For other tracks, see Tramping in New Zealand.
The Milford Track was formed in 1888, after the discovery of the Mackinnon Pass by Quintin McKinnon and Ernest Mitchell. Until the Homer Tunnel opened in 1954, it was the only land route into Milford Sound.
This is a Department Of Conservation Great Walk and as such receives a very large number of visitors per year. On top of its Great Walk status, the Milford is considered by many to be one of the greatest hikes in the world thanks to its amazing scenery. The entire track takes four days -- only available to be walked in one direction -- from the Te Anau end to Milford Sound. There is also the option for one day guided walks of the first section of the track. Alternatively it is possible to run it in a day from Milford Sound to Te Anau.
The track is not recommended for children under 10 years. Children under 15 years must be accompanied by an adult.
Peak season runs from late October to late April. Bookings are required during this time. These bookings can be made online, by post, fax or phone. Make sure to book early, as popular dates are often booked many months ahead of time. Many dates in December and January are fully booked within minutes of booking opening (usually in June or July). In May 2022, the track was fully booked for the whole summer 13 minutes after booking opened.
- Great Walks Booking Desk, Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, Lakefront Drive, Te Anau, ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. For the 2018-19 summer season, the hut fees are $420 for international visitors and $210 for locals. You can also book the connecting boats to the start and from the finish..
Off peak/winter season
The off peak season is from May to mid-October. During this time snow fall and thaws make parts of the track impassable. As such, only the most experienced trampers should attempt this trek and should be exceptionally well-outfitted. Great Walk fees are not applied to tramping during the off-peak season, but simply the serviced backcountry fees apply.
As an alternative to booking with the DOC, you can book a package with Ultimate Hikes. This costs between $2130 (dorm bed) to $3330 (single ensuite room). These walks follow the same route as those who have booked with the DOC, in groups of up to 50 with a leader, but stay in different accommodation. The package includes meals in the lodges, and transport from / to Queenstown. There is less to carry each day, as there is no need to carry food, cooking equipment or a sleeping bag.
If you don't have time (or stamina) for a full walk, Real Journeys has guided day walks on the first few miles of the route. You can also book a return on their boat if you wish to do your own similar day walk.
Trips & Tramps run half day guided walks on the final section of the walk from Milford Sound, with the walk going from Sandfly Point to Giants Gate waterfall.
It is possible to run the Milford track in a day if you are fit. A boat will pick you up at Milford sound at 7 am to drop you off at Sandfly point. You than have about 9 hours to run 53.5 km to Glade Wharf to make the 4 pm cut off. The charge for those who are late is 150 dollars per hour. There is a car shuttle service to move your vehicle from Milford Sound back to Te Anau Downs if needed.
As of 2023 the first boat ride costs 220 NZD for up to 4 people followed by 55 NZD for each addition person. The boat ride at the end costs 95 NZD per person for those who arrive before 4 pm. The next boat is at 6 pm and the price increases to 600 NZD for up to 5 people followed by 95 NSD per extra person. There is an additional charge of 150 NZD per hour after 6 pm for the entire group.
Just like any multi-night tramping excursion, be sure to lay out your plans in advance. Make a packing list and check it before leaving. Preparedness is key to surviving an emergency in the wilderness.
- Wet-weather clothing. Expect rain in this area. Milford Sound sees a tremendous amount of rainfall year-round.
- Warm-weather clothing.
- Extra clothing. Expect the clothing you tramp in to get wet and as such, you will need extra clothing to change into when not on the track.
- Cooking equipment. You must pack in your own cooking gear such as pots, as none are provided. During the peak-season gas cookers are available in the huts, but during the off-season they are removed so you'll need to pack your own cooker and fuel. Bring a lighter or matches for lighting the gas rings.
- Food. You must pack in your own food as there is no opportunity to purchase food. Be sure to prepare a menu consisting of high energy, low weight foods to carry in with you. Always carry at least one extra day's worth of food in case of emergency. Emergency rations can be an easy and compact way to bring in extra calories.
- Utensils. Your best bet is to carry a single utensil, such as a spork, that will aid in cooking as well as eating.
- Calls of nature. Be prepared to bury any waste, but also be aware that toilets are fairly regular along the track and it is preferred that you use them. If you do feel the call of nature and cannot wait for the next toilet, be sure to move a good distance off the track and away from any water sources and bury the waste.
- Showering. There are no showers available, but given the climate on the track and the abundance of moving water, you can expect to get wet. It's suggested to carry a small towel, preferably a lightweight, highly absorbent one.
- Insect repellent. For the Milford Track, be sure to pack insect repellent as the sandflies are abundant in this area. Sandflies are small biting insects similar to mosquitoes or biting midges.
- Sleep gear. There are mattresses provided in the bunkrooms of the huts year-round, but there are no linens. You will need to carry something to sleep in or on that will keep you warm as there is no heating offered in the bunkrooms. Earplugs are also suggested if you are a light sleeper as the bunkrooms are shared with a large number of other trampers.
- Water. The water that is available at the huts is collected in the area surrounding the hut, either from a nearby river or from rainfall. This water is not tested for Giardia on a regular basis, so treatment may be recommended. However many walkers do drink the water in the huts.
- Bottle. Carry a bottle or other water carrier such as a CamelPak that can be accessed easily. Drinking regularly to maintain hydration is extremely important during such continuous activity.
