When it comes to trekking locations, we have a bucket list full of them. The more we tackle it seems the longer the list grows, among those we have managed to tick off is the Milford Track. It has been a dream of mine to visit New Zealand, especially the South Island, and since it’s so close to home I felt it would be silly to never step foot in this country. We had seen and heard many spectacular stories about this particular trekking adventure, having viewed endless Instagram pictures from people who have completed the trek my anxiety toward wanting to do it increased. Enough was enough, without any further delays we decided that it was my time to walk the trek in person.
We started out by researching about the trek and gathering appropriate gear (scroll down further to see my gear list), from our research we found out that it is recommended to walk this trek during the Great Walk Season which is between October to April. It is possible to do the trek outside this season, though there are few things to consider if you are contemplating the idea.
Walking independently outside the official season is only recommended for experienced hikers with the appropriate equipment as there are no rangers on duty at this time, there are fewer bridges as some are removed due to avalanche hazards, colder temperatures, no emergency radio access, no running toilets and no gas for cooking. While the benefits of walking outside the season are that the fees are far lower ($70 vs $15/night), you won’t have to walk one way (from Te Anau Downs to Milford) but you can instead reverse your trekking route and you will miss the crowds which means you have the path, the hut kitchens and beds all to yourself.
Here is my quick summary of this trek:
- The total trek is 53.5km long, one way
- It takes 4 days, 3 nights
- There are 3 huts along the track that fits 40 people a day.
- During Great Walk season, trekkers must complete the trek in the direction from Te Anau Downs to Milford Sounds only.
- The start of the trek involves a1 1/2 hour boat ride, and the end involves another of 15 minutes.
- Bookings for the huts and the boats must be made via New Zealand Department Of Conservation
- Once booked online, you must pick up your tickets in Queenstown.
- Book your trek a minimum of 3 or 4 months prior as it gets booked out very quickly
- If you have hired a car, it’s necessary to organise a car transfer. We booked ours with Trekhopper
- You must be well equipped, bring your own sleeping bags, cooking equipment etc. Scroll down for my personal gear list
- The sleeping arrangements in the huts are mostly communal, beds are allocated on a first in first served basis.
- There is no electricity supply
- There are no shower facilities.
- There are ample streams & rivers that provide a steady drinkable water supply throughout the trek.
- Paths are well maintained throughout.
- Day 3 starts out with a steep ascent to the treks highest point, Mackinnon Pass (1154m).
- You must take your own rubbish with you
- The total cost for all our huts, boats and car transfers came to approx $360 per person (Extra costs for daily food, travel insurance, car hire or bus transfer).
The Milford Track From Our Own Experience:
Day 1: We parked our hire car at Te Anau Downs in time to catch our 1PM boat ride. The boat ride was mostly comfortable with a few moments of rough seas at times. Onboard the boat there was plenty of seating areas and we were provided with complimentary tea and coffee.
The first day was the shortest and easiest day of the trek, which lasted only 5km through the beech forest and along the Clinton River before we reached the first overnight stop of Clinton Hut. We arrived approx 1hr after stepping off the boat, with the last kilometre being my favourite part of the day having passed through a very colourful and somewhat dreamy forest.
Clinton Hut consists of two seperate sleeping huts and one communal kitchen that contains a fireplace that provides good warmth. As we took our time making our way there from the boat, many of the bunk beds had been taken, once we found some available we followed what most others were doing and laid out our sleeping bags on top of the mattress, indicating that the beds were taken. I must point out the sandflies surrounding Clinton hut were quite overwhelming, however we did not receive any bites thanks to our reliable winter gear.
Upon arrival, we had to write our names in the log and leave our tickets in the kitchen. Later in the day after all trekkers had arrived, the resident warden gave us a daily talk sharing extra information in regards to the rest of the trek and updated information about weather conditions. Following his was a half hour guided tour where he took us around the forest educating us about the local flora and fauna. When it became completely dark, we took a walk down to a nearby glowworm cave. Being the shortest day, we chose to get to our bunk beds nice and early, in order to rest up for the next three long hiking days.
