along the shore, and to look for sealife. The water was amazingly clean and clear. Indeed all the water we saw in New Zealand, whether saltwater or fresh, was pristine and clear unless filled with glacial silt, in which case it was a beautiful green color.

    After an hour or so we returned to the lodge as Bill still wanted to swim, in spite of the jellies (we asked and were told they were harmless). But no way was I going in that water! After his swim Bill said they do sting a wee bit, something like nettles but not painful.

    We had dinner that night with Pete and Ann from the UK, whom we met on the water taxi coming over. We had a great time talking and made plans to meet up again in Queenstown, as we would overlap there for one night.

    We departed Lochmara Lodge the next morning on the 11am water taxi, arriving back in Picton in good time for the 12:15 intercity bus to Nelson. I booked our seats in advance on the website and brought our printed tickets,,but the driver never looked at them--he had a list of names and just checked everyone off.

    The bus was very comfortable, the ride scenic, and the driver provided commentary as we rode along. We left the bus at the final stop, the downtown Travel Center, and walked the few blocks to our hotel, the Trailways. This sits on the river/estuary and I booked a view room with balcony! but the tide was always out whenever we looked and it was more like"waterfront twice a day". Still, the location was great and the staff friendly and welcoming.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon walking up to the centre of New Zealand which was a great walk. We passed through the lovely queens garden on the way! and walked back through some neighborhoods that bordered the river (in other words, we got lost but not too badly). Nelson looks like a very pleasant place to live.

    Back at the hotel I started researching possibilities for dinner. I know Nelson's reputation as a foodie destination, but we do not like to dine at über-expensive cool and trendy places; we prefer small, casual, and less expensive. So I chose Kraut's (#2 on TA) for that night and planned to try Brûlée ( # 21) the next. That way Bill and I would each get to speak "our" second language--German for me, French for him. Besides, we both really like a good Schnitzel. And the Schnitzel at Kraut's was among the best ever---light, crispy and flavorful. Bill had the Jägerschnitzel so he could enjoy Spätzle too. The waitresses spoke German to one another and handled everything very professionally. I would happily return here.

    We booked a one-day bus--boat--walk with Wilson's for the following day ( I will post a link below). One reason I chose Trailways for our hotel was the proximity to the bus station, as I thought we would walk there to meet our bus to Kaiteriteri. As it turns out, they picked us up, promptly at 7:30 am. The bus got us there in plenty of time for the 9:30 boat up to Anchorage, where we would start our walk.

    It was a cool blustery day and we were glad we had rain jackets to protect us from the wind. The boat was pretty full and we sat outside on the upper deck for the views, but it was cold. We disembarked on the beach at Anchorage and visited the DOC hut there ( mainly for the bathrooms) before starting out. We had a 6-7 mile walk ahead and four hours to cover the distance; pretty easy. We brought swimwear and had planned to visit one or more of the golden sand beaches along the way to swim, but honestly it was too cold to be tempting.

    The walk was pleasant but not spectacular. We noticed many stoat/possum traps along the way and I enjoyed photographing the variety of ferns. The walk ended at Marahau where we met the bus back to nelson! but we did stop for a swim on the large beach near there as we had plenty of time. My husband got totally wet but I found the water too cold to dive in and swim.

    Before we went I asked about this trip and was encouraged to do the walk from Medlands to Anchorage instead. This is billed as a "Swing Bridge, Bush, and Beach " trip and includes more time on the boat. I chose not to do that as it would have cost an additional $90. In hindsight, it would have been a better choice had the weather been nice. As it was, we were happy not to be spending more time on the boat in the rough seas.

    The walk we did:

    abeltasman.co.nz/a-day/…

    And the walk that is said to be more scenic, that we didn't do:

    abeltasman.co.nz/a-day/…

    The operation is very well-run and managed, and the bus ride back to nelson quick and easy. We enjoyed our dinner at Brûlée every bit as much as the previous evening's repast. We both had the seafood special--tuna this night. This is a very nice little restaurant with excellent food (and wine). We liked Nelson quite a lot.

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    Loving your trip report. Having lived in the Nelson area for the last 30 years I am ashamed to say DH and I still haven't made it into Abel Tasman Park. We go to Kaiteriteri quite a lot but never venture much further. It is definitely on our list of things to do in the very near future!!!

