A Trip to Milford Track – Step by Step Guide to this Amazing NZ Trek.

Ultimate Hikes

The Milford Track is one of the world truest most epic hike: it goes for 33.2 miles (53.5 kilometers) into jaw-droping scenaries. From the rainforest to the most pristine ice covered-peaks, Milford Trak is a trek not to be missed.

This step by step guide will walk you thru knowing about the track, getting there, equipment list and trip itinerary. Scroll down for details about the guiding company I have used.

Getting to the Milford Track

Oh, the Milford Track…the “finest walk in the world.”  But for me, it’s more than that. 

It’s about the challenge.  The exploration. 

The Milford Track is a one-way trail – from south to north – beginning at Te Anau.  To get there, you have to take the ferry from Te Anau Downs. Here is the official map.

Where is the Milford Track?

Inside the Fiordland National Park in the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area is the The Milford Track.  The park is tucked away in a little corner of the South Island, which makes it a perfect place to get away and explore.

The Track follows the Clinton River from the Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound.

Fiordland is one of the most unique places on Earth because of the pristine rainforest and rugged peaks.  These natural elements continuously fill landscape around you. 

 

milford track

 

The Milford Track is New Zealand’s most famous walk.  Much like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, people come from all over the world to make this 33.2 miles (53.5 kilometer) journey. 

This one-directional trail takes the average hiker 4 days to complete. 

If you plan on coming during peak season and hiking as an individual hiker (not part of the Ultimate Hikes group) in October – April, you must first purchase Great Walk Tickets from the Department of Conservation (DOC) before you begin.  During the winter (off-season), you’ll have to have a Backcountry Hut Pass or hut tickets, which you can also purchase from DOC.

Otherwise there is a guided tour that includes amazing food, and soft beds that you can get through Ultimate Hikes.

If you want to hike during winter, (late April to late October), know that there are 56 avalanche paths that cross the Milford track, making the track impassable. Be sure to check current track and weather conditions at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre before departing on the track.

Located inside the Fiordland National Park, the Milford Track is prone to high rainfall and unpredictable weather patterns.  One day it might be cold and snowy, even in the summer.  It’s common to have (at least!) one we day during your hike. 

The good news is that you’ll really get your money’s worth out of your rain jacket, as long as you aren’t the guy that brings the disposable poncho.  Don’t be that guy.

VERY IMPORTANT: All native wildlife in the Fiordland National Park is protected. Dogs or other domestic animals are NOT permitted on the Track or in the park. All trash must be carried out of the park. Fire is a major threat; open fires are prohibited.  Instead of fire, use portable stoves for cooking. Smoking is not allowed in the huts and shelters. A permit is required to bring a firearm into a National Park.

How do I get to the Milford Track?

To get there, fly into Queenstown – it’s the best airport if you’re coming from a domestic or international flight.  If it’s easier, fly into Christchurch, and then make the easy 45-minute flight to Queenstown.

If you’re coming from North America or Europe, you’ll likely have a layover in Auckland, but that’s not a terrible thing.  From Auckland, it’s about a 2 hour flight to Queenstown. 

If you are walking solo then take the bus to Te Anau – the guided hike starts in Queenstown

te anau

Day 1:  Te Anau to Glade House

Distance: 1 mile (1.6 kilometer)

Total hiking time: 20 minutes

Day 1 of the Track began a bit rainy – of course.  It’s a good rule to have your rain jacket at the very top of your backpack so you can guard yourself as much as possible. 

The rain came and went – faster than I could ever imagine.  It might seem silly to say that the changes in the weather made me appreciate the nearby waterfalls and natural beauty, but it’s the truth. 

Once we arrived at Lake Te Anau, it was a short walk to Glade House, our lodge for the evening. 

Because this is my first trip to New Zealand, I was excited to begin exploring the new ground of the South Island by looking around.  I know that through my travels that I’m the most at peace and grounded when I’m standing still and looking up. 

Taking the time to be still helped me find the South Island Bush Robin.  It’s curious, little birds like this that remind me why I’m here.

We stayed the night at the Glade House lodge.  This lodge has great accommodations that far exceeded our expectations. 

The hot shower came at the perfect time.  It’s not that the short walk was too much, but after traveling, it’s so comforting to have a hot shower and a delicious meal to end your day.

I got up early on Day 1 to go through my gear one more time. I like to make sure I have exactly what I need – nothing more and nothing less.

