The most popular track out of all the Great Walks in New Zealand is the Milford Track. There’s a multi-day walk, which consists of 3-nights or one could opt to do just the day walk from the Milford Sound. I personally feel that day walk is not worth it because you miss the highlight of the Milford Track, which is the Mackinnon Pass.
There’s two ways to do the multi-day walks and from what I understand they book up several months in advance. The first way is to book the Department of Conservation(DOC) huts for about $54 NZD a night for three nights. Even though the distances between the huts are about six hours apart and one could feasible skip a hut. However, the DOC requires anyone doing the Milford Track to book each of the huts. Additionally there’s no camping allowed. This pretty much limits you to staying in the huts.
The other way is to go on the guided walks offered by Ultimate Hikes. This option is substantially more expensive, but the most comfortable. You stay in hotel like rooms with showers. There’s a full service dining that’s included with the guided walk option.
In contrast to staying in the huts, one needs to carry all their food, sleeping bags and necessity. The huts merely provide gas cookers(in the peak-season) and bunks for sleeping bag. The huts along this Great Walk Track and the others I did had flushing toilets with supplied toilet paper. So there is still running water, which is more like glamping than camping.
Each hut is setup different according to the given terrain. The bunk rooms, where the beds are located can be located in separate structures or located upstairs from the cooking area.
The toilets are always located in separate structures so if you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you will need to leave your warm cozy sleeping bag.
A ranger who collects tickets and gives a safety talk during the evening hours mans each hut.
The terrain isn’t terrible difficult, there’s no high altitude. The only ascent and decent is the Mackinnon Pass. The Hut ranger warns about the descent as there’s been more injuries during the decent than during the ascent.
I want to point out that in the fjord lands of NZ, the bush line ends very low so once I was above the bush line, it can get a bit windy. So having some warms cloths is a necessity for these parts. On the low land parts in the valley, shorts and t-shirts will suffice, but the sand flies along the track is major nuisance. Once you’re stopped and taking pictures the sand flies will swarm. If you’re moving or indoors, the flies pose little or no problem.
There’s nothing fancy needed for this hike. I was overly prepared with my gear. I would recommend packing rain gear as it did rain one late afternoon and besides the Milford Sound is known for wet weather.
I packed my Asolo TPS 520 Boots, but any boots with high ankle support is sufficient.
One thing I would recommend brining is hiking poles, I brought a pair and I was definitely glad I had them for the decent portion of the trek.
You’ll need to pack your own food, given the relatively short length 3 nights on the trail, it’s very possible to pack fresh food for the first two nights. The first day consisted of a 45-minute boat ride and about an hour hike to the first hut. I barely broke a sweat.
I made sandwiches for lunch and dinner for this day. One group was more ambitious than I was when the kitchen smelled so good, it turned out they packed steaks and cooking them. Much to my surprise, the second night had a similar smell and was astonished to see them cooking steaks again and humping it all this way without refrigeration, though I do have to admit the nights, do get cold.
I did some of the other Great Walks on the South Island of NZ, namely, the Kepler and Routeburn Tracks, which are multi-day walks. There’s not one track that’s better than the other. Many people ask which one is better, each of them is different in their own way much like the National Parks in the U.S.