    My son and DIL had their wedding reception at Trailways. The tide was in at the time, all very well planned! It is a great location.

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    Days 5, 6, 7---to Aoraki Mt. Cook

    Day 5 started with the flight from Nelson back to Christchurch to pick up our rental car. We had to run back in to the hotel in Christchurch (Chateau on the Park) where we spent the night before the train, to pick up my husband's wallet. Fortunately the return to Christchurch was already in our itinerary so there was no inconvenience.

    We left our luggage at the Hertz counter while we took the bus in to the hotel and back. We celebrated Bill's reunion with his wallet by having a nice lunch in the hotel restaurant. I felt the need for fortification before facing life as a passenger in a right-hand drive car! Fortunately for us and for everyone else, my husband proved to be a very safe and capable driver on the left side.

    We didn't want to drive too far the first day, so I had booked accommodation at Lake Tekapo. I was attracted to photos I had seen of the lake, with its startlingly blue water, and to the designation as a dark sky area, with the possibility of seeing the Southern Cross for our first time.

    We stopped for groceries in Fairlie, as we had self-catering facilities at Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook Village. I was hoping to find smoked salmon to have with cheese, crackers and wine for our dinner, but there was none and we settled on a small whole smoked chicken. It was not very appetizing in appearance but was surprisingly good once heated briefly in the microwave.

    Our home at Lake Tekapo was the Chalet Boutique Motel, owned by a Swiss couple (who have lived many years in New Zealand). It sits on a slight hill across the road from the little dog statue, with a commanding view of the lake. Walter greeted us on arrival and showed us to our room, which was lovely, with cool modern furnishings and hand-crafted details. Every bit of praise you see in the reviews of the Chalet is true.

    Walter started to show us how to work the TV but we declined, saying we wouldn't be watching that but looking at stars. So he brought out a star chart, took us outside the room and pointed to the exact spot where we should look for the Southern Cross when darkness fell. Since it was a full moon, we would have to look for it before the moon rose. He also advised us on a hike to do at Mt. Cook (Seely Tarns) and warned that the weather was due to change for the worse, so we should be prepared for wind and clouds/rain.

    We took our dinner supplies out to a little table outside our room (with no view) and Walter pointed to the lawn on the other side of a hedge, which we hadn't discovered. There was a nice bench and a perfect view of the lake. We saw Walter and his wife Zita depart for an evening bike ride---not a bad life.

    We sat and enjoyed the food, wine, and view until it was completely dark, then stashed the food, washed the dishes, and went out to look for the stars. We were rewarded right away---the Southern Cross shone brightly just where Walter said it would be. It is a beautiful sight.

    We have spent a fair amount of time in Switzerland, and I have to say that Walter is the first Swiss I have encountered with a twinkle in his eye. I think he has thoroughly adopted New Zealand's ways of friendliness and relaxed attitude.

    In the morning we walked to the little "town" to find a flat white for my coffee-loving husband. Then we ate breakfast, cleaned up and packed the car. We wanted to hike up Mt. John before leaving, and before we got too hot. The trail is shaded most of the way so we were fine until we came to the top. We did one lap and had a quick look at the telescope building (with a sign advising"Objects seen in the telescope are farther way than they appear"). But the heat and bright sunshine were getting to us and we did not stay long.

    The drive to Mt. Cook Village was easy and beautiful, particularly after we passed the lake and the mountains grew close. It reminded me of Denali Park in Alaska, a place I know well. I kept staring at Mueller Glacier and then at Mt. Cook when it came into view. Fortunately the bad weather of which Walter warned us had not materialized yet. We checked in to our motel (Aoraki Mt. Cook Alpine Lodge), briefly admired the view of Mt. Cook from the visitor center windows, and then headed out on a short hike to Kea Point in the afternoon sunshine.

    It is a good thing we arrived when we did as the next morning Mt. Cook was completely hidden in clouds---you would never know it was there. It was cool and windy, as Walter had predicted, but we did our Seely Tarns hike anyway. 2200 (count 'em) stair steps. It is actually a good way to gain and lose elevation; much easier than a slippery sloped track. There were some serious gusts of wind but nothing that threatened to blow me off the mountainside (I am small enough I have to be concerned about that!). The wind abated a bit at the top and we had an opportunity to munch our lunch in peace. We were down so early there was time for the Hooker Valley walk too, although the wind and rain were picking up so we did not go very far.