Day 2: Day 2 is 16.5KM and approximately 6 hours. From Clinton hut, we continued our hike following the river before turning inland. Roughly 4km into the forest, the track opens up to an open valley walk. As we walked along the valley floor we were able to enjoy gorgeous views of snow capped peaks on either side, giving us the impression that we were in a somewhat mysterious location. The views were magnificent from all angles and at this point of the trek we began to understand why it is so popular. We enjoyed the lush green vegetation surrounding the dark shades of the layered mountains, as we compared the vista to that of what you might expect to see in a Jurrasic Park film. We encountered many crystal clear streams and rivers that appeared to flow endlessly, enabling us to fill up our water supply (with the addition of water purification tablets) and admire the many beautiful brown and rainbow trouts throughout. Day 2 had alreaady given us many highlights and it had only just begun.
At midday we took a detour up the bank of a river bank to take a rest and to have some lunch. Since there are only a limited amount of people that are allowed on the trek at any one time, the opportunities to find peaceful and serene spots along the way are endless. The river bank provided the perfect spot for us to unwind under the sun, be delighted by clear blue waters and adore the beautiful surrounding mountain peaks. We spotted the eccentric Blue Duck bouncing from rock to rock. To this day we still think of our picnic spot on Day 1 as being one of our Milford Track favourite highlights.
Wearing good quality hiking boots really paid off when we had to cross a wide rock avalanche area, throughout which the trail was quite undefined and the terrain unstable being mostly covered with rocks of various sizes. With the help of some random orange metal poles that ha been installed as track markers, we crossed to the other side safely.
The last 2km of the day was a gradual incline which to me felt quite a bit longer, I guess by this time my bag pack must have finally wore my shoulders down (but it was a good tired).
Mintaro hut consists of only 1 communal building used both for cooking and resting. There are a couple of small rooms with bunk beds on the ground floor nearby the kitchen and dining room, whilst the upper floor is an open room a long row of double bunk beds adjacent a row of mattress on a wooden floor provided for those who prefer sleeping nearer to the ground. We were fortunate to find ourselves bunk beds as there were not enough to accommodate everyone. Just like Clinton Hut, the kitchen and dining rooms were warm due to the ongoing fire.
We learnt from the hut warden that we should make an effort to hang our boots well above ground as the cheeky local Kea birds are known to steal hiking shoes! We did as told and found it was a good way to dry out our boots at the same time.
Day 3: It was the break of dawn when we got up, with the intentions of being the first to leave in order to get to the next hut nice and early. We left before 6AM. Yes, we were keen. With only a few bites of a muesli bar and a few gulps of water, we set off with the ambition to be one of the first groups to land our feet on the Pass.
It was a 14km day, shorter than the day before, however it took us as long as yesterday (7 hours) due to the steep ascent. It was approx. a 600 meter climb to The Mackinnon Pass, the highest point of the track at 1154m.
The winding path out from Mintaro Hut was somewhat narrow as it climbed for approx. 4km. We did our best to dodge many of the obstructive bushes and tree branches whilst still managing to enjoy many gorgeous views along the way. The path began to open up as we climbed higher and after passing the Mackinnon memorial we finally arrived at the Mackinnon Pass Shelter for morning tea. The shelter provided a couple of gas stoves and lots of bench seating space to take a rest. After some morning snacks, we spent a few more moments admiring the surrounding panoramic canyons and valleys. It was a truly wonderful time.
Having passed the highest point of the track it was all downwards from there for the next 4 hours to Dumpling Hut, not including a 1.5 hour side walk to Sutherland Falls.
Once we left Mackinnon shelter we reentered the forest walking comfortably on a few board walks, crossing a few creeks and eventually arriving at the Roaring Burn waterfalls. There was no missing out on this waterfall as the board walk we were on crossed right over the viewing platform. The board walk then continued on following the streams and presenting a couple more metal bridges to negotiate.
We extended our day 3 adventure by choosing to do the side walk to Sutherland Falls, leaving our back packs at Quintin shelter. We brought only cameras, rainproof jackets and pants, water and valuables in small back packs. The rocky and narrow track to Sutherland Falls starts from the shelter and quickly ascends into a forest. From a fair distance out we could already hear the roar of the 580m waterfall, known as the tallest in New Zealand. It was impossible to stand right under the falls as the enormous spray of cold water was far from hospitable. With the help of our rain proof gear we were able to get within throwing distance and appreciate the might of this natural wonder. The trip to Sutherland Falls isn’t a must to do whilst on the Milford Track, but appears to be popular among most hikers. It was a relaxing walk and the surrounding views were gorgeous.
We were among the first few groups to have arrived at the previous accommodation, Dumpling Hut which is located at a lower altitude than Clinton or Mintaro huts, hence the weather was warmer and the ground was drier. There were four bunk room buildings and a separate spacious kitchen hut. We ended our last night on the Milford track by taking a walk down a nearby track to catch the sunset. We rested on a panoramic river bank nearby, after a long day we took a rest on the white pebbled rocks whilst listening to native birds and breathing in the beauty of Milford Track.
