If you do a web search for “things to do in New Zealand,” Milford Sound will be one of the first results you see. And for good reason! Milford Sound is one of the country’s most beautiful areas. But the real gem of the Sound is Milford Track, which has often been described as the “finest walk in the world.”
Filled with incredible views and stunning natural beauty, this 53 km long hike ending in Milford Sound is one of the most popular attractions on New Zealand’s south island. It’s a great hike for both avid outdoors enthusiasts and newbies just looking to get into hiking. From sparkling lakes to snowy peaks and wooded trails, it’s got something for everyone!
What is Milford Track & Milford Sound?
Milford Track is frequented by hikers from all over the world. Each year, around 14,000 visitors come to explore the area.
Drawn by the chance to trek through some of the world’s most beautiful natural scenery, Milford Track attracts a wide range of travelers and adventurers. It can be a serious undertaking if you’re looking to do the entire thing, but portions of the trail are wide, flat, and perfect for beginner hikers, too.
The trail spans 53.5 km (or 32.2 miles), starting in Glade Wharf at the head of Lake Te Anau and continuing through scenic forests, peaks, and valleys before ending up at Sandfly Point in Milford Sound where boats, kayaks, and cruises are a popular means to explore.
One of the most unique aspects of this trail is that it winds its way through a wide variety of natural areas. If you walk the entire track, you will pass through wetlands, rainforests, waterfalls, and even an alpine pass. Few other locations offer such an impressive range of environments.
The trail was first used by the Māori people to collect, transport, and trade jade found in southern New Zealand. In 1888, Scottish explorer Quinton McKinnon discovered a pass that could be traversed by tourists, now known as MacKinnon Pass.
He began guiding walking tours through his route from Lake Te Anau, through MacKinnon Pass, the highest point on the track, and ending at Milford Sound creating what would become one of the best walking and trekking tracks in New Zealand.
Milford Track and Milford Sound are located in New Zealand’s Fiordlands, in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest national park. It is so beautiful that Rudyard Kipling even described the area as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
Due to the steep terrain, high rainfall, and dense vegetation, the Fiordlands have remained relatively untouched by development and seem an isolated haven in nature.
Who Can Walk Milford Track?
Unlike certain popular treks, like the Appalachian Trail in the U.S., Milford Track isn’t a huge undertaking only suitable for trained hikers. It’s possible to do the entire track at a moderate pace in about four days. While the terrain is relatively flat for a lot of the route, there is a steep incline in the middle of the track.
You should be in good physical condition if you want to attempt to walk the entire trail. Conveniently, there are huts and shelters set up along the way with limited bunks to accommodate hikers.
The terrain on the track varies from smooth, well-formed dirt paths to rocky, sometimes uneven areas. The parts of the track that are well formed have sturdy bridges to cross small streams or rivers and may have steps to help you on the moderate inclines.
On the rougher parts of the track, you may occasionally have to cross over streams or deal with muddy areas and drainage during rain, and you will encounter several steep inclines and downhill sections. Never the less, this hike is considered one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
What Are the Rules and Regulations?
During Summer, known as the Great Walk Season which is from late October through late April, you must book ahead all three huts on the track. You can only go one way on the Track, starting at Lake Te Anau, and stay at all three huts successively. Hikes in the winter, outside of the Great Walk Season are recommended only for fit, experienced hikers as the weather can be dangerous.
Out of season, there is no reservation required for the huts, they are first come first served. There are also reduced facilities available in the winter, so hikers must purchase Backcountry Hut Pass/Tickets. Transportation to and from the Track must also be booked ahead of time. Children under the age of 10, as well as dogs, are not permitted on the Track.
Booking with a tour company is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll be prepared for a successful trip! This is an especially good idea if you’re not looking to do the entire trail, as they can arrange guided day trips. We recommend the team behind OnlyLuxe who has local guides who live and work in the area, making them really knowledgeable on the ins and outs of the track.
Can You Do Only a Portion of the Track?
One of the nice things about Milford Track is that you can experience the stunning beauty of the trail without having to commit to an entire four-day trek. You can even take a cruise around the area and experience the beautiful scenery of southern New Zealand from the water. There are some great companies that will combine walking a section of the track with an overnight cruise. These trips are great for getting away from the tourists that can overwhelm the area during the day, letting you experience the natural beauty in peace.
If you want to see and explore more of the area, you can also walk four different tracks in the area like the Routeburn Track Hiking, Kepler Track Heli Hike, and Hollyford Track.
If you want something even more unique, you can also Milford Sound on a cruise, or go on a luxury guided walk of the area or on a helicopter tour.
There are such a variety of fantastic options to choose from, you can customize your journey to the historic Milford Track and make it your own personal adventure. Now that you know what you’ve been missing, be sure and make plans to visit this unforgettable destination!