17 December 2020
We start early today, meeting at the Ultimate Hikes Centre in Queenstown at 6.30 am. We are on the bus by 6.45am, heading down beside Lake Whakatipu to Te Anau and being entertained by driver Pete’s stories. After a hearty morning tea of fresh scones and other goodies in Te Anau we have the final part of our drive on the scenic Milford Road to start the track at the Divide.
It has been raining on and off throughout our drive but when we start our walk (around 11am) we decide that it won’t come to much. The cloud is down low though so we have a misty climb up through the beech forest with only glimpses to the view beyond. Just before lunch there is a side trip up to Key Summit but as there is no view I decide to give my complaining legs a break. A little further on we reach our lunch spot at Lake Howden where the sun was shining. There used to be a hut at Lake Howden but it got swept away by a mudslide during a storm in February 2020 (with 30 people inside – thankfully none seriously injured). We sit down amongst the rubble to eat our lunch trying to pretend the devastation didn’t exist as we looked out at beautiful Lake Howden.
After lunch I set off ahead of the main group so that I can set my own pace more than I was able to on the climb up. It is beautiful with the cloud starting to lift and provide glimpses of the Hollyford Valley and the Darren mountains (still with snow on the tops). There is lots of birdsong and I have time to appreciate the flowers and vegetation as well during the gradual climb. After quite a while of enjoying the peacefulness, the fast group catch up and overtake me. The scenery starts to change around the Earland Falls, where we can see the barren hillsides above the tree line. For the rest of the afternoon I walk with Liz and Jackie, who are also enjoying being able to stop and take photos, watch the birds and admire the stunning scenery both down into the Hollyford Valley and up at the Ailsa Mountains above us.
The last part of the day is a steep rocky descent down to Mackenzie Lodge – our accommodation for the evening. It is a magnificent lodge and we are so grateful to be greeted with a cold drink and a snack before being shown our rooms. I had booked soon after our first full lockdown so had chosen a private room with ensuite – it was amazing! The lodge is powered by generators which have the added benefit of providing copious hot water for showers and an extremely efficient drying room which meant that we were able to wash our hiking clothes when we got into the lodge and have them dry again before we went to bed (meaning of course that you only had to carry clothes for the lodge at night rather than any extra walking gear).
Another benefit of a private lodge is that all the meals are catered and we are spoiled with 3 course meals showcasing the finest NZ produce (tonight the choice is beef, chicken or a vegetarian meal) and can purchase wine and other drinks from a well-stocked bar. After dinner there is a briefing about what to expect tomorrow. The generator goes off at 10.00pm but I am fast asleep well before then!