Before I went on the Milford Track, I was extremely nervous. It felt like a big step (and, indeed, quite an impulsive one) to even press the “Confirm Booking” button on the computer as I booked the trip, let alone strapping on hiking boots for someone that would normally cringe at the word “camping.”
This type of trip is often done by older couples and families as a sort of milestone vacation, a nod to a familial sense of accomplishment, a way to create a memory that is different than the traditions experienced at home. It is rarely done by single people, and especially young people on a Gap Year. When I arrived on the trip, I was the youngest person in the 54 person group by at least twenty years, which for many would seem overwhelming and dauting. But I soon realized that without peers for me to connect with, I could thrive off of the immediate sense of isolation, that it would give way to five full days of introspection. And of course, the lack of wifi or cell service for the entire duration of the trip also helped.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the hiking experience was that because the group was so big and therefore with so many different fitness levels, there was often if not always the ability to walk alone. On the first full hiking day, I walked at the front of the group and as the day went on became farther and farther away from others, until almost two hours passed where I did not see anyone. In most of our lives, that rarely happens. Think of the last time where you did not see anyone for at least two hours and were just consumed by the sound of silence. Not until I had it did I realize that I rarely get to experience that kind of solitude.
There truly is no beauty in the world as powerful as what lies on the Milford Track. There is an overwhelming sense of majesty that is impossible to capture on a camera. That inability to virtually recreate the beauty suggests, in a metaphorical sense, that we do not have the power to contort the world that we live, but instead we have only the agency and ability to simply take it in. I am not a particularly religious person, but when one sees this level of beauty and grace in such a natural and untouched place, one cannot help but know and maybe even feel that there is a higher being outside of the small realities we each live in. The physical beauty of the place produces a sense of spirituality that lives within the sharp edges of the mountains that cut into the sky, the birds that sing into the air, and the dirt that crumbles into the ground.
The beauty in all its grandeur and power creates a sense of insignificance for me as the viewer. But unlike that existential insignificance that plagues each of us to varying degrees, it offers reconciliation. Because the world I was in in that moment and during those days was so magnificent and beautiful, I felt honored to simply be in that space of majesty, almost as if those mountains created a sense of serenity that allowed for the acceptance of human mortality and insignificance. In essence, if one is able to experience that kind of majestic beauty, it lessens the pain and reality of the fleeting nature and possible meaninglessness of individual human life.
The Milford Track and its physical beauty allowed me to experience a level of gratitude for being alive I have never felt. To know that our world has places like this reminds me that it is imperative to think about our individual roles on the universal scale, to consider how we fit into a world with such splendor and vastness.