For many, walking the four-day Milford Track is a once in a lifetime experience. Known as the ‘finest walk in the world’ the Milford Track traverses a remote section of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park and includes such incredible sights as Sutherland Falls, Mackinnon Pass, Mackay Falls and the stunning beauty of Milford Sound. I walked the Milford Track in late October, at the very beginning of the tramping season in Fiordland. This Milford Track trip report will help prepare those interested in walking this incredible route for this 53.5 km hike.
Day One – Te Anau to Clinton Hut
One of my favorite features of the Milford Track is the fact that you can only access the start and finish by boat. While this certainly adds a layer of complexity to trip planning and logistics, it also provides a unique aspect to this incredible hike. My day began in the small town of Te Anau, about 30 minutes south of Te Anau Downs, where the boat departs to take you to the start of the Milford track. Having reserved my transportation in advance (which I highly recommend to everyone!) I simply met my shuttle at the designated pick-up point and in 30 short minutes I was standing on the dock at Te Anau Downs.
The boat from Te Anau Downs winds its way up Lake Te Anau to Glade Wharf, the start of the Milford Track. The trip certainly had a different aura than any boat ride I’ve ever taken before. Nearly thirty eager walkers all stashed their bags on the boat and made excited conversation with their fellow hikers while taking in the incredible scenery. Topics ranged from weather forecasts to which brand of industrial strength bug spray we’d brought to deal with the inevitable sand-flies.
Once arriving at Glade Wharf, I began the easy, hourlong walk to Clinton Hut. I had the good fortune of starting on a beautiful day with no rain in sight-a rarity for this part of New Zealand! The first day on the Milford Track is purposefully designed to be a short one. Since getting to the start of the Track can take several hours, the first hut is located just 5 short kilometers up the trail from Glade Wharf. Given this, you’ll be able to take your time and enjoy the beautiful sights as you venture further into Fiordland National Park. Walking along the Clinton River, you’ll cross an impressive swing bridge while also getting to see some incredible rain forest up close and personal. Being from a dry climate, I found the crystal clear waters and abundant moss to be one of the best parts of the walk!
After the short, one-hour walk along the Clinton River, I arrived at the first night’s stop: Clinton Hut. This is a lovely hut that occupies three small buildings with a large outdoor deck and excellent communal cooking areas. That evening, the hut warden provided an evening ‘hut talk’ that included a weather forecast, as well as what to expect over the course of the next few days of hiking.
Day Two – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut
Day Two on the Milford Track promised another rain-free day with significantly more hiking than the first. While certainly longer, the walk to Mintaro Hut was not exceptionally strenuous, much like the first day on the trail. Winding my way deeper into Fiordland, I found myself immersed in thick rain forest with abundant trees, ferns, and moss. Also similar to the previous day, the trail follows the Clinton River, although as you hike further up the trail the river changes from the broad, fast-flowing waterway that it was at the start of theTrak into a smaller, crystal clear stream.
Throughout the second day I was especially struck by the beauty of this river and its surroundings. The water takes on an incredible turquoise hue as it meanders through dense rainforest. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen water that beautiful before or since!
As the second day winds on, you’ll start to notice that you’ve begun to gain some elevation. It isn’t a dramatic climb, but it becomes clear that you are slowly building up towards the base of Mackinnon Pass, the crux of the Milford Track. You’ll catch your first views of the pass as you approach Mintaro Hut, which sits at the base of Mackinnon Pass. I was hiking the Milford Track in late October, the very first week of the season. This meant there was a high likelihood that there would still be a significant amount of snow on top of the pass. Sure enough, as I arrived at Mintaro Hut it was made known that we may have to take a helicopter over the pass due to the avalanche danger! I couldn’t discern if this was hugely disappointing (as I would miss the most dramatic portion of the Track) or hugely awesome as I would get to experience a mountain helicopter ride over Mackinnon Pass. Needless to say the hut was buzzing that evening with talk of what the next day would bring.
Day Three –Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut
Upon awaking on the third day of the Milford Track, the forty of us sharing the Mintaro Hut learned that a helicopter ride over Mackinnon Pass would not be necessary. Instead, all hikers would be walking as a group, led by a ranger over the pass, to ensure that it was safe. In the end this was good news in my mind – I just couldn’t come to terms with having to skip hiking over Mackinnon Pass. Everyone loaded up their bags and settled into a single file line of hikers zig-zagging our way up the pass. The pace ended up being a bit slower than I would have set on my own, but I was certainly happy to follow the well-trained ranger as we climbed through the clouds.
Arriving at the top of Mackinnon Pass was a truly spectacular experience. Low hanging clouds shrouded the deep valleys below and just enough sun peaked through the clouds to keep the temperature tolerable. At this point, we were free to breakaway from the larger group. I made sure to take half an hour to enjoy the accomplishment of reaching the top of the pass. After lingering for a bit, the clouds started to move in so I began the long descent down to Dumpling Hut. On the way down from Mackinnon Pass there are a plethora of waterfalls to enjoy, none more spectacular than Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand. While not directly on the Milford Track, the one-hour detour was well worth it! From the trail junction of the Milford Track and Sutherland Falls trail, it’s just a short hike along the Arthur River to Dumpling Hut, the final hut of the Milford Track.
Day Four –Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point
The final day of the Milford Track from Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point evokes mixed emotions. On one hand you’ll be sad to leave this special place that is so perfectly tucked away into a remote corner of the world. On the other, you’ll certainly be craving a hot shower and a soft bed. I found myself weighing these two sentiments as I embarked on the morning of my final day. This last segment is full of incredible beauty, including several stunning waterfalls that make for a great day of hiking. With the ascent of Mackinnon Pass behind you, you’ll be able to cover the final, relatively flat section with ease.
I experienced my first significant rainfall of the trip on the final day-a miracle by most accounts. While it’s never fun to hike with wet boots, the rainfall brought the Milford Track to life in ways that I hadn’t yet seen. Waterfalls pounded down, rivers filled, and a beautiful mist settled over the trail. A simple trash bag over my pack kept my belongings dry and allowed me to soak in the atmosphere of Fiordland National Park in its most natural state.
Arriving at Sandfly Point, I found myself truly elated to have finished the “finest walk in the world!” As the steady rain turned into to a full-fledged downpour (ensuring that any potential view of Milford Sound and Mitre Peak on the ferry ride to shore would definitely be obscured), I still felt thrilled to have been able to enjoy such an incredible walk.
Be sure to check out all of our Milford Track posts below:
- Guide to the Milford Track
- Milford Track Packing List – Be sure you’ve got everything you need!
- How to Navigate on the Milford Track – Turn your smartphone into a GPS!
- How to find all of your huts on the Milford Track – Know where you are and where you’re going!
- How to train for the Milford Track – Avoid being the last person to the hut!
- 10 Essentials for the Milford Track- The quick and dirty basics
- Milford Track Photo Galley – Find some inspiration!
- Milford Track Shop – Pick up a souvenir, art print, or T-shirt!