The Milford Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is known as the “finest walk in the world” for good reason. Accessible only by boat, this 4-day, 53.5 km route traverses untouched rainforest, high-alpine passes, crystal clear rivers, and spectacular waterfalls before finishing at the idyllic Milford Sound. While the Milford Track is the most regulated of New Zealand’s Great Walks, with proper planning you’ll still find ample tranquility and a true wilderness experience on this epic tramp. In this article, we’ll walk you through each step in the planning process so that you’re ready to have the perfect Milford Track adventure.
Step One – Pick your dates
The first step in planning your Milford Track adventure is to select the dates you’d like to hike. The Track takes four days to complete, and you’ll likely want to plan on spending at least one night in Te Anau before starting and another after finishing the trek . This means you’ll want to allot around six days, minimum. The Great Walk season for the Milford Track runs from late-October to late-April. During this period, the track is highly regulated, with booking required for all huts, and full-time wardens managing each of the three huts on the track.
You’ll find the fewest crowds near the beginning and end of the season, although the weather can be much more unpredictable during these times. Many feel that March and April are the best time to walk the Milford Track, as the summer crowds have slowed and the weather remains fairly warm. Once you’ve decided on your dates, it’s time to reserve the three huts you’ll be staying at along the way.
Step Two – Reserve your huts
You must have a reservation for each of the three huts along the Milford Route (Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut, and Dumpling Hut), and you must stay in them on consecutive nights. Each hut sleeps 40 people while also providing communal cooking areas, seating, and common areas. The Department of Conservation manages the hut reservation process, which typically opens on July 1st for the upcoming season. You’ll want to reserve your spots as early as you can since the Milford Track is understandably incredibly popular.
The booking process is very straightforward. During this process, you’ll also have the opportunity to book your transport to and from the track, using the DOC system. You can use one account to make reservations for all of the members in your group at the same time.
Tip: Be sure and set-up an online account with the Department of Conservation ahead of time. It is free and required for all bookings. Having done this ahead of time will save you time when booking. You can set-up an account here: DOC Account set-up
Here are the step-by-step instructions for booking:
- Navigate to the Department of Conservation’s Milford Track website here: DOC Milford Track
- Select ‘Book Online’
- Enter the date you would like to start your hike. The booking system will then automatically show you availability for each night based on when you start. Select ‘Search Availability’
- The page will display the number of spaces available in each hut for your selected start date. Additionally, you can scroll down to see the available transport options for the start and finish.
- Next, you’ll select your huts (the system will automatically book all three huts after you’ve selected the first hut) as well as your transport. You are not required to book your transportation to and from the track at this point, but I would highly recommend it! More details below.
- Next, you’ll verify your contact information and provide some basic information.
- You’ll then see a summary of your booking along with the total cost (no one said it would be cheap!) This is a good time to triple-check that your dates are correct.
- Finally, you’ll be redirected to the payment page. Enter your payment information and you’ve completed your reservation for the ‘finest walk in the world’!
Step Three – Reserve transport to/from the Milford Track (if you haven’t already)
One of my favorite parts about the Milford Track is that both the start and finish are only accessible via boat. There is something special about getting dropped off at Glade Wharf and watching the ferry head back to Te Anau Downs. There is no turning back on your next four days of hiking!
You can only hike the Milford Track in one direction, so everyone will be starting at Glade Wharf. You’ll want to ensure that you reserved your transportation for both ends of the track as early as you can – all of the options fill up fast! Below are all of the details you need to ensure your transport on both ends goes smoothly:
Getting to the Start of the Milford Track (Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf)
The walk starts at Glade Wharf, which sits at the end of Lake Te Anau, and is reached via a 1.5 hour boat ride from Te Anau Downs (which is little more than a car park and boat dock.) Boats leave Te Anau Downs for Glade Wharf at 10:30am, 1pm, and 2pm. Busses leave the small town of Te Anau for Te Anau downs everyday at 9:45am, 12:15pm, and 1:30pm. It is recommended to stay in Te Anau the night before you begin your trek . The bus ride takes approximately 30 minutes and is timed so that you’ll easily catch a corresponding boat. Note that it is a short, 1-1.5 hour walk from Glade Wharf to the Clinton Hut, where you’ll spend your first night.
