I can now agree wholeheartedly with those who rate the Milford Track as the finest hike in the world.
It is beautiful. So beautiful. It is also a nicely balanced walk, with a slow build up to the big day crossing the pass and then a gentle finish.
Fiordland National Park, in the south-western corner of New Zealand is named Te Wahipounamu by the Maori and has been recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site because of its marvellous landscapes and unique wildlife.
The rich forests; the rugged mountains shaped by glaciation; the roaring waterfalls; and the birds. The birds in particular I loved – the liquid song of Bellbirds, curious South Island Robins and fantails hopping about the path, cheeky Wekas investigating backpacks for food.
Native bird numbers in the Clinton Valley have trebled in the past couple of years as a result of the successful trapping and poisoning programme that is controlling stoats and other predators. I’ve written more about this successful wildlife conservation effort over at Eco Traveller Guide.
I felt quite emotional seeing and hearing all the birdlife in the Clinton. I have walked in New Zealand forests hundreds of times from my childhood but I have never before seen or heard anything like what I experienced in the Clinton Valley on the Milford Track. It felt like catching a glimpse of what New Zealand forests must have been like before the arrival of humans and the dramatic degradation of habitat.
Amazingly, people have been walking the Milford Track for over 100 years, after 19th century pioneers finally found an accessible route to Milford Sound via the Mackinnon Pass (long before the road and the Homer Tunnel were built). Explorer Quintin McKinnon was the successful explorer and he subsequently established himself as the first guide on the Milford Track.
In some places along the track you can see the remains of the telephone line that was the only means of communication for many years. Today the wardens have fancy radio phones that can even link into the national telephone service. It must have been quite a job keeping that telephone line running in the Fiordland climate!
We were a varied group of walkers who set off from Glade Wharf in mid April – families of New Zealanders (including children as young as 12), groups of young Australians and backpackers from all over the world.
Sharing the boat with us ‘independent walkers’ was the group of guided walkers – folks who have paid thousands of dollars each to do the Milford Track in comfort. The way things are organised you don’t see the guided walkers again as the walking days of the two groups are staggered, thankfully!
The Milford Track is physically strenuous, there is no doubt about that, but not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. I felt well-prepared so take a look at my post on how I got ready for the Milford Track, including my packing list, and my post on tips for enjoying the Milford Track.
Look out for upcoming posts, which will have a day-by-day description of the world’s finest walk in a truly glorious part of the world.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you walked the Milford Track? Share your experiences!
Many thanks to Carrentals.co.uk for helping me out with car hire for my New Zealand trip. Carrentals.co.uk is an award-winning price comparison site comparing car hire from over 50 different suppliers. One week’s car hire from Auckland International Airport starts from £17 per day with Carrentals.co.uk.