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A Practical Guide to the Milford Track

chris.murphy

Everything you need to know about the Milford Track!

A 3-day 53.5km pilgrimage through the ancient rainforest and carved glacial valleys awaits on the Milford Track. With marvelous waterfalls, unique wildlife and epic views, no wonder the Milford Track is the most popular New Zealand Great Walk! A multi-day hike through this UNESCO World Heritage Area is certainly an adventure of a lifetime. But for this adventure you’re going to need a lot of forward planning, so follow this practical guide to the Milford Track.

The first thing we need to stress is how far in advance you need to book the Milford Track huts. These are the only form of accommodation on the track, since camping is not permitted, so if you want to do the hike during the “Great Walks Season”, end of October to the end of April, you need to plan almost a year and a half in advance! Otherwise, there are options to do the Milford Track outside of the Great Walks season, but you will need to be an experienced hiker and some of the facilities on the track are greatly reduced.

But don’t worry, if you don’t get a chance to do the Milford Track, there are many awesome alternatives in our 5 Incredible Multi-day Hikes in the Fiordland National Park and 12 Awesome Alternatives to the New Zealand Great Walks.

Milford Track Checklist: What to take

Equipment to take on the Milford Track
  • 40-60L backpack (see How to Choose a Good Backpack)
  • Sleeping bag (3-4 season)
  • First aid kit (see Health Tips For Travelling in New Zealand for what to include)
  • Survival kit (survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil and high-energy snack food)
  • Ice axe, crampons and avalanche safety equipment (in winter)
  • 1-2L drink bottle
  • Matches or lighter in a waterproof container
  • Toiletries (don’t use soap in lakes and streams)
  • Torch/flashlight
  • Rubbish bag (you must take all rubbish out with you)
  • Tickets and ID (for use of the huts and transportation)
  • Ear plugs (for hut bunk rooms)
  • Camera
Clothing to Take on the Milford Track
  • Hiking boots (check out How to Choose a Good Pair of Hiking Boots)
  • Wool or polypropylene socks
  • Hiking pants/shorts (quick fry material)
  • Wool or polypropylene under-layers for top and bottom
  • Mid-layers (wool or polar-fleece)
  • Waterproof and windproof raincoat
  • Waterproof and windproof overtrousers
  • Hat and gloves (in colder months)
  • Sunhat and sunglasses
  • Underwear
Food to take on the Milford Track
  • Water
  • High-energy snacks (muesli bars, biscuits, nuts, etc.)
  • Breakfast meals (firm bread, honey, etc.)
  • Lunch meals (fruit, sandwiches prepared before trip)
  • Dinner meals (pasta, rice, dried vegetables, fruit, cheese, freeze-dried meals) and utensils to eat it with like knife, fork, container, cleaning kit, (and your own gas burner in winter when fuel is not provided).
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A Quick track description of the Milford Track

The Milford Track is a well-formed track with signposts along the way making it impossible to get lost (during the Great Walks season). There are occasional small streams to cross which are usually easy to get over safely. After wet weather, streams can flood the track. Expect some hill climbs. Winter conditions make the track more challenging (see below). The Milford Track starts at Glade Wharf at the end of Lake Te Anau and ends at Sandfly Point in Milford Sound. See more about transportation to get there and back below.

Day 1: Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut (5km, 1h30mins)

Day 2: Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut (16.5km, 6 hours)

Day 3: Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut (14km, 6-7 hours)

Optional side trip: Quintin Shelter to Sutherland Falls (1h30mins return)

Day 4: Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point (18km, 6 hours)

If you are fit enough and have the time before nightfall, you can go Glade Wharf to Mintaro Hut in one day to make the trip a 3-day walk instead.

AlasdairW

Transportation for the Milford Track

Boats, buses and car relocation services all operate for the Milford Track. At any time of the year you need to book all transport in advance, which can be done directly with operators or on the Department of Conservation website when you are booking the huts.

Transport to Te Anau Downs and Glade Wharf

The Milford Track starts at Glade Wharf at the southern end of Lake Te Anau (about 27km from Te Anau down the Milford Road). To get there, you will need to take road transport from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs. There are multiple transport operators who can either transport you by bus to Te Anau Downs or have a car relocation service where you park your car at Te Anau Downs and your car will then be relocated to the Milford Sound car park while you are doing to the Milford Track.

From Te Anau Downs, you need to either take a scheduled boat trip across Lake Te Anau to Glade Wharf (1h30mins) which runs twice daily during the Great Walks season, or book an on-demand water taxi.

Experienced hikers can access Glade House from the Eglinton Valley on the Dore Pass Route (8 hours one way). The route begins from the Milford Road about 66km from Te Anau from a car park near the Eglinton River.

Transportation from Sandfly Point

The Milford Track ends at Sandfly Point in Milford Sound where you will need to take a 15-minute boat trip to the main wharf in Milford Sound. From there, you will either have your car parked in the car park if you used a car relocation service, or you can take one of the many scheduled bus services back to Te Anau Downs, Te Anau or Queenstown.

Avalanche Risk and Helicopter transportation

Between October and mid-December (which is part of the Great Walks season), there may still be an avalanche risk due to late snowfall and spring thaw. If sections of the track are considered too dangerous by the DOC, helicopter transport over the unsafe areas are offered to you are your own cost. You will pay for this fee when collecting your hut tickets in Te Anau. If you do not want to pay, then you will be offered a full refund for the track.

Check the track conditions close to your departure date to check whether helicopter services are in use. There will be a notice on the DOC website.

AlasdairW

Where to stay on the Milford Track

Accommodation on the Milford Track is in the form of Great Walk Huts. Bookings are essential during the Great Walks season and must be booked online at the DOC website.

In the Great Walks season, hut prices are NZ$70 per night (and are set to double in price for oversees visitors by October 2018).

Huts are usually fully-booked for the Milford Sound about a year before the Great Walks season. It is essential that you book your hut tickets as soon as possible. Some bookings may be cancelled which are shown on the DOC’s booking page. These are on a first-come-first-served basis. Once you have completed your booking, you will get instructions of where to pick up your hut and transport tickets in Te Anau.

Note that there are no campground on the Milford Track. Camping is not permitted.

Hut Facilities

During the Great Walks Season, the hut facilities include:

  • bunks
  • mattresses
  • solar-powered light
  • cold running water
  • a DoC ranger
  • heating
  • toilets
  • basic cooking facilities (no utensils)

Department of Conservation on Flickr

The Milford Track outside of the Great Walks season

Outside of the Great Walks season, otherwise known as the winter season, which is between May and October, the Milford Track remains open but with reduced facilities. Weather, track and avalanche conditions all impact whether you can do the Milford Track or not so be sure to contact the DOC Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre before departure.

Even if the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre has said it is safe to go on the track, you still need to be prepared for any weather scenario. Fiordland is very wet and cold in the winter months and alpine areas are usually covered in snow. You will need a Topo map which can be purchased from the Fiordland Visitor Centre.

Some bridges are taken down during winter to avoid avalanche damage. You must be able to cross large and swift icy rivers. You will also need navigational skills where areas of the track may be covered in deep snow.

Hut facilities during the winter season

Hut have bunks, mattresses and a wood burner. However, gas is not provided, flush toilets are replaced by pit toilets, and running water is turned off inside the hut. There are no rangers in the huts during the winter season.

Hut bookings are not required during the winter season, they are on a first-come-first-served basis. Fees are NZ$15 per person per night.

Winter season transport

All transport still needs to be arranged before you start the track. (See transport options above). Operators usually require minimum numbers and do not always run a daily service.

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