The Milford Track in New Zealand, a 54 km one way (4 day walk), is often touted as the greatest walk in the world. That’s a big claim I know, however there is some truth to it. I walked the Milford Track with the Goddesses from Ultimate Hikes and ended up taking some great photos along the way. Looking back at them, it may be the truth.
Going on a guided walk with Ultimate Hikes
Ultimate Hikes made walking the Milford Track easy peasy.
The added beauty about it was that we were in the company of the Goddesses from Ultimate Hikes. These girls guided us through a pristine natural wonderland made up of pristine rivers, gentle pools of water, green forests, mountain ranges and gorgeous waterfalls, giving us all a very memorable experience. Here I am with a few of the walkers and a couple of our guides. In our group we had 37 walkers from around the world.
How I was led to the Milford Track
It all started for me in a Greek restaurant at a Christmas lunch work function. A lady at our table talked about her experience while walking the Overland Track in Tasmania, which is an island off mainland Australia’s southern coast. The multi-day hike sounded very adventurous. After reading about it later and learning that it was considered Australia’s greatest walk, I wanted to walk it myself.
On that Tasmanian hike, which I eventually did, a few hikers noticed me struggling with my heavy backpack. It was stuffed to the brim with all sorts of newly purchased camping gear, food and more crappy food, as well as all my clothing. I even had an emergency tent and a rolled up blue foam mat strapped to my bag.
During that trip a female trekker on the track mentioned that next time I should walk the Milford Track in New Zealand. I had never heard of it. She thought I would find it easier and let me know that if I did the walk as part of a guided tour, I could use a much smaller backpack, pretty much just for clothing. I also found out you could do a similar type of thing on the Overland Track, which was news to me. In actual fact that’s exactly what this lady and her companions were doing.
I stayed in bare basic national park public huts along the Overland Track, cooking my two minute noodles and these terrible tasting packets of long lasting camping food supplies on a small portable liquid alcohol cooker. This guided group of hikers standing before me were enjoying much better meals. I think one of them mentioned that they enjoyed a barbecue dinner the night before. Yum, I was salivating. It definitely sounded like the superior way to go.
Preparation for walking the Milford Track with Ultimate Hikes
A few years later I found myself in an outdoor adventure shop preparing for my Milford Track adventure. I bought a water bottle and this stupid orange waterproof/crunch proof container for my mobile phone. It has to be one of the most useless things I have ever purchased in my life. I still haven’t used it. At the time I thought I could use it to save my iPhone if the worst happened and I got absolutely drenched in rain, or if I ever had to do a chest-high river crossing or something like that during the trip. This never happened and if it did a plastic bag would have probably sufficed.
The only other stuff I thought I needed to bring along included a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, a good book, LED head torch light, some thermals, gloves, a beanie, rain gear, clothes, bathroom stuff, flip flops (thongs), comfortable indoor shoes and my hiking boots.
I also bought a couple of bottles of insect repellent while in New Zealand to scare away the sandflies. Sandflies had a reputation as being so small they were difficult to see and they loved to bite paradise nature seekers especially so at the Milford Track on New Zealand’s South Island. Obviously they were created by Greek Gods and Goddesses as a spoiler, but I hoped to avoid them if at all possible. One guy in New Zealand even suggested I’d be eaten alive by sandflies while walking the Milford Track. That comment made me buy an extra bottle of repellent, just in case they were immune to the other one I bought. Better to be safe than sorry.
Sandfly Point at the end of the Milford Track is actually named after the Maori goddess Te Hine-nui-te-po. According to legend, she released the irritating sandfly here to stop men lingering too long to enjoy the beauty of Fiordland. Seriously you have to see it to believe it. You will be jumping around all over the place at Sandfly Point.
The Beauty of the Milford Track
The weather turned out to be absolutely perfect most of the time.
Taking a dip in the water was like taking an ice bath though. It was freezing. I was coaxed into it by another trekker who also suggested I should go for a swim to the waterfall running down the mountain wall on the other side, but there was no way. How tragic would it be to drown while walking the greatest walk in the world? I can swim but who knows what could happen if your whole body is freezing. My feet were never going to leave the ground. Another guy told me he was a life-guard in case something went wrong, but I didn’t want to take any chance.
