After crossing Mackinnon Pass, I naively thought the highlights of the Milford Track would be over. Much to my delight, they really had only just begun.
The descent from the pass was 900 meters over 3.5 miles. That’s roughly a 15 percent grade, all downhill. I was a little concerned about the steepness of this route coupled with the steady drizzling rain, but the sights along the way kept me occupied more than the potential perils of a steep downhill trek.
To say I walked past waterfalls would be an understatement. The track followed waterfall after waterfall, giving me a sense that the roaring water would come down on my head if I were not careful. The stunning beauty of the cascading water over the rocks, splashing into deep blue pools below was simply mesmerizing. To be completely surrounded by this beauty was almost overwhelming.
Day four dawned, cloudy and rainy yet again. I could see our guides huddled together discussing the plan for the day. The rain was predicted to get worse and the decision was made to keep the group together for safety reasons. As we progressed up the track, my sense of being surrounded by waterfalls from the day before became a reality when the path took us, quite literally, through waterfalls and the rushing water of the river. There were points along the trail that were knee and even waist deep. But our guides saw us safely to the Dumpling Hut, the next (and last) Department of Conservation hut along the track.
From here, we waited. Fumi, one of our guides, scouted the track ahead while our other guides kept in radio contact with Queenstown to get weather updates. The wait at Dumpling Hut began to stretch on as minutes turned into hours and no plan for our progress was forthcoming. Fumi had not returned, despite the fact that we were told she was only going 20 minutes up the trail. But, I assumed she was in contact with the team and I tried not to worry.
When Fumi finally made it back to us, she was covered in leaves, mud, and was sporting a bright green patch of moss across her radio. She looked tired and spent. She reported the impassible trail ahead and that information, coupled with the weather report from Queenstown made our guides prompt for a helicopter to evacuate us from this site.
My friend Denika will tell you I’m stubborn because I’m a Taurus. Other friends (and my favorite boss) referred to it as “the iron will.” I did not wait 25 years and travel 8500 miles to not finish this trail. What we knew is that a helicopter was coming. What we didn’t know was if it was taking us past the floods or all the way to our final lodge. I decided that I would not be stopped from finishing the track. The water would subside and the track would become passable again. If the decision was made that we’d be flown to the lodge, I would be pressing on alone. Finally, after what seemed an eternity of waiting, they told us we would be dropped off about six miles up the trail, where we could continue our trek to the end.
This decision turned out to be the best. We were out of harms way and we would get to walk the final five or six miles of the track, allowing me the satisfaction of finishing this adventure. We missed a couple of waterfalls, but given what we’d walked through, I could compromise on that point. And, by the time we were walking again, the sun was shining and the day turned absolutely beautiful. We couldn’t have asked for better weather!
Reaching Sandfly Point, which I must say is aptly named because swarms of the pests abounded, I felt my pace quicken. Christine, a fellow tramper from Germany, thought I was racing to the boat to get the hike finished. What she did not understand, and I was definitely not being clear because I just kept saying I was looking for the sign, was that the end of the Milford Track for me was the signpost indicating mile 33.5. This was where Steve and I wanted to have our picture taken. This was the end of the trail, the sum of years of dreaming. The hardest point because the man who inspired the dream was not with me to share in the joy of completion. But I was finished. I’d made it to the end. A dream complete. And it was as beautiful as I’d always imagined.
Thank you Steve. This was all because of you.
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