The Milford Track is perhaps the most stunning hike in all of New Zealand. The Milford Track is located in New Zealand's largest national park - Fiordland National Park. The park is an alpine landscape of virgin native forests, glacier-hewn valleys, some of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the world, and eye-watering fiords.
The Milford Track starts on the shores of one of New Zealand Lake Te Anua and makes its way to New Zealand's most famous fiord - Milford Sound. Most trails in New Zealand are free and do not require advance bookings - but the Milford Track is the exception. It is a track that requires advanced planning and is not so simple to explore.
The Milford Track - 'The Finest Walk In The World'
The Milford Track is one of the most famous hiking routes in New Zealand and extends for 53.5 km or 33.2 miles through some of the world's most spectacular scenery. The hike starts at Glade Wharf at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at Milford Sound (often considered the most beautiful location in New Zealand).
- Length: 53.5 km or 33.2 miles
The trail passes through rainforests, wetlands, and an alpine pass. Hikers need to be prepared for adverse weather conditions. New Zealand can be extremely windy, and this part of the country is among some of the wettest places on earth (so always plan for rain).
The Department of Conservation maintains three huts (or developed shelters) along the track called Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut, and Dumpling Hut. Additionally, there are three more private lodges along the route.
The lingo in New Zealand English can be a little different at times. Good words to know are "track," i.e., trail, "tramping," i.e., hiking (also "trampers"), DOC (pronounced 'dock'), i.e., Department of Conservation (like the National Park Service), jandals, i.e., flip-flops, "freedom camping" camping for free at un-designated sites, "hut" an overnight shelter along a trail.
Milford Track's Peak And Off-Peak Seasons
The Milford Track is open year-round, but during the winter months, it is cold and wet. There can be ice, snow, and short daylight hours. It is only recommended for people with alpine, river crossing, and navigation skills. It is common for DOC to call in helicopters to evacuate hikers trapped between flooded rivers.
- Peak Season: Late October to April
- Low Season: May to Late October
During the peak season, it is strictly regulated, and hikers need to complete the track in four days. They can only travel in a northbound direct, and camping is prohibited.
During the off-season, the regulations are relaxed, and people can complete it in any direction over any number of days. But it is also a difficult time, and facilities at the huts and some bridges are removed (to prevent avalanche damage).
In the winter season, the hut fees are reduced, bookings are not required, and the Clinton and Arthur Valleys can become impassable due to flooding and heavy rain. The track is not an all-weather track and can become impassable during the winter. See the Department of Conservation for more info and safety tips.
Planning A Milford Track Hike
All New Zealand national parks are free for all to enjoy, and almost all tracks (or trails) are free. The Milford Track is unusual for a couple of reasons. One is that there is no direct car park access (hikers need to hire a boat taxi to get to the trailhead). It is also very unusual in that hikers need to register and make a booking to use the track (it can be booked out long in advance).
Most people complete the whole track with 15 to 20 hours of hiking over a period of three days. The fastest completion was 5 hours and 28 minutes.
- Duration: Typically 15-20 Hours Over 3 Days
- Quota: Max Of 90 Hikers A Day
- New Zealand Citizens: NZD $78.00 ($48 USD) Per Person Per Night
- International Visitors: NZD $110.00 ($67 USD) Per Person Per Night
Only 90 hikers are permitted each day during the peak season, with 40 slots being for independent hikers and 50 being for guided hikes. Independent hikers can only stay at the basic DOC huts, while guided hikers stay at lodges with hot showers and catered meals.