The Milford Track
|Gordon Roberts/ Hedgehog House|
|Topping out on Mackinnon Pass, day three on the Milford Track, New Zealand|
|AT A GLANCE|
Trek Length: 4 days, 33.5 miles
Maximum Altitude: 3,519 feet
Physical Challenge: 1 2 3 4 5
Price (Self-organized Trek): $200–$250
Price (Group Trek): $642–$685
Prime Time: November–April
Staging Cities: Queenstown, New Zealand
The Rhapsody: Perhaps the reason why New Zealanders have coined their own word for trekking—"tramping"—is that their islands boast several of the most astonishing walks on earth, including the Milford Track, a 33.5-mile traipse through the thick beech forests and mossy gorges of Fiordland National Park on the South Island's remote southwestern coast. Not surprising, this four-day hut-to-hut tramp is among the most popular and thus heavily regulated walks in the world. Secure a permit for your departure date—or sign on with the track's only outfitter—and you'll trek over 3,519-foot Mackinnon Pass (named for the Scotsman who built the trail in 1888) and past dozens of raging cascades, among them Sutherland Falls, with its triple-tiered, 1,904-foot drop. The track's end, in the shadow of Milford Sound's moody, 3,000- 5,000-foot-high glacial cliffs, is anything but anticlimactic.
The Route: From the lakeside town of Te Anau, a couple of hours south of Queenstown, you'll take a bus along the shore of Lake Te Anau to Te Anau Downs and then board a catamaran to the trailhead at Glade Wharf. Day one is an easy one-hour forest walk to the first hut. The next morning, you'll wind through a cascade-ringedcanyon and on toward the glacial waters of Lake Mintaro. From there, it's 13 long switchbacks up to Mackinnon Pass, where, if the weather is clear, you'll get huge views of Mount Eliot and the Jervois Glacier, before heading on to Milford Sound, where you'll catch a launch back to civilization.
Guides and Outfitters: Milford Track Guided Walk (011-64-3-441-1138; www.ultimate hikes.co.nz), the trek's only authorized outfitter, offers full tramping packages for $685 per person from December through March 13. Off-season rates (November and mid-March through April) are $642.
Read Up: Tramping in New Zealand, by Jim Dufresne (Lonely Planet, $14), has detailed route descriptions. Kiwi Tracks, by Andrew Stevenson (Lonely Planet, $10), is a wry travelogue of four months of New Zealand tramping.
"The Shell Guide to the Milford Track" (out of print), by Philip Temple is a pocket-size pamphlet by a veteran Kiwi tramper. —D.N.