When I began putting my clothes back on after getting out of the calm pool, I felt a bit of pin prick on my leg. I looked down and saw a little bit of blood dripping from my leg. A tiny sandfly had bitten my leg and it drew blood. I couldn’t believe it! I could even see the black dot of a fly.
The water views are very soothing along the Milford Track. I luckily saw some large trout swimming around in the river while crossing over a foot bridge, just after taking the freezing dip. At that moment I wished I had brought my telescopic fishing rod and a lure with me. Catching a trout while walking the Milford Track would have been very special.
Make sure you listen to Goddess Advice
The “Kea” is known to be a very cheeky bird, which many hikers get to see on the trek. The Goddesses on our trek warned everyone to make sure to lock the doors when leaving the rooms at Pompolona Lodge. The reason being that these birds are smart enough to open unlocked doors. It’s pretty hard to believe, I know. Once they get inside, they ransack the place looking for food. These birds (unusual parrots) are capable of opening zippers and ripping bags apart to get what they want. They even have a reputation for stealing passports.
Incredibly this is what happened in the room I shared with two other guys. I was playing a game of chess in the main lounge area in the main building when I was made aware of what had happened. One of the guys had to chase a couple of birds out of the room.
The room looked like it had been trashed. Bits of food, clothing and wrappers were strewn all over the place. Who’d believe birds are capable of doing that? Who taught them this? Did the Greek Gods send them into paradise to keep hikers on their toes. I’m not sure who left the door of our room open, but the lesson here is simple. Always take the advice of Goddesses.
The following morning, after the kea trashing experience, we hiked up the mountain to Mackinnon Pass. This was definitely the most strenuous section of the Milford track. It was pretty tiring but once Mackinnon Pass is reached, the views are stunning. Here I am giving my model pose. To tell you the truth I was so exhausted that I’m actually using the sign to hold myself up. I should be wearing a t-shirt, since it was quite hot that day, but those sandfly stories really scared me.
The advantage of being this high up on a perfect day are the stunning views. We were so lucky as many hikers get up here to see only fog and clouds. It rains for something like 300 days of the year in this area.
Waterfalls on the Milford Track
The waterfalls make the Milford Track very special. If only the water wasn’t so cold. Oh, yeah, and those sandflies. You get paranoid with any exposed skin.
The approach to Sutherland Falls is majestic. Sutherland Falls has a total height of 580 metres. It was once considered the highest waterfall in New Zealand. Now it is number 2, though it is still debatable.
Walking to Sutherland Falls requires a bit of a detour off the Milford Track. We had to make it to our lodge by a certain time in the afternoon, if we wanted to walk to this waterfall. Since it was on the same day as the Mackinnon Pass hike, it felt as if slow coaches could easily miss out. I made it to the lodge about half an hour before the cutoff time. I think I was the last one to make it to the lodge.
Staff offered walkers to Sutherland Falls a full body raincoat to take along, but I couldn’t see the need.
Sutherland Falls is phenomenal. The blonde Goddess from Ultimate Hikes greeted everyone on a rock ledge beside the waterfall with a nice warm welcome. In contrast to her was the cold waterfall mist that filled the air where we were standing. That’s when I realised I should’ve taken the raincoat.
Visitors can walk behind the waterfall but be prepared to get soaked. Some hikers even went for a swim in the pool, which extended for a decent size around the waterfall.
I saw this bird on the Sutherland Falls track and thought it was the rare Kiwi, the national icon of New Zealand. I had heard about them, but never really knew what they looked like. I knew that they couldn’t fly, so I thought this bird could have been a Kiwi. After eagerly showing the photo to another trekker, I was disappointed to learn that it wasn’t.
Funny Moments on the Milford Track
One extremely funny thing happened one night after one of the guys from a very large group of family and friends stood up. He announced that they wanted to award a dick of the day award to one of the Milford Track walkers. The winner had to wear head gear with two penises on top like the devil’s horns.
