Hiking the Milford Track is like entering the lottery: there’s a good chance it’ll pour rain every day making it a very long, wet, 4-day walk where you see nothing but your sodden, muddy boots as you trudge along the track.
Or, you might strike it lucky and actually spot some blue sky and sunshine.
We hit the jackpot on our trip. It was early February and apart from a brief windy and very cold whiteout at the highest point, Mackinnon Pass, we were blessed with warm weather, blue skies and sunshine for most of our hike.
The Milford Track is New Zealand’s most iconic and spectacular walk, famous for its diverse landscape and challenging terrain across the wild fiord country in the South Island. It covers 53.5km over 4 days in one of the wettest areas on the planet so you need to be prepared for wet, cold weather.
You’ll hike through wetlands, snow-capped mountains, lush rainforest, towering rock cliffs, alongside cascading waterfalls and across glacial fed streams all in the space of a few days.
Some say the hike is enhanced by rain along the way, or that you don’t experience the real Milford Track unless it rains. Whatever the weather we reckon it’s a gamble worth taking as the scenery is stunning and the tramping therapeutic for the mind and soul.
Independent vs guided hike
You can hike the trail independently or take the guided hike like we did and stay in beautiful huts along the way with 3-course dinners and good New Zealand wines to celebrate another good day of exploring some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. You still need to carry all your own gear so make sure you pack light, you just don’t need to carry all your own food, only lunch and snacks each day.
There were 50 people in our group, from Japan, South Korea, the US, Sweden and Australia, and once you get walking the group spreads out so you feel as if you have the track to yourself. We hardly saw any of the independent hikers.
How fit do you need to be to hike the Milford Track?
We trained a lot in the lead-up to this trip. Carrying your own pack adds to the degree of difficulty especially on the uphill days which are challenging. I was grateful that I was pretty fit as the walks cover a decent distance.
While the first day is easy – you catch the ferry across to the head of Lake Te Anau, take a short walk to the first lodge, the Glade House, before touring the nearby area – days 2, 3 and 4 are 16km, 15km and 21km respectively. The track is extremely well looked after and for a good part of the hike it’s wide and level.
However day 3 where you climb the Mackinnon Pass the track zigags uphill and with the rocky terrain it’s much tougher. We got very hot and sweaty on the way up and had stripped down to our t-shirts but as we approached the top the weather changed dramatically. The cloud rolled in, the temperature plunged and the wind howled. The hot chocolate at the Mackinnon Memorial was a godsend!
I actually found the trail down from the Mackinnon Pass the hardest of the whole hike. It was steep and rocky and put a lot of pressure on your knees especially with a pack on your back. So make sure you incorporate stairs and downhills in your pre-trip training.
Do you need to take walking poles?
We were grateful for our poles on the downhill trek from Mackinnon Pass and would take them again.
Take your togs (cossie, swimsuit) – the waterfalls are worth a dip
It was so warm while we were walking it was such a relief to reach the various waterfalls along the way. The water was absolutely freezing but once you take the plunge, you’ll feel so refreshed and invigorated.
The extra 1.5 hour hike to Sutherland Falls on Day 3 is absolutely worth it – it’s the fifth highest waterfall in the world and is spectacular.
How bad are the sandflies on the Milford Track?
The Milford Track is famous for its horrid sandflies and the end point is called Sandfly Point. And they really are bad. They’re massive for starters and their bites really well, bite. You’ll need a big bottle of strong insect repellent and long lightweight trousers to protect yourself.
Cruising Milford Sound
On the final day of the guided hike you cruise around Milford Sound, a very peaceful and relaxing way to end the trip. As you sail around you can look back on where you’ve hiked, reflect on the distance you’ve travelled and feel pretty proud of your achievement. You’ve survived what’s been described as ‘the finest walk in the world!
Getting there: Fly into Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. The descent through the Remarkables Mountain Range and over Lake Wakatipu is one of the most stunning landings you’ll ever experience.
Queenstown can get really cold in summer too – it was 14 degrees celsius on our February trip.
What to take: Ultimate Hikes provides backpacks, wet weather jackets if you need and waterproof liners for your pack. Make sure you also pack a beanie, gloves, sunhat, sunscreen and insect repellent.
Enjoy! We’d heard so many tales about the Milford Track from friends over the years, from the wonderful to the absolutely woeful, but as the saying goes, ‘you’ll never, never know if you never, never go!’