Milford Track Diary – One Tramper’s Experience of the Milford Track
We went to New Zealand for 5 weeks, and it was an absolutely fabulous vacation. During our stay we wrote a long diary and this is where you can read it and see the photos we took.
Some facts about the Milford Track:
- Often called “the finest walk in the world”
- One of the most popular hikes in New Zealand
- Only 40 people per day are allowed on the track (bookings need to be done well in advance)
- The walk is 54km (33.5miles) long
- The region gets lots of rain (7.5 meters in 1998)
- You can drink the water from the streams (even if the official rule is that you should boil it for 5 minutes)
- The walk usually takes 4 days (3 nights in huts):
- First day: 3.5km (2.2miles) walk to Clinton hut
- Second day: 16.5km (10.25miles) walk to Mintaro hut
- Third day: 14km (8.7miles) walk to Dumpling hut (over the Mackinnon pass, 1154m/3786ft)
- Fourth day: 18km (11.2miles) walk to Sandfly Point
A round trip from Te Anau works like this:
- Bus from Te Anau to Te Anau Downs (20 minutes)
- Boat from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf (1 hour)
- Walk 54 kilometers over the 4 days as above.
- Boat from Sandfly Point to Milford Sounds (20 minutes)
- Bus from Milford Sounds to Te Anau (2 hours)
We did the walk as described above, except that we did it in three days, putting the last two days together to one day. The reason for doing the last two parts in one day was two-fold. Firstly, the walks for each day are a bit too short if you are used to hiking, and secondly, the track is home to lots of sandflies. Sandflies are almost as unbearable as mosquitoes, they are smaller but their bites itch just as much. Stopping for a rest along the track means putting up with these hungry devils, so we always tried to keep walking, hence the longer days.
We got to Glade Wharf at 11:30am, had lunch, and soon encountered our first sandflies. At 12pm we started walking, and by 1pm we were already at Clinton hut. Rather than sit inside all afternoon we went for a short walk to the Wetlands and back. Sitting outside the hut is possible only with liberal application of sandfly repellent, and/or making sure all your skin is covered. It’s definitely worth getting covered up to appreciate the fresh air in this beautiful part of the world.
So naturally beautiful, the water of the Clinton River is crystal clear. Even though the river is several meters deep you can see every stone on its bed. The vegetation is very special and compact. It would be impossible to walk outside the track, but the track itself is very well maintained, in places like a gravel road.
The Clinton hut is a nice hut with two big rooms where everybody sleeps. Being out in nature with limited distractions meant we got to bed early and were up early like most others. We started walking around 7:30am and decided to walk slowly and take long breaks. We had a quick coffee break – best to avoid the sandflies, and for a lunch stop we found a spot that was sandfly free! Everywhere on this beautiful walk is so naturally striking that we took lots of pictures and enjoyed a gentle walk. We arrived at Mintaro Hut in the early afternoon and if we’d liked we’d have had another relaxing end to the day.
Instead we decided to walk the first part of the next day’s track, to the Mackinnon Pass. The highest point of the track at 1154m (3786ft) Mackinnon Pass is well worth exploring the day you arrive at Mintaro Hut – especially if the sky is clear, because it may not be in the morning! On the way up we saw some really beautiful flowers called mount cook lilies. We were lucky enough to have beautiful weather and the view from the pass was very impressive. From the top of the pass we could see much of where we had already walked, and also what was to come. We stayed for a long time and enjoyed the view and the sun.
We got back to Mintaro Hut at around 5:30pm and had dinner. After dinner we got chatting with some other trampers and before long were joined by a guy we didn’t recognize as one of our fellow trampers – he was the warden for Mintaro Hut. Our group had chatted on the track that day about the possibility of merging the last two days, as we felt ready for longer days on the trail. And we were told that it was OK to do so, because the boats from Sandfly Point at the end of the track have good capacity – the answer would have been different if we’d asked to skip a night other than the last of the hike – because huts are at capacity every night.
We discussed the idea for a while, and whilst it represented a big day on the trail (32km of walking, a 514m/1686ft climb up to 1154m/3786ft and then a descent all the way to sea level) we decided we were up for it. It would require an early start in order to make it to our boat from Sandfly Point at 3:15pm, and a couple who’d overheard our conversation were kind enough to lend us their alarm clock.
We set the alarm on 5:00 and went to bed on mattresses in a small room connected to the kitchen, so we wouldn’t wake everybody else up early in the morning. We woke up early, ate some breakfast, and were on the trail shortly after 5:30am. We completed the walk to Dumpling Hut in around 4 hours, had lunch there, and talked to the warden. She seemed a bit surprised that we wanted to continue directly on to Sandfly Point but she had no problem with it.
Every mile there is a stick showing how far you have walked. To begin with we’d stopped every 3 miles (4.8 km) to have a break, and at our pace it was roughly one break per hour.
Around 11:20am we passed a sign saying that it would be about a 4 hour walk to Sandfly Point. So now we know that we would be able to catch the 3:15pm boat comfortably. But since we were starting to feel our feet and legs we decided to keep the speed up so we would be finished as early as possible. In the back of our minds was the 2:30pm boat, if we were fast enough to make it.
By the time we’d passed the 47km mark we were walking a little slower. We had now walked 25 kilometers at a pretty fast rate and with just one break longer than 5 minutes. It was around 12:30 so we had 2 hours before the early boat would leave and we only had 7 km left to go. We slowed down and took a break every 45 minutes. The feet were starting to hurt for real and it was hard to start after the short breaks so we decided to just walk on.
We arrived at Sandfly Point at around 2:10pm, so we had walked 32 km in 8.5 hours. We could feel it in our legs and feet, but it also felt really good and it was more of a challenge than the short, slower hikes of the previous days.
When we got back to Te Anau we went to the Te Anau Backpacker’s Lodge, having made reservations before leaving for the Milford Track. We had a shower and went out for pizza. By the time we got back it was around 8pm, and we were exhausted so went straight to bed – we slept for about 11 hours! What an adventure!
Where do I start?! New Zealand had been number one on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and it didn’t disappoint. Don’t wait another moment, if New Zealand is the dream, find a way! The ‘Manuka’ trip was beyond any expectations I could have dreamed of! Yes it was physical, but our amazing guides Claire and Jess kept me going and the accomplishment and the views were always worth it. I have memories that will last a lifetime, best money I have EVER spent. Trust me, don’t wait! Go!
June Vidrine, Active Adventures New Zealand ‘Manuka’ trip, March 2017