History of the Milford Track


The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s most famous walks. Declared the ‘finest walk in the world’ by a famous poet in the London Spectator around 100 years ago, the Milford Track has it all – waterfalls, soaring cliffs, emerald valleys and abundant birdlife. It’s postcard perfect, with a rich and fascinating history.

The land was carved by glaciers

This part of the country is dotted with with spectacular geological features on a humbling scale, which is exactly why it is still so remote and wild. Mountain ranges and clear deep fiords show the power of the ancient glaciers that moved through this area, carving out rugged peaks and sheer cliffs.

Mountains like these tower over the track, which winds from Te Anau to Milford

Following an ancient route used by Māori pounamu gatherers

Looking at this landscape, it is hard to imagine how the earliest travellers set about finding a way through. Ancient Māori used both overland and sea routes to get around, mainly looking for South Island pounamu (New Zealand greenstone). The overland track basically follows where the walking track still lies today. The Māori called Milford Sound Piopiotahi, after the native thrush, which is now extinct. These birds may once have dotted the track and kept adventurers company.

Settlers and explorers created the track as we know it

With the arrival of Europeans, the area was named Milford, after a Welshman’s hometown. Donald Sutherland was the first European settler in Milford Sound. He put up three thatched huts in 1878, which he called the City of Milford! Along with Quintin Mackinnon, he cut the first path between Te Anau and Milford. ‘Milford City’ could now welcome intrepid visitors! Sutherland’s wife opened a boarding house for the new visitors from the city – who they called “asphalters”.

Homer Tunnel, carved out through 1.2kms of solid rock, was completed in 1954. Now the access options were endless – cars, helicopters and boats could reach Milford.

Boats and helicopters now access the area, for a completely different view.

Don’t rush off once you reach Milford Sound

Milford Sound was the jewel at the end of the track that those early travellers searched for. The fiords, lakes, and waterfalls are your hard earned reward, too, and we think you should stick around for a night to make the most of your efforts. Milford Lodge is the perfect place to unwind, still surrounded by nature, after crossing mountains and rivers on this historic walking track.

Beautiful Milford Sound awaits you at the end of the track – spend the night at Milford Sound Lodge, it’s the perfect reward!