Each semester IFSA-Butler students chronicle their adventures and experiences as they live and study in different countries. Read a firsthand perspective of how cultural and educational differences shape their journey.
At 4:45 Sunday morning I started my journey back to the south island to hike the Milford Track. It is a four day hike through Fiordland National Park that ends at Milford Sound. I went there by myself since no one else really seemed by for the journey. By 2pm I was on the boat that takes the walkers to the start of the track. Only 40 people are allowed to hike independently per day. There is also a guided walk option but they stay at different lodges. Looking around the boat I noticed that most of the people hiking were couples. After taking some picture though I noticed that there were some people my age. There were two girls from Sweden that are taking a gap year between high school and college. I also met Tyler who is from St. Lewis. He graduated college and is traveling around for a year before settling down. We ended up hiking together the whole time and also hiked with the girls a lot of the time.
The first day was an easy 1 hour hike to the first hut. In comparison to the rest of the trip that views were not that great. Yet they were still better than anything back home. The huts are all really nice. They have a separate bunk area, bathrooms, clean running water and a kitchen. No showers though. It turns out that everyone besides Tyler and I brought food to cook. I was fine with my bars and PB&J but it was hard to not get a little jealous when people started actually chopping up potatoes and making a full meal. Ross was our ranger that night and he took us on a nature walk and showed us all the cool plants around the area.
The second day took about 6 hours and was a gradual uphill walk. We had to pay for a helicopter before leaving for the hike so that if the avalanche danger was too high that day we could get a ride across. Luckily it was a perfect day and we were able to hike the whole way. There were tons of waterfalls and lots of avalanche hazard areas. You are not supposed to stop in the avalanche areas or “danger zones” but that seemed to be where all the best views were so we did. But just long enough to get all the pictures…and pose for some group photos. The last part of the hike was a little steeper but still nothing hard. We got to the hut around 2pm and were greeted with views of Mackinnon pass which we would hike up the next day. The ranger that night told us that the vies were best early in the morning and if you leave at 6:30 you can see the sun rising over the mountains. So that’s what Tyler and I did.
This day had the best views by far. Sadly my iPhone died right before reaching the top but my backup camera didn’t do too bad. Only about five people had point and shoot cameras and I was the only one using a phone but the photos came out ok. They don’t even come close to doing it justice but I don’t think any camera could do that. There was frost and ice at the top of the pass. The wind was really strong and it was odd to think that earlier in the morning we were in t-shirts and shorts. I forgot my gloves so I had to decide between keeping my hands warm or taking a picture. My fingers actually had trouble clicking the button sometimes since they went a little numb. The highest point on the path was 1154m. Once we got over the pass though it warmed up and was t-shirt time again. Once we got to the hut a few people went for a swim. I ran in only to get a brain freeze then run back out. It sure was refreshing though and welcomed after a couple days without a shower.
The last day was the longest length wise but took about the same amount of time as the previous day since it is flat. The four of us hiked together the whole time that day and we took lots of photos. I didn’t get many group ones since I felt bad making people take pictures of us with so many cameras but we all exchanged contact info so they should get on Facebook at some point. Around 1:30 we reached the end and got on the boat to take us on the quick ride to Milford Sound. I hiked 33.5 miles over the course of the track and had a blast! At the ferry terminal the four of us said our goodbyes and I was off to Queenstown for the night. I got some dinner from my favorite places in town and went to bed nice and early. The next day I made my way back to Albany.
Words can not describe how great of a trip it was. The views were jaw dropping, the weather was sunny the whole time (which is very rare since the track is in a rainforest. They tend to get 200mm when it rains), I made some new friends and had a nice relaxing time. It felt like a retreat since there was no technology and no one cared what time it was. If you like hiking I highly recommend putting this on your bucket list.
After an exciting week in Queenstown we continued on to Te Anau in order to experience Fiordland. We did part of the Routeburn track which I really enjoyed. I wish we could have done more of it since we only got to hike about three hours out before turning around. We made it to our goal though which was an amazing waterfall. It was a great day and really got me excited for the Milford Track which I will be doing in a few weeks. The views throughout the hike were amazing and even the ride in was fun due to all the views.
