Anyone living in the northern hemisphere will be familiar with the term ‘white Christmas’… but have you ever heard of a ‘golden sand Christmas’? Or a ‘lush green rain forest Christmas’? Maybe a ‘glass of wine as you’re sun baking beside a lake, high in the Southern Alps Christmas’? Ok, we’re getting carried away now, but what an amazing idea – a Southern Hemisphere Christmas!
Summer solstice lands on December 22nd in New Zealand this year, so during the Christmas/New Year period our days are the longest, warmest, and it’s the perfect time to be exploring the great Kiwi countryside. This also means it’s the most popular time to visit New Zealand, but I’m here to tell you that the crowds don’t matter – if you choose your trip wisely.
Most Christmas travellers from the Northern Hemisphere will have 2 or 3 weeks of vacation time, and the most popular way to spend that time is 1 week on the North Island, and 2 weeks on the South Island. Along the way you’ll want to hit a few beaches, visit a few wineries, get off the beaten track to hike a few local hiking and biking trails, and most importantly; hike a handful of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Of the 9 Great Walks, the Milford Track is without a doubt the most famous, and for many travellers it’s the single most important reason for choosing to travel to New Zealand.
The Milford Track is one of the longest established and best-known walking tracks in the country. It starts on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau and crosses McKinnon Pass to Milford Sound, taking in glacial peaks, a mountain pass, New Zealand’s highest waterfall and the dense rain forest of the West Coast. Some hikers choose to hike the Milford Track in its entirety on a guided walk, or take a day walk it, along with a handful of nearby Great Walks.
Fiordland National Park is home to 3 of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks; the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track and the Kepler Track. All of which are a short drive from one another, but all 3 of these Great Walks have very distinct personalities, and the scenery you’ll experience on each trail clearly distinguishes it from the others, meaning that day hikers can absorb a greater variety of countryside, in the same time as others hike one trail in its entirety.
For those keen hikers looking to complete the Milford Track in its entirety, it’s possible to hike the track solo, or with a guided walk. The Department of Conservation has placed a limit on the number of hikers entering the track to prevent overcrowding and excessive damage to the trail – so with only 40 independent hikers allowed on the trail each day, and Christmas hiking passes sold out months in advance – the next option is to take a guided walk.
The Milford Track guided walk is four days of breath taking scenery. It’s loaded with additional benefits over doing it solo, and everything’s provided along the way. Hikers enjoy hot showers, bedding, specialist Milford Track guides who will give you an incredible understanding of the local ferna and fauna, and there are even hair dryers in the mountain lodges (with upgrades to private rooms upon request). As hikers complete their journey, entering Milford Sound at the end of the 33 miles (53 km), it becomes immediately apparent why Rudyard Kipling referred to Milford Sound as the 8th Natural Wonder of the World. Giant granite peaks explode from the black ocean, without a beach in sight. Huge waterfalls fall land directly in the ocean, where you’ll see native fur seals playing and (often) dolphins or sperm whales bathing.
So if you’re from the northern hemisphere and you’re thinking about swapping out your winter woollies for your best pair of hiking boots this Christmas – the great Kiwi countryside is calling your name. Whether you’re hiking the Milford Track solo, hiking it as part of a Milford Track Guided Walk or discovering a handful of New Zealand’s Great Walks – you’ll be heading deep into New Zealand’s pure wilderness – avoiding the crowded shopping malls, bustling cities and crowded beaches.
So start planning your Christmas adventure today, before everyone else finds out about those wilderness hideaways!