Dubbed “The Finest Walk in the World,” the Milford Trek is filled with natural attractions that support New Zealand’s reputation as an other-worldly clime, a place of fantastical sights and breathtaking vistas. Hiking the Milford Trek, or Milford Track as it is sometimes called, was a captivating experience for me and it can hardly fail to impress the most seasoned hikers from around the world. As one of the country’s best walks, this 33.2 mile (53.5 km) hike does require a stout heart as well as a bit of advanced planning.
A Feast for the Eyes
My eyes must have grown to twice their size when I glimpsed the visual marvels of this track. The splendors of rainforests, wetlands, and alpine terrain often stopped me in my tracks—you’ll want to bring a reliable and easy-to-handle camera for your journey as this hike is filled with one marvelous view after another.
Some of the most spectacular sights of this famous hike include the mountainous glacier-studded Mackinnon Pass, the pristine cliffs and fjord of Milford Sound, the breathtaking cascade of Giant Gate Falls, and the nation’s tallest waterfall—Sutherland Falls. From glacial forests to roaring rivers, the hike is like looking at one postcard after another—only you’re part of the picture!
Location and Getting There
New Zealand’s South Island is home to Milford Track. Situated in Fiordland National Park—part of the larger Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area—the track is typically accessed at Lake Te Anau or Sandfly Point. Hikers need to kayak over sea or take a ferry to reach Sandfly Point, but the Lake Te Anau entry can be accessed by ferry or a climb across Dore Pass, which is very near Milford Sound Road. Travelers to New Zealand often travel to Lake Te by bus from Christchurch or fly from Christchurch or Auckland to nearby Queenstown. However you go, the ideal hiking time is between October and April—hiking off-season can be fraught with dangerous avalanches.
Challenges of the Hike
While experienced hikers do not regard this trail as particularly challenging in good weather, there is an age limit—children under ten may not hike the track. Moreover, the hike typically takes four days to complete—and it must be tackled within that time frame; the park allows a steady flow of people onto the track, so hikers must remain on the move even in rough weather. Rain, which is a consistent feature of the hike, can pose dangerous conditions that make the terrain far more challenging than when the weather is dry. Hard rains can erase parts of the trail and even lead to hypothermia during cold spells. Because an even pace must be maintained along the trail, hikers should come with some level of preparation simply to stay within the time constraints of the journey.
Preparing for Milford
Booking a spot on a guided tour is essential; most people reserve their spot months in advance. Annually, about 14,000 people hit this trail, but its extreme popularity necessitates reservations. The park will only allow forty hikers to enter the track each day, so it’s important to secure your place on the route in accordance with your traveling plans in the area. While many hikers like to tackle the route on their own and make use of the huts along the trail, others prefer the guided tour and its more comfortable huts and gourmet fare. Independent hikers should plan to bring their own food and sleeping bag; the basic huts only provide a simple stove, bare bunk, and toilet. I enjoyed the guided tour—more expensive, to be sure, but greatly enhanced by the information (and supervision) provided by the guides.
This hike posed some difficulty for me—but the challenges were adventurous in nature. It rained one of the days and I had to wade through waist-deep water, but since I was on a guided tour, I felt reassured by my guide and his assurance that “this happens quite often.” On the other hand, I was astounded by the way the trail was maintained; the park’s staff was impressive and utterly pleasant. Of course, what I remember most about the Milford Trek is its ancient landscape. Dense forests opening onto sheer cliffs were simply spellbinding and one couldn’t help wondering how the first Maori felt upon witnessing these stunning views. Enchanting flora, fauna, and scenery, the Milford hike is truly the walk of a lifetime.
About The Author: Guest post contributed by Taylor Ritchie, a travel freelance writer, for CoverMore.
Photo Credits: Flickr – #1 clobocop, #2 Kevin Staff, #3 tewahpounamu, #4 almassengale, #5 anoldent