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Everything you need to know about hiking the Milford Track

Everything you need to know about the Milford Track

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

Running 53.5 kilometres (33 miles) from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound, the Milford Track is one of the world's great wilderness walks. The famous trail passes through Fiordland National Park, part of Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Hiking the Milford Track is a breathtaking journey through lush rainforest, along pristine rivers and lakes, over high alpine passes and up close to Sutherland Falls, New Zealand's tallest waterfall. 

Most walkers pass through during the walking season, which runs from late October to 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, and the track is affected by snow and ice.

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 provisions.

Up to 40 independent trampers may start the walk per day, along with a similar number of guided walkers.

The Milford Track begins at Te Anau Downs and finishes at Sandfly Point at Milford Sound. You need to take a boat transfer to access the start of the track (Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf) and then again at the end of the track (Sandfly Point to Milford Sound Township).

The Milford Track Day-By-Day

Each day on the track is a new 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 by the river. Another boasts what could be the finest' view from a loo' in the world!

Transport to and from the Milford Track

To access the start of the Milford Track, you will need to travel by water taxi from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf, the beginning of the 4-day walk. Fiordland Outdoors Co. offers a high-speed water taxi to the Milford Track, and provide your return boat journey back to Milford Sound Township at the end of the hike.

Because the Milford Track begins and ends in different locations, you will need to think about how you organise your road transport. There are a couple of options.

Car relocation

Whether you're in a hire car or your private vehicle, car relocation is an easy way to have your vehicle waiting for you at the end of your big walk.

Easyhike and Fiordland Outdoors Co offer packages which include 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.

Stay at Milford Sound Lodge after hiking the Milford Track

After four or five days of hiking, there's nothing better than not a stay at Milford Sound Lodge. Soak up the modern comforts of our luxury chalets, a soak in the bath and a deep rest in a King size bed. Enjoy a delicious breakfast in the morning at Pio Pio restaurant before beating the crowds on a morning boat cruise. Stay at Milford Sound Lodge, and you won't have to leave the beautiful Milford Sound in a hurry.

Wildlife on the Milford Track

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 for the distinctive call of its endangered cousin the kaka, as well as those of the tui and bellbird. If you're 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 stately 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 wineberries. 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.