Milford Track, Great Walks of New Zealand
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
The Milford Track has been named ‘the finest walk in the world’ for good reason. Hike along glacial carved valleys, traverse through ancient rainforest and drop your jaw at cascading waterfalls, but be sure to book your huts well in advance! This track is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, so it is very highly sought after.
The Milford Track begins in Te Anau, goes through the beautiful Fiordland National Park, and finishes in Milford Sound at Sandfly Point. The hike is 53.5km and usually takes three or four days.
The Milford Track is a moderate level of difficulty. Given that there are side tracks, it is easy to end up walking over 60kms. There is a 750m climb to, and 900m descent from, Mackinnon Pass which can be challenging. Aside from that, the rest of the track is relatively flat.
Our journey began where all good outdoor adventures do, at Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers with a motley crew of twenty seven trampers ranging from fourteen years of age to sixty. Camp mother was lucky enough to score us some bunks in prime season of December.
The next day we set off, with an hour on the bus to Te Anau Downs, then a 1 ¼ hour boat cruise to Glade Wharf that gave amazing glimpses of what lay ahead. The Rata were in bloom on the shore, a brilliant red, in contrast to the deep blue of the lake.
Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut: 1 - 1 hr and 30 mins
Started early afternoon for an easy walk to Clinton Hut. Meandered along the side of the Clinton River, through lowland beech forest. Great hut – tried to grab a bunk room with minimal potential snorers.
Had a quick dip in the river, my guess was about twelve degrees so very refreshing. Spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring the nature walk made up of boardwalks over the wetland which was very informative. Interesting talk from the ranger and my first exposure to the rolling r’s of the South Island – you’ll know when you hear it.
A good night with good company, though I am adding 5am rustlers to my list of people to be avoided!
Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut – 6 hours
We continued along the Clinton River until we reached Lake Mintaro. Climbing up the Clinton Valley you really know you are in a rain forest, the most gorgeous shades of green, with waterfalls at almost every turn. Through the mist we got glimpses of Mackinnon Pass – to be climbed tomorrow. Felt very insignificant next to the sheer scale of the massive rock walls up the valley.
We were made aware of the gain in altitude by both the drop in temperature and the forest changing to sub-alpine as we climbed towards Mintaro Hut. The track is in brilliant condition and with not many stops due to the rain we were pleased to get to the hut in 4 ½ hours. The wet weather gear was put to good use.
Another enjoyable evening and another informative warden. The lovely Sonia did a brilliant imitation of both the male and female kiwi (female sounds like she is being strangled – not pleasant). Then early to bed, however Mother Nature had other ideas. You are warned about earthquake risk in this hut so it was a little disconcerting at 1.30am when she put on a sound and light display – thunder, lightening and hail, followed by torrential rain. The whole hut was shaking and the occupants up watching the performance. A little uneasy about what lay ahead tomorrow after all that water.
Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut: Six to seven hours
The rain stopped during the night and we got up to a slightly misty, cool morning. Really hoping it would clear as we had heard that the view from Mackinnon Pass is amazing – best view ever from a long drop (also known as an outdoor toilet).
All rugged up against the cold it was uphill to Mackinnon Pass Shelter (1154 m), this is the most challenging part of the track, I would rate it as moderate. There was a lot of water around, waterfalls and streams flowing well, but no rain. The biggest challenge is the weather and as you go higher you lose shelter. At the top we were greeted with a short snow flurry so didn’t manage to get the obligatory photo from the long drop. Note; there was no door to the long drop so you are required to make your presence known by singing or reciting poetry.
We stopped for lunch, hot tea and anti-inflammatories (badly fitting pack) at the Mackinnon Pass Shelter. Then we had a steady downhill through amazing sub-alpine terrain to the valley below. What should have been a few waterfalls were a couple of hundred after the overnight rain, absolutely amazing. We did the side trip to Sutherland Falls (45 mins each way), 580m high and just roaring, could hear them well before we could see them. The spray was tremendous, no way you could walk under them today.
Arrived at Dumpling Hut in good time even with the detour to the falls and then the rain started again. Great timing, as I was onto my last dry clothes.
Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point: 5 ½ - 6 hours
We had an early start planned as we had to get to Sandfly Point to get the boat to Milford Sound, then onto an overnight cruise. We were greeted by the warden advising us that we weren’t going anywhere, as about half an hour from the hut the track was under about a metre of water. The plan was if it wasn’t down by 10am they would need to helicopter us across the flooded section. I looked forward to my first helicopter trip, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The water went down as fast as it had come up – remember it can happen the other way too. We didn’t have much time to admire the views as had to get to Milford by 4pm to catch the overnight cruise.
Following the Arthur River, you couldn’t see much in the way of signs of the recent flood. We stopped at the Mackay Falls for a quick lunch then as the rain started again a gallop along a pretty flat, wide track to Sandfly Point, ticking of the kilometre markers. Believe the name – sandflies abound!
The arrival of the small boat was very welcomed and after boarding we got our first glimpse of Piopiotahi (Milford Sound), truly incredible. What a brilliant finish and an amazing walk. Yes, we were wet, but without the rain the Milford Track would not be as spectacular or special.
And we made the overnight cruise – the cherry on top of the icing on top of an incredible five days.
If you'd like to find out more about the Milford Track, check out the DOC website.