What I brought on the Milford Track

I believe that you need to carry the proper gear when you are traveling and hiking.  It’s important to go through this list before you get started.  Once the bus leaves Queenstown you won’t be able to buy more supplies.   Know that you can’t buy food along the way, and if you’re an independent walker, you can’t eat in the huts paid for by the guided walkers.

For the guided trek I brought:

 Clothing

  • Sturdy, comfortable, broken in hiking boots
  • Two pair of wool socks
  • Long biking shorts
  • Merino Wool jacket
  • Merino Wool long underwear top and bottom
  • Merino Wool Mittens
  • Woolen hat
  • Sun-hat
  • Raincoat: (waterproof, windproof with hood)
  • Rain pants
  • Extra socks, underwear, shirt or lightweight jersey
  • Sweat pants, shirt and jacket for evenings
  • Lightweight shoes for evening

Personal Equipment

  • Toiletries (soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, small towel)
  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Hydration bladder
  • Hiking poles – super helpful!
  • Optional extras: sunglasses, chapstick, camera, and lightweight shoes for in hut, earplugs

 Once I felt comfortable about my gear, I was ready to take on day 2.

Day 1:  Glade House to Pompolona Lodge

Distance: 10 mile (16 kilometers)

Total hiking time: 5-7 hours

The Milford Track follows the Clinton River north.  Of course the river is beautiful – the water is crystal clear.  You can see the stones on the bed of the river several feet down. The river is such a good landmark across the Milford Track – just keep the river on your right and keep walking!

The track itself is great condition.  In many places, it reminds me of the gravel roads in the Midwest. 

We began the day with bright blue skies and birds chirping from every direction.  It was like something out of a movie.  Plus, beyond the sounds of the birds you could hear it…waterfalls.  They.  Are.  Everywhere!

I also saw my first kea.  Keas are alpine parrots, and you have very good chances of seeing them along the way.  They are pretty big, green, and have colorful wings. They are highly curious and known for playing with things like your hiking poles and boots.  Be sure to keep all of your gear close by when these birds are around. 

And, obviously, don’t feed them!

As I prepared for today’s hike, 10 miles didn’t sound awful.  But, man!  It was harder than I expected.  I feel like I did a decent job – I wasn’t the last one to arrive at Pompolona Lodge, but the hike wore on me as the day went on.

It didn’t help that it started raining midday.  The first thing I recommend on the packing list is TWO full sets of clothes.  When I took my clothes off tonight, they were very wet.  The rain is relentless, so even if I was sweating, I didn’t know it.  Having another set of clothes to wear while these clothes are in the drying room will be a lifesaver. 

Like I said, the 10 mile hike didn’t sound too hard when we were eating our delicious breakfast. 

But on the trail, it was a different story.  Luckily, Ultimate Hikes has a guide up leading the pack and a guide on in the back.  The middle of the pack is filled with a few kinds of people.  There are the lone hikers who are doing their best to put one foot in front of the other (oh hey!); the social butterflies who talk the whole time as if gaining elevation at a steady pace isn’t difficult.

milford track

 

I find that I love being in both a lone hiker and chatterbox.  When I’m hiking alone, I can take in the gorgeous, lushy, green landscape.  New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and getting to walk through it makes me enormously happy.

When I’m chatting with my new friends, I get to learn about different people, cultures, and perspectives.  Plus, I always learn something about myself in the process.  One of the best parts about meeting people along the way is that when you come to a gorgeous waterfall – which were everywhere! – You have people to stop and share the beauty with you. 

Listening to the water plunge off the sides of the mountains is the soundtrack of the Track.  Water is dripping; streams are gurgling; the sound of the gravel path reminds me that we’re all moving forward. 

Luckily the last few miles were mostly flat.  For the avid hiker, Pompolona Hill isn’t a strenuous hike, but after 8-9 miles, it’s a bear!

When you get to the top of Pompolona Hill, you have to cross Marlene’s Creek, one of those 50+ avalanche sites.  After a day of rain, crossing the creek wasn’t a pleasant jumping-from-stone-to-stone experience.  I was wading through the creek, thinking about how awful it was going to be to keep hiking with wet boots. 

But, alas, there’s no room for an extra pair of boots, so I’ll hope these dry out in a drying room at the Lodge.

Tomorrow is the tough day, so I was grateful for a delicious, filling meal.  I loaded up on protein and carbs to help the future-me be as fueled as possible. 

Food on the Milford Track

You can’t buy food along the way, although they do provide a full breakfast lunch and dinner.  Still, I’m glad I brought a few things to eat along the way.  My motto around food is “fast, high energy, and lightweight.” 

