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Fiordland Outdoors

Which is better: Routeburn Track or Milford Track?

It’s a debate that rages amongst many backcountry hikers – which is better Milford Track or Routeburn Track? For us, it’s a moot point. Any experience hiking in the South Island is absolutely spectacular, and the best solution is to do both!

You only have to look at how quickly these two Great Walks sell out when tickets go on sale each year. Visitors from New Zealand and all over the globe have heard incredible stories of these revered hiking experiences.  

So let’s see how they stack up against each other.

Man hiking Milford track in the winter, snowy mountain in the background

Milford Track vs Routeburn Track: At a glance

Milford Track

  • Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Distance: 53km (33 miles)
  • Starting point: Te Anau Downs (30km north of Te Anau)
  • Boat transfer is required from Te Anau Downs to the start of the track at Glade Wharf
  • Endpoint: Sandfly Point (Milford Sound)
  • Boat transfer (link to Milford Taxi) is required from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound

Routeburn Track

  • Duration: Flexible. 2-4 days
  • Distance: 33km (20 miles)
  • Starting Point: The track can be hiked in either direction. Choose to start from The Divide (85km from Te Anau) or The Routeburn Shelter (25km from Glenorchy, near Queenstown)

Which is harder: Milford Track or Routeburn Track?

Milford Track

The Milford Track is a moderately difficult hike, requiring a fair level of fitness as long distances are hiked each day. There is a challenging pass on Day 3, but the rest of the walk is suitable for most levels of ability.

Highest Point: Mackinnon Pass (1154 metres)

Track conditions: The track is well marked and signposted. Some sections are steep and rough and the track may be muddy or slippery. It is not advised to walk the Milford Track too far outside of the Great Walks season due to snow and poor weather conditions.

Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is an intermediate track and is suitable for anyone with a good level of fitness and hiking experience. There are some steep sections, but they are spread out throughout the walk.

Highest point Harris Saddle (1300 metres)

Track conditions: The Routeburn Track covers a well-formed track with some steep sections. The track may be muddy or slippery at times. It is not advised to walk the Routeburn Track outside of the Great Walks season due to the possibility of snow and poor weather conditions.

So, that’s the facts and figures. But what it’s like to hike these tracks? What are the differences in scenery and what’s it going to feel like?

Milford Track – What’s it like?

The Milford Track holds a special place in the hearts of all New Zealanders. There is an air of nostalgia attached to the Milford Track thanks to its strong connection with the history of Milford Sound. The formation of the Milford Track is entwined with the birth of Milford Sound as a tourist destination and is a place pioneers of tourism undertook ambitious projects. These pioneers were compelled by the spectacular beauty of these areas to forge through dense bush and sheer granite mountains to give tourists access to incredible sights.

Ready to go?