What to do in Milford Sound walk the Milford Track

Hike the Milford Track

One of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’, the Milford Track is a spectacular walking journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

NOTE:  Independent bookings on the Milford Track are now full till early April, 2016. Visit the Department of Conservation Great Walks to book. Don’t delay as this track books out very fast – there are limited spaces in the huts. 

Running 53 and a half kilometres from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound, the track is one of the world’s greatest wilderness walks.

Most walkers pass through during the walking season, which runs from late October through April. You can still walk the track in the winter off-season, but you’ll need a lot more experience and equipment as facilities are reduced.

Stay at Milford Sound Lodge after hiking the Milford Track

After four or five days of hiking, there’s nothing better than not having to rush when you finally reach your destination – especially when it’s as beautiful as Milford Sound! Stay at Milford Sound Lodge after your hike. Soak up the modern comforts of our luxury chalets – including bath & king size bed – or choose to stay in one of our twin rooms. Enjoy a delicious breakfast in the morning before beating the crowds on a morning boat cruise.

Transport To & From Milford Sound Lodge

It’s easy to organise transport back to Te Anau after hiking the track and staying at Milford Sound Lodge.

Car relocation

Have a hire car or driving your own to Te Anau Downs, the start of the Milford Track? Having your car relocated to Milford Sound offers you the flexibility to stay at Milford Sound Lodge and then take your time down the Milford Road to Te Anau.

Easyhike and the Fiordland Outdoors Company offer packages like the Milford Track Flexi Pack, which includes car relocation from Te Anau Downs to Milford Sound and water taxi to the start of the track. Find out more here.

Communal Track Transport

Tracknet operates regular daily coach departures from Milford Sound to either Te Anau or Queenstown during the summer season. Find out more here. 

Getting to the start of the Milford Track

Looking for flexible transport to start the Milford Track? You’ll need to travel by ferry from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf, the start of the trail. Don’t rely on scheduled transfers – choose to start the track at a time of your choice with the Fiordland Water Taxi.

Walking the Milford Track

It takes four days to walk the Milford Track, with three overnight stops at comfortable huts. You have two options:

  • Walk it independently and stay in huts provided by the Department of Conservation.
  • Or join a guided group and stay in private huts.

In both cases, you’d need to book well in advance for the walking season, as places are strictly limited. You also need to be fit enough to cover up to 20 kilometres of rugged terrain a day, and strong enough to carry your own provisions.

Up to 40 independent trampers may start the walk per day, along with a similar number of guided walkers. If you plan to walk the full track, take the boat from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf at the head of the lake. The track starts there and ends at Sandfly Point on Milford Sound, where another boat connects with the Milford Sound Township.


Milford Track Summer 2014-15 Packages

Milford Lodge offers a summer Milford Track package:

  • The Milford Track Taster package — a unique opportunity to experience this iconic track, if you are short of time or unable to complete the multi-day walk — combines a day walk on the track with accommodation and a Milford Sound cruise.

One Hundred Years of Trekking History

The Milford Track was established in 1888 as an overland route between Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound. Although local Maori had used the route to collect greenstone, the mountains were still a barrier to the settlers.

The way through was found by one of the area’s pioneer settlers, a talented bush navigator and local character called Quintin Mackinnon, originally from the Shetland Isles in Scotland. The 1000-metre-high pass was named after him and he became the track’s first guide.

Visitors were in good hands with Mackinnon. He was good-natured, knowledgeable and baked a mean pompolona, a type of scone. They would board his sailing boat for the ride up the lake to the start of the track; then he’d take them up over his pass, across Lake Ada and down to Donald Sutherland’s hotel at Milford Sound. Until the highway was built in 1954, the only way back was to turn around and walk out again.

