The first evening at Glade House we learned what the routine would be for the next three days of serious hiking. Each morning the power would come on at about 6:30 am. It was provided at each of the lodges by a diesel generator and went off at 10 pm the night before. So the easiest alarm clock was to just leave on the lights. Then they would wake you up in the morning when they came on with the power.
There were cold breakfast fixings like cereal set out in the main room. You could also get some cooked breakfast but I never bothered. Sandy enjoyed it though - she is the breakfast person in the family. She needed fuel for the morning hike while I was carrying plenty extra. Then it was time to make our lunch. Another set of tables would have all sorts of sandwich fixings along with fruits, candy bars and cookies. Everyone made their own lunch and added that to their packs. Then we would clear out our sleeping room, put on our packs, and start the day's hike.
After three or four hours of hiking there was usually a group lunch stop. Two or three of the guides would be there (it was usually near a shelter of some kind) and would provide hot drinks like tea or orangeade. Then after lunch there would be another two or three hours of hiking, reaching the next hut in the mid to late afternoon. There was usually a snack with tea and coffee and orange drink set out when we arrived. Later in the evening there would be a full dinner. There was a briefing each night by one of the guides, mainly going over the logistics of the hike for the next day but covering history and wildlife of the area as well. Then there was free time until 10 pm when the lights went out.
Everything was quite luxurious. The only chore that we needed to worry about was laundry. Ultimate Hikes recommended taking a single set of hiking clothes and a change of clothes for evening in the lodge. Then each day at the end of the hike you could change into your "evening clothes" and wash your hiking clothes for the next day. We almost followed their suggestion, except that we had two pairs of hiking clothes so that we just alternated each day. There was a "drying room" at each lodge, a special room with a big heater and lots of fans where you could hang wet clothes to dry out. Everything we took was made of synthetics. It would be extremely uncomfortable and potentially even dangerous to hike in cotton clothes if a bad rainstorm hit while on the trail. So everything dried quickly and this approach worked well to keep our pack weight down for the trip.
Day two was our first day of real hiking. We started from Glade House by crossing a large swing bridge over the Cliniton River. The morning was cool and cloudy but after less than an hour of hiking both Sandy and I were down to tshirts. The hike for the day was long, about ten miles, but almost completely flat. So it was pretty easy. The trail was through dense rainforest. Because the area gets so much rain it is literally plant heaven. There were tall trees with a dense undergrowth of ferns. Every square inch was green. Even the trunks of trees, rocks, everywhere was covered with moss. Trees had vines growing on them which had moss growing on them. I have never been anywhere that was so green. Even the air seemed to be green.
There was water everywhere. We hiked along the Clinton River all day. There were many waterfalls and cascades tumbling down the steep cliffs that bounded the sides of the valley. Along the trail there were small streams and trickles and pools everywhere. It was like the entire place was a giant water feature. When it is raining it is supposed to be amazing. We didn't get to see that. Can't say that I fell badly about that though. It was quite impressive as it was.
We hiked slowly but steadily along the trail. We didn't walk fast but we rarely stopped. So we made pretty good time. That is the natural way Sandy and I usually hike. But we had encouragement on this hike. Fiordland is inhabited by one of the world's notorious hiking pests, the sandfly. These are small, gnat-like flies. They are very slow and actually easy to kill but they do bite. The bites swell up to a red spot about the size of a dime and itch like crazy for at least a week afterwards. Because they are so slow you do not even know that they are there while you are walking. But within thirty seconds of stopping there is one flying around you. By a minute it's two and after two minutes there are several. No one ever stopped for as long as five minutes to find out how many sandflies there were after that long.
Although annoying they were tolerable. For one thing, we always wore long pants and sometimes long sleeve shirts. Some people were brave enough to do shorts. Insect repellent seemed to keep them from biting if not from swarming around and annoying you. And as long as you kept moving they couldn't find you. Since that is how Sandy and I usually hike, slowly but steadily, they really didn't bother us much. Any breeze would keep them away and some places they were more common than others. Lunch spots were always chosen with the presence (actually the absence) of sandflies in mind and weren't bad. And at the end of the day we were in a lodge which was safe from sandflies. We did have bug helmets made of netting with us just in case but never had to resort to them. But experiencing New Zealand sandflies is an important part of being a Worldly Hiker.
The morning on Day 2 was cloudy but the weather gradually improved through the day. By the afternoon there were only scattered clouds and we had views of beautiful mountains on both sides of the valley. We got our first view of McKinnon Pass in the distance. The following day we would have a tough climb up and over the pass and then down into the drainage on the other side that led to Milford Sound. When the weather is good the view from the pass is magnificent. When the weather is bad the pass is windy and exposed and miserable. We were keeping our fingers crossed that the forecast for fine weather would come through.
We reached the Pompolona Hut by about three in the afternoon. We had a quick shower and then did our laundry so that we could spend the evening relaxing. The common room in the hut had huge windows that faced the steep cliffs on the mountains across the valley. We had beautiful views as the light changed through the afternoon and evening on the peaks. It looked like we would have a good day for the pass.