Hiking in New Zealand: Preparing for the Milford Track

Last week I wrote about my experience hiking the spectacular Rees-Dart Track in New Zealand. Despite the gorgeous alpine scenery, I finished this hike feeling like I never wanted to do another long walk again. I was exhausted physically and mentally, convinced I was the world’s worst hiker.

With the benefit of hindsight I know this was because I was inexperienced and I know that my body finds carrying a heavy pack very challenging. Since hiking the Rees-Dart Track I have gone on to enjoy a lot of hiking holidays – trekking in Nepal, walking in the United Kingdom, hiking in Slovenia, Corsica, Mallorca and more across Europe.

The difference – to my mind – between these walking holidays is that in these destinations it is not necessary to carry a heavy backpack filled with sleeping bag/food/cooking equipment. Next month I am heading back to New Zealand do to another multi-day walk, one that is dubbed the world’s best hike, the Milford Track.

The Milford Track is the New Zealand Great Walk that all New Zealander’s dream of completing at least once in their lives. I am excited and yet filled with trepidation. With so much more outdoors adventure experience under my belt am I ready for the New Zealand tramping challenge again? To enjoy scenery like this again – yes I am!

Milford Sound waterfall, New Zealand

Planning and booking the Milford Track

This is a very popular walk – we booked our places on the Milford Track last August to hike in April – that controls the number of walkers to 30 per day over the busy period (October to April). You have to book each of the three huts on the track and you cannot stay in any hut more than one night. If you miss out on a place on the Milford Track it may be worth signing up with nztracker.nz (for a small fee), which will send you an automatic mail when somebody cancels their reservation, giving you a chance to book straight away! This service also covers a few other New Zealand Great Walks.

At the same time you will need to book transport to the track start and away from the track end. This will involve boat rides and possibly buses and transfers. We are driving a hire car but have arranged for this to be collected and stored securely while we are on the track as car break ins are common in New Zealand. If you are leaving a car at the track head make sure it is completely empty and even leave the glove box open to show that it is empty.

Training for the Milford Track

I haven’t followed an extreme training programme in preparation for hiking the Milford Track but I have been working on my fitness. I have built up my yoga practise to ensure my legs (especially knees), back and core are strong. I have walked regularly in the hills near home and done regular cross trainer workouts. I have carried a pack while walking and this weekend I am going to put in a few long day walks in England’s Peak District to test my stamina and condition.

Daley's Flat Hut, Rees-Dart Track, Hiking in New Zealand

Gear list for the Milford Track

News headlines over the last few months on trekking disasters in Nepal have served to highlight for me the importance of inexperienced hikers being adequately prepared for long-distance hikes in the mountains. You have to be prepared for anything in the mountains – for any weather at any season; for injury that might delay your journey requiring extra food.

Here is my packing list for hiking the Milford Track, or for any New Zealand hike really. It is a handy spreadsheet that you can print out and tick off as you pack:

Milford Track Gear List

As I mentioned, the last time I went ‘tramping’ in New Zealand I struggled with carrying a heavy pack. This time I am trying to keep my rucksack as light as possible, while still being prepared for anything.

In terms of clothing the way to think about packing is to have your hiking clothes (comfortable and made from wicking, quick-dry fabric), a layer of waterproof clothes (a good jacket made from goretex or similar and waterproof trousers), a polypropylene layer for cold weather or emergencies, spare socks in case you get wet and to wear in the hut at night.

Milford Sound New Zealand

My toiletry kit is the minimum (there are no facilities for washing on the track): a small toothbrush, tiny toothpaste tube, small tube of sunscreen (the New Zealand sun can burn your skin even on cloudy days), small deodorant and a small packet of wipes for hands and face.

New Zealand huts are excellent but vary in terms of how well-equipped they are. Sometimes it is just a solid structure with bunks and a long drop toilet nearby. Those on the Milford Track are the best-equipped in the country – they have a gas cooking supply and relatively civilised toilets. They are not manned and you must carry all your food with you. There are mattresses but no bedding so take a good sleeping bag as nights can be cold in New Zealand at any time of the year.

Kea Point Walk, Fiordland NZ

Hiking in New Zealand

The New Zealand Department of Conservation runs the Milford Track, the other New Zealand Great Walks and a network of over 1,000 huts across the country. They are affectionately referred to as DOC (as in “What’s up Doc?”) and you should read the relevant information on their website thoroughly when planning a hike in New Zealand.

So, I am as ready as I will ever be and the biggest challenge will probably be in my head. I have come to realise that expectation can play a big part in how you experience physically challenging adventures and I hope that my knowledge and mental strength will stand me in good stead for the Milford Track walk. I will let you know how it goes!

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you walked the Milford Track in New Zealand? Do you have any advice for  me?

Hiking the Milford Track, New Zealand, Photo by Natasha von Geldern

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