⬆︎ The view on the second day of the walk.
New Zealand has 10 great walks and I’ve ticked one of them — Milford Track — off my bucket list! I first heard about the Milford Track from my brother who intended to come to New Zealand but did not make it. So here I am, sharing bits and pieces of my experiences walking the “World’s finest walk”. If you’re not in for some spoilers because you want to experience the walk on your own, then feel free to skip this post 😉
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 any showers, no one to prepare meals and blankets for us, no comfortable beds and no hot chocolates provided throughout the hike. Of course, we do not have a guide to tell us things to look out for. Guided walkers can even enjoy a final cruise through Milford Sound on the last day as well as a good feast. I don’t find that to be a problem because I’ve gone 4 days without showering while camping in our campercar, and eating simple is my forte. I’ve also taken the Milford Cruise before booked under GoOrange which I’ve detailed the experiences in my last South Island travel itinerary.
⬆︎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 by 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 the night before and even treated ourselves to a luxury spicy Indian meal at Radha’s before arriving at Te Anau Downs to catch our 2pm water taxi. Hint: Regardless how good it would be, do not take very spicy food before the track because your stomach would be burning!
The water taxi
There were only 9 of us on the water taxi, while the other big boat (Real Journeys) had way more people on it. They moved slower than we did though. Our boat was jetting straight through! We lost mobile signal 10 minutes into the journey. The water taxi ride lasted longer than we thought — An hour and 15 minutes!
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”. Yeah, we’re on the right track. The water taxi driver joked, “There’s no turning back now!”
⬆︎The “Milford Track” signage at the start of the walk.
As we started walking, I can’t help but wondered: 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. The rain wasn’t too annoying, but it was the wetness that I disliked.
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, which was already halfway full! Many people were way ahead of us and arrived there earlier than we did. We chose our bunk and wrote our names and bed bunk number on a piece of sheet attached to the kitchen door.
⬆︎Our first night in Clinton Hut.
The first thing that captured my attention was the waterfall in action a distance away but could be seen clearly from the open area of Clinton Hut. 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; toilet behind me (not seen in picture)
Clinton Hut had two bunk rooms — one and two. 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 located on the right, equipped with plenty of gas cookers for everyone and 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 talk about Clinton Hut, 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. It’s also because we were a little lazy… and tired.
Woke up to shuffling feet, ruffling plastic bags, and tiring snores the next morning at about 6am because my earplugs fell off halfway at night. They disappeared into the dark abyss of my sleeping bag.
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. Everyone departed at different times, but we could still meet each other along the way when some of them stopped to use the toilet or take a break.
Oh yes, there were toilets provided along 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 realise that we were walking in a valley surrounded by humps and humps of undulating mountains towering above us with waterfalls cascading down from the mountains in silvery streaks. It was not raining, not even close. 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. However, 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. We didn’t want to miss out our only opportunity to the forecasted “heavy rain” the next day, so we would hike up Mackinnon Pass on our second day.
⬆︎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. We thought we were going to be late, so we rushed up the steep hill with all the energy that’s left in us after a gruelling 6-hour walk earlier that day. We were panting and running out of breath! 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!
⬆︎1. Interesting 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, with no mercy to any exposed skin on our bodies. I had a few bites at the back of my hands, two bites behind my earlobes, and a few more on the bare skin of my feet. These were some smart, yet annoying creatures.
As I was gazing at the waterfalls cascading down distance away just in front of the hut, and the round moon hanging on top of the waterfalls, I caught two other backpackers looking at them too whilst fanning away the sandflies.
“Beautiful, eh? The views.” I said.
“Yeah, it’ll be even perfect without these sandflies.” She replied.
“I know right!”
“The Māori legend has it that the sandflies – namu – were introduced so that people would not linger in the beautiful parts of the country. Keep us from being too entranced in the beauty of nature.” She added.
“But I think it’s just a made-up story to bring something good out of the bad ones.” She laughed and walked away because the sandflies were getting too much to handle.
The other guy who was listening to our conversation the whole time came beside me and said, “They’re the most vicious creatures ever. Milford Walk would be perfect without them.”
We had ramen for dinner, stupidly dining outside instead of in the solace of the huts. It was too crowded. A few sandflies dropped and drowned in our ramen, and we were fanning the whole time we were eating because more and more gathered around us. I got a few more bites from here. We dashed the moment we finished our noodles.
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 as well as the things to expect.
“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!”
We went to bed early again. Like last night, I lost my earplugs in the dead of night.