- Treatment. Carry your preferred method of treating water. A pump or gravity filter could be your primary method with iodine tablets, which require time to clear the bacteria, as a backup.
- Something to do in the evening. As you may arrive at a hut in mid-afternoon, and weather or sandflies may keep you indoors, you might want to bring a book to read, or a game to play.
The track starts at the head of Lake Te Anau. Boat transport is required to get to the start of the track. All reservations should be made at least one week in advance. Popular dates in peak season are often booked many months ahead of time, so make sure to book early! Real Journeys operates lake transfers from Te Anau Downs to Glade House during track season. (The start of the Milford Track) website
The route described here assumes that you are walking independently and staying at the DOC huts. If you do a guided walk, you will follow the same route, but have different overnight stops and so will generally be an hour or two behind the independent walkers. This prevents walkers feeling crowded.
Due to the booking system of the Great Walk, it is not an option to pass a hut in an effort to move on to the next hut. Also, there is no camping allowed on the Milford Track.
During the peak season the huts, Clinton, Mintaro and Dumpling, have gas cookers, tables, cold running water, lighting and heating in the common area. The bunkrooms are communal with mattresses provided. Flush toilets are also available.
As somewhat of a gift from the DOC, the first day is rather easy with just over an hour consumed riding on a boat to the track start. On the boat trip you will pass a memorial cross at the point where Quintin Mackinnon's empty boat was found after he went missing in 1892.
From the landing at 1 Glade Wharf you tramp about 5 km. to the Clinton Hut where you will spend your first night. The DOC times this 5 km. between an hour to an hour and a half. Along the way you will pass Glade House, the hut for guided walkers. The track is track is fairly level and follows the Clinton River.
Once at Clinton Hut, you may take some time to go swimming in the Clinton River or take a short trip through the nearby wetlands on a boardwalk. Depending on the DOC staffing at the hut, the warden(s) may offer an interpretation trip in the late afternoon.
Clinton Hut sleeps 40 split between two bunkrooms.
After dark you can go for a few hundred yards along the track (in the direction you will go tomorrow) to a small community of glow worm
Day two is a 16.5 km. walk that the DOC has timed at approximately 6 hours. The track is a gentle ascent, following the Cliton River toward Lake Mintaro. This section crosses through more than 50 avalanche passes, making it extremely dangerous in the off-peak season. There are several sections of the track where stopping is not permitted due to the risk of avalanche - avoid stopping for a break or lunch in these sections, but a 10 second stop to take a photo should be ok.
Flooding is also a consideration on this day's tramp. Between Hirere Falls and Marlenes Creek a heavy rain can cause problems for walkers. If it is wet you can pause for shelter at 1 Hirere Falls and at the 2 Bus Stop Shelter.
A short detour may be possible to 1 Hidden Lake, but this track is sometimes closed due to the avalanche risk.
About an hour and a half from this night's hut is a turn-off for Pompolona Hut where guided walkers stay the night. About 1 mile after this is the 2 St Quintin Falls, a 230m waterfall.
After gaining about 250 m. in elevation, much of it in the last couple of hours, you'll spend the night in Mintaro hut with up to 39 other people spread through 3 bunkrooms. Nearby Lake Mintaro is worth a short stroll on a nice day.
Day three is a 14 km. walk that should take between 6 and 7 hours. You'll start the day at approximately 500 m. and end it at around 100 m., but along the way you'll go over Mackinnon Pass at 1069 m.
It takes just over two hours to make it from Mintaro Hut to the peak, with the Mackinnon Memorial along the way. (As an interesting aside, if you were to take the plunge from the memorial, it would take you nearly 12 seconds to hit the bottom.) At the top you'll find a shelter with a toilet and, during the summer, a cooking ring.
It is 8 km. from the pass to Dumpling Hut and it descends 970 m. in that stretch. Regular breaks are suggested in order to reduce the stress as you descend this uneven terrain. At the start of the season, the main track may be closed due to the avalanche risk, and a steeper emergency track is used.
Your final day is 18 km. in 5 1/2 to 6 hours. Allow time to look at the 3 Mackay Falls. The boat will pick you up at 2 Sandfly Point, where there is a shelter with separate waiting areas for independent and guided walkers.
While on the track you may notice the presence of an aircraft. Aircraft are an essential part of the track environmental management and remove every waste including toilet waste. As there are no roads, track maintenance and building is enabled by aircraft and all supplies to the lodges are flown in. If you injure yourself so you can't continue or you go missing, aircraft are the practical method to carry out search and rescue.
- 1 Clinton Hut.
- 2 Mintaro Hut. The hut is shortly after passing Lake Mintaro. The lake was named after Frederick Mintaro Bailey Muir, a photographer in Mackinnon's party. In 2021 a new Mintaro hut was opened, which is about 1 km (0.62 mi) uphill from Lake Mintaro.
- 3 Dumpling Hut.
Lodges for Guided Walks
Walkers on the guided walks have relatively luxurious facilities, but pay about five times as much as those using the DOC huts.
- 4 Glade House.
- 5 Pompolona Lodge.
- 6 Quintin Lodge.
- Mitre Peak Lodge. The final night for guided walks is on the sound, after the ferry.
- The track ends at Sandfly Point near Milford Sound. Boat transport is required to get from the end of the track. All reservations should be made at least one week in advance.
- Routeburn Track
- Rakiura Track on Stewart Island