day thirty-seven: november 5, 2015: te anau downs to glade house

A friend recommended that we check out The New Zealand Great Walks, which are nine popular hiking tracks allowing hikers to explore New Zealand's backcountry. We opted for the Milford Track which is in the Fiordland National Park on the South Island, where we would hike 53.5 km (34 miles) over four days. Oof! Thankfully, we decided to go on a guided hike with Ultimate Hikes, instead of navigating it on our own. Crossing our fingers and toes for good weather - sometimes when it rains on the Milford Track, the trails can get flooded and people have to hike in waist deep water! Ahh!

Today was pretty much a travel day, starting with a two hour bus ride to Te Anau for lunch, then a quick 30 minutes to Te Anau Downs, where we caught a boat across Lake Te Anau. Once we made it across the lake, it was a short walk to Glade House, where we stayed for our first night. 

There are 37 people in the group from all over the world - US, the UK, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. There are 4 guides: Erwin from Austria, Masako from Japan, and Kang and Lydia from New Zealand.

After arriving at Glade House, we split into smaller groups and walked a short nature walk behind the lodge. Erwin pointed out all the plant life, big and small, around us. With so much rainfall throughout the year in this area, just about every square inch is covered with life. Sometimes it's easy to get distracted by the mountains and waterfalls, but there's so much to look at beneath your feet too.

Never really knowing how ferns grew, we learned that the new young leaves of the ferns start curled up and slowly uncurl. Yes, these are clearly technical terms. They look like something out of some sci-fi film. Pretty cool though.

Even the bark of most of the trees are covered in other plant life.

Small and large bracket fungi grow on older trees that are past their prime or dying. Maori people used to break off larger bracket fungi hollow out the softer, white bottom part to create a sturdy bowl to keep coals for transferring fire.

We were treated to a clear night's sky at Glade House and Jonathan took a couple short time-lapses of the stars over the lodge. Sadly, with all the moisture in the air, he could only take photos for about an hour before the lens got fogged up.

day thirty-eight: november 6, 2015: glade house to pompolona lodge

Today was the first real day of hiking. Our regular routine for the next few days started, wake up early with the lights turning on from the generator starting up, make our lunches, eat breakfast and hit the track. Today we were treated with another beautiful, sunny day. After listening to Erwin on the nature walk the first day, we really kept our eyes out of all the small things along the track like small fungi, plants and birds.

Here I am at the 1 mile marker. Yes, I'm still happy!

These little purple flowers actually eat small bugs, including sand flies making it a good friend. 

This small purple fungi is one of the few poisonous fungi around New Zealand. Our new friend Ray discovered that after poking it with his finger.

All along the trail today there were small Bush Robins coming out as our steps kicked up the top layer of soil along the trail making it easier for them to access small worms and grubs.

Ten miles later, we arrived at the second lodge, Pompolona Lodge. The lodge is setup amongst the trees after the two previous lodges had been destroyed by avalanches and floods. It seems to be a regular theme that these backcountry accommodations have typically been destroyed by fires, avalanches and floods in the past. Thankfully, our guides prepped us each night with where to meet in an emergency and to be sure to take a camera and marshmallows in case of a fire.