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New Zealand Great Walks: Milford Track

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Milford Track

Out of New Zealand’s 10 great walks, I’ve ticked Milford Track off my bucket list! Actually, one of the reasons why I chose Milford Track over Kepler or Routeburn Tracks in Fiordlands is because Milford Track is dubbed the “World’s finest walk”! To elaborate on that, this walk brings you through forests, rivers, valleys and has the best toilet view in the world! 

Most of the walkers would choose to walk during the great walk season, which is on the 29th of October to 30th of April. Whereas, outside the great walk season, the track will be pretty much covered in snow with increased avalanche danger. Apart from that, the Milford Track is the perfect place to spot wildlife and the Kiwi bird! 

However, the walk doesn’t come free. At the end of the post, you will find a list of information, which includes the packing list, fees, and facilities for the Milford Track. Also, hut bookings run out within hours and days for the Milford Track. Hence, make sure you plan ahead!

Milford Track Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. How difficult is the Milford Track?
    • Milford Track in nature isn’t difficult to hike. In fact, what makes it sound difficult is the heavy backpack you have to carry with you throughout the four days. The hardest part will be the ascend to Mackinnon Pass. Other than that, the paths are well-formed and easy to take on! We’ve made friends with a 60-70-ish elderly and they could take on the hike with no problems at all! 
  2. What essential clothing should I pack for Milford Track?
    • We’ve actually prepared a packing list at the end of the post! Check it out!
  3. Can I remove my hiking boots and wear sandals when there’s a flood?
    • You can! But, we wouldn’t recommend it. Certain parts of the walk can be flooded during or after heavy rains. There are certain parts where you do need to have a firm footing as you might need to step on rocks to cross rivers.
  4. What kind of food should I bring?
    • Bring non-perishable foods but keep them light. During our walk, we had a lot of canned food, instant noodles, and nuts. Also, avoid bulky packaging as you need to carry your waste with you throughout the walk. Emphasize on light and energizing.
  5. How do I book my transportation/water taxi before and after Milford Track?
    • You can either book your transportation together with your huts, or make a separate booking with Fiordland Outdoors. We booked separately and selected the Self-Drive Package. Before your walk, head over to the DOC office in Te Anau and your transportation tickets will be attached together with your hut passes! 
  6. Any tips on booking your slots fast before it runs out?
    • When we booked for early November, the slots for the start of the great walk season were still pretty empty. On the contrary, for peak summer season, boy, they’re already full within minutes. If you’re looking to walk during the peak summer season, my advice is to book as soon as the bookings are open. Make sure you have your Plan B date with you!
  7. Do the huts provide beds?
    • Yes, they do! In fact, they’re quite comfortable! All you need to bring is a sleeping bag and something to serve as a pillow and you’re all set! 
  8. Can I quit the walk halfway?
    • There are rangers throughout the walk to help out with injuries. If you’re in the huts, they will arrange for a helicopter to come and get you. 
  9. How much is Milford Track guided and independent walk?
    • Milford Track guided walk can cost up to $2,395 in high season with Ultimate Hikes
    • Whereas the Milford Track Independent walk costs $70 (NZ Citizens) and $140 (International Visitors).
  10. Do the huts provide showers and towels?
    • Not for Independent Walkers. Those facilities are only available for Guided Walkers. 
  11. What is the difference in walking Milford Track in November and in March?
    • It does tend to rain a lot in November. But, we were lucky because it did not rain at all while we were there. Even the weather forecast gets it wrong every time. Despite that, it is pretty majestic when it rains!
  12. Is it safe to do the Milford Track without a guide?
    • Definitely! There will be so many others doing it with you! You won’t ever get lost because the paths are well-marked and they’re really safe. Safer than you thought.
  13. What is the age limit for Milford Track?
    • Children less than 10 years of age are not allowed.
  14. Is it necessary to carry a stove?
    • You don’t have to bring one during the great walk season. But, you do need to bring one if you’re walking out of the great walk season.
  15. Do I need to bring drinking water?
    • Fill up your bottle in the huts! However, they encourage hikers to boil it first before drinking!

First day to Clinton Hut (16,000 steps)

A couple taking a selfie with Milford Track signboard
The “Milford Track” signage at the start of the walk.

Arrival at Clinton Hut

The first day’s walk on the Milford Track was the shortest and easiest. Thankfully, after about an hour and 30 minutes, we arrived at Clinton Hut. Although it was an easy and flat walk, our shoulders and backs hurt really bad from carrying our backpacks that were obviously too heavy. For that reason, make sure you’ve got it strapped properly before starting the journey! 

After arriving at Clinton Hut, our first hut for the night, we picked our bunk and wrote our names and bed bunk number on a piece of paper attached to the kitchen door. Clinton Hut had two bunk rooms of about 10 to 11 bunk beds each. 

