Happy Ever After and the Milford Track

 

Next week marks 2 years since I hiked the Milford Track in New Zealand. It is then, perhaps fitting that Happy Ever After will also be published next week. Why fitting? Because the Milford Track and Queenstown feature quite heavily in this story.

Over 100 years ago the Spectator magazine declared Milford “the finest walk in the world” – and although I have limited experience of these things, they weren’t wrong. It is way more than fine.

My Milford experience wasn’t an entirely happy one even though the track itself was as wildly beautiful as everyone says that it would be.

The finish line

This tramp – 54km or 33.5 miles (all the distance markers are in miles) – over glacier-fed rivers, through luxurious beech forest and up and over the alpine crossing that is the MacKinnon Pass – is a truly beautiful one. Yet while I finished the Routeburn Track only a couple of years earlier feeling as though I could do anything I set my mind to, there were a lot of moments on this one – particularly on day 3 with the Mackinnon Pass crossing – where I felt as though it had broken me.

It wasn’t just the rain – although it did rain steadily for the first 3 days. I’d gone with the guided walk option so even though we were soaked through by the end of each day, drying rooms and hot showers soon had us toasty and warm. Besides, rain is part of the landscape down here – and its beauty is even more dramatic in the rain.

No, my experience was marred by a lack of adequate training. This is rated a moderate walk and doable for most people with average fitness. I, however, had not prepared as well as I could have and should have.

2016 was a horror of a year with nasty unexpected surprise on top of nasty unexpected surprise. One after the other. Friends, jobs, finances, losses. We don’t need to get into the unpleasant detail. Between a daily 3 hour commute and all the other stuff that was happening, getting into a regular training pattern was difficult and my head was not where it needed to be.

As a result, I’d trained for the distances and the flat, but not for the uneven ground and certainly not for Mackinnon Pass. After the year that I’d had it felt as though the Pass had broken me into bits. I’m glad now that it did feel that way as I was able to use the experience when I was writing Kate’s story in Happy Ever After.

Day 1

Day 1 involved mostly getting to the start of the track. After waking to news of an overnight earthquake in Wellington, we left Queenstown on a bus for Te Anau Downs (with a stop at Te Anau for lunch) and then a boat ride to Glade Wharf and the official start of the track.

Day 2

Day 2 was an easy tramp – 16kms (10 miles) over relatively flat ground in the pouring rain. The amount of rain meant that the waterfalls sprang from absolutely everywhere.

I tramped most of the day alone and it was immensely gorgeous and peaceful and all of those words I was hoping it would be.

That afternoon back at the lodge the keas – large and extremely cheeky alpine parrots – kept us amused with their comical antics – and an active demonstration of why you shouldn’t leave hiking boots outside your room to dry!

Day 3

Day 3 was different. Although the distance was slightly shorter than the previous day, it was a steep uphill climb to Mackinnon Pass and an even steeper descent.

Going up was physically tough and my lack of preparation showed. I was slow and sore. Once we got above the beech forest, the views though, were magnificent.

At the memorial at the top, the clouds miraculously cleared and we could see the valley below – and just how far we’d come.

After stopping for some lunch and to use the toilet with the best view in the entire world, we made our way down – slowly, with my toes banging into the front of my boots and what felt like knives driving into my knees. Going up was hard, but I spent the entire 4 hours going down being scared of every step I took in case I fell and hurt myself.

Day 4

The longest of the walking days – 21 kms or 13.5 miles – the terrain was a little rocky, and there were a number of suspension bridges to cross, but otherwise nothing too challenging. It was, in fact, a glorious day to be tramping.

At (aptly named) Sandfly Point we boarded a boat to take us across to our accommodation for the night at Mitre Lodge and a final night dinner with a real party atmosphere.

Day 5 – Milford Sound

On day 5 we woke to a magnificent blue day and a cruise boat in at Milford Sound.

Before heading back to Queenstown we did a cruise of Milford Sound. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on Milford Sound a few times – twice on a short cruise like this one and once on an overnight cruise that I’ll never forget.

Anyways, these are views that would never get old. And the rain during the week just made the waterfalls even more impressive.

Would I do it again?

I’m not sure. Even though I said that I’d never ever ever do another long distance walk with a mountain in the middle again, it feels a little like unfinished business. Having said that, I’m planning another long distance challenge for early 2020 – if I can ever get this flipping ankle right.

Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. This truly is a magnificent walk with magnificent views – even in the rain…or maybe especially because of the rain.

I struggled – as did a few of the others – because I hadn’t prepared as well as I should have. Everyone else appeared to manage it very easily. I remain in awe of the group of Victorian hikers – all of whom were well into their 60s – who bounded up and down that mountain with relative ease.

As for my character, Kate Spence, will she do it again? She doesn’t need to –  she got exactly what she needed to get from the experience.

Happy Ever After is now available for pre-order at a special price from Amazon and will be published in Australia on 17/11/18 and all other territories 18/11/18. This link will take you to the pre-order.

There’s a print version on its way, so watch this space.

If you want to read more about my experience on the track, the day by day posts can be found here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Q is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

Q is for Queenstown

I’ve told you how much I love New Zealand before, but Queenstown? If you haven’t been to this town you simply must.

Framed by The Remarkables mountain range – one of the few ranges in the world that runs truly north-south. That in itself is a remarkable fact, but I’m more inclined to believe they were named because of just how remarkable they look.

They, and Lake Wakatipu, change almost by the minute as the sun changes position and the light varies. Moody one minute, dramatic the next, but always, well, remarkable.