He called out for nominations on who should win it. I called out that I nominate the person who came up with the idea. After this surprise nomination and a bit of a laugh, and some awkward conversations a lady stood up and told everyone to follow her. She convinced most of us to do what she wanted.
She wanted us to follow her every move like the game “Simon Says”. This game remember involves a leader doing moves and everyone else having to copy them. If the leader touches their toes, everyone else has to do the same thing. After a few different moves, she told everyone to stick out their tongue and then told everyone to shake some salt on it. After a few more shakes, she asked everyone if they could taste it? The whole room laughed hysterically as everyone quickly realised what they were doing.
The really great thing about doing the hike with “Ultimate Hikes”, or Luxury Hikes as I like to think of them, had to be the delicious meals at the end of each day. Our energy levels were restored with some delicious food, beer and wine. My favourite desert had to be the crème brûlée. The food was excellent.
Being entertained and cared for by the Milford Track Goddesses was special.
I offered to take a photo of this married couple while they were on a swing bridge crossing a river. He’s an electrical engineer, a graduate from Stanford, who with his lovely wife operated some type of Airline maintenance software company in the US. The sentimental thing is they told me that they had walked the Milford Track earlier in life and they were doing it again. She liked to keep photos on a wall showing their younger and older selves doing the same thing together. The weather turned out much better for them second time round. The first time they went it mostly poured down with rain. Some think the trek is even better with rain, due to even more waterfalls appearing on the slopes, but I’m very glad we had lots of sunshine.
If you love pristine rivers, you’ll be in paradise on the Milford Track.
More waterfalls along the Milford Track
Do you think there are waterfalls in paradise? My guess is yes, yes and yes.
Here we are leaving Sandfly (the end point) on a boat on our way out back to civilisation.
Certificate from Ultimate Hikes
Once the trip was over we had an awards ceremony where the Goddesses from Ultimate Hikes presented a certificate and group photo to every hiker.
I was called up first. Being the very first person, I felt honoured. I had to say something special, so I told everyone that the reason I was called up first was that they knew I was the most important person on the trek. It probably raised a few eye brows. I also thanked everyone for a great trip.
Milford Track: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Milford Track is a beautiful walk, but to see Milford Track’s true beauty you really do need great weather and a blue sky. I went in late January and the weather turned out to be magic. We did have a bit of rain but nothing over the top.
The tiny sandflies are bad in certain areas but if you jump around hysterically and wave your hands like a maniac, they seem to leave you alone. There were only a few occasions where I really noticed them in swarms. Then it’s hell. Generally they are not that bad on the track because like I said I didn’t really notice them that often. I only really felt their presence at the beginning and at the end of the Milford Track. I normally covered myself with longer sleeves to avoid them at all costs anyway, but I should have just worn a t-shirt, especially on the hotter days.
Walking the Routeburn Track straight after the Milford Track added so much extra to the overall experience. This walk combined with the Milford Track walk is known as “The Classic” and it really was. Ultimate Hikes delivered. Was it worth it? Definitely yes, but not if you have to break the bank to get you there. Staying at the public huts would be an awesome experience as well. The beauty about the public hut option is all the money you will save.
Guided walk (Ultimate Hikes) or Cheaper public huts?
The 2 options when walking the Milford Track:
The delicious meals, the nice warm showers at the end of the day, the wine, the better sleeping arrangements, comfortable lounge areas with plenty of chairs to relax on. Luxury, pure luxury. You really do need to compare it with a normal camping hiking trip though, to really know how lucky you are. It’s probably like travelling first-class on an airplane. I’m sure those first-class passengers would never want to travel economy class given the choice.
I even played a game of chess one night with a fellow traveller. No one won because the lights went out before we could finish the game. This was also the night our room got ransacked by a kea. I’m not sure you would want to pack a chess board in your backpack.
Bringing your own food and having to cook isn’t the best way to walk the greatest walk in the world, but it still is a great option. Make sure you book all of the public huts months in advance, maybe as soon as you’re allowed to, like a year before a planned trip, because the best times can get booked out faster than you can blink.
I wonder if these Goddesses have any fans out there? I’m curious.