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. Some people decided to head out to see the glowworms, whereas we decided to skip that part and have an early rest.

second day To Mintaro Hut (41,000 steps)

On the second day, once we have packed our bags, we brought our “homes” with us and started our 6-hour journey to Mintaro Hut. Along the Milford Track, a few unpleasantly smelly drop toilets can be found, though some times we can’t find any at all. Mind over matter, I was glad that I did not have to bring my business into the bush. Thankfully, day 2 was easier because I figured out a better way to distribute the weight of my pack to my hip bones by tightening up the straps properly. Finally, my shoulders were liberated from the weight and I walked with feather-light steps.

Clinton valley on the second day

On day 2, highlights of the Milford Track started emerging gradually.

As we walked along Clinton River and amidst beech forest, we slowly realized that we were stepping into a valley surrounded by humps and humps of undulating mountains towering above us. Not only that, waterfalls were seen cascading down from the mountains in silvery streaks. Even though it was not raining, the waterfalls still looked pretty majestic! In fact, it was said that the Milford Track looked even better when it rains! 

On that day, Mackinnon Pass was already visible from the valley and we could roughly make out Mackinnon Shelter from where we were standing. Thankfully, the elevation profile was looking quite flat and there wasn’t much intense steep climb. For that reason, we made a decision to hike up to Mackinnon Pass on that day, instead of the pre-planned day 3. Actually, what prompted us to do that was because the weather was forecasted to rain on the third day. Obviously, we didn’t want a foggy and wet ascend to the highlight of our trip. 

early ascend to Mackinnon Pass

A mountain with avalanche crashing down
Witnessed an avalanche in action.

At 3pm, we arrived at Mintaro Hut

After choosing our beds quickly, we set off for Mackinnon Pass which was 2 hours 30 minutes away. Unexpectedly, an hour was all we took to go up. And apparently, there were 6 others who went up as well! At Mackinnon Pass, all the lethargy and soreness seemed to dissipate into nothingness. Not to mention, it was ridiculously and speechlessly breathtaking. Also, there was no one—absolutely no one there but us! For 45 minutes, it seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves. By chance, we also witnessed a few avalanches in action when we were there.

Mintaro Hut

A weka bird on the ground
The Weka that we kept encountering along our walk all four days. They’re all over the place!
A robin bird perched on a branch
Robin that wasn’t shy to interact with us during our walk.

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

Third day to Mackinnon Pass (35,000 steps)

A man overlooking the Clinton Valley
Louis overlooking the valley.
A pool with Clinton valley in the far distant
Mackinnon Pass view.
A group of hikers on the mackinnon pass on a clear day
The crowded Mackinnon Pass memorial with guides and hikers.

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

The toilet with the best view in the world

After walking past the memorial to the highest point of the Milford Track, we headed off to Mackinnon Shelter, where the toilet with the best view in the world was located. Although smelly, the toilet had an unsurpassed view of the Clinton Valley

Dramatic weather change

A lady with a hat and blue jacket posing with a sign at highest point of milford track
Taking a picture at the highest point of Mackinnon Pass.
A couple posing with a sign and looming clouds above them
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.

From a clear sky an hour earlier, lingering clouds filled the sky, hanging above us. When we arrived at the shelter, the weather changed drastically with the westerlies in full force. Everywhere, signs could be seen reminding us to put on extra layers and windproof clothing due to extreme weather conditions. 

Once we had our sandwiches in Mackinnon Shelter, we departed. Unfortunately, the frequent avalanches meant that we had to take the emergency track down. And boy, was the warden right. Last night, she told us that the emergency track was steeper and tougher on the knees. Indeed, the steep drop descend was truly the worst. Aside from feeling extreme soreness on my feet, I could feel my joints screaming in pain. 

Arriving at the highest waterfall in NZ

Just as we were close to give up on walking, we saw the sign that would lead us to Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand! Rejoice! Liberation! After dropping our packs at the shelter, removing several layers of clothing, and drinking a cup of Milo provided in the shelter, off we hurried to Sutherland Falls! Although it was another 45-minute walk to the falls, without our packs, we were unstoppable!

The powerful spray of Sutherland Falls

As we got nearer and nearer to the falls, the distinct roar of the water crashing down from 580 meters above got louder and louder. Fascinating. The crash was nothing like we have ever heard. A very strong and powerful crash—like the roar of a gigantic monster. Interestingly, the Sutherland Falls comes down in three stages. 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 Sutherland Falls

After the warden told us that we could go behind the waterfall last night, many backpackers went for it, even though it was ice cold. When we arrived, we heard a few ladies screaming in excitement and all of them came out entirely wet. Of course, we tried our best 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. Then, she immediately held Louis’ shoulders and looked him straight into the eye with the most earnest look and said, “You have to go.”

Actually, walking toward the waterfall was more challenging than going behind it, I’d say. As the spray generated was too strong, it blinded most of us. Louis was especially challenged because of his glasses. Not only that, the roaring wind was also constantly slapping our faces. At that time, we were cold, wet and blind. Thankfully, after we went behind the waterfall, it didn’t get any worse. In fact, we could see clearer now.

