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Friday, April 05, 2013

     Deep in the heart of Fiordland, an unforgettable place of subtropical rainforests, deep glacial fjords and its famous moss and mud, hidden in south-western corner of the South Island, lies probably the greatest of the Great walks, the 54km (3 days) long Milford track. Although not entirely deserving the title of the finest track in the world (with respect to other tracks in Fiordland, especially the NON Great Walks, which are in no way less spectacular), walking through the Clinton Canyon surrounded by countless waterfalls or the views of the fjords flowing into the ocean in the distance while crossing the Mackinnon Pass will definitely stay in you heart as an out-of-this world experience which will be very hard to surpass. 

     Milford track has been infamously known as the most popular track in New Zealand which attracts about 14 000 hikers each season. As one of the Great walks it is a great introductory walk to Fiordland: you'll experience sheer ice-carved valleys, wild rivers and  a dramatic mountain pass, magic rainforests and hundreds of cascading waterfalls. However as a Great Walk it also attracts a decent amount of regulations, fees and bookings, as well as the hut-to-hut system, inevitable guided tours in the main season or even the day-walkers with their day packs along the Arthur River, which depending on your frustration tolerance will sooner or later interfere with your wilderness experience.
     With a bit of adventurous spirit however even this track can be enjoyed as an "off the beaten track" experience. The following suggestions are for experienced hikers only and will guarantee an ultimate wilderness adventure which this amazing part of Fiorland deserves so much. And you deserve it too.
  • Not many people know that according to the DOC regulations camping is allowed if it is more than 500m from the track, so staying away from crowded huts on Milford track is possible if you have some river crossing and route finding skills and a bit of adventurous spirit. 
  • Going out of the main season which runs from December to March will prevent meeting the guided tours and guarantee less people on the track. The months October to November and April to May can still have acceptable weather conditions and overall are the best months to walk the track.
  • By taking an alternative access to start of the track via the Dore Pass Route, a challenging 10.5km (8h) tramping route which begins from the Milford Road and requires some apline experience, you'll avoid having to book the scheduled boat ride across Lake Te Anau and starting the track with the group of people.

What you (don't) need to know about track access

     The Milford Track is a 53.5 km walk over 3-4 days located in Fiordland National Park, part of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The track starts at Glade Wharf (at the head of Lake Te Anau, accessed by twice daily scheduled 1.5 hour boat service from Te Anau Downs) and finishes at Sandfly Point (a 15min boat trip from what has to be the world's most famous and photographed fjord: Milford Sound). The Milford Track can only be walked in one direction and requires road transport and boat access at both ends of the track. The boat transport is usually booked online together with the huts via DOC website. If you're thinking about camping and only require the boat transport, you can contact them via email.
     Experienced trampers, who want to avoid all of that, can take the alternative access to the start of the track from the Eglinton Valley via the Dore Pass RouteThis is a challenging full day 10.5km tramping route which begins from the Milford Road and crosses the difficult Dore Pass.

     Te Anau Downs is 27km from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound and has a car parking area if you wish to leave your vehicle. There are bus services which run daily scheduled services from Te Anau to meet the boat at Te Anau Downs. From the Milford Sound there are daily bus services to:
  • The Divide - start of Routeburn Track (38km - 45mins)
  •  Te Anau Downs - (93km - 2 hours) 
  • Te Anau (120km - 2.5 hours)
  • Queenstown - (297km - 5 hours)

What you (don't) need to know about accommodation

   The Milford Track is the most popular Great Walk and has 3 huts to stay in which have to be booked well in advance (6 months and more). The 4 days/3 nights itinerary is recommended with an overnight stay at Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut and Dumpling Hut. These huts have bunks, mattresses, heating, toilets, basic cooking facilities, solar powered lighting, cold running water, and even a resident DOC ranger during the Great Walks season (late October to late April). According to the official regulations of DOC camping is not permitted near the huts or anywhere on the Milford Track. However the bylaw does permit camping if it is more than 500m from the track. Now although this can be tricky (because of the narrow nature of the Clinton Valley surrounded by sheer cliffs and then the very exposed McKinnon Pass) and will almost certainly involve a few precarious river crossings, it will guarantee you remote overnight locations and a true Fiordland's adventure. To reach these camping sites you need advanced river crossing skills and understand the river level flows. Both the Clinton and Arthur Rivers can be very unpredictable and rise very quickly after heavy rain which is common at any time.
Those places where camping is possible are:
  • in the Clinton Valley (1. night): the Neale Burn valley and the north branch of the Clinton valley
  • in the Arthur Valley (2. night): upper reaches of Staircase Creek
     Visit the Great Walks website or contact your nearest DOC Visitor Centre for further information and bookings. Even if you plan camping, it is a good idea to confirm your camping intentions with the DOC as well as book the boat transport to and from the track well in advance since they usually only have a capacity to take the people with confirmed bookings for the huts. They're usually happy to assist the right people with some valuable advices regarding the safe camping spots. If you plan to camp as well as to access the track via Dore Pass, no other bookings or fees except the boat transport from the Sandfly Point are necessary. You're free to go!!

Useful links

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had found your blog before I booked the huts! Thanks for the information on Dore Pass. 8 hours is... 8 hours. Woo. You're awesome and I admire your passion for adventure!


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