We wake before the sun, with plenty of time to consume French press coffee, passion fruit yogart, and Santitarium granola. We pack our last few items, and then check the leftover luggage with the Lakefront Apartment front desk. God willing, we will return to retrieve it in about five days time.
The first leg of the hike is carrying our backpacks and small Mitre bags across town. The Mitre bags are small clothes bags for things that will be waiting for us at the end of our hike, but before our five hour bus ride back to Queenstown. Apparently the bus driver has smelled Milford track hikers before, and prefers them in clean clothes. Terri is complaining about the weight of the pack on her shoulder before we are even half way to the bus.
As we queue up for the bus, we make one last Skype to Kevin, our youngest. He tells us more about the job offer he received from a company in Texas. It is possible his last few weeks at home will be while we are here in New Zealand. The three cats, now depending on the boy for food, water, and affection, are suddenly at risk – not to mention the sanity of his parents who are proud, yet dreadful of returning to an empty nest.
We drive along glacier carved lakes, passing massive fields of expected white sheep, and puzzling crowds of unexpected red deer. The venison market in Europe and Asia is apparently enough to drive local farmers to raise herds of Bambis.
We stop for a quick buffet of salads, wraps and a mountain range of connected triangular sandwich wedges. The sandwiches are some form of IQ test, which we royally fail. It seems theoretically possible to pluck out a combination of eggs, tomatoes, lettuce and bread that both begins and ends with bread. Even with 46 trip participants trying, however, that hypothesis is never proven.
After a few more miles in the bus, we reach the boat dock, where we pick up two more guides, and Lewis. Lewis is a chef at Mitre Peak Lodge, our last stop on the trek. An employee benefit allows workers to join a trip on their time off. This week, instead of scrambling eggs and cooking lamb shanks at Mitre Peak, Lewis will be walking with us.
Although not raining, the torential wind-spray leaves standing on the upper deck of the boat a bit too much like standing on the boot of your car in a carwash.
Getting off the boat we are each handed a random backpack from the pile, to sort out more quickly on shore. We feel like Goldilocks as we realize some packs are clearly lighter than ours, while others are much heavier. When we do finally find our own, they feel juuuust right.
We pose for obligatory photos at the Milford Track sign, and establish early our position at back of the line. It is a brisk flat hike through a tunnel of beech trees to the Glade House. We receive refreshments and our room assignments. We drop off our gear and regroup for a warm up nature hike to learn the local flora and fauna.
Much of the talk is drowned out by the resupply helicopter bringing multiple trips of human food in, and human waste out. We hope these two don’t get mixed up. Terri experiences her first biting sandflies, and is unsuccessful at biting them back.
We learn about the local Lance Tree, which has a strange and spiny juvenile form until it reaches about 8 feet high. This is believed to have warded off the now extinct 9 foot tall Moa bird. Appatently it worked. Our guide Jon tricks us into participating in a variety of ridiculous plant experiments. The pepper leaf offers a strange burning sensation when chewed. The spice curve is exponential, starting out quite mild, and ending with desperate spitting. We are handed another unidentified leaf, which we roll in our fingers until it gradually releases its secret and understated name: stink wood. We decide to pass on the berries, which accidentally killed three circus elephants that grazed upon them – not right in front of us, mind you, but disturbing none the less.
After regaining our confidence in food, we are served a wonderful dinner of venison and salmon, followed by apple strudel and ice cream. After dessert, we have an after dessert dessert of coffee and small brownies. Unless we swim home at the end, we will not be losing weight on this trip.
Lights go out at 10, when the generator is switched off. At least that is what we are told. We are sound asleep long before that happens.