Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk, hiking, path, forest

Milford Sound Day 1: Into the wilderness

Jetty, boat, dock, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk, start

On a little jetty in the middle of nowhere a boat was waiting. A small group of people were making some final adjustments to their backpacks and walking the plank. Oh, sorry, jetty.

In this tiny place – Te Anau Downs – I was about to start one of the best walks in the world. And with no queues, barriers, signs, etc,  it’s modest start. Tickets in hand, I took my first steps towards wilderness. Across the other side of the lake it was dark and pouring with rain. Welcome to Fiordland, annual rainfall a LOT.

Rainbow, fiordland, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk

The boat ride was gorgeous, though I felt a strange mixture of excitement and slight trepidation; no houses, no roads, no people. One entrance, one exit – over 30 miles away.

Just over an hour later some other passengers and myself landed on an even tinier jetty surrounded by forests and mountains, right at the tip of Lake Te Anau. It’s here that the Milford Track properly begins, and the sandflies had gathered en mass to greet us.

Start, hiking, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk

hikers, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walks, start

The first day’s walk is a gentle introduction; the path is wide and well-formed, and it’s only 3.1 miles (5km). Almost anyone could do it. You walk through the greenest forests you’ll ever see, following the side of the beautifully coloured Clinton River. It’s actually the least impressive part of the walk but at this point the novelty factor makes it pretty awesome.

Milford sound day 1-9 LR

Bridge, Clinton River, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk, hiking

Bridge, Clinton River, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk, hiking

It rained gently as I walked, and I was struck by how calm and quiet everything was (though before the Europeans came and introduced rodents and stoats the birdsong was apparently so loud you couldn’t hear yourself speak). I could really feel the weight of my bag pressing down on my shoulders already. Though I never weighed it I think my backpack was around 17kg, which is much heavier than average. This is because I had 9 days of food and my camera equipment – but that’s for another post! It made me worry about how I would feel after a full day of walking.

Clinton River, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk, hiking

Tree, forest, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk

Path, Tree, forest, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk, hiking

Then before I knew it, I was at the first hut and it was time for lunch. That was it – job done!

The format is simple when you get to a hut; go to a bunkroom, dump your stuff on a bed of choice, remember its number then write it down on a list found in the kitchen. The bunkrooms are basic – they have bunks and mattresses, and absolutely nothing else. Not even lights. There are a lot of sandflies in Clinton Hut, but don’t despair – it gets marginally better at the others.

Clinton Hut, Milford Track, New Zealand Great Walk

In the coming hours more people started trickling in. By early evening the kitchen was bustling with people of all ages and nationalities, making impressive meals, playing games, chatting about what was ahead. There’s a lovely sense of community here, for whatever comes your way you’re all going to have to do it.

At 9:30pm the lights in the kitchen turned off. From then on it’s pitch black or torchlight. It pays to bring a powerful torch if you want to do anything skillfully!

I don’t think many people had a good night’s sleep this first night, myself included. It takes a little while getting used to sleeping around 20 or so other people on squeaky plastic mattresses. And of course someone snores. In fact several people will probably snore. I was so glad to have brought earplugs.



Hiking the Milford Track

I’m taking on all nine of New Zealand’s great walks and sharing the stories, details and photos here on my blog. First up is the Milford Track. Here’s what I’m covering (all the headings will be clickable once the posts are done!):


Milford Sound Day 1: Into the Wilderness

Milford Sound Day 2: The difference an hour makes
Milford Sound Day 3: The edge of the world
Milford Sound Day 4: Going the distance

WHAT TO EXPECT: The good, the bad, the ugly

WHAT TO BRING: Food, Clothes, and everything else

COMPARISONS [coming later!]


8 thoughts on “Milford Sound Day 1: Into the wilderness

  1. And how nice were the huts? Best views ever. We stayed the extra night at the Lake Mackenzie hut and had the place to ourselves. Was nice to have the time to go up to the tarn without having to rush.

    1. So nice! I stayed in Routeburn Flats hut on the last day, it was so quiet and lovely and serene… until dawn when we were woken up by a mob of keas! (I’ll be writing up that hike and comparing the two soon!)

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