    Dinner that night at the Old Mountaineers was excellent (the smoked chicken was all gone by this time). My husband pronounced the burger the finest he had tasted outside of our own house. I had the "roast of the day" which was chicken and also very good. The views from the windows would be great on a clear day. I'd say this place is a good alternative to the expensive restaurant at the Hermitage.

    links to our lodging:

    http://www.thechalet.co.nz/

    http://www.aorakialpinelodge.co.nz/

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    Days 8, 9, 10---Dunedin and Clyde

    From Aoraki Mt. Cook we drove to Dunedin to spend two nights. This was our "city break" of the trip. although many visitors use Dunedin as a base to tour the Otago Peninsula (penguins, albatross, etc.) we did not do that. Our goal in Dunedin was to see the university and the botanic garden.

    Our lodging in Dunedin was the very nice "executive motel" Bluestone on George.

    http://www.bluestonedunedin.co.nz/

    Lovely modern room with a nicely-equipped kitchen, and a washing machine for our clothes (which we needed at this point). The room was large and bright, and had a shared terrace on one side and a private balcony on the other. It is quite close to the university.

    We walked over and wandered around the campus and then spent the rest of the morning at the botanic garden. The garden showcases both native flora and the trees and plants that were brought in by the European settlers. Many of the trees are familiar ones from the US west coast, such as Monterey pine, Douglas fir, and the giant Sequoia. The first two are lumber trees and are planted in large plantations for harvest. The sequoias are strictly ornamental but they grow beautifully there.

    And now I have to confess we spent the afternoon watching the BCS football game between Oregon and Ohio State. We had not planned on this, but it turned out the TV in our room received ESPN. After the game we went out for another long walk, to see the Octagon and the famous railway station, then returned to the room to make dinner.

    After Dunedin we started toward Queenstown for our Milford Track walk, but we had an overnight stop in the small town of Clyde so we could spend an afternoon cycling the Otago Central Rail Trail. It is but a short drive from dunedin and we arrived there by noon, in time for a picnic lunch before picking up our bikes. We were able to check in to our lodging at Oliver's Lodge and Stables:

    http://www.oliverscentralotago.co.nz/

    I fell in love with this place when I saw the website and we were not disappointed! David and Andrea have done a wonderful job of converting an old stable and house into a very nice bed and breakfast. We had the "Soap Factory" room which was on the courtyard garden. A lovingly restored room with stone walls, wood floor and old windows.

    The bike rental place (Bike It Now) is right across the street. http://www.bikeitnow.co.nz/

    I had reserved two mountain bikes for the afternoon and they had them ready and waiting for us. They suggested riding to Alexandra on the single-track River Trail (14 km) and back on the actual rail trail (11 km). But the River Trail was nice and shady, and we enjoyed the smooth singletrack and views of the river, so we rode both ways on that.

    We enjoyed a nice dinner at the Post Office Bar and Cafe in Clyde:

    postofficecafeclyde.co.nz/Post_Office/Post_O…

    Nice atmosphere and friendly service.

    Breakfast the next morning at Oliver's was included with our room---the only true Bed and Breakfast we encountered in New Zealand. We were seated at a large table with other guests---eight of us in all. The breakfast consisted of a nice selection of cereals, bread for toast, local honey and butter, juices, and some very good yogurt. Then David brought out small platters of shirred eggs with spinach and cheese; two eggs per person. I don't usually eat that much for breakfast but this was really good! And Bill says the coffee (a cappuccino by request) was excellent.

    After breakfast we were off to Queenstown, our last stop in New Zealand.

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    Days 11-16---Milford Track. We saved the best for last!

    From Clyde we made the short drive to Queenstown, arriving before noon. I believe I mentioned above that we booked the "luxury" version of the Milford Track with Ultimate Hikes. They advised us to book the same lodging before and after the trek so we could leave our luggage there. I chose Coronation Lodge as very good value, and although they have a two-night minimum they kindly allowed us to split the two nights, five days apart.

    http://www.coronationlodge.co.nz/

    They did store our luggage and even gave us the same room we had before when we returned. But I am getting ahead of myself.

