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Starting at the head of Lake Te Anau the track follows the Clinton River to its source, crosses the McKinnon Pass (1073m) and continues down the Arthur Valley to Milford Sound. The Sutherland Falls may be visited as a side trip. During the summer season (late October to early April) boat transport at either end and bus connections to and from Te Anau or Te Anau Downs are available. The 53km track takes four days, and can be walked from South to North only to preserve the wilderness nature of the experience. The track can be enjoyed as a guided walk, staying in comfortable lodges with hot showers and all meals provided, or for independent walkers, well appointed Department of Conservation huts are provided; camping is not permitted.
The Milford Track is walked in Fiordland National Park, part of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. The track may be walked in the direction from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound only, in order to preserve the wilderness nature of the experience.
Length: 54 kilometres
Number of days required to walk: 4
Number of huts: 3 public huts, 3 private lodges
Highest point: 1073m
Can be guided: Yes. Guided walkers stay in private lodges
Track condition: Excellent
Track popularity: High. Bookings are essential
Booking required: Essential
Traversing the heart of New Zealand’s wild fiord country, the Milford Track has long had the undisputed description as "the finest walk in the world", an opinion endorsed by thousands who have made the four day (three night) trip. Since Quintin MacKinnon pioneered the route in 1888, everyone from hardened walkers to novices sporting their first pair of boots ’have done the Milford’.
The Fiordland National Park is the cornerstone of the Te Wahipounamu, Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. Walkers on the track to Milford Sound encounter Fiordland at its most spectacular. The route follows the Quintin and Arthur Valleys which are separated by the MacKinnon Pass. These U-shaped valleys were carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age which ended some 14.000 years ago. On a sunny day there is a postcard shot around every corner, but only when it rains, and torrents of water cascade down the steep mountainsides, have you truly experienced the magic of the Milford Track.
Donald Sutherland, the first European resident of Milford Sound, never so much as saw a human face as he explored the surroundings He discovered the Sutherland Falls, in 1880, and startling the world with the claim that they were over 1,000 metres hight, the Government send a party to confirm the find. Sutherland started building a track up the Arthur Valley so visitors could be shown ’his’ falls,and soon tourists began to arrive by boat to view Milford’s reputation as the Eighth Wonder of the World. However the rugged Fiordland coast limited access to Milford and finding an overland route from the great lakes of the interior became an imperative.
Only in October 1888, on a mission to cut a track up the Clinton Valley and after several setbacks, due to the extreme weather patterns of Fiordland, did Quintin MacKinnon and Ernest Mitchell first cross the pass that linked with the Arthur Valley and the track built by Sutherland.
The pass was named in honour of MacKinnon and the first track was completed within two years. Prison gangs and later, contracted work parties opened up the Milford Track to a standard suitable for guided parties. Nevertheless, it was still pretty rough when the first tourists began to use the track in 1889 and it was a lengthy expedition to Milford Sound. It could take days to row up Lake Te Anau and it was not uncommon to be hut-bound by flooding for several days at a time. In the absence of another feasible route, at the end of it all, walkers returned the same way. In the early days packhorses were used to carry in stores to the huts along the track. Horses were replaced by tractors and trailers, and nowadays, helicopters are used.
One of the most colourful guides of those early days was MacKinnon himself, well-known for his pompolonas (pan scones), which were partly made from mutton fat and his kaka and pigeon stew. Tragically MacKinnon was drowned in Lake Te Anau in 1892.
Sutherland was reportedly rather piqued the pass had eluded him for 8 years and he insisted on calling it the Balloon Saddle, adding that he could have discovered it at any time if he had wanted to. He regarded Milford as his own, and his rather brusque attitude towards city folk, or "asphalters" as he called them, is noted by many of the walkers who signed the visitor’s book in the chalet he built at Milford in 1891. Incidentally, when visitors left, Sutherland would enter his own cryptic comments on them in this famous Visitor’s Book.
Control of the Milford Track was taken over by the Government in 1903. It was closed during World War One and again in 1943 during World War Two, reopening in 1947. Again it was closed during 1951-1953 to allow for rebuilding of the Milford Hotel after fire damage, Pompolona Hut, and the construction of the Homer Tunnel. In 1966 the track was extended to include independent trampers. Since then, track and bridges have been improved to allow parties to travel in all but the most imclement weather.
Getting to and from the track
From Te Anau - by bus or private transport to Te Anau Downs, along Lake Te Anau. Then by launch across Lake Te Anau to Glade House wharf, starting point of the track.
At the completion of the track - by launch from Sandfly Point on the Sound (end of the track) to Milford, then by bus or private transport back to Te Anau.
Note that the Milford Track may be walked in one direction only.
From the head of Lake Te Anau, the track follows the Clinton River to Glade House (1.2km) - the first overnight stop for guided trampers). Independent trampers continue on up to Clinton Forks Hut (7.2km) for the first overnight stop.
The track continues up the Clinton River, climbing gently through a gorge to the upper flats of the Clinton. Pompolona Hut (second stop for guided trampers) is beyond the flats, and independent walkers continue for about another hour to the hut at Lake Mintaro, the source of the Clinton River.
From Mintaro Hut, the track continues up the valley to cross the head of the Clinton and then climbs a well graded zig-zag to the pass (1073 metres), about two hours. From the top of the McKinnon Pass, magnificent views are obtained southward into the Clinton Valley and northward into the Arthur Valley towards Milford Sound. From here the track drops steadily down to Quintin Hut (for guided trampers) and on to Dumpling Hut (for independent travellers). There is a good 2 km side track at Quintin Hut to view the foot of the Sutherland Falls. It is worth taking wet weather gear to view the falls as the spray is cold, even on a hot day.
From Dumpling the track winds down the Arthur River for about 5.5 hours to Sandfly point at Milford Sound. Two worthy sights during this section are the Mackay Falls (left) and Bell Rock, an unusual rock which has been worn by water and rocks to form a hollow interior. Take a launch from Sandfly point to connect to Milford Sound.
Book Ahead - For Independent Walkers:
Booking ahead for the Milford Track is ESSENTIAL during the season from early November to mid April because of the tracks popularity.
To make a booking, write to:
Department of Conservation
Milford Track Bookings
PO Box 29
or, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Boat transport must be arranged at both ends of the track (from Te Anau Downs to the head of Lake Te Anau and from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound). There are plenty of operators providing this service.
Camping is NOT permitted on the Milford Track.
The Milford Track is not an easy walk. The track takes 4 days to complete with around 6 hours of walking per day.
In places, the track is rocky and uneven, and at 1073m the McKinnon Pass can be covered in snow at any time of year.
The Milford Track’s rainfall is one of the heaviest in the world - occasionally in excess of 500 mm in 24 hours.
Heavy rainfall, driving winds and snow in summer can rapidly create conditions that could hypothermia.
Some tramping experience and understanding of New Zealand bush and alpine is recommended.
The Milford, Routeburn, Hollyford and Greenstone Tracks can all be walked as guided walks.
Your overnight accommodation is in comfortable lodges, with all linen, duvets and towels provided. Hot showers are available and all meals are supplied.
Experienced track staff offer expert direction, plus explanations of scenery highlights, flora and fauna.
There are also a variety of shorter excursions which you can experience with the aid of a guide.