Dumpling Hut

After that, we went back to the shelter to retrieve our packs and continued another 1 hour to Dumpling Hut to spend our final night. At night, the warden who gave us the hut talk in Dumpling Hut was called Doug. A funny man he was, cracking up a lot of us 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 will come altogether tomorrow, which could lead to a heavy rainfall.”

Thankfully, of two days of critical views and rough terrains, we had nothing but sunshine and golden rays. Surely, the next day was going to be wet and challenging. Indeed, the rain sneaked by at midnight. The next morning, we woke up to wet grounds and drizzles. 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!” 

Final day to Sandfly Point (31,000 steps)

By 7.45am, we were out. Both my legs were so sore I could hardly walk right. I limped half of the time and “ow, ow, ow” all the way through. Pushing through our limits, we walked faster and faster, overtaking about 10 people on the way. Perhaps, only by walking faster would the pain dissipate. Surprisingly, there were more waterfalls to feast our eyes with, but nothing as spectacular as Sutherland Falls. 

Sandfly Point

The estimated walking time today was supposedly 6 to 7 hours, but we arrived within 5 hours at Sandfly Point. As the name implies, the sandflies here were thirstier and would attack at every possible opportunity. At 12.30pm, we were all taking shelter in the hut, away from the sandflies when a man peeked in. Without having the courtesy to shut 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 our arses out of there earlier! Undoubtedly, that was probably the happiest thing we heard all day!

The after-walk

A photo of a small hut and mitre peak at milford sound

After the water taxi, we arrived at the Milford Port, where cruises start. Our hiker friends had planned a relaxing trip on the cruise for a few nights after the walk. Unfortunately, the constant avalanches and forecasted rain meant that the road to Milford Sound had to be shut off, forcing the Milford Cruises to cancel all cruises, even our friends’ romantic cruise night. Even so, we were absolutely thankful for having seen Milford Track in clear, fine weather when it was forecasted to rain. 

Of course, how could we forget to mention about the souvenirs that the sandflies left us? The next few days, I, mostly, suffered from the incessant itch from the sandflies. For that reason, make sure you don’t forget your bug spray, folks! 

before the walk

Head over to Te Anau a day earlier or any time before your walk to collect your hut passes and transportation tickets at Te Anau’s DOC office. The staff will make sure that you are informed about the things you should pack for the walk as well as information regarding the weather.

The water taxi

A man is scratching his head, standing beside an orange boat

There are two water taxi options: Real Journey or Fiordland Outdoors. Real Journeys brings more passengers but they’re slower, while Fiordland Outdoors uses a smaller boat that runs faster, though only limited to 12 passengers a time. We don’t quite remember it now, but the ride was about 1-hour long.

How can you experience the Milford Track?

A photo of Mackinnon Shelter and surrounding mountains

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 $2,300 or more. 

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. On the contrary, guided walkers have those things. Additionally, they 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. 

What to pack for milford track:

Milford track packing list

Milford Track fees:

Milford track fee list

Hut facilities:

  1. 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
  2. No power points or plugs
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Enough gas stoves and gas for cooking and boiling water.
  6. Cold, running water to boil for drinking.
  7. Sinks for washing dishes and dish detergents. Cloths and table cleaner spray.
  8. Bunk beds and mattresses (no bed sheet, blankets, pillows,…)
  9. Adequate outdoor hooks to hang boots / clothes / raincoats

Accommodation before and/Or after the walk:

There are a few options for accommodation around Te Anau where we stayed in. For us, we booked the cheapest holiday park at that time at Getaway Te Anau and stayed before and after the walk. However, there are so many other good choices around suitable for anyone with a budget! We recommend booking.com to book your accommodation because they literally have everything! Not only that, you can easily find cheap stays or any accommodation that suits your budget!

  1. Te Anau Top 10 Holiday Park and Motels: Top 10 in Te Anau offers some really luxurious rooms and a spacious dining area and kitchen. There’s a really huge outdoor space for kids to run around for a good night’s sleep!
  2. Getaway Te Anau: This 5-star holiday park has some really pastel-colored rooms that make the entire place look squeaky clean! Not only that, their facilities are also really new, whereby nothing looks torn or overly-used in any way! Also, this is one of the top picks here!
  3. Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels:  lakeview hotel offers rooms with a scenic view of Lake Te Anau! They also have a big grass area to set up tents!
  4. YHA Te Anau: A budget-friendly hotel that has really spacious and cozy communal areas! It is only 3-minute drive away from departure points for Milford or Doubtful Sound cruises!
  5. Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers: Although this backpackers is slightly smaller than its counterparts in Te Anau, it is suitable for anyone with a budget and most importantly, comfy and is within walking distance away to the lake!
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