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. We didn’t need to rush up the day before to see Mackinnon Pass, but there were no regrets because the moment we saw how packed it was up there, we were glad we summit 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 a 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. Many of the backpackers had walking poles with them, and equally many of them did not use them. We were the latter. It didn’t bother me much, just the fact that my knees hurt when descending the track. It took us forever to go down, and I was on the verge of giving up at one point.
⬆︎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. I particularly felt like I had a refreshing face wash.
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.” Louis was still reluctant when she persisted, “Go. Promise me you’ll go. You’ll go.”
“Okay, we’ll go.” We said.
We went behind the waterfall with another man from America. Probably in his late fifties or early sixties, he is a father of two young adults who were about our age. He was unafraid to enter the waterfall yet didn’t want to go alone. His wife who’d fallen earlier today during the descend didn’t want to take any risks, so we went together. She was appreciative that we could take care of her husband for her.
I was leading when I got too afraid to do so. Louis took charge. 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. I had to pull down my hood because I couldn’t see anything with the spray getting into my eyes constantly. When we went behind the waterfall, it didn’t get any worse. In fact, we could see clearer now. It was exhilarating and we recorded the whole experience down on my GoPro.
⬆︎Trying my best to cover my eyes from the shrapnel-like shots of water spitting out from the falls.
⬆︎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. The giant won big time.
⬆︎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 last part was the toughest, in my opinion. It was long, dull, and tedious. I kept looking out for Sandfly Point sign, but there seemed to be more miles to go before we finally arrived at “Sandfly Kingdom”. Rule of thumb, when we couldn’t hear waterfalls or see creeks anymore, coming to tranquil waters, we realised that we’re at Sandfly Point where we would board our last water taxi.
The sandflies here were thirstier and would attack at every possible opportunity. At 12.30pm, in the shelter prepared for hikers to be 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.” Supposedly 2pm water taxi, we could get out from there an hour 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 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, a gem tucked away in the secluded corner of the earth, I don’t know if I could love everywhere else the same now. It was definitely the best investment of my money and I’ve learned and seen so much. So much more than I’d hoped to.
After the walk, we went back to Radha’s again for another spicy Indian meal.
⬆︎Milford Sound at last! We waited here to catch our bus back to Te Anau Downs where we parked.
What we packed:
⬆︎One of the many suspension bridges we crossed during the course of 4 days. Each one of them with spectacular views as another.
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)
14. One big metal bowl and one small metal bowl (work for boiling water too)
16. Waterproof coats and trousers
17. Food (enough for 4 days – 9 meals)
19. Personal medication
20. First aid kit
24. Cutting board
26. Menstrual cup
27. Powerbank and cables.
30. Lots of spare camera batteries.
⬆︎We crossed many streams, waterfalls, and rocky gravel tracks like these.
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 mandarin oranges
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
Chocolate and peanut butter spread
3 x 8 Pita breads
6 x tuna cans
1 x corn
Of course the things that I’ve listed down above were separated into half to be carried by Louis and me. In all honesty, the food that we carried were too heavy because they were mostly fresh food and had a lot of water weight. Like I said, most of the backpackers brought dried, packaged food which were way lighter, but we tried to treat planet kinder and wouldn’t want to add more plastic waste just because we were camping.
We used a bread loaf bag as our rubbish bag, and at the end of the day, the bag wasn’t even halfway full! *pat ourselves on the back*
Milford Track fees:
⬆︎One of the many suspension bridges in the Milford Track.
In the Great Walks season (29 October to 30 April), it would cost NZ citizens and ordinarily resident in NZ $70 per person per night. Children can go for free.
As an international visitor, I paid double the fee, which was $140 per night. It totaled up to $420 for 3 nights in Milford Track’s huts. We were not allowed to pitch our own tents and it was compulsory for us to book the huts.
That was $840 for both Louis and me.
Other than that, we had to book our transport to the start of the track. We booked through Fiordland Outdoors Co.
Breakdown of transportation fee:
We had to book
2pm water taxi from Te Anau Downs (where we parked our cars for 4 days) to the start of the Milford Track = $93 per person
2pm Sandfly Point water taxi where we get on at the end of the Milford Track (Sandfly Point) to Milford Sound (where the crowded tourists would get on boat cruises to tour Milford Sound) = $54 per person
2.30pm bus that sends us back from Milford Sound to Te Anau Downs to where we parked = $54 per person The total cost for transportation was another $402 for two people.
We paid $1242 for Milford Track.
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.
⬆︎Making new friends that share the same passion during our time doing the Milford Track. We usually walk the whole 4 days with the same people.