The Road that Wasn’t and ‘The Finest Walk in the World’

Word soon spread about this great new walk, and by 1890 it needed an upgrade. The plan was to turn it into a road, with cuttings and overnight huts. This was no mean feat. The rock around here is very, very hard and you can imagine that conditions in those days were tough. Prison convicts were used to hack the way through by hand, but their skills and equipment were poor and many fell sick or escaped into the bush.

When the Prime Minister turned up to inspect the work, he wasn’t impressed. He quickly got rid of the prisoners, abandoned the road idea in favour of a packhorse track, and put the government in charge. When the Public Works Department finally finished the job, tourist numbers increased, and in 1900 more than 100 trampers walked the track.

In 1908 the London Spectator secured its reputation by calling it ‘The Finest Walk in the World’.
Unfortunately, Mackinnon himself didn’t live to hear this, having drowned in Lake Te Anau in 1892. But he is remembered in some of the names along the track: Pompolona Lodge, Quintin Falls, and, of course, Mackinnon Pass.

A Piano’s Intrepid Journey

In one of the guided walkers’ huts, Quintin Lodge, there’s even an old piano! One look at the location and it’s plain to see that manhandling it along the wild mountain track must’ve been pretty tricky. The adventures of this intrepid piano took place in the summer of 1955.

May Anderson, the hut-keeper’s wife, longed for a piano to keep her occupied during their long, isolated stretches up at the hut.

So Bill Anderson hatched a plan. He found a second-hand piano and a team of willing volunteers. They packed the piano into its case, attached wheels to the bottom, then laid steel rails in front of it and pushed it along, taking up rails from behind and laying them back down in front.

The piano put up with several weeks of this treatment on its 13-mile journey. It would let out deep, indignant clangs if it was jolted. But when it was finally unpacked for a delighted Mrs Anderson, it was perfectly in tune and the weary piano-pushers were rewarded with a musical soiree.

Each day on the track is a fresh adventure! On day one, you follow the Clinton River through ancient beech forest and across nine suspension bridges. There’s a lot more walking on day two, as the track heads up to the base of Mackinnon Pass.

The best of the scenery comes on day three, as you cross the mountains and check out the incredible views from the Mackinnon Pass. Many trampers find this day the most challenging, but there’s a chance to freshen up at the mighty Sutherland Falls.

Visiting the Falls is a side-trip from the main track. But it’s highly recommended, being the fifth highest waterfall in the world and the highest in New Zealand! Donald Sutherland discovered the 580-metre cascade in 1880, but nobody knew where all that water came from until a Mr Quill bravely climbed the falls ten years later, and discovered Lake Quill at the top.

On day four there’s a gentle descent along the rain-forested banks of the Arthur River, via Bell Rock and Lake Ada, to its mouth in Milford Sound.

There are day shelters along the track, as well as notable toilet facilities. One lonely pit-stop is all that remains of the original ‘first night hut’, which was eroded away by the river. Another boasts what could be the finest ‘view from a loo’ in the world!

Quintessential New Zealand Bird & Plant Life

You might also like to keep an eye out for some memorable native birds while walking the track. This is a great area to spot the kea, a noisy and inquisitive native parrot that will generally show up wherever there’s a picnic being unpacked! Listen out for the distinctive call of its endangered cousin the kaka, as well as those of the tui and bellbird. If you’re really lucky you may hear or even see the shy brown kiwi, which forages on the forest floor after dark.

You’ll also get to see a good cross-section of Fiordland’s vegetation along the track. Watch for subtle changes in your surroundings as a valley of proud beech trees becomes wet rainforest, dripping with moss and ferns. At times you’ll be out in the open amid springy tussocks and jagged rocks, and soon after you could be cocooned in a world of bearded trees, carpeted with ferns, and lit by sunlight filtering through a ceiling of shifting leaves. Look out for pockets of ribbonwood, rimu and fuschia among the beech trees, and in open glades keep an eye out for wine berries. Higher up you’ll find tropical-looking cabbage trees and mountain holly, giving way to snow tussocks, spear grass, mountain daisies and the hardy South Island eidelweiss.