Milford Track

The Milford Track, arguably New Zealand’s most famous walk, is a 53.5km hike in the South Island of New Zealand from Lake Te Anau through the majestic Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound, one of the natural wonders of the world.

February 2017

South Island, New Zealand

54kms (33.5m)

5 days/4 nights

The Milford Track, arguably New Zealand’s most famous walk, is a 53.5km hike in the South Island of New Zealand from Lake Te Anau through the majestic Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound, one of the natural wonders of the world. It leads you across suspension bridges, boardwalks and a mountain pass showing you pristine lakes, sky-scraping mountain peaks and enormous valley views.

On a sunny day, the Milford Track is picture postcard perfect, but many claim you only truly experience the magic when it rains, with hundreds of waterfalls forming on the steep mountainsides. We experienced both weather and saw it at its absolute best.

The track finishes at Sandfly Point on Milford Sound.

It is not an easy hike, nor a brutally hard one. Graded moderate, it is manageable for most fitness levels and differing age groups.

Who Joined me?

I joined two friends from Melbourne, two MS fundraising walkers, Elizabeth Melchior and Dianne Ramsay, and Dianne’s daughter, Jo, from Sydney. We flew from our separate states, Victoria, and New South Wales, directly to Queenstown, New Zealand.

Day 1 Queenstown/Te Anau to Glade House

1.6km (1m): Easy

Ferry ride from Te Anau to start of Milford Track

It is a two-and-a-half-hour journey from Queenstown to Te Anau, where we enjoy lunch at the Hollyford Café before driving a further 30 minutes to Te Anau Downs. Here we board a boat for a pleasant one-hour cruise on Lake Te Anau to Glade Wharf, the official start of the Milford Track.

Official start of Milford Track

It is only a short level walk to our lodge, Glade House, where we settle into our bunk accommodation. It has a large dining room and plenty of lounge areas to get to know your fellow walkers. An easy bush walk up Glade Burn in the afternoon familiarises you with the local terrain.  

Day 2: Glade House to Pompolona Lodge

16kms (10m): Moderate

Track Terrain

Mostly flat graded track with some uneven and rocky sections and a short incline to the Lodge.

Today, after breakfast and packing our lunch, we cross the Clinton River swing bridge and follow the river along a graded track. Beech forest covers this section until you get to the Prairie–a wide open space with tall grass and Manuka bush. Gloomy with grey skies, but the rain stayed away.

Day 3 Pompolona Lodge via Mackinnon Pass to Quinton Lodge

15kms (9m): Challenging

Track Terrain

Steep uphill following zig zags to Pass Hut on a rocky, uneven track.  Steep downhill (including steps) to Quintin Lodge.

Safely tucked away in Pompolona Lodge, it bucketed down that night. The guides were ecstatic. This meant we saw many waterfalls forming on the steep mountain slopes throughout our walk today. It was a magical experience.

Waterfall delight on Milford Track
Heading towards Mackinnon Pass

I found the conditions easy as the track led up the head of Clinton Valley before I suffered a diabetic hypoglycaemic event (low Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs)) climbing the Mackinnon Pass in a series of steep switchbacks. The guides helped me raise my BGLs with a warm sugary hot chocolate.

Mackinnon Pass is the highest point (1,154 metres above sea level) on the Milford Track between Lake Te Anau and the Arthur Valley in Fiordland National Park. It usually rewards you with spectacular panoramic views just past the Mackinnon Memorial site. The best views, once the clouds lift, are at the clifftop-positioned toilet next to Pass Hut. Leave the door open and gloat at your good fortune with this private pleasure.

Dianne and Jo at Mackinnon Pass Memorial looked on by exhausted hiker

It usually takes mere mortals a good three hours to descend this pass into the Arthur Valley, but the hot chocolate and large lunch at Pass Hut had me motoring down the steep hill in well under two hours. It was rocky, steep, and slippery, and I could have fallen. I used my trekking poles for stability and support the entire way.