The next day we went to Milford Sound. We hit snooze a few too many times and were running a little late for our cruise that we pre booked. This caused us to do a little speeding to make up time. I do not recommend it. The road to the sound is extremely curvy and it was quite a scary experience. We made it just in time though. We literally had to run out to the boat as it was pulling away from the dock. The cruise was well worth the stressful morning though. It started off a little slow but once we got further out in the harbor the views were amazing. We were lucky enough to have it rain too which usually would be a bad thing. In this case though the rain adds to the beauty. Whenever it rains tons of waterfalls form along the rocks. Even though it wasn’t raining hard it was still a site to see. Also, we encountered a pod of dolphins which was a really nice surprise since I didn’t even know that was a possibility. Milford Sound was really nice but it didn’t fully live up to my expectations. It seems like everyone thinks that is the number one thing to do in New Zealand but I personally think the glacier walk was more interesting. That night we just relaxed at our hostel which was much needed.
The next day we thought it would be a good idea to drive to Dunedin via the scenic highway. We drove all the way down to Bluff so that we could be at the southern most point in New Zealand. We got some oysters there which were amazing! Expensive but amazing. Then we continued with our journey and drove up along the coast. We stopped at Nugget Point right as the sun was setting. We kind of underestimated the amount of time we would spend in the car so we didn’t get to do all the little side trips we would have liked but it was still a nice day. We arrived in Dunedin around 8pm and after getting some food we all went to bed since we were so tired. I never want to be in a car for ten hours in one day ever again!
On our first full day in Dunedin we took a few tours. We started the day with a tour of Cadbury Chocolate. It was the most delicious tour ever since we got so much candy. They even gave us little cups of melted chocolate which was the highlight for me. After the tour Caroline, Lauren and I went over to the University of Otago campus to get some lunch. The campus is really nice and kind of made me wish that I studied there. After filling up on some cheap food we made our way over to the Speights Brewery for another tour. It was really informative and was a lot better than the wine tour. After we finished walking around the brewery they took us into a room where we could sample the beers. I didn’t plan on starting to drink at 2pm but who am I to complain. After the free beer tasting we went next door to the pub and met up with Adam and Nick who are in Megan and Lauren’s group. After a while we decided we needed some food so we went to this mexican restaurant near the octagon which is the center of the city. It was the first place with real mexican food so I was pretty excited. That night we went back to the hostel and played some drinking games with the other people staying at the hostel. It was really nice to hang out in the common room since before this part of the trip we were always too busy or tired to just hang out. I met people from England, France, Hong Kong, Germany and Ireland. It was really fun and talking to them made me change my views on travel. I always thought traveling was something that people who couldn’t find jobs after graduation did. But now I really want to travel after I graduate. Everyone I met was so happy and social that it seems like a really fun thing to do.
On our last full day in Dunedin we went to Baldwin Street which is the steepest street in the world. Megan and I ran up most of it but got a little tired before reaching the top. We then made our way to the botanical gardens. They were not as good as the ones in Christchurch but there was a really cool aviary. Once our friend Adam finished his tour of Cadbury we went over and picked him up to go to the peninsula. We went to the only castle in New Zealand which was a little underwhelming but still a cool thing to say you saw. After that we went on a quest to see some penguins and sea lions. Sadly we couldn’t see any penguins without taking a tour which we didn’t want to pay for. We did end up seeing a sea lion though. That night a big group of us from the hostel went out in Dunedin. It was a blast and was the perfect way to start wrapping up the trip.
On our last full day on the south island we went back to the peninsula to try and find more sea lions. We ended up finding quite a bit and even got to roll down the sand dune on our way to the beach. After hanging our with the sea lions for a bit we started the trek back to Christchurch.
The next morning we woke up before dawn in order to catch our flight back to Auckland. I couldn’t have had a better spring break! It was a blast and really made me start to thing about what I want to do after graduation. I now know that I want to have a year of just backpacking around at some point in my life.