When reserving your huts for the trip, you’ll also be able to reserve your transportation, which I would highly recommend. If you opt not to book at that time, there are many private operators who will shuttle you to the start of the track, including:
- Fiordland Outdoors Co.
- Easy Hike
However you choose to get to the start of the track, enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding Lake Te Anau and relish in the unique experience of starting one of the most famous walks in the world!
Getting from the Milford Track (Sandfly Point to Milford and Te Anau)
The Milford Track finishes at Sandfly Point, near the junction of the Arthur River and Milford Sound. From here you’ll have a few options to get to Milford Sound village, and ultimately back to Te Anau. Once again, the easiest method of booking is to do so while reserving your huts. This will ensure you get a ride with the Milford Sound Red Boat, which departs at 2pm and 3:15pm. If you’re feeling adventurous you can also book transport via kayak with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks.
If you book your transport while reserving your huts, you’ll be covered for the bus ride back to Te Anau. If not, once you’ve reached Milford Sound village, you’ll have plenty of options for the bus ride back to Te Anau, including all the companies listed in the “Getting to the start of the Trek” segment.
What to Expect on the Hike
The Milford Track (shown on the map above) is a 4-day, 53.5km walk through the heart of Fiordland National Park. Each day is unique, as you’ll experience stunning rainforest, the high-alpine environment of Mackinnon Pass, and some of the most pristine rivers in the world.
Day One – Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut (Approximately 1 hour, 5km)
You’ll begin the first day on the Milford Track on the 1.5 hour boat ride from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf. Once you arrive at Glade Wharf, you’ll only have about an hour of hiking to cover the flat, 5-kilometer walk to Clinton Hut, where you’ll spend your first night. This short first day is intentional, since much of your time will be spent simply getting to the start of the Track. You’ll follow the Clinton River for most of this leg of the journey, which includes crossing the river on an impressive swing bridge. Once you’ve arrived at Clinton Hut be sure to claim your favorite bunk and rest up for the longer days ahead.
Day Two – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut (Approximately 5.5 hours, 16.5 km)
The second day begins much like the first ended – with a fairly easy walk along the Clinton River. You’ll gain elevation as you make your way towards the Mintaro Hut, passing several waterfalls and getting your first glimpses of the impressive Mackinnon Pass. Finally, you’ll cross Pompolona Creek on swing bridge before arriving at Mintaro Hut at the base of Mackinnon Pass.
Day Three – Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut (Approximately 6 hours, 14km)
You’ll waste no time starting the most difficult section of the Milford Track at the start of day three. You’ll spend the first four kilometers ascending steep switchbacks that will ultimately take you to the top of Mackinnon Pass. Once reaching the top, you’ll either be delighted to take in the incredible views, or if the weather is uncooperative, you’ll be hustling down into the next valley as quickly as possible!
Be sure you’ve got a good pair of hiking poles, as the descent from the top of Mackinnon Pass drops steeply nearly 1000 meters. Along the way to Dumpling Hut, be sure and take the sidetrack to Sutherland Falls (an approximately 1.5 hour round-trip detour.) At 580 meters tall, these are the highest falls in New Zealand and quite spectacular. Finally, you’ll arrive at the Dumpling Hut to savor your last night on the Milford Track!
Day Four – Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point (Approximately 6 hours, 18km)
From Dumpling Hut you’ll continue to descend down into the Arthur River valley. You’ll pass two spectacular waterfalls, Mackay Falls and Giant Gate Falls, before tracing the shoreline of Lake Ada on your way to Sandfly Point.
Be sure you’ve allotted enough time to meet your boat at Sandfly Point at the scheduled hour, as you’ll be the least popular hiker on the entire Track if you hold up the boat back to civilization. Finally, enjoy the incredible views of Milford Sound as you cruise back to the dock before catching your bus to Te Anau.
If you’ve completed steps described above, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience walking the Milford Track. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the Milford Track to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for the ‘finest walk in the world!’
- 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 Trip Report – Know what to expect!
- Milford Track Photo Galley – Find some inspiration!
- Milford Track Shop – Pick up a souvenir, art print, or T-shirt!