Whilst we slept cozily, the rain was relentless throughout the night with rolling thunder echoing down the valley and lightning flashes filling the bunk room.
It was cold and wet! Forecast for snow down to 900m. We would probably escape the snow as we were to be descending back down to the lower valley floor. Before departing, the hut warden explained that we would need to take care crossing the base of the 174m Earland Falls due to the heavy rain throughout the night and we may need to take the lower track to get around it as just the wind generated by these falls can blow you off your feet!
Armed in our full wet weather gear and braving the elements (did we have any choice?). We headed out for 4-5hr hike to the Routeburn bus shelter where we would be catching the 3:15pm bus back into Queenstown.
We lasted about 1hr into the walk before the Merrill boots started allowing our feet to get wet. (Not convinced about Gortex!) The path was flowing with water and we had to take care where we put our feet as the track was constantly hosting many waterfall crossings which saw us playing leap frog from rock to rock just to cross them without getting ourselves too wet!
The waterfalls were amazing. So much water gushing down the sides of the mountain. When we reached the Earland Falls there was no possible way to walk around the base without being knocked off your feet so we took the lower path around it. This meant scrambling up rocks on the other side which in itself had become a waterfall. As we started scrambling up, the heavens opened up and we were being pelted by heavy rain. Once we reached the main path the rain magically ceased only to realize that it was the water being blown off the waterfall that had been pummeling us on the way up! Campbell, a young man traveling on the same track had attempted to cross the falls only to retreat completely soaked from head to toe. I just love young optimism or is it simply naïveté?
We reached another of the track huts where the family groups would be staying over, but the rest of us would be heading out to catch the bus about an hours walk from here. The hut provided a good place to get out of our wet gear and cook us up some soup and chocolate drinks along with a bite to eat for lunch. Unfortunately, getting back into wet, wet weather gear isn’t much fun particularly after the body has acclimatized to a warmer temperature, nothing like cold wet boots and rain jackets!
The last hours walk was with mixed feelings! We have loved every minute of our NZ “Great Walks”! And as we could see the road far below, we knew it was coming to an end (for this trip anyway). Mind you we were looking forward to getting out of wet gear and having a nice long soak in a hot bath!
The Milford Track or the Routeburn? The verdict? We couldn’t split them as we loved them both. Both were reasonably challenging, but are no problem for fit able people. The Milford was the toughest going on the legs on day 3, coming up over the pass and the toll is definitely on the descent. Our legs only had enough in them to get us home and thankfully day 4 was a reasonably gentle descent. Our legs took 3 days to recover, whilst the Routeburn Track hasn’t had the same affect. The track was plenty steep in places, especially climbing the peak (thankfully we could loose the packs at the shelter on the pass for this climb). And the track was challenging due to the wet conditions.
However, the next morning after completing the Routeburn Track, as we had 2hrs to kill and only $2NZD in our pocket and a glorious clear morning, we decided to walk the 6km from Queenstown around the lake to the Airport to catch our plane.
It was the best way to cap off a great NZ experience and we’ll be back no doubt, sometime soon!
P.S. Call me naïveté, but can someone tell me where I can find multi-day hikes in Australia with similar hut setups as experienced in NZ? And if not, why not?
P.P.S Out of all our gear, the best items that haven’t let us down so far on any of our traveling adventures would have to be the NZ Icebreaker merino clothing! Wet or dry, but preferably dry!
P.P.P.S So where to next? Some hiking along the Larapinta trail in Outback Australia? (Although, I don’t like the thought of no access to water, particularly after coming straight from the South Island of NZ, where water is pure and plentiful!) Tour de Mount Blanc in 2015? We’ll have to wait and see!