    We turned our car in at Hertz in downtown Queenstown and they deducted a day from the rental cost as it was before 3:00 pm. After a walk and look around town, we headed to the pre-trip meeting with Ultimate Hikes. There they gave us a packet with map and itinerary, and also passed out backpacks, pack covers and raincoats for those who did not bring their own (we did). They also took orders for dinner at the first lodge the following nights, and also urged us to take a large heavy plastic bag to line our packs for more water resistance. This should have been a clue!

    This company does "guided" hikes on the Milford Track using their own lodges, with private rooms and ensuite bath if you like. There are also 4-person dorm rooms with bath on the hall. They provide transport to the Track from Queenstown and back, all meals, and more. The walk is "guided" only in that there is a guide at the front and one at the back each day, but everyone walks at their own pace and you can have as much solitude or interaction as you want. They can accommodate 50 people per day but our trip had 41.

    We met the bus at 8:30 and boarded for the scenic journey to Te Anau. The driver provides commentary and tells funny stories or Maori legends. They stop in Te Anau for an an hour or so and provide a buffet lunch. Then it is back on the bus and drive up the lake to meet the boat. The boat driver also provided commentary, and pulled quite close to some notable features---a bit too close for my taste, but I am sure he knew what he was doing.

    At the end of the lake we disembarked for the short (and I do mean short, like 0.8 mile) to the first lodge, Glade House. The hostess there took us to our assigned rooms and gave everyone time to freshen up, then there was a nature walk at 3:00 for those who chose (we did).

    Before dinner everyone gathered in the common area next to the dining room; they offer beer and wine for sale and this became the routine for the next several days. We started meeting some of our fellow guests, who included a group of 14 friends from Australia who booked the trip together, a family from Sydney celebrating the father's 50th birthday, a group of 16 Japanese who were on a tour with their own guide, 5 Kiwis, one South African (he was actually a company employee taking a short break from his duties), and us. After dinner we gathered in the common room again for introductions---the guides (4 of them) and then the guests. We were called up in groups by nationality, starting with "Team Australia", Team Japan, Team New Zealand, etc. About half the Japanese bravely tried a bit of English, but most asked for translation to express how excited they were to be on this trip. When it was our turn ("Team USA", just two of us) I mentioned that we were celebrating my husband's 70th B-day, not on the trip itself, but by taking the trip.

    After this they explained the routine to us---generators go off at 10 and when they went on in the morning that was to be the wake-up call. It varied by day depending on the difficulty of the walk (if you are curious, it is divided into 10 miles the first day, 10 miles the second, and 13 on the third). They seemed to use miles and kilometres interchangeably, but more often spoke in miles. I am not sure why! Before breakfast they put out lunch-making fixings, with a nice assortment of sandwich fillings, fruit, trail mix, cookies, etc. Then it was time for coffee and cereal or toast while they made the hot breakfast. It was all good.

    Glade House is in a meadow right on the large and fast Clinton River, which we crossed on a swing bridge. It was misting lightly when we started out and I pulled on my rain pants just in case. I ended up wearing them the whole time.

    In addition to the lodges, the company has shelters for lunch stops. The first guide in would heat water for tea and chocolate, which was a nice touch. Bill and I were about midway in the group at this point---some of the Aussie men kept stopping to fish along the way, so we passed them. Then we would take one of the recommended detours, and they passed us. But we all met up at the shelter. We were already starting to feel like part of the gang, as they were very friendly and interested in talking to us.

    For lunch I enjoyed the first sandwich I have eaten in years. I chose the "gluten free" option and they actually had really good sandwich bread ---unlike anything I have found in the US (which is why I don't eat sandwiches here). One of the guides also has celiac and she looked out for me at meals, making sure I got the right thing. I have to say, I got better desserts---one night it was flourless chocolate cake and everyone at the table ohhhed and ahhhed.

    The rain picked up throughout the day and we were walking through water at times. Looking up, we would see hundreds of waterfalls pouring off the cliffs--a lovely sight and ample compensation for the inconvenience of the rain, so far. (Fortunately Bill and I had good raingear and stayed completely dry, at least on this day.) But he put away his camera to keep it dry, and we have no photos of the walk.

