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New Zealand Great Walks: Milford Track

⬆︎ The view on the second day of the walk.

Out of New Zealand’s 10 great walks and I’ve ticked Milford Track off my bucket list! So here I am, sharing bits and pieces of my experiences walking the “World’s finest walk”

How can you experience the Milford Track?

Milford Track can be experienced either by walking it independently or guided. We chose to walk it independently because it saved us more money compared to a guided walk, which could amount up to 3k. 

A further breakdown of the fee can be found below.

Difference between independent and guided walk

The difference between an independent walk and a guided walk is that we do not have luxuries like showers, meals and snacks, blankets, and hot showers

Guided walkers have a guide to tell them the things to look out for. They can also take a scenic cruise on the breathtaking Milford Sound and on the last day. 

⬆︎We took a detour to see this beautiful waterfall along the walk on the second day in Clinton Valley.

We started the walk on the 5th of November and finished on the 8th of November.

The day before the walk

Upon collecting our hut passes and transportation tickets at Te Anau’s DOC office, we stayed overnight in Te Anau. We arrived at Te Anau Downs the next day to catch our 2pm water taxi. 

The water taxi

We lost mobile signal 10 minutes into the journey. The water taxi ride lasted longer than we thought – an hour!

The sky was pouring one moment and drizzling the next. It was sort of a “refreshing” start for us. 

DOC showed us the weather forecast which was not looking great for us. It was forecasted that the rain would pour all four days of our walk. *sigh*

First day from Glade Wharf (16,000 steps)

Upon arriving at the start of the walk, Glade Wharf, we saw a sign that read “Milford Track”. 

⬆︎The “Milford Track” signage at the start of the walk.

As we started walking, I can’t help but wonder: what’s so special about this walk? There’s nothing but trees and long, flat track all the way through! 

One thing’s for sure — my shoulders were sore because I did not strap my bag the right way. 

Arriving at Clinton Hut

The first day’s walk was the shortest and easiest. Thankfully, after about an hour and 30 minutes, we arrived at Clinton Hut. 

We chose our bunk and wrote our names and bed bunk number on a piece of paper attached to the kitchen door.

⬆︎Our first night in Clinton Hut.

The first thing that captured my attention was the waterfall cascading down a distance away. It was flowing, unswerving and steady. 

Sadly, no one was admiring the waterfall as the sandflies attacked as soon as they had the chance.

⬆︎The layout of Clinton Hut: Bunk rooms on the left and in front; kitchen and common room on the right.

Clinton Hut had two bunk rooms. Each bunk rooms had about 10 to 11 bunk beds. 

The first thing that caught our attention was the sign that reminded everyone to close the doors after entering. The sandflies were banging on the windows demanding to enter the bunk rooms — it was terrifying! 

The kitchen was equipped with plenty of gas cookers for everyone with enough benches and tables for people to hangout. 

There was also cold running water with sponges, tablecloths and detergents provided. The toilet was unisex, with 3 cubicles in one area and another large toilet located outside.

At 8pm, hut warden — Ross gave us a hut talk about etiquette, weather forecast, and the birds we could watch out for along the walk. 

He told us that we had a chance to see Kiwi birds, but the chances were slim.

⬆︎Robin that wasn’t shy to interact with us during our walk.

Most of the backpackers brought a book, hung around making friends, or slept ridiculously early to pass time at night. 

We went to bed after the talk. It was probably 9pm. I was so glad that I brought earplugs because I could hardly go to sleep from all the shuffling feet, ruffling plastic bags, and tiring snores. 

Some people decided to head out to see the glowworms but we decided to skip that part because we’ve seen glowworms before. 

Starting our second day (41,000 steps)

Once we have packed our bags, we brought our “homes” with us and started our 6-hour journey to Mintaro Hut

Toilets were scattered throughout the track, though they are unpleasantly smelly. Mind over matter. I was glad that I did not have to bring my business into the bush.

Day 2 was easier because I figured out a better way to distribute the weight of my pack to my hip bones. My shoulders were liberated from the weight and I walked with feather-light steps.

⬆︎The Weka that we kept encountering along our walk all four days. They’re all over the place!

Magical views on the second day

Great views started emerging gradually on day 2. 

We were walking along Clinton River and amidst beech forest. At the halfway mark, we came to realize that we were walking in a valley surrounded by humps and humps of undulating mountains towering above us. Waterfalls cascading down from the mountains in silvery streaks. 

We took in the view on a tranquil, clear day with occasional sunshine and native birds singing to melodious tunes that were otherworldly. 