So remarkable that I’ve (so far) set two books there – Wish You Were Here and One More Dance (previously known as Book No. 5). I’ve also been percolating a new series all set in and around Queenstown.

The pic above is in a cafe in town – my favourite place for breakfast, Vudu Cafe and Larder. This cafe was the inspiration for Jess’s cafe, Beach Road, in Wish You Were Here and One More Dance.

The lookout spot on the road to Glenorchy

I’ve also taken my characters out to Glenorchy and Paradise. They’ve walked parts of the Routeburn Track and all of The Milford Track.

Paradise

In One More Dance, they get to explore Arrowtown and also get a glimpse of the wineries in the Gibbston Valley.

I haven’t yet allowed them to stroll through Old Cromwell or smell the wild thyme under their feet around Bannockburn. No doubt that will come.

Naturally, setting a novel in a place requires research – and lots of it. But in this case, it’s research that I’m more than happy to do.

 

 

A long weekend in Wellington…

Ok, I’m going to say this up front – Wellington is one of my absolute favourite cities to visit. It’s got a harbour, it has great food, it has amazing views and it’s got soul. The advertising is right – it really is the coolest little capital, and I really do need to come up with a story that will showcase this fabulous city in a way that does it justice.

I’ve been coming to Wellington most years since my bestie first moved back – 2004? or thereabouts – and the colour (and weather) never ceases to amaze me. It’s the perfect getaway for when life gets a tad noisy, or I need some bestie time, or…just because.

I’ve posted heaps over the years, so if you’re interested, check out the Wellington posts here.

Flying into Wellington…

Flying in is part of the fun – if the day is clear the views as you cross the Sounds are incredible. The waters around New Zealand have a particular blue-green colour that is truly unique.  Of course, a photo out of a plane widow doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea.

Then there’s the airport itself – Wellington is known for its winds – why else would the rugby team be the Hurricanes? And those winds can give you an awful lot of landing for your money…just saying.

Where we lunched…

Where’s Charlie? I’m a huge fan of Vietnamese street food – you all know that, right? And one of the things I’ve missed since moving to the Sunshine Coast has been a decent pho – although Nguyen Brothers at Maroochydore has given me hope.

Walking into Where’s Charlie? on Lambton Quay, you’re immediately met with the smell of amazing beef broth – just like in Vietnam.

Yes, the pho is good.

Pho at Where’s Charlie?

Where we touristed…

The Beehive

Parliament. Yes, really. I love finding out about the political systems of other countries, and was surprised to find that New Zealand’s is so different to ours – and, in may ways, more progressive and inclusive than ours.

Even if, unlike me, you’re not interested in the political system, the buildings themselves are well worth seeing – even if it is just for the art and the architecture.

Without going too far into the history and the politics, the NZ system is responsible for a number of firsts on the world stage – including giving women the vote. As I said, well worth a visit.

Tours are free and run on the hour from 10am – 4pm.

Oh, one last thing, the tours take you down into the basement to show you how the engineers have strengthened the building in the event of an earthquake – bearing in mind that Parliament is just 400m away from the main Wellington fault line…or something like that. Really fascinating stuff. For more information, check out the website.

Where else we touristed..

Supreme Court of NZ

We called in and had a look at the Supreme Court. there was a rather riveting sounding case going on at the time – something about fluoride and water levels I think – so we couldn’t actually have a look at the chamber. We could, however, peek through the glass – and well worth a peek it was, even if the photo is crap.

Where we wandered…

Pukeahu – National War Memorial Park

The park houses memorials from a number of countries that New Zealand either fought with or in. There are still more to come.

The Belgian memorial was unveiled in October 2017 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele.

The Australian memorial is below…so is the spiel from the website.

“The rugged red sandstone columns represent the heart of Australia: the ‘red centre’. Each column stands on a band of the same red stone, between them bands of grey stone symbolise the New Zealand landscape: the interweaving is a perpetual reminder of the united destiny of the two nations.”

My favourite was the English memorial – Whakaruruhau, which in maori means to protect, shield and shelter. Essentially it combines an English Oak and a Pōhutakawato form one single leafy canopy – the shelter of the name.

Whakaruruhau, Pukeahu

Where we cocktailed…

At Hot Sauce, the the QT Museum Hotel (the old Museum Hotel). And spoiler alert – the cocktails were good.

Where we dined…

 

Pomelo, Oriental Bay. Ok, this place isn’t just good, it’s great. Really great. Seriously amazing Asian food.

Of the entrees we had I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite – although if I could only eat one of them again I think it would be the soft-shelled crab…or the tataki.

If you do go, you absolutely must have the duck red curry – with roti and rice on the side. Fabulous.

You’ll find them on Facebook.

Afterwards, take a walk along the harbour front to work off a smidgeon of it and take in the colours of the long twilight.

 

Where we tasted the waters…

Te Puna Wai Ora – meaning the spring of life – is a public water fountain supplying pure untreated artesian waters from the springs running beneath the Hutt Valley.

Locals bring their water bottles to fill from the springs. Seriously cool…and good tasting water too.

Where we took a drive…

Makara Beach

Out to Makara Beach.

On Wellington’s west coast, this is a relatively narrow, but very pretty drive that brings you out at a windswept pebbly beach with everything a good windswept pebbly beach should have – views, driftwood, and blue blue water.

At this time of year the lupins and other wildflowers are out – so are the cyclists, as this climbing, windy road is a popular training choice for those preparing for the Taupo circuit…so keep an eye out for them.

Because it’s Thursday, we’re celebrating our happy. Wellington makes me happy, but what about you?

The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of AgeLifestyle Fifty  and, of course, me.