The Milford Track is an epic adventure that provides the quintessential trekking experience of Fiordlands National Park. Known among the other Great Walks as the "finest walk in the world," you won’t find too many people that will argue with that designation. The point-to-point trek spans four days and covers 53.5 kilometers, and along the way hikers can stay in three wonderfully maintained huts before finishing the route in Milford Sound. This is one of the most diverse treks in New Zealand, and the trail leads through lush rainforest, over a rugged alpine pass, under towering 580-meter waterfalls, and below huge cliffs. While it is unfortunate that the trek has to end at all, the upside is that it terminates in Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The logistics of this trek can be a bit tricky. You'll need a boat reservation to take you from Te Anau Downs to the trailhead and another boat from Sandfly Point to the Milford Sound transit station; then you'll need a bus ride back to Te Anau Downs, where you left a vehicle, or back into Te Anau if you took a bus. This trek also requires planning almost a year in advance because they only allow 40 hikers per day, and hiking is only in one direction, so the reservations are booked up for the entire year within two hours of being made available. You’ll need to watch the reservation site carefully for the announcement of when Milford Track reservations will be open for the next year. Set an alarm so you don’t forget, or you won’t get a spot. In the end, you’ll be very glad you did.
The only negative that should be noted about the Milford Track is that it is home to a ubiquitous and relentless population of sandflies. They swarm and bite, and for those who are at all sensitive to bug bites, it is highly recommended to bring far stronger bug spray and bug-resistant clothing than you think you’ll need. Becoming familiar with reservations, transportation and lodging and packing is strongly recommended; you can read more about Great Walks logistics here. To learn more about nearby Great Walks, check out the Routeburn Track and the Kepler Track.
Your first day begins at Te Anau Downs for your reserved boat ride to the trailhead. Do not be late because the boat leaves promptly, and there are only two per day. A scenic boat ride of a little more than an hour takes you to the very top of Lake Te Anau to the start of the Milford Track. Your first night will be spent in the Clinton Hut. To get there is a rather short 5-kilometer walk through lovely beech forest on the banks of the Clinton River. There is a 15-minute side trip to the Wetland Walkway with an open clearing of some of the surrounding peaks. If you have the energy, be sure to take the 10-minute side trip to the mossy overhangs where you'll have the chance to see glow worms, a truly unique experience.
This will feel a lot more like your first day trekking the Milford Track because the Mintaro Hut sits over 16 kilometers up the valley. Enjoy countless overlooks along the Clinton River and from the towering cliffs all around you. Mintaro Hut sits near Lake Mintaro, the source of the Clinton River located at the base of Mackinnon Pass, which is the alpine crossing you’ll be making on Day 3. The vegetation will change dramatically as you climb slowly toward the upper valley. Make sure to keep an eye out for waterfalls and hanging snowfields on the peaks around you.
Every day of the Milford Track is more scenic than the day before it, and nothing will make this more apparent than the awe-inspiring Mackinnon Pass that you will traverse at the start of your 14-kilometer trek to Dumpling Hut on the other side. The pass sits at 1,154 meters, which may not sound very high, but at this latitude the weather and surroundings will make it clear that this is not a trivial place to be when conditions are not ideal. There is an emergency shelter in case your day of crossing is one of those less than ideal cases.
From the pass, drop quickly through alpine gardens back into the rainforest while admiring the “12-second Drop” cliff on the north side of Mackinnon Pass. The Burn River will guide you lower next to scenic cascades as you make your way toward Quintin Shelter, where the premium hut attendants usually leave free coffee for the main trekkers. At the shelter it is highly recommended to drop pack and take the 1.5-hour side trip to the impressive Sutherland Falls, which drops 580 meters from Lake Quill in three stages. After returning to Quintin Shelter, it is only another hour or so to get to Dumpling Hut for your stay for the night.
The last day of the Milford Track that leads from Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point is 18 kilometers and takes roughly six hours to complete. Follow the Arthur River as it flows to dramatic Mackay Falls and the interesting Bell Rock. Continue north beyond Lake Ada and a smooth wide path for the last 3 kilometers to Sandfly Point and enjoy the lush rainforest and towering cliffs the whole time. From Sandfly Point, catch your reserved boat ride into world-famous Milford Sound, where you will take a bus on the scenic drive back to Te Anau Downs.