    When we got to the lodge, they pointed us all to the "drying room" which is a nice feature of the lodges. After showers it was tie to join the other guests for wine hour, and then dinner. This lodge ---Pomplona---has a glassed-in section in the common room, and I tried to take a photo of the rain sluicing down over the glass, but it didn't really come out.

    It was still raining the next morning when we started out, but not as heavily. Today we would hike over Mackinnon Pass and cross into the next river drainage. I am not sure of the elevation gain---maybe 2000 feet? But we were well coached on the track and the shelter at the top. Fortunately the rain abated somewhat as we ascended, but at the top we were hit by a frigid wind with gusts up to 40 mph. Bill and I were walking alone at this point, ahead of all but 4-5 people. We were met at the monument by one of the guides, huddling in the lee of the stone monument with a thermos of hot tea, and she urged us to have some. We are pretty accustomed to some nasty weather from our hiking and skiing in the Pacific Northwest, so we were not worried about continuing on. It was another 20 minutes or so to the lunch shelter, but on the way the rain turned to sleet and than hail. We ran the last few yards and gratefully entered the shelter.

    Because of the increasing wind, the guides advised that people depart in small groups and stay together until we were down out of the wind. Bill and I joined up with Carrel, the South African, and he was delightful company. The two men put me in the middle as we crossed the exposed plateau, but I was still nearly knocked off balance by the gusts (think goodness for hiking poles). It was only bad for another 30 minutes and then we started to enjoy the descent down to the next lodge. I think we made it in near-record time, by 2:30 or so. Even with showers and the mandatory trips in and out of the drying room, we were left with a couple of hours before dinner and no incentive to go outside. So it was a jolly evening; lots of wine consumed. They did put our snacks/hors d'oeuvres.

    We started hearing thunder around 4:00 pm and I was really glad to be down off the pass at that point. The thunder (and rain) continued through the night. The next morning, the guides did something a bit unusual---they wanted us to start out all together, and stay closer together than usual. But we did stretch out a bit and Bill and I were in the second little group to arrive at the first shelter. This was supposed to be a "tea stop", not lunch, and Bill and I wanted to continue on but the guides persuaded us to wait a bit. A small group of 4 Aussies and one guide left and about 15 minutes later I heard the guides on the radio telephone, with the one at the hut asking: "And how deep is the water?" Uh-oh. I am a small person and I do not like crossing moving water deeper than a foot or so.

    The guide finished the conversation and came over to tell us that after the next swing bridge the trail was flooded. She showed the depth of the water--about mid-thigh on her. "But don't worry, it isn't moving!" she assured us. Again we were asked to depart win small groups and stay together. This time we chose for our companions the Aussie family (dad and three sons) from Sydney. What delightful kids, ranging in age from 10 to 18, all friendly and well-spoken. When we got to the pool (I won't call it a puddle) someone asked "Who goes first?" The dad responded, joking, "The littlest one, of course, motioning to his 10-year-old. I looked at Brian and said "I dispute that!" so we stood back to back to be measured. I won---meaning I was almost an inch shorter. But of course I did not have to go first; dad did. Then me, with Bill gallantly insisting on carrying my pack. I had hiking poles to probe for holes but the water did indeed come up to mid-thigh. but my rain pants clung to my ankles as soon as I stepped into the water, and kept it out. Only my boots got wet, not my legs.

    Bill, who walks without poles, slipped an fell into the water, but managed to keep my pack dry (and his). It turns out this was not an unusual occurrence---three of the five people i the first group (the fittest people on the trip) slipped and fell too. In the end we all had a good laugh.

    And then we continued on down the

    track to complete the 13 miles to Sandfly Point, where we would be met by a water taxi at 3:00.

    To be continued. . .

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    "....track to complete the 13 miles to Sandfly Point, where we would be met by a water taxi at 3:00.."

    After reading that I have a whole new definition of 'water taxi' - the actual one you ending up taking back, and the self-propelled water taxi through that pool.

    Sandfly point? This sounds so inviting...

    Loving the report.

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    And here I thought I was on the wrong side of 50 to consider the entire Milford. You've inspired me to think otherwise. Maybe:) Good on you!

    Sandfly Point kind of says it all doesn't it? My legs are covered with bites as I type.

    Great read enzian.

