Best time: Late Oct to Late April
New Zealand's most famous walk, the Milford Track has been thrilling hikers for more than 150 years. The alpine and fiord scenery is as perfect as ever.
Around 100 years ago, in an article that appeared in the London Spectator, the poet Blanche Baughan declared the Milford Track to be ‘the finest walk in the world’.
Arguably New Zealand’s most famous walk, the 53-kilometre journey begins at the head of Lake Te Anau, and leads you across suspension bridges, board walks and a mountain pass. The Milford Track will show you pristine lakes, sky-scraping mountain peaks and enormous valley views; and it will take you to feel the misty breath of Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand.
On a sunny day it is postcard perfect but some walkers say that only when it rains, and torrents of water cascade down the steep mountainsides, have you truly experienced the magic of the Milford Track.
Day 1, Glade Wharf > Clinton Hut, 5km
The first day of the Milford Track involves catching a boat from Te Anau Downs to the start of the track. After a scenic cruise across the lake the well-graded track begins; walkers cross a suspension bridge then follow the track through pretty beech forest for an hour before arriving at Clinton Hut. There are a number of swimming holes near the hut.
Day 2, Clinton Hut > Mintaro Hut, 16.5km
Begin the day with a gradual climb to the source of the Clinton River, pretty Lake Mintaro. The track then crosses a large, open area and winds past the Hirere Falls before walkers a first glimpse of the MacKinnon Pass and the spectacular Pompolona Ice Field. It is approximately 2 hours' from here to the Mintaro Hut.
Day 3, Mintaro Hut > Dumpling Hut, 14km
Today's part of the Milford Track begins with a gradual zig zag climb to reach MacKinnon Memorial - make sure to soak up the spectacular views of Lake Mintaro and the Clinton Valley. At the top of the climb, the track winds up and over the MacKinnon Pass, the highest point on the track at 1154 metres. While catching your breath at the summit, look back on the stunning Clinton Valley. To the north lies Arthur Valley and Milford Sound - a view that is crowded with mountain peaks. From here, the track winds downhill, crossing beneath Mount Balloon and the Jervois Glacier before following a boardwalk beside the Roaring Burn River with its numerous waterfalls.
Shortly after the boardwalk, a side track leads to the stunning Sutherland Falls - the highest in New Zealand. The 580-metre fall drops directly out of Lake Quill, which is fed by several glaciers, and plummets to the ground in three steps. After you've finished soaking up the beauty of the waterfall, it's a short walk to the Dumpling Hut.
Day 4, Dumpling Hut > Sandfly Point, 18km
The hike to the end of the track today includes a number of pretty waterfalls, suspension bridges and crystal-clear creeks. Take your time at beautiful McKay Falls and Lake Ida before hiking past the last waterfall on the track, named Giant Gate Falls. After these falls it's another hour and a half's walk to Sandfly Point and the end of the Milford Track. Boats depart from here to take walkers back to Milford Sound at 2 or 3pm each day.
During the walk
There are three public lodges on the Milford Track (run by the Department of Conservation, as outlined in the suggested itinerary above) as well as three private lodges, run by Ultimate Hikes. Camping is not permitted on the track. If you are hiking the walk independently, you will need to book in advance - bookings can be made online here(opens in new window). Bookings are essential from late October to late April.
After the walk
The lakeside town of Te Anau is the gateway to Fiordland National Park and the Milford Track. Great restaurants, quality accommodation in a remarkable alpine setting make Te Anau a very appealing place to prepare for (or recover from) walking the Milford Track. A few hours' drive from Te Anau is the bustling town of Queenstown, home to a large range of accommodation and things to do.
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your Milford Track walking experience to life. Take a look at these businesses to find out if a walking tour is right for you.
If you want to do the Milford Track or any of the Great Walks independently, you will need to book the DOC accommodation on the trails. The fee for this varies between each Great Walk. It is recommended that you book in advance for this popular walk.
This video provides information on what to pack, when to go and what to expect.