I’m pretty tired after all this walking.  I was woefully unprepared for the amount of hiking I could do. 

Here’s a fitness strategy I’ve used in the past that I wish I would have used for this hike:

Fitness

First, if you are considering hiking the Milford Track, be sure you can run a 5k with ease!

Second, it’s about preparation.  Be sure you stretch each morning and each night.  And, build your stamina by practicing a full 10 miles with a full backpack on uneven ground and hill walks.

I would start training at least 6 weeks before you begin your journey to make sure you have enough time to get ready.  If you are out of shape give it more.

And, of course, train in the boots that you plan to use on the Milford Trail.  You’ll want them broken in.

My boots are broken in and I’m still sore from what we’ve been doing.  We have to be on the track early tomorrow, but don’t worry.  I’m going to sleep like a baby!

I slept like a log.  And it’s so quiet at night.  When I shuffled into the drying room it was a beautiful site – dry clothes – dry boots – dry socks. I love the drying room. 

This was a rough day!  I wish I would have stepped up my fitness game prior to arriving on the trailhead because man-oh-man, today was difficult!  The hope at this point is that I’m not going to lose any toenails.

Although, when you think about it, losing a toenail is a kind of like a battle scar for the hiker…except a few months later, everything is healed and you’re ready to go on your next adventure!

Let’s first talk about the most important part of any hike or physical activity: 

Water

It’s so important to stay hydrated on the trail, so knowing exactly where to get your water is a lifesaver.  Literally. You must continually drink water, even when it feels cool out.  Water isn’t just for the sweaty days.  If you don’t drink water, you’ll become dehydrated and the entire trip might be ruined.

The good news is that there’s water on the Track.  You can drink from the streams and get water from the DOC huts along the path.  It’s pretty amazing, in this part of the world you can actually just drink from the streams directly. Our guide said that no filters are necessary… but I preferred sticking with my good old water filter.

And, don’t forget, you’ll also be carrying water with you, so prepare for that extra weight in your pack. 

Like I said, today is the hardest of them all.  Here are the details:

Day 2:  Pompolona Lodge to Quintin Lodge (through the Mackinnon Pass)

Distance: 9 miles (15 kilometers)

Total hiking time: 6-8 hours

Not to complain but today was an early start and had too many switchbacks.  Uphill.  Sure, you arrive at Lake Mintaro and eventually climb the Mackinnon Pass, but man!  It’s rough.  Even if your knees hate this part, you’re going to love it. The views are spectacular and panoramic. 

Make the time to take in the natural beauty.  Enjoy every second.  Listen to the sounds of the birds and the waterfalls.  This kind of landscape is only in New Zealand, so unless you’re fortunate enough to live there, take it in.  Trust me.

After a great lunch at Pass Hut, there’s an optional trip to Sutherland Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world.  This should not be an optional excursion – make the 90-minute trip.  It’s worth it!

Because of the rain, there were some parts of the trail that were drastically underwater. If I hadn’t brought hiking poles, those water hazards would have been impassable.  The underfitting of the trail was unstable, which made you cringe watching those ahead of you struggle to make their way.  As I stood near the back, I worried about what it would be like for me.  Would I come crashing down and break my ankle?  Hip?  Would I fall off the mountain? 

My anxiety was for nothing…or so I thought.  I made it through unharmed and kept going.  At this point, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other.  That was, until I heard it.  A boom.  There was an avalanche nearby, and I could hear it all.  Now that the fear of falling was behind me, I got to think about avalanches. Great.

Once we made it to Quintin Lodge, I got to indulge in the best meal yet.  Food, at this point, is what keeps me moving forward.  Maybe that’s my body’s way of telling me to slow down.  But I think it’s the motivator to get me to the next section.  Food will give me strength so I can do this all over again tomorrow. 

I came here to conquer, and I’m not giving up now.

Tomorrow is the last day.  Tomorrow we’ll be going pretty far – 13 miles – and I am hoping that we won’t be underwater.  I like to look at waterfalls from afar…not hike through them.

Day 3:  Quintin Lodge to Mitre Peak Lodge (through Sandfly Point)

Distance: 13 miles (21 kilometers)

Total hiking time: 6-8 hours

Today was a great day for one reason – it was sunny!  The day was not great because walking 13 miles is a bear and every muscle in my body hurts.  Apparently walking isn’t just walking.

I did enjoy today.  I loved seeing the majestic beauty around me.  I loved looking up at the towering trees and standing in awe of the falls.  We walked through a rainforest of ancient trees – like prehistoric!