Day 4: The last day of our Milford Track experience. At 18km it was the longest of the 3 days, however, covering mostly smooth, flat terrain it only took us around 6 hours to complete it.
Larely a continuous forest walk, day 4 consisted of several bridge crossings that hang well above rivers, more board walks and the main attraction of the gorgeous Mackay Falls. We were delighted by the sight of these falls, they were dazzling and definitely worth a stop for.
Apart from a brief tricky and slippery rock shoulder path alongside Lake Ada which we had to tackle, the remainder of the day was easy and breezy for us. A relaxing day overall, the last few kilometres were flat, tucked in underneath the forest canopy and crossing over few more small bridges. The Giant Gate Falls towards the end of the track was a nice panoramic view to end our trip.
The track ended at Sandfly Point. We made it on time to catch our 3PM boat trip. ‘Sandfly Point’ literally means ‘lots of sandflies’. We deliberately timed our arrival to be not too far from the boat pick up time so we didn’t have to spend too much time with the insects.
We enjoyed a short but scenic 15 minute boat ride which was the first opportunity for us to enjoy Milford Sound up close, after which there was a bus transfer waiting to collect us. We hopped off at Milford Sound village to get back into our hired car that had been transferred from Te Anau Downs by the crew from Trekhopper.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Milford Track and Milford Sound. The adventure has given us lots of amazing memories and photos to look back to. There were no issues along the way thanks to the New Zealand Department of Conservation team who maintain the track to a high standard which allowed us to experienced the Milford Track to the fullest. We agreed that it deserves its reputation as being one of the best treks in the world.
Keep on scrolling for my full list of gear.
Our Trekking Gear List:
Here is what we carried in our back packs on the Milford Track.
- 40L back pack plus waterproof cover
- Gore-Tex trekking shoes with spare shoe laces
- Indoor slippers/walking sandals
- Woolen socks for night time
- 2 pairs of thick socks and 1 pair of thin socks for trekking
- Rain and windproof jacket and pants
- Hat and beanie
- Warm gloves, 1 thick scarf
- 1 duck down jacket
- 1 soft shell insulated jacket
- 2 pairs of thermal tops
- 1 thermal pants to wear at night
- -8 degree sleeping bags
- A set of comfy clothes to sleep in
- 2 quick dry long sleeve tops
- 2 quick dry short sleeve tops
- 2 quick dry long pants
- 1 fleece jacket
- 1 fleece pants
- Small quick dry towel
- Small foldable backpack
- 1L bottle water with water purifications tablets (1 tablet per litre) – we drank fresh river and stream water along the way
- Insect repellant, sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, antibacterial wipes, antibacterial hand sanitiser and pocket tissues
- Walking poles
- Solar phone charger
- Cameras, spare batteries, spare SD cards, lens cleaner, tripod.
- 2 plastic bags (1 for dirty clothes. 1 for rubbish)
- Foldable day back pack
- Head torch
- Cooking Gear: pot, small pans, cups, bowls (we used collapsible ones), plates, cutleries (fork, spoon, knife 1 each), small knife with cover, matches, tea towels, hiking stove and small gas canister,
- Food: Breakfast; quick oats, bananas, dried fruits & nuts. Snacks; dried fruits, mix trail but bars, small chocolate bars (snickers or bounty), lollies. Lunch; quick noodles with boiled egg (previously boiled), tea and coffee, apples, cheese, crackers & salami sticks. Dinner: Packs of instant rice with tuna, hiking ready made food (chicken and rice, beef stew, lamb and potato mash etc), cookies & a cup of tea
- Toiletries: Body & face wipes, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, face wash, moisturiser, hair ties
- First aid kit: Panadol, Iburprofen, motion sickness tablets, diarrhoea tablets, bandaids, antiseptic cream, ankle & knee straps (scissors etc from the first aid kit)
Side activity: The next day we rewarded ourselves with a morning cruise trip with Southern Discoveries to experience the spectacular Milford Sound up close. The cruise deal comes with an unlimited cooked breakfast. Speaking about hot cooked food, YES! No more packaged noodles or cold salamis. The amazing Milford Sounds fjord offered such breathtaking views, people from all around the come to enjoy this cruise trip and see the Sound up close. We felt so happy to be there in person.