Hiking the Milford Track
Is hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand on your bucket list? Here are some handy tips to help you enjoy 'the finest walk in the world', including an overview of the track, how to get there, what to expect from the weather and information on guided walks.
Milford Track Overview:
The Milford Track is a 53 kilometre (33.5 mile) walking trail in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. Fiordland is often referred to as the ‘walking capital of the world’! In addition to the Milford Track, this vast area is also home to the Routeburn, Hollyford and Kepler Tracks.
The track starts at the northern tip of Lake Te Anau. It then follows the Clinton Valley to the Mackinnon Pass, which you walk up and over to descend into the Arthur Valley, leading to Milford Sound. One unforgettable sight en route on the track is Sutherland Falls. Towering high at 580m (1904 ft), this is New Zealand’s highest waterfall!
Where is the Milford Track and how do I get there?
The Milford Track is in Fiordland National Park, which is part of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. It’s in a pretty secluded corner of the country, but luckily there is easy access to both ends of the track.
The best airport to fly into for access to the track is Queenstown. Queenstown is well served by domestic flights and easy to connect to from an international flight too. Coming from North America or Europe, you’ll fly into Auckland and connect to a domestic flight to Queenstown which takes about 2 hours. From Australia fly into Christchurch then take an easy 45 minute domestic flight to Queenstown or simply take a direct international flight from the East coast of Australia. Check out our guide to how to get to New Zealand to help you find which flight suits you best!
It is possible to start and finish your walk from Queenstown, however you may also want to consider going to Te Anau, a pretty little lakeside town on the shores of Lake Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. It’s about a two hour drive from Queenstown to Te Anau.
Your first day’s walk is not too long, so if time is tight then travel all the way from Queenstown on day one but stay in Te Anau the day you finish to unwind and sort your gear out. If time is not so tight, then we love doing the track from Te Anau; with all the hikers in town it will put you in the right frame of mind! There are plenty of people to share stories with both before and afterwards.
How do I get on and off the track?
To get to the Milford Track, walkers need to catch a boat from Te Anau Downs to the start of the track that is located at the top of Lake Te Anau. There are two boats per day, leaving at 10.30am and 1pm, with the trip taking about 1 hour 15 minutes. Te Anau Downs is only around 30 minutes drive from the lakeside town of Te Anau.
The track finishes at Sandfly Point, which is right on Milford Sound, a 15 minute boat ride from the main Milford wharf. The classic 'Anita Bay' launch has the job of transferring hikers from the track back to Milford, something it's been doing for over 75 years! The first launch of the day for track walkers is at 2pm, followed by departures at 3pm and 4pm. They know exactly how many people are on the track and won't leave anyone behind.
Milford Track Guided v Independent
Walking the full Milford Track is a lifelong dream for many New Zealanders and overseas visitors. Whether you’re going guided or independent, everyone starts at Lake Te Anau and hikes through to Milford Sound, spending three nights on the track. You’ll finish your walk in Milford Sound, and the boat from the end of the track to Milford Sound harbour is included in your track package, for both independent and guided walkers.
Walk the Milford Track independently:
Independent (or 'freedom’) walkers need to book a Milford Track package with the Department of Conservation (DOC). This includes your boat transfers on and off the track at each end and your accommodation in huts on the track each night. It’s worth noting that this package does not include the bus to Te Anau Downs and from Milford Sound.
The huts sleep up to 40 people in large bunk rooms and have communal kitchens with plenty of space for everyone. Mattresses are provided, as are gas cookers. There’s a coal burner in the common room but no heating in the bunk rooms! You need to bring all your own food and cooking equipment, plus your own sleeping bag. There is generator electricity for lighting only, which is turned off in the evening. There are no showers, flush toilets nor drying facilities. The huts have a warden who will collect your tickets and inform you about weather and track conditions for the following day.
Fancy something a bit more luxurious? Join our New Zealand Trails World Heritage Walking Tour.
Milford Track Guided Walk:
There are several companies that offer the guided walk in its entirety. Your entire package from Queenstown (or Te Anau) is provided and you don’t have to organise anything else yourself. You’ll be in a group of up to 50 people, with three or four guides looking after the group.
Guided walking lodges are generally two hours before the independent huts, meaning you have a much shorter walk on the first day but quite a long one on the last day. The lodges are very well run and have everything walkers need - hot showers, a drying room, full bar and great food. All bedding, towels and even shampoo and soap are provided so you only have to carry your essentials, plus a change of clothes for the evening. They can even loan you a backpack if you don’t have one of your own.
As the groups are quite large, the guides have limited time to spend with individual walkers, but they will get around and tell you a bit about the track and environment. They have well-spaced rest huts along the way each day which offer shelter if it’s raining and they’ll even make you a hot drink! One really nice thing about doing the track guided is that you spend your last night in Milford Sound, which is a wonderful way to round your walk off with all your new friends.