⬆︎1. Crystal clear stream of Clinton River.

2. Mossy and fragile walk along the track on the second day.

3. The fragile vegetation along our walk. I tried feeling it, and it was absolutely soft to the touch!

⬆︎1. Wandering through beech forest.

2. Lots of old and decaying fallen trees along our walk. 

3. Lovely spot for a picnic, or a photo.

 

We could see Mackinnon Pass from the valley and could roughly make out the image of Mackinnon Shelter from below. 

The elevation profile was looking quite good and there wasn’t much intense steep climb, which we were thankful for. It was then that we made a crazy decision — we would hike up to Mackinnon Pass that day.

⬆︎1. Still Clinton River – seems like the river never ends, eh?

2. Starting to enter Clinton Valley for the most epic view of the valley, and a glimpse of Mackinnon Pass from below.

3.Crossing one of the many bridges along the walk with dramatic mountain views.

⬆︎Witnessed and heard heaps of helicopters coming in sending provisions and goods. The second one seemed like a toilet being carried away.

Mackinnon Pass is the highlight of Milford Track, at the highest point of 1154m, we could see the Clinton Valley and Lake Mintaro

Milford is notoriously known for its wet all-year weather with rainfall recorded as much as 300+ days a year

Unfortunately, Mackinnon Pass can easily fog up with persistent mists in the wee hours of morning that could obstruct the view of the valley. 

⬆︎Favourite spot on our way to Mintaro Hut on day 2. We had to climb on rocks and cross a bridge that was built on top of rocks with streams flowing underneath our feet. It was sick!

Arriving at Mintaro Hut and early ascend to Mackinnon Pass

At 3pm, we arrived at Mintaro Hut. 

Quickly chose our beds, went to the toilet and set off for Mackinnon Pass which was 2 hours 30 minutes away — according to the sign posted on the track. 

Thinking we were going to be late, we rushed up the steep hill with all the energy that’s left in us after a grueling 6-hour walk earlier that day. 

Funny enough, we arrived within an hour. Apparently, we were not the only ones who have thought of summiting Mackinnon Pass, there were 6 others who went up as well!

⬆︎1Interesting slanted rocks on our hike up to Mackinnon Pass. It was extremely difficult to walk on them.

2. Louis taking a rest after an intense hike almost reaching the memorial.

3. Old tree with lots of mushrooms residing on it.

4. Famous alpine buttercups along the track to Mackinnon Pass and while we descend too.

At the top, all the lethargy and soreness seemed to dissipate into nothingness — it was ridiculously and speechlessly breathtaking.

⬆︎Breathtaking view at Mackinnon Pass overlooking Clinton Valley.

There was also no one — absolutely no one there but us! It seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves for 45 minutes. We also witnessed few avalanches in action when we were there.

⬆︎Witnessed an avalanche in action.

Back to Mintaro Hut

Quarter to 5, we decided that it’s time to return to Mintaro Hut.

Taking a closer look at Mintaro Hut, it was a two-storey hut that was equally large to fit the 40 something of us. Sandflies here were equally viscous.

Our hut talk started at 7.30pm by a lady hut warden. Most of the things she covered were very similar to the ones we’ve heard on the first day. The only difference was the weather forecast and some other things to take note on the track tomorrow.

“The weather’s not looking very good tomorrow. Please take it slow as it is dangerous to rush things. Take your time,” She repeated again and again.

“The avalanches you kept hearing today meant that you would be going down the emergency track tomorrow instead of the long way around. It’ll be even steeper with long drops, which can be really painful for your joints. Take it SLOW.”

“When you see the sign that directs you to Sutherland Falls. GO. It’s so worth it! It’s the largest waterfall in New Zealand.”

“Do you know that you can go behind the waterfall? It’s scary, but definitely worth a shot!”

Third day to Mackinnon Pass (35,000 steps)

 

Ironically, walking up Mackinnon Pass on the third day with our packs on our backs wasn’t that much of a challenging feat. We took it slow and we’re up there in no time. Because we rushed things the day before, our legs were very sore, that hindered my performance a lot. 

⬆︎Third day of Milford Track up Mackinnon Pass. Defying weather forecast with an absolutely pleasing weather and clear sky.

⬆︎The crowded Mackinnon Pass memorial with guides and hikers.

⬆︎More alpine views 

Surprisingly, the weather was very clear and sunny. The moment we saw how packed it was up there, we were glad we summited the day before.

The toilet with the best view in the world

We walked pass the memorial to the highest point and then to Mackinnon Shelter, where the toilet with the best view in the world was located. 

