On our last morning we woke up to dry conditions – the rain had stopped overnight and it promised to be an awesome day! It was also to be the easiest day, with only 9km to the road that would take us back to civilization. This 9km was all downhill and flat too, which made for an easy pleasant stroll compared to what we had been through the first two days!
The morning started at the falls, and from there it was a reasonably steep downhill to Routeburn Flats, another campsite with facilities about 2.5km away. The flats is obviously the base of the valley floor, and it was lovely being inside the bottom of the valley, sitting by the meandering river, skimming some stones taking in the views.
After a while we got to a little clearing where there is a ‘beach’. The water was crystal clear and absolutely beautiful…. and absolutely freaking cold! There was no way this wimp was going in, but a few of the hardy souls decided to wade in and jump off the big boulders which had found their way down from the surrounding cliff faces. It was a lovely spot, and through some patches of clouds the sun came out just in time. After lunch it was a relatively short walk through some wonderful beech forest to the roads end. It was a bittersweet moment…. I could have kept on hiking! I wanted to keep on hiking! 3 days out here didnt feel like enough! I was walking alone at the end, enjoying my own company, when on literally the last corner on the trail before the carpark there was a beautiful little bush robin just sitting on a rock. He sat there for so long, I could take plenty of photos. I admit, I “talked” to him. I was in this hippyish ‘I love trees I love nature’ moment and I spoke to him, calling him a cute little guy and thanking him for giving me one last surprise on the trail. Definitely not me usually! But that’s what nature does right?
And so ended one of the greatest walks I have done (not that I’ve done many, but you know, this was great!). They don’t call it a “Great Walk” for nothing! It was such a fantastic trip, I walked towards the carpark (and masses of day walkers) with a huge grin on my face which could not be wiped off. I had done it!!
Now as mentioned on day 1, I did this walk with a company called Ultimate Hikes, because I had left it late and couldn’t get reservations one needs to make online to walk this trail independantly. (book early folks!) This had some pros and cons, but definitely mostly pros! While at time I sometimes felt like a bit of a ‘cheat hiker’ for getting into a bed at a lodge at night, and having a hot shower after a rainy day, at the end of the day you still walk the EXACT same path as anyone else on the trail who huts or tents does. I still experienced the wonder of this trail like anybody else. I was worried with a big group (20+ people) that I would never get to walk alone, but that was nothing to worry about. I actually walked more alone than with anyone – our group was often very spread out and you could be very independant during the day. It was definitely nice after the second day of rain to get to a lodge that had a drying room. Yes, a drying room, which was this super heated room where you could hang your wet clothes and they dried in a matter of hours. Nothing beat putting on dry boots the next day! Because of the dry room, you really could keep clothing to a minimum, which meant a lighter pack. Also of course, being served food and having a bed meant no food to carry and no sleeping bag, which meant a lighter pack. All of these weight savings definitely help for those of us with bad backs/shoulders (me!) or for those of us doing our first multi day hike where we had to carry our own bags (me!). Doing this hike with Ultimate Hikes was definitely a good first tester for me to see how my back would hold up, and with only 7kg in the pack it felt great!
Overall I am so glad I still went ahead and did this hike with Ultimate Hikes. They are definitely a reliable and professional outfit who have the right balance of care for their hikers, while letting those who want it to have enough independance. Having said that though, now that I know what a great walk trail is like, and knowing I am strong enough to do it, I would definitely save my money and challenge myself more to doing it by myself. New Zealand do such a great job with their trail and outdoor network in general, with good signage, excellent information online and at DOC offices, that anyone could do an NZ trail independantly. The next time I go back I will definitely book early, get my hut/camp sites, and enjoy all that the NZ outdoors has to offer!!!