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    mel - just reading that makes me itch. I've rarely been so uncomfortable as I was with those sandfly bites. Did you try treating them with roll-on deodorant? it certainly worked for me!

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    Hi Annhig -

    We've got an ammonia based product called After Bite with us, which works pretty well, we just keep forgetting to put it in our backpacks when we go out for the day. Lucky for me, the sandflies like the taste of my spouse more than me.

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    Mel, you are lucky - they loved me. we didn't have anything like the product you describe with us, but fortunately the deodorant works like magic so we didn't feel the need to go and get anything.

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    annhig - we've seen lots of biet covered legs in the past few days - saw some poor guy yesterday pretty much covered in bites. Perhaps he forgot to pack some long pants.

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    enzian, I'm waiting for more--perhaps you were devoured by the sandflies? Hope not, because I really want to hear about the end of your hike. My husband and I have are leaning strongly toward including the Milford Track trip on our 21-day trip to New Zealand in November, and your report has been very helpful in illustrating t1hat it's a great hike no matter the weather. How were the lodge and boat trip on Milford Sound? And the trip back to Queenstown? Looking forward to the rest of your tale.

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    Sorry for the delay! I had a detour to the Emergency room and short (24 hour) stay in the hospital for a sudden and serious infection. Not related to our trip and I am fine now.

    So where was I? Ah, yes, on our way to the end of the track. After the water pool the track entered an area of ups and down, past crashing waterfalls and a rain-swollen river. At times the track was a series of wooden steps with railings, which was easier than slippery rocks. But there were those as well. Again, I was glad I brought my hiking poles. ( I bought a pair of Black Diamond z-poles for this trip, and they were very nice and lightweight. They fold up rather than telescope, and pack small enough to fit in a carry-on bag, but of course they are still hiking sticks and must go in checked luggage. )

    At one point we walked alongside the river and it was a bit unnerving to be that close to the raging torrent. It was not rapids at that point, but a large, fast, very powerful river. If one fell in.. .. But the track was solid and the footing was good, so we passed that section quickly and without disaster.

    And then we moved farther from the river and followed an easy level path through the most lush part of the forest. The rain softened to a light mist and I even removed my rain jacket for a time. This was a lovely section of the walk be we were looking forward to the finish.

    At Sandfly Point there is an enclosed shelter for the Ultimate hikers; a welcome sight as we had an hour to wait for the boat. I believe there is also a separate shelter for the freedom walkers but I don't recall what it is like. I did walk around outside before going in, only to discover that Sandfly Point is aptly named. Even with my rain jacket back on I managed to get bitten on my shoulder---the one and only bite. My husband went directly inside and did not get bitten. The shelter had no gas so the guides were unable to prepare hot drinks for us, but it wasn't cold so we didn't miss them. We passed the time talking to the 5 Aussies who arrived ahead of us, and then greeting others as they showed up.

    When the boat arrived we were offered the chance to have our photo taken at the Mile 33.5 "finish line" marker before boarding, and everyone did. About half our group was there in time for the first boat. It was a short trip downriver and into Milford Sound to the main dock, where the Milford sound cruises depart. A bus met us there for the ride to our final night's lodging at Mitre Peak Lodge. This lodge is open to the public but has a dedicated wing and dining area for the guided walkers. Our rooms all had direct views out to the water and Mitre Peak. Ours unfortunately was partially blocked by a roof and chimney below, so Bill and I went outside to take photos, now that the rain had stopped.

    Then we showered and dressed and went down to the bar for social hour. The Aussies invited us to pull up chairs and join their circle. I was somewhat taken aback to see that most of them were dressed up and the women even "glammed up" with makeup, scarves, etc. the Japanese women had pretty silk tops. Even the guides had on skirts or dresses ( at least the women did). I knew we were offered the opportunity to send fresh clothes ahead for the last night, but we didn't bother. Fortunately no one seemed to mind our lack of style.

    Dinner that night was John Dory for me and red meat as usual for Bill! both very good. After dinner there was an "awards ceremony" and lots of hugging. We all exchanged email addresses so we could stay in touch. And then we were reminded of the schedule for the morrow, with a cruise on Milford Sound and bus ride back to Queenstown. ( Except for those who opted for the $600 scenic helicopter ride back).