The toilet, though smelly, had an unsurpassed view of the Clinton Valley when you’re inside the cubicle. It was an awe-inspiring and anxious experience. 

⬆︎Toilet with the best view in the world just outside of Mackinnon Shelter.

⬆︎Taking a picture at the highest point of Mackinnon Pass.

⬆︎Taking the same photo few minutes later with the roaming and grumpy clouds over us. This showed the extreme weather conditions that can change rapidly up there.

Dramatic weather change

From there, the weather changed dramatically with the westerlies in full force. We were exposed and blown by the wrong westerlies in all possible directions. 

From a clear sky an hour before, the sky was now full of lingering clouds hanging above us. Signs were posted everywhere, reminding us to put on extra layers and windproof clothing due to extreme weather conditions. 

We had our sandwiches in Mackinnon Shelter, and departed once we have our tummies full. The frequent avalanches had us taking the emergency track down. 

And boy, was the warden right. The steep drop descend was truly the worst. Aside from feeling extreme soreness on my feet, I could feel my joints screaming in pain. 

⬆︎The beautiful views at Mackinnon Shelter.

⬆︎Taking the Emergency Track down because of avalanche danger.

⬆︎The highest waterfall in NZ

Arriving at the highest waterfall in NZ

Just when I thought I was breaking apart, I saw the sign that led us to Sutherland Falls! Ah, liberation! 

We dropped our packs at the shelter, removed several layers of clothing, drank some Milo provided in the shelter and off we hurried to Sutherland Falls! 

It was another 45-minute walk to the falls, but without our packs, we were unstoppable!

⬆︎The water flowed down in three stages.

The powerful spray of the waterfall

When we got nearer and nearer to the falls, we could hear the distinct roar of the water crashing down from 580 meters above. 

The crash was nothing we have ever heard. It was a very strong and powerful crash — like the roar of a gigantic monster. 

When the water touched the bottom, it split apart in a wide disk and the spray drenched all of us standing at a far distance admiring the giant. 

Even with our raincoats, we were wet to the core. 

 

Going behind the waterfall

Many hikers went behind the waterfall after hearing what the warden said last night. I heard a few ladies screaming in excitement and all of them came out entirely wet. 

We tried not to get our shoes wet because it would be utterly impossible to dry them after. Wet boots are mainly just unpleasant to walk in. 

As we were turning back to go, one of the hikers asked us if we’ve gone behind the waterfall and we said no. She then held Louis’ shoulders and looked him straight into the eye with the most earnest look and said, “You have to go.” 

⬆︎Trying my best to cover my eyes from the shrapnel-like shots of water spitting out from the falls.

“Okay, we’ll go.” We said. 

The spray generated was too much and it blinded most of us. Louis was especially challenged because of his glasses. The wind from the waterfall was also too strong and cold for us. 

When we went behind the waterfall, it didn’t get any worse. In fact, we could see clearer now. We were behind the waterfall!

⬆︎GoPro footages from when we entered the back of Sutherland Falls.

Going to the third hut – Dumpling Hut

We went back to the shelter to retrieve our packs and continued another 1 hour to Dumpling Hut to spend our last night. 

The warden who gave us the hut talk in Dumpling Hut was called Doug. He was a funny man. He made a lot of people laugh during his hut talk when he told us what to expect during the walk the next day. 

With two days of good weather and sunshine, I heard him saying, “The rain that was supposed to come today didn’t, so it would come altogether tomorrow, which could lead to a heavy rainfall.”

⬆︎Dumpling Hut to spend our last night before heading to Sandfly Point tomorrow.

Hand on my heart, I thank God for the good weather, two days of critical views and rough terrains, we had nothing but sunshine and golden rays. The next day was going to be challenging for sure.

Sure enough, the rain sneaked by at midnight. We woke up to wet grounds in the morning. 

At 7am, Doug came in and announced, “Good news! The river didn’t rise too high — only up to the ankles, which is fine. You can go ahead and move out if you want!” 

Last day to Sandfly Point (31,000 steps)

We moved out by 7.45am. My legs were both so sore I could hardly walk right. I limped half of the time and “ow, ow, ow” all the way through. 

I pushed through though, walking faster and faster to the point that we overtook about 10 people on the way. 

There were more waterfalls to feast our eyes with, but nothing as spectacular as Sutherland Falls. 

⬆︎One of the many waterfalls we encountered on our last day.

⬆︎We were so happy because we knew that we were about 1hr30mins away from Sandfly Point!

Arrival at Sandfly Point (finally!)

