Milford Sound (New Zealand)

The main reason for our trip to New Zealand was to walk the famous Milford Track.

We spent most of a day in Te Anau anticipating and preparing for the hike. This meant repeated trips to the supermarket buying food, and more food, and insect repellant. The weather forecast for the first two days was warm and pleasant. The third day would probably be wet and miserable, the fourth doubtful.

Day 1

We woke to a beautiful brisk sunny morning on the day we started the hike. We boarded a bus to Te Anau Downs beside massive Te Anau Lake surrounded by high hills / mountains. The one hour ferry ride across the lake to the start of the walk was relaxing.

We walked 3.5km to Clinton Hut, which was flat and easy, even with full packs. Surrounding scenery is superb. Crystal clear water in rivers, massive hills covered in forest on lower slopes with rugged rocks higher up holding pockets of snow presumably from last winter. Lots of ferns and peat moss beside the track.

Hot sunshine and no wind provided very warm weather. After lunch at Clinton Hut, we went for a walk (without packs) and a refreshing (freezing) swim. Clinton Hut well designed, clean and spacious.

Day 2

The track follows Clinton River through a valley surrounded by magnificent sheer cliffs and high mountains. One peak was sheer and almost overhung the track. We walked a total of 18km for the day.

The track varied from flat and smooth to steep and rocky. The scenery is unsurpassed. Carpets of thick moss covered the ground, rocks and trees, sometimes hanging in streams from the trees. A variety of ferns grow alongside the track, which is surrounded by dense forest. Occasionally, white flowers had fallen and carpeted the track. Waterfalls frequently fell hundreds of feet down the cliffs. The water in the river was crystal clear and we saw several large trout and an eel.

Day 3

We set off in the rain about 7-30am to walk up an extremely steep, rough, zig zag track for 2 1/2 miles which took us about 2 1/2 hours. When the clouds lifted, we could see several waterfalls across the valley.

By the time we reached a rest hut on top of Mackinnon Pass, we were wet through. Blisters were giving me hell, but there was no option but to continue on.

From the hut we started to descend on a track that often ran with water like a shallow creek bed. Waterfalls cascaded down nearby cliffs for hundreds of feet, and torrents of water roared down chasms. The track passed through primeval type forests, again with fern, moss and lichen covered ground, rocks and trees.

At one stage there was a series of steps down the mountain beside a roaring creek, and near Dumping Hut there was a walkway affixed to the cliff face (the steps and walkway were relatively new, otherwise the track would have been steep, wet and very difficult). We arrived at Dumpling Hut after nearly 18 km of almost non-stop walking in the rain for 8 hours.

Day 4

Up about 6-30am to get an early start to catch the ferry to Milford Lodge. Started off before 7-30 and walked steadily all day again for 18km with a couple of short stops.

The weather cleared and was good for walking, but the packs were heavy with wet gear from walking in the previous days rain. Once again the scenery was spectacularly beautiful and dramatic, with rearing mountain cliffs all round, and the track wending through massive tree ferns growing high overhead, not seen on previous days.

Crossed numerous creeks, rivers and chasms by suspension bridges, past massive waterfalls and roaring cascading flooding torrents.

The end of the walk at Sandfly Point was a welcome relief. There was a sign at the end of the track congratulating walkers, and a stack of dumped hiking boots. The 20 minute ferry ride across the lake to Milford Sound Wharf was very picturesque.

A beer in Milford Lodge surrounded by mountainous cliffs, a hot shower, clean clothes, and an enjoyable dinner and we were happy.

Day 5

We drove up to "The Chasm" to see the torrential waterfall which had carved holes in the rocks to form a huge modernistic sculpture. We also enjoyed a ferry ride around Milford Sound, past waterfall cascading down sheer cliffs, with snow on top of some of the surrounding mountains, and saw seals in the water and on rocks, all in perfect weather.

Final commentary

We drove over 3000 kms. around the South Island, and also enjoyed sightseeing in the attractive city of Christchurch, walking around Queenstown where hang gliders are frequently seen overhead, visiting Arrowtown, incl. the Chinese Settlement, as well as driving up Coronet Peak for magnificent views.

Seeing Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, where we hiked through a magnificent rain forrest around nearby Lake Matheson, which also provided superb views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. Between Franz Josef and Westport we stopped for a good look at Pancake Rocks area, which were unique formations on the sea front.

New Zealand towns and country are clean and free of litter. Lots of cyclists are seen touring, fully loaded with heavy paniers over the hilly west coast.

Milford Walk undoubtedly rates as one of the best in the world. I look forward to repeating the walk.

For pictures of New Zealand and Milford Sound, go here.

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Last updated 24 May 2006.