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Milford Trek, New Zealand

Te Anu Milford TrekMuch to the chagrin of the locals, people lump Australia and New Zealand together. However, those who have hiked the Milford Trek will tell you there is no comparison between the geographically close countries of the South Pacific. Frankly, there may be no comparison to any other place in the world. Where else can you walk through a lush, green forest denser than you can ever imagine and gaze at multitudes of waterfalls covering sheer granite cliffs peeking above the canopy. Strange birds, great facilities and humorous hut masters round out your experience trekking through one of the world’s most amazing old growth forests.

Once used as a trail to collect pounamu (greenstone/jade) by the indigenous Polynesian tribe Maori, it’s been a trekking destination since the late 1800’s when Donald Sutherland and Quintin Mackinnon cut trails to allow tourists access to a remote wonderland. Back then it was a treacherous journey, but now Milford Trek is the easiest of the ten Great Treks, with wide level trails and an infrastructure second to none. Supervised by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, they meticulously oversee every aspect of your experience. However, be aware, rain is measured in meters per month and when it rains it pours. Trails flood as deep as your waist and you must be prepared. If conditions get too bad, fear not, the DOC will helicopter you from peril at no additional cost.


Days Trekking: 4 days
Distance: 53.5 km, 33.25 miles
Max Elevation: 1,069m / 3,528’
Starting Elevation: 200m / 656’
Approximate Elevation Change: 869m / 2,872’
Price Range Independent: $200 + food
Price Range Outfitter: $1,500
Challenge Level: Easy, under good weather conditions



  • Greatest 10 meter view in front of you
  • Flush green old growth forests
  • Incredibly maintained trails
  • Great bunk houses
  • Witty DOC staff


When to Go

The main trekking season is from late October to late April. However, some people choose to trek off season when the DOC huts are not necessarily staffed. If you go off season you will also have to contend with an increased risk of avalanches and slips.

The Milford Trek is very popular. you must book your trip well in advance, unless you get lucky due to a cancellation. The reservations start in July and it is best to book when permits first become available.


Guided vs Independent Treks

There are two options for trekking Milford. You can walk independently and take advantage of the DOC huts (open and staffed in high season only), but you must be self-sufficient with your food and equipment needs. The huts provide a bunk to sleep on (you need only your sleeping bag), flush toilets and cooking stoves. They are staffed by wonderfully knowledgeable, helpful and witty staff. It is by far the best, most organized and competent system I have seen in the world. For more information on booking an independent trek visit www.doc.govt.nz.

In contrast, you can participate in a guided walk with far more luxurious huts which provide bedrooms as well as bunk-style lodging, hot showers and very comfortable common areas. Because gourmet meals are prepared daily, walkers need only carry their personal clothing and equipment. There’s even beer and wine for purchase, if you want to wind down after your hike. This is a wonderful way for you to break into trekking, especially if you may need more guidance and supervision. While significantly more expensive than independent walking, the fees help subsidize the costs of maintaining this enchanted land. For more information visit www.ultimatehikes.co.nz.



Milford Trek is considered an easy trek, but easy must come with the qualification that it is easy during reasonable weather, which is rare. The trek is 53.5km / 33.25 miles, climbs less than 1,000m / 3,300’ and starts close to sea level. The trail itself is incredibly groomed, meticulously maintained and constructed with ladders and boardwalks where precarious footing existed in the past. The challenge, however, is the weather. It is rare to get four days without rain. On the Milford Trek rain isn’t just a nuisance, it can be dangerous. In colder weather it can lead to hypothermia and when it rains hard the river levels rise quickly submerging the trail. They warn that you should be prepared to wade through knee deep water, but often people wade waist deep. In addition, people are periodically helicoptered past a section of trail.


Milford Trek Map
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Grand Canyon Elevation Map - Rim to Rim to Rim
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Access / Local Information

The main access city is Te Anau, which is a small town that can meet all of your last minute preparatory needs. You can either drive or take a bus to Te Anau from the much larger city of Queenstown, which is a short flight from Christchurch or Auckland. If you are already in New Zealand you can also take a bus or drive from Christchurch.

Queenstown offers a lot more shopping and activities for adrenaline junkies including bungee jumping, zip lining, paragliding and more. Be aware that both towns exist primarily around tourism and it is expensive to buy quality equipment. Therefore, it is best to have all your equipment purchased in advance and use the towns to purchase food for your treks.



Milford Trek, the heart of Fiordland, is located in the south west corner of New Zealand.


Day to Day Account - Jeff Salvage - Milford Trek, New Zealand

My last of the ten Great Treks was supposed to be the easiest one. Categorized as an easy four-day walk, the hardest part of the trek should have been getting to the trailhead. Coming from America, tickets were not cheap and the four flights my wife Jennifer and I took were long and draining. Still, after a quick recharge in the adrenaline-junkie city of Queenstown, we were ready to complete my seven year journey to walk the world’s best treks. Recognizing there is some debate over the best trek in New Zealand, my plan was to knock off Milford and then come back to complete the Routeburn and Kepler treks in succession and decide for myself. The story continues...