The estimated walking time today was supposedly 6 to 7 hours, but we arrived within 5 hours at Sandfly Point

The sandflies here were thirstier and would attack at every possible opportunity. 

At 12.30pm, in the hut prepared for us to take shelter from sandflies, a man peeked in, without having the courtesy to close the door, he boomed, “We’ll move out at 1pm when we have more of you.” 

A supposedly 2pm water taxi had become 12.30pm! We could get out from there earlier! That was probably the happiest thing we heard all day!

⬆︎1. The arduous and tedious long-winded path to Sandfly Point, it felt like forever!

2. The shelter to help protect us from vicious sandflies! There were still many sandflies inside nonetheless.

3. Taking an early water taxi to Milford Sound because we arrived early! Let’s get out of this sandfly land!

The after-walk

The next few days I suffered from the incessant itch left as a souvenir from the sandflies. It was crazy! Don’t forget your bug spray, folks!

After Milford Track, I don’t know if I can see everywhere else the same now. It was definitely the best use of my money. 

Of course, we tucked in to a good Indian meal after that.

⬆︎Milford Sound at last! We waited here to catch our bus back to Te Anau Downs where we parked.

What we packed:

 

1. Two thermal tops and pants (I ended up using only one pair)

2. Two set of clothes (one t-shirt and one hooded sweater)

3. Undergarments (fresh for 4 days)

4. A sleeping bag (lightweight ones because it’s hot in the huts with all the backpackers inside anyways)

5. Toiletries (skip the shampoo or body wash because there’s no shower)

6. Microfibre towels

7. 3 woollen socks (very important to have good quality thick socks to prevent blisters and keep your feet warm)

8. Durable, good quality and well broken into hiking shoes / boots / runners.

9. Bug spray (so important)

10. Antiseptic cream 

11. Sunscreen (didn’t use much because our bug spray had sunscreen that came with it)

12. Dry shampoo (not compulsory but I like to keep things fresh and non-oily)

13. Cutleries 

14. One big metal bowl and one small metal bowl (work for boiling water too)

15. Lighter 

16. Waterproof coats and trousers

17. Food (enough for 4 days – 9 meals)

18. Headlight

19. Personal medication 

20. First aid kit

21. Diary

22. Earplugs

23. Cap

24. Cutting board

25. Knife 

26. Menstrual cup

27. Powerbank and cables.

28. DSLR 

29. GoPro

30. Lots of spare camera batteries.

Food:

We tried to reduce plastic waste as much as we could, so our bags were heavier than other backpackers who brought dried food and packaged processed food.

We ate “rich” sandwiches for lunch and dinner which typically consisted of:

2x pita breads, tomato slices, cucumber slices, sprouts, tuna and laoganma (as the sauce).

For snacks, we usually snack on fruits, nuts, chocolates and carrots.

For 4 days, we brought:

8 apples

8 mandarin oranges 

2 cucumbers

4 carrots 

4 tomatoes

1 box of sprouts

1 bottle of laoganma

A bag of dates

A bag of chocolate peanut butter bites

A bag of mixed nuts 

A 5-pack shim ramen

Sugar

Hot chocolate

Chocolate and peanut butter spread 

3 x 8 Pita breads

6 x tuna cans 

1 x corn

Fish oil

Berocca

Milford Track fees:

In the Great Walks season (29 October to 30 April): 

NZ citizens and ordinarily resident in NZ: $70 per person per night 

Children: free

International visitor: $140 per person per night. 

Total: $420 for 3 nights

Transport:

2pm water taxi from Te Anau Downs: $93 per person

2pm Sandfly Point water taxi: $54 per person

2.30pm bus: $54 per person



Total: $1242

Hut facilities:

Flush toilets and cold running water during Great Walks season. There’s usually one changing room with a sink attached so you could wipe your body with some cloths.

No power points or plugs

No electric lights, only solar-powered lights that go off by 10-10.30pm and come back by 6.30am. Everyone brought a headline and carried it with them everywhere they go. It came in handy.

Clinton Hut had some unsolved puzzles laying there on the kitchen tables for entertainment and some books. Did not see similar things in two other huts for entertainment.

Enough gas stoves and gas for cooking and boiling water.

Sinks for washing dishes and dish detergents. Cloths and table cleaner spray.

Bunk beds and mattresses (no bed sheet, blankets, pillows,…)

Enough hangers to hang boots / clothes / raincoats

Accommodation before and after the walk:

There are a few options for accommodation around Te Anau where we stayed in. We booked the cheapest holiday park at that time at Getaway Te Anau and stayed before and after the walk. 

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