The Milford Track is north of Te Anau, connecting the north end of Lake Te Anau with Milford Sound. It’s one of the oldest tracks in New Zealand, and the most famous. Access is very limited — during the summer, only 40 people can start the track each day, and the spots book up long in advance. I reserved a spot back in May, and had to plan the last half of January to make sure I started the track on time. It’s a pretty easy walk, following close by the Clinton River up its drainage, crossing over Mackinnon Pass, then out to Milford Sound via the Arthur River drainage.
Other than at the pass, most of the track is rainforest, occasionally opening up for good views of the surrounding valleys. This area gets a lot of rain; Milford is one the wettest places in the world, with about 7 metres of annual rainfall. The first day (an afternoon jaunt of a few miles to Clinton Hut, after arriving by ferry) it poured, then cleared up a day and a half before pouring again in the approach to Dumpling Hut.
Doing this hike in the rain is actually quite nice. Much of the track is gravel and there’s no mud, just occasional standing or running water, and walking through the valleys with the clouds and mist and many, many waterfalls has a great quality to it. A good contrast to the more alpine Kepler Track. The track on the first afternoon:
The next photo was taken on/in the Clinton River, the second day. This water was hard-to-breathe cold but was an, uh, exhilarating swim and snorkel. I brought a waterproof camera housing on the trip for scuba diving, and also used it on most hiking trips for protection against water and shocks. Worked out well.
Lake something-or-other in the Clinton valley, nice spot for lunch the second day.
The second night on the track is at Dumpling Hut (hiking is very controlled on this track, everyone who starts the hike on the same day will spend each night in the same hut), below Mackinnon Pass. The pass offers up great views of both river valleys, in the right weather. While we weren’t due to cross the pass until the following day, several other hikers and I went up in the evening to look around.
Viewing the pass in the evening was smart, as the weather did not hold the following morning. I got out early and was at the top of the pass by 8 am, but clouds were coming in quickly and it started raining on the way down. It continued to rain harder as I made my way towards Sutherland Falls, one of the track’s main landmarks. This is I think the highest waterfall in New Zealand, at nearly 2000 feet, and a 45 minute side track goes right up to it. Standing at the waterfall’s base, hopping the rocks while being blasted with sheets of water is pretty fun.
Back on the main track, with Sutherland Falls in the distance on right:
Past the falls, the trail is not too eventful, lots more steep valleys, waterfalls and rainforest. I finished the track midday the following day, picked up a second ferry to get to the town of Milford, and stayed the night for a kayak trip the next day. This was a guided trip (with Rosco’s Sea Kayaks) and was very nice with great scenery, more waterfalls, and some blowing wind and rain to liven things up as we headed out towards the Tasman Sea. Options for hiring kayaks are pretty limited in Fiordland, though, and as with Stewart Island I will need to come back with my own kayak to explore the more remote sounds and (hopefully) the outer coast.
Below is a Fiordland Crested Penguin, a rare species that lives only in Fiordland and on Stewart Island. New Zealand also has Blue Penguins and Yellow-eyed Penguins, both of which I saw briefly. After watching this one a few minutes, it hopped up and made its way inland. The crested and yellow-eyed penguins both nest up to several hundred metres inland, something which seabirds elsewhere simply do not do. One of those odd results of evolving without any land predators, I guess.