The Milford Track has often been called one of the finest walks in the world. One of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, it consists of 53.3km of waterfalls, swing bridges, and some of the most beautiful views I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Being a four-day, three-night hike in which you stay at Department of Conservation huts and have to pack in and out most of your necessities (although the huts do have some amenities like gas cookers and even flush toilets), it’s a pretty big undertaking and therefore it’s good to have some guidance if you’re planning on doing the walk. Here are my dos and don’ts for a successful tramp along the Milford Track:
DO book early
There are many tramps in New Zealand that don’t require advanced planning, where you can just rock up to a hut and stay the night. The Milford Track is not one of these tramps. Booking for the Great Walk season opens in July. On the day, at the moment the bookings went live, I logged on and organised huts for Steve, Steve’s cousin Arthur, and I with ease. By the time I was finished, everything from mid-December to mid-February, peak season, was solidly booked up. By the end of the day, the entire season’s allocations were filled. Because there is no camping allowed on the trail and no self-guided day walks, if you don’t manage to nab a spot in the DOC huts your only option is to pay upwards of two thousand dollars for the guided trek experience.
DON’T dread the rain
There’s no way around it: if you’re walking the Milford Track, you will get wet. Fiordland National Park weather is highly changeable, but almost inevitably rainy, with around 200 rain days per year and upwards of 7 metres of rainfall. A rain coat, sturdy hiking boots, and waterproof pants will be your best friends on this tramp. You may also need to be ready to adjust your timelines in order to avoid flooding that can derail your ability to traverse from one hut to the next—on one day we had to get up at 4:45am to begin our day and get past a flood-prone region of track before the rain got too heavy for us to go through. However, don’t despair, because there is one huge benefit to rainy days: many of the waterfalls in the national park are temporary and only appear during and immediately after rainfall, so the worse the weather, the more impressive the falls.
DO go to the nature talk
The first day’s hiking is short and sweet, just 5km from the boat drop-off at Glade Wharf to the Clinton Hut. There are a number of boat options throughout the day so folks arrive at the hut at different times, but no matter which ferry you take you’ll be at the hut in time for DOC warden Ross’s nature talk at 5pm, and you definitely shouldn’t skip it. If you’re going to spend four days walking through flora and fauna, you should know a bit about what you’re seeing, and the talk will teach you about some of the native birds and plants you may see throughout the walk, as well as give you some fun facts about the history of the track. Plus, you’ll find out where to see glowworms after dark on the first night.
DON’T forget bug spray
So you’ve done it! You’ve hiked the Milford Track, all 53.5km, and you can’t wait for that ferry ride to the town of Milford, to catch your bus back to Queenstown or Te Anau so you can drink a cold beer and take a shower (in that order). You want to celebrate your achievement with a photo at the endpoint sign that proclaims you to have made your way to… Sandfly Point? That’s an odd name—but you will quickly realise how apt it is when you are getting bitten all over by the tiny bugs. There’s an enclosed shelter you can hide out in, but even that won’t keep you entirely safe and when you’re near the water elsewhere on the rail you’ll encounter them as well, so best to come prepared with your favourite, strongest bug deterrent.
DO get social
Because there are no day-walkers or tent campers on the Milford Track and you’re only allowed to do the walk in one direction, you will encounter the same folks each day. There are about 40 people in each DOC hut plus the guided walkers, so you definitely get to know your fellow walkers, especially those who are also staying in the huts. While we’re relatively fast hikers and so we tended to move ahead of most of the group, it was nice to catch up and get to know the other trampers in the evenings. Our hut included walkers from New Zealand, Australia, America, Singapore, France, and more. Many stories were exchanged and card games were played, and we gave and got advice on travelling and tramping all over the world.
DON’T let kea steal your stuff
There are a number of native birds you might encounter on the Milford Track. You’ll probably see weka, a quick, cheeky flightless bird that looks similar to a kiwi and can often be found poking around tall grass or your backpack if you’re not paying attention. Or you might see that most magnificent of roumd bois, the kereru. New Zealand’s Bird of the Year winner is most famous for FUI—flying under the influence, when it gets drunk on fermented berries in late summer. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across the endangered alpine parrot kea, an incredibly smart bird with an inquisitive nature. Kea have been known to team up, with one distracting unsuspecting tourists while the other raids your tramping pack. Hang your boots off the ground when kea are about, and don’t leave loose items unattended.
DO visit Sutherland Falls
There are a number of small side trips off the main Milford Track, and one big one. While the detours to the wetland walkway on day 1 and the hidden lake on day 2 will take you only a few steps out of your way, Sutherland Falls requires a bigger commitment of 45 minutes in each direction. You can leave your pack at a shelter for this side trip, but it’s still a bit daunting to add extra kms to day 3 after the strenuous Mackinnon Pass. However, Sutherland Falls is worth the trek; it’s an impressive 580m high and intensely powerful. Prepare to get wet if you intend on getting close to the spray, or just enjoy walking sans pack for a bit before you pick it up again to make your way to the next hut.