Passing Dudleigh Falls

A friend of mine broke her ankle on this same stretch, so exercise caution if you want to avoid injury and possibly end your hike. Fortunately, I survived unscathed.

Walking buddies in a Lord of the Rings-like enchanted forest
Quinton Lodge

The lodge had muffins and tea set up for afternoon tea. After reviving ourselves, we head out again for a one-and-a-half-hour return walk to Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s tallest waterfall. You can walk beneath it in full rain gear for a total drenching. So much fun!

Day 4 Quinton Lodge via Sandfly Point to Mitre Peak Lodge

21kms (13m): Moderate
Track Terrain

Mainly flat, well-graded track with uneven and rocky sections.

View leaving Quinton Lodge

It is the day of more waterfalls, even without rain. Mackay Falls is first, followed by Giants Gate where we stop for lunch.

Mackay Falls

A few brave souls have a refreshing dip in the icy water.

Last moments on the Milford Track before reaching Sandfly Point

From here a wide track leads to Sandfly Point, so aptly named.

A water taxi or ferry transports you to Milford Sound and your accommodation at Mitre Peak Lodge.

A room with a view at Mitre Peak Lodge

All Lodge rooms enjoy a captivating view of Mitre Peak. I loved the bar where the walkers meet for a well-earned celebration. Above the fireplace, there is a mass of discarded boots. Some are encased in duct tape, no doubt a large ditch effort by its owner to keep the soles attached. I sat staring at the boots, wondering at the many fine stories emanating from those countless leather hides.

Day 5 Milford Sound cruise and return bus to Queenstown

No walking today. An early morning misty boat cruise of the famous Milford Sound before our return bus trip to Queenstown. We arrive at Ultimate Hikes Centre around 4pm. We have one more night in Queenstown to enjoy a celebratory meal before departing home.

Milford Sound

Logistics

You can stay in basic Department of Conservation Huts for a small charge or do it with one of the few hiking tour operators permitted here using their own custom-made accommodation huts. We chose Ultimate Hikes. For full itinerary details, visit their website here. A little costly, but they handle everything for you. Very stress-free and relaxing. Amenities are of a good standard with adequate accommodation and plentiful, wholesome food. There were ample choices available with breakfast and lunch buffets. Making your own lunch each day ensured you selected the foods you liked. The guides were fun, amiable, competent and knowledgeable, steering us safely along the route.  

Highlights

Endless. As you can read from the daily descriptions you are spoilt for choice.

Lowlights

The sand flies are bad. You need DEET-strength insecticide to control these annoying little creatures. Carrying a fly net or getting earlier instruction on how to handle them might have helped. It is best not to swat or squash them on your skin. Squashing them emits a scent that encourages their brothers and sisters to join them, happily gnawing away at your flesh.

What have I learnt?

Walking to the magnificent Milford Sound on the Milford Track was a wonderful experience, but the social interaction with my walking buddies and like-minded people I met on this guided walk was equally enjoyable.

Getting there

After flying into Queenstown, allow an extra night’s accommodation on either side of the walk. The first day to attend a pre-walk briefing and gear check at Ultimate Hikes’s Centre in Queenstown. And the last for a night of celebration with plenty of great eateries here. I suggest you allow 7-8 days to give yourself ample time to enjoy the walk and Queenstown.

Queenstown, originally carved out of the land by glaciers, rivers, and lakes, is a beautiful town. Full of innovative adventurers and pioneers, it is also an exciting one, considered by many the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’. Pick from any of these popular activities—jet boating, bungy jumping, swing and zip lines, hang gliding, paragliding, skydiving, mountain biking, bubble soccer, and competitive human foosball–for a real adrenalin boost.  

Jetboating at Skippers Canyon
Katrina and Liz enjoying our celebratory dinner at Botswana Butchery Queenstown

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