Because it was my last day on the Milford Track, I took it it more than any other day.  We got to see the lovely Bell Rock, a geological phenomenon which was formed after a violent flood.  I started at the Giants’ Gate waterfall while I ate my lunch.

Our final night is at the Mitre Peak Lodge.  The accommodations on this journey have been great, but this room is spectacular.  Plus, there’s a bathtub to soak my sore body and achy feet.  #heaven

milford track

Before I lounge in the tub, we had, yet another, great dinner.  Having a filling, nutritious meal at the end of a difficult hike is exactly what I need.  Plus, Ultimate Hikes took care of all of that for the group, so I really just had to show up hungry (duh!) and enjoy myself. 

Dinner is one of the highlights of my day because I get to listen to the stories from my fellow hikers.  Everyone’s experience on the Milford Track is different, and hearing trail tales while I have an amazing vegetarian meal is exactly where I want to be. 

This group and bunch of guides were highly supportive and encouraging.  Even on the hardest days, I was led by the most informative guides and motivating group of strangers. 

When I wake up in the morning it’s all going to be over.  We’ll take a short boat ride to get to the wharf and then catch the bus to Queenstown. 

This hike has been a challenge.  A test of my resilience.  An explorative journey of New Zealand.  While I wasn’t in tip-top shape, I still made it.  I’m strong. I have more power and control over my body and mind that I give myself credit for.  I’m humbled by the natural beauty.  I’m in awe of my mental strength. 

If you’re thinking about an outdoor adventure or a unique bucket list item, I highly suggest making the journey to New Zealand.  Even though my feet are numb and I spent too many minutes hating the rain, it was still a worthwhile experience. 

The next time I do something like this, I’m going to be better physical condition.  I promise. 

Guiding Compagny

My experience with Ultimate Hikes was exactly what I need and wanted on my journey on the Milford Track.  To say that this trip changed my life would be cliché, but true.  It was surprisingly rewarding and the most breathtaking scenery I could ever imagine.  

Because this was my first guided hike, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’ve always done hikes on my own, but I’m so glad I went to Ultimate Hikes.  They are very well organized, and have knowledgeable, engaging guides. 

The company sends 4 guides out with the group and provides bus and boat transportation, meals, and modern accommodations.  I’m talking flush toilets, blow dryers, and rooms for fast-drying of clothes.  Drying rooms?  Yep.  That’s a thing. 

The thing that sets Ultimate Hikes apart is their facilities on the track.  I found myself using the accommodations as motivation along the way: hot showers, delicious dinner, cozy beds, and coffee in the morning. 

Guides

All of the guides were great.  Not only were they fun and motivating, but very informed about the natural surroundings.  They looked after me from beginning to end, which I really appreciate!

I loved that they guides kept reminding that the Milford Track is not a race.  It’s not about who gets to the next lodge first, it’s about taking in the captivating scenery, snow-covered mountains, gorgeous waterfalls, and more flora and fauna than you’ll ever see anywhere else. 

I felt comfortable knowing that Ultimate HIkes’ policy is to have one guide in front and another in the back.  I always know that a guide was near me if I needed something or had a question.

Guides were professional, caring, and valued customer service!

Lodges/Food

My experience with Ultimate Hikes is akin to “glamping.”  They organized wonderful accommodations in the mountains, 3 course gourmet meals, and some time for beer and wine too. What more can you ask for?

The evening meals each evening were fantastic–better than you would ever expect for an adventure company.  Each meal had plenty of options, including vegan choices.  Some meals included fish, venison, and rack of lamb! TASTY!

The clean and cozy huts had spectacular views, divine hot showers and drying rooms for wet gear. (It’s like they’ve thought of everything!)

Best Part

The best part of using Ultimate Hikes for this hike is the lack of pressure!  We didn’t have to carry a heavy packs – the company handled all of that for us – and we weren’t in a hurry!  How great is that! 

Yes, the company appears to be a well-oiled machine, I appreciated the lack of pressure to go at any pace that wasn’t my own.  Taking the time to stop and appreciate the landscape was recommended!

Information About The Company

Ultimate Hikes New Zealand (www.ultimatehikes.co.nz ; 64-3-441-1138) offers a five-day, four-night walks for 50 hikers a day on the Milford Track from November through April. Ultimate Hikes also runs other multi-day and one-day hikes in the area, including a trek on the almost equally famous, more alpine Routeburn Track, lasting three days and two nights.

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