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Walking the Milford Track

If walking the Milford Track has been on your bucket list, it’s time to start planning. One of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks it has long been considered ‘the finest walk in the world.’

Here’s what you need to know to before you set out.

The Milford Track

  • Duration: 4 days
  • Distance: 53.5 km (One way)
  • Best time of your to make the trek: October – April
    (Check with the Department of Conservation when planning your trip on exact opening dates for the season.)

What to expect

The Great Walk tracks in New Zealand and regularly maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and as a result are of a higher standard than most other tracks.

You will find that the tracks are generally quite wide, depending on the type of terrain. The surfaces are usually gravel, rock or dirt, and just like any walking track can get a little slippery in wet weather.

Pro-tip: Some tracks have been known to wash out on the Milford Track in heavy rain, so keep an eye on river levels.

Scheduling the Milford Walk

Like other great walks in New Zealand, you will find that the walk has already been scheduled based on the distances between huts.

Here is your walking schedule:

Day 1 – Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut

Time: 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minutes
Distance: 5km

After a boat cruise from Te Anau Downs (1 hour 15 minutes), enjoy a leisurely pace as you wander through beautiful beech forest. Follow the banks of the Clinton River to Clinton Hut, where all walkers spend the first night.

As this is a short distance over easy terrain, feel free to leave later in the day and take it all in.

Day 2 – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut

Time: 6 hours,
Distance: 16.5km

From Clinton Hut, a gradual climb follows the Clinton River to its source, Lake Mintaro. This is the base of the renowned Mackinnon Pass, a valley sculpted by glaciers. Continue on and you will pass Hirere Falls. Here you will get your first glimpse of Mackinnon Pass and the majestic Pompolona ice field. Now it’s time to climb. Try not to feel dwarfed by the rock walls towering above you as you continue climbing Clinton valley. Your day’s climb ends at Mintaro Hut where you can enjoy stunning views of the Clinton Valley and a very welcome rest before the epic Mackinnon Pass climb the following day.

Day 3 – Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut

Time: 6–7 hours
Distance: 14km

On your third day of hiking you’ll start the climb to Mackinnon Pass. Take in panoramic views from the memorial to explorer Quintin McKinnon, and take in scenes of Lake Mintaro and the Clinton Canyon along the way. Enjoy a deep breath here before continuing on to the highest point of the track; Mackinnon Pass Shelter (1154 metres).

From here, you’ll begin your slow descent and drop steadily through alpine vegetation right through to the base of the valley. It is on this descent that you will pass several waterfalls along the Roaring Burn River. Take a break at Quintin Shelter before continuing on to your rest stop for the evening; Dumpling Hut.

Pro-tip: On the way to Dumpling Hut (and if the weather is clear) take a few moments to admire Sutherland Falls in the distance.

Day 4 – Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point

Time: 5 hours 30 minutes – 6 hours
Distance: 18km

You made it to the last day! Congratulations.

From your rest stop at Dumpling Hut, you’ll follow Arthur River until your reach the Boatshed. It’s relatively easy walking from here but don’t underestimate the tiredness that lags from the previous two days. Soon you’ll reach the mesmerising Mackay Falls and Bell Rock.

Notice that there are man-made rock cuttings all along the Arthur River up to Lake Ada.

Here it gets a bit easier as you approach the last 3 km. Finish up your great walk on a steady, wide track that was actually constructed by a prison labour gang between 1890 and 1892.

Then, it’s just a short boat ride from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound where you can take a longer cruise and enjoy the stunning fjords of Milford Sound/Piopiotahi along the way.

Before you go

Make sure you:

  1. Book your huts online or at a DOC Visitor Centre.
  2. Book your transport to and from the track
  3. Buy your food and pack your bags – download the Great Walks packing list
  4. Make sure you have everything you need for a 4-day independent unguided walk.
  5. Collect your tickets from the DOC Visitor Centre in Te Anau

Be aware that this is a very popular walk and huts can be fully-booked months in advance. Plan ahead and add on some additional adventures to make the most of your time in Fiordland.