After a smaller group experience? Our tours take no more than 14 people, allowing for a more tailored adventure with outstanding personal service, less crowds and more fun. Check out our traveller photo galleries here to see for yourself!
Main differences between independent and guided walking:
- Preparation: If you’re partaking in a guided trip, you’ll only have to organise your clothing, everything else is prepared for you. If going independently, on top of your clothing, you’ll need to arrange cooking equipment, a sleeping bag and plan all your food for four days.
- How much you carry: It’s really easy to work out who’s walking independently and who’s walking as part of a tour from their backpacks. You’ll have to carry a large, heavy backpack walking independently, although the good news is it will get a little lighter as you eat your supplies!
- Guides: ‘Guided walking’ means you’ll have friendly guides to help you with anything at all, from problems with your gear or a bit of moral support, to identifying the native flora and fauna. Going independently means you’re on your own the entire way, but you’ll run into plenty of other friendly walkers and a real camaraderie builds over the four days. Regardless of whether you’re walking as part of a group or independently, the DOC are really careful about the safety of all walkers so in the event of extreme weather everyone is looked after by DOC staff and track guides.
- People you walk with: It’s fair to say the average age of the guided walkers is a bit higher than independents. We’ve seen people from ages 13 to 80 plus on the guided walk – equally there are plenty of sprightly silver headed walkers carrying their packs on the independent walk.
- Cost: With all the services provided, obviously going guided does cost more. To give you a comparison with current prices, the five day / four night guided trip starts at around NZD$2000, moving up in price depending on which type of room you’d like. To walk the track independently from Queenstown (four days / three nights) will cost you around NZD$450 for all your accommodation and transport, but remember that food costs will be on top of this.
Everyone will have a budget to work to, but if comfort is important to you, then the guided walk is well worth it. There's a huge difference in your enjoyment of the track when you can have a hot shower at the end of each day, have great food served and get your gear dry before sleeping in clean dry sheets each night.
A note about water:
There’s plenty of water on the track, drinkable from side streams but also water in tanks at the DOC huts along the way.
Day walks on the Milford Track
If the full four day adventure is not for you, you’ve got two great choices for day walks at either ends of the track:
Milford Track Day Walk from Sandfly Point, Milford Sound:
This is a fantastic option for people to experience both the Milford Track and Milford Sound in the same day. The Milford Sound end of the track is the aptly named ‘Sandfly Point’, a 10 minute boat ride from the main Milford Sound boat harbour. Catching an early boat across to the track to walk the lowland rainforest in total seclusion is an incredible way to experience the track. It’s around an 8 kilometre (5 mile) return walk to Giant’s Gate Falls and it can be easily done before returning for the boat just after midday. This is the only way to combine the famous Milford Track and Sound in the same day!
There’s no public boat to the Milford Track from Milford Sound, so the only way to experience the track and the Sound in the same day is to join a guided tour - either a day tour departing Milford Sound at around 8am or as part of a longer trip, like our World Heritage Walking Tour or Masterpiece.
On the day tour you’ll either have to stay in Milford Sound overnight or leave early from Te Anau to get there for 8am. Joining a longer tour means you don’t have to worry about trying to find accommodation in Milford or doing any of the driving.
Once you get back to Milford Sound a little after midday you’ve got plenty of time for a cruise on the Sound, or if you’d like to make the day one you’ll never ever forget, how about a helicopter flight the length of Milford Sound?
Milford Track Day Walk from Glade Wharf to the Clinton Forks:
A great way to experience the track and Lake Te Anau together in the same day and the timings work well for a day trip from Te Anau. Get yourself to Te Anau Downs for the 10.30am boat and you’ll arrive at the track at 11.45am. You’ve then got a little over five hours to discover the track, flat all the way! You’ll see historic Glade House and follow the tranquil Clinton River on your walk up to the Clinton DOC hut or a little further, Clinton Forks. A couple of great side trips are the Glade Burn, the Wetland Walk and the 'Big Tree'. In the middle of summer a dip in the crystal clear water back at the wharf after your walk will freshen you up! You can do this day walk by yourself or join a tour from Te Anau.
Milford Track Weather
The million dollar question; what’s the weather on the track like? Milford is famous for its liquid sunshine so it pays to be prepared, we reckon the Sound is best in the rain though! Fiordland is an amazing area of pristine rainforest and rugged peaks, and it’s the elements that are responsible for this landscape. Anything can happen at any time so you need to be prepared.
For some more reading about what to bring and how the weather will be, try these:
What to bring on your New Zealand Hiking Trip
What’s the best time to walk the Milford Track?
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