Every summer when I was growing up, my parents would dutifully take me on trips to some of America’s finest national parks. Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, the Grand Tetons, Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park… We’d go for two weeks and try to explore as much as possible, having fun as a family along the way.
While I really enjoyed visiting all of the parks, at the time I didn’t feel inclined to spend the entire trip hiking to further explore. Mom and Dad would set off early to see a sunrise or hike to a waterfall to see the morning’s mist, or they’d go out late to find the lava flows from a volcano in Hawaii… and I would often stay behind, more content to read a book or sit by the pool than hike up the side of a mountain.
Sad, to think how many incredible experiences I missed out on when I was younger, but I’m happy to report that the tides have turned. Beginning with last years’ trip to Patagonia, all of a sudden I have turned into a bit of a hiker myself and now actively seek out those activities that I used to avoid.
In New Zealand, I’ve participated in several of the world’s best hikes, and in the past week alone I’ve hiked nearly 50 miles!!!
First, I tackled the incredibly difficult 13 mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which took me past Lord of the Rings’ Mount Doom up and over mountains on incredibly steep terrain and through geothermal areas that made the ground steam with a sulfur haze.
It was tough and rewarding, and before my legs had even stopped aching I was off for my next (and grandest) adventure yet… the 3 day, 33.5 mile Milford Track in New Zealand’s majestic Fiordland!
The Milford Track was one of the main reasons why I wanted to travel to New Zealand, after seeing it featured years ago on an episode of Globe Trekker. It’s also the Number 2 place on my 55 Places bucket list. When I realized I was coming here, I decided that now was as good a time as any, and did everything I could to make it happen.
While you can do a day trip from Queenstown to take a scenic boat ride through the Milford Sound, if you really want to experience it, you need to hike it. The park is heavily regulated by their park service, and only a small group of hikers are allowed in each day. There are three ways to hike the trail, either as a regulated camper, an independent hiker staying in huts or as a guided walker staying in lodges.
Since I was traveling alone, I opted for the pricier yet still authentic guided option. This meant that we didn’t have to carry sleeping bags and food for the 5 days (hiking 3 days with a day on either side), but we still had to carry packs with all of our gear, our lunches and sleep sheets for the lodges. I slept in dorm rooms and had shared bathrooms, but was so happy to come home each evening to a nice, hot 3 course dinner and a bed that I could load with hot water bottles since it was cold.
Before I left, I didn’t quite know what to expect, other than really spectacular views, and I was pleased to find that it’s set mostly in rainforest, with waterfalls galore! If I could say just one thing about the trek is that it really is beautiful. It’s challenging at times, mostly due to the distance, but it’s also tranquil and serene and an amazing part of the world to see.