Backgrounder: Milford Track, New Zealand

New Zealand has a vast network of spectacular walkways and tracks providing access to unique wilderness areas and virgin rain forests.

There are nine Great Walks spread across New Zealand, but there are arguably none quite as famous as the Milford Track.

Set to celebrate its 126th year in November 2014, it’s obvious why this walk - one of the world’s best multi-day walking / hiking destinations - has been thrilling visitors for generations.

Traversing the rugged Fiordland wilderness region - in the southwest of the South Island and New Zealand’s largest national park - walkers spend four days / three nights on 53km of well-worn paths and historic Maori routes from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. Here visitors encounter dramatic landscapes, forest-covered valleys, mountainous terrain and steep fjords.

With its sheer beauty, visitors to the Milford Track will find it no surprise that it was once hailed as the ‘Finest Walk in The World’ by London Spectator poet Blanche Baughan in her 1908 essay of the same name.

Historical gem

The history of the Track is as rich as the praise it receives. The route was originally travelled by Māori, who crossed the Milford Sound in pursuit of pounamu - New Zealand jade - a highly-valued greenstone that is unique to this southern region of New Zealand.

The first track through the pass was thought to have been created in 1888, around the time of the first European crossing.

Explorers Donald Sutherland, the first European settler in the Milford Sound, John Mackay, Quintin Mackinnon (for whom Mackinnon pass was named), and Ernest Mitchell, all played their part in revealing this natural gem to the world.

Experience like no other

Throughout the last 126 years the track may have evolved, but the beauty of the untouched landscape remains the same, making the Milford Track one of New Zealand’s foremost tourism destinations.

More than 14,000 people make the walk each year, with a maximum of 40 independent walkers permitted to start the track on a daily basis during the height of the walking season.

Guided tours - run by Ultimate Hikes - can take up to 50 people per hike during the summer season.

There are also guided day walks that take place at either end of the track.

Recognised as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Milford Track is well-planned and easy to follow.

Fiordland weather is diverse and changeable, so hikers are expected to show due diligence when it comes to having the right equipment and clothing for their journey. There is no place to purchase food so visitors are required to carry their own provisions.

Huts, of which there are three scattered along the walk, are available for overnight stays and will be provided if on a guided walk. Independent walkers can walk the Milford Track but huts must be pre-booked.

Conservation and culture

As well as the stunning surroundings, walkers can expect to encounter a mix of culture and conservation.

Ongoing biodiversity work is also taking place in the area - work which has recently seen the release of some of New Zealand’s rarest wildlife back onto the Track - including pāteke / brown teal. There are also plans to release takahē in the near future.

Starring role

Milford Sound was captured to full effect when it played a starring role in film-maker Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

It was the spectacular sights of mountains, waterfalls, lush forests and wildlife that drew Jackson to the area. Fiordland was famously used in the The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as a location for Fangorn Forest, south of Rivendell and Arwen’s flight to the ford.

With its stunning landscape, abundant marine wildlife, dramatic waterfalls and various outdoor pursuits, iconic Milford Sound is the prize at the end of the Track. Described by storyteller Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and making the area a bucket list destination for thousands of international travellers every year.

More information

New Zealand’s Great Walks