    It was all so well organized----make your lunch and write your name on the bag, then pack it in a labelled bin, either "bus" or " helicopter." Return borrowed items like hiking poles and rain jackets to marked piles. Then tag your luggage and put it in the assigned spot, again "bus" or "helicopter." Then either walk to the boat dock or ride the bus. Bill and I said our good-byes to the Aussies who opted for the helicopter, as we would not see them again, and set out on foot for the dock.

    The rain had stopped and the sun came out, so we kept our cameras out and spent most of the cruise on the upper deck, outside. The boat was large and not at all crowded, with only our group aboard. The tops of the peaks were dusted with new snow from the day before, so it was especially beautiful. The sides of Milford sound ( actually a fjord, not a sound as the commentary explained) are nearly vertical so the boats can come quite close without danger of hitting underwater rocks. The captain actually put the bow in the spray of a waterfall, and passed very close to seals sunning themselves on rocks. We saw dolphins playing in the bow wake of a smaller boat, and lots of kayakers. It is a lovely cruise and a nice bonus for the guided hike. On board there is a photographer selling the photos they took at the beginning and end of the trip, together with a narrated DVD of photos of the track. We bought it so we could see what we missed in terms of scenery, and to make up for the photos we were unable to take due to rain.

    From the boat dock we boarded the bus for the journey back to Queenstown. The guides passed out our sack lunches, and it was at this point Bill learned he had not paid attention to the directions and put his lunch in the "helicopter" bin. So I imagine the Aussies had a good laugh when they found the extra lunch with Bill's name on it. I hope they enjoyed it---he makes a great sandwich. He wouldn't accept my offer to share my lunch ( no egg salad on gluten-free bread for him) but I bought him ice cream when we stopped at Te Anau.

    We dined that night in Queenstown with our friends Pete and Ann from Lochmara Lodge. They picked the place--Italian--- and it was a good choice. Bill in particular really enjoyed that meal, after missing lunch.

    Our flight to Melbourne did not leave until mid-afternoon the next day, so we had the morning to walk through the very nice botanical garden at Queenstown. The giant sequoias ( from California) grow particularly well there---huge and lush,, not gnarly like the Sierra trees. We also ran into people from our group while walking along the waterfront and stopped to chat, although one couple was Japanese so we did more smiling and pantomime than actual conversation. The four of them---two Australian women and the Japanese couple--- were all spending additional time in Queenstown to partake of the adrenalin sports--- paragliding, jet boating, etc. That is not for us. We had a final New Zealand picnic in the park and then went to wait for the bus to the airport and our flight to Melbourne.

    The whole time we were in New Zealand people would ask us what was the highlight of our trip. For the first ten days, we didn't have an answer---it was all equally good. But by the second day of our walk on the Milford Track, we knew we found the answer. It was indeed the highlight, in large part because of the people we met.

    Is it really the "finest walk in the world" as billed? I would actually give that one to the John Muir trail, which I hiked long ago. But for a beautiful walk on a good track with amazing scenery, I would recommend the Milford Track to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and an interest in spending time in a remote and beautiful area.

    I'll stop here and check back for questions.

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    Thanks for finishing! Your report is so helpful. We are trying to decide on the Milford or the Routebourn Track. Have you done the latter? The guided hike for sure, whichever one we do. I do want to kayak on Milford Sound if possible. Is that something Ultimate offered? Or perhaps we should find other places for kayaking and do the cruise instead. So hard to decide!

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    We have not done the Routebourne Track, as we have only been to New Zealand this one time. We chose the Milford Track because we have done alpine hiking in many places around the world, and the Milford rain forest sounded different.

    If youngomwith Ultimate,mthe Routebourne involves three short days of hiking in alpine conditions, with two overnights in lodges. The Milford takes three longer days of walking in mainly valley/rain forest areas, with one ascent to Mackinnon Pass and back down, and nights in four lodges, plus the Milford Sound Cruise.

    We chose Milford as it is different from what we have experienced in alpine areas in the US and Europe. Also we were happier with each day's walking distance. But if you gomwith Ultimate, itis more expensive than the Routebourne Track, because you have more nights in lodges.

    Ultimate offers a combo of both walks, and most of the Japanese people on our walk did both. If we had more time,,we would have done that too.

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