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December 2nd, 2020

What you’ll see on a Milford Track day hike from Milford Sound

Just when you thought Milford Sound couldn’t get any better,  the new Milford Track Day Walk joins the list of incredible things to do in Fiordland. Opening for the 2020 Great Walks season, the walk gives independent hikers a short but sweet taste of the world-famous track. Here’s what you can expect from a Milford Sound day walk.

For many folks, committing to four days of hiking, carrying gear and staying in backcountry huts is not their idea of a fun day out. But ask anyone if they’d like to see the Milford Track, and the answer is always a resounding yes. Expert hiker or not, the Milford Track is a revered and unique location, protected by World Heritage status and a place most dream of seeing.

A view of the Arthur River from the Milford Track Day Walk

The simple solution to accessing one of the world’s most famous tracks is a day walk on the Milford Track. Starting in Milford Sound, and utilising the Milford Track Water Taxi service, this is a walk into world-famous scenery. Fiordland’s incredible waterfalls, rivers, ancient forests and historic tracks are all on offer. And not a bunk hut or freeze-dried meal in sight.

The Milford Sound day walk

To get to the Milford Track for a day walk, you will need a boat transfer. That’s where the Milford Track Water Taxi comes in. Find the Milford Track water taxi at Deepwater Basin, just a few minutes drive from the Milford Sound Cruise Terminal. The water taxi transfers you to Sandfly Point, and onto the famous Milford Track. Catch a morning departure and you’ll have half a day to hike the track at your own pace before catching an afternoon transfer back to Milford Sound.

Catch a boat to the Milford Track Day Walk

If you’re keen for a 3-4 hour hike, Giant Gate Falls is a good destination to aim for. This will give you plenty of time to cover the 11-kilometre return hike with time for a picnic lunch at the falls.

The real bonus here is that in less than a 10-minute boat ride, you will access an area which would normally take three days to hike to.

What you’ll see on a day walk on the Milford Track

Walking the track

The first 45 minutes of the Milford Track follows the picturesque Arthur River to Lake Ada. Look out for a turn-off to Lake Ada near a clearing and walk down to enjoy views of the lake. For the next 40 minutes, the track runs alongside Lake Ada, where you’ll get good views of waterfalls (unless it is very dry).

Milford Track Day Walk takes you along the tranquil Arthur River
The Arthur River, along the Milford Track Day Walk

The Milford Track is an area steeped in history both recent and ancient. From the immense geological formations which occurred during the last ice age through to the remnants of Maori pounamu trails and the more recent tourism pioneers who sought to open Milford Sound as a sightseeing destination. Take a moment to soak in this incredible history as you walk.

Most of the walk is within the rainforest, making it a cool, shaded walk. Once you reach Giant Gate Falls, the foliage opens up giving you plenty of options for finding a rest spot.

Waterfalls

The highlight of the Milford Track day walk is Giant Gate Falls. At around 30 metres high, the waterfall tumbles out from the side of a bushy hillside and into a series of pools which may just entice you in for a swim on a hot day. Giant Gate Falls is best viewed from the swing bridge which spans the Arthur River; don’t miss this photo opportunity.

Milford Track Day Walk to Giant Gate Falls
Giant Gate Falls, Milford Track Day Walk

Giant Gate Falls is an idyllic place to enjoy lunch, a rest stop or even just the gentle breeze which will keep the sandflies away. 

Plants & Trees

Fiordland’s famous rainforest is on full display along this section of the track. The larger species include the magnificent mountain and red beech, and the even taller podocarps. Also known as native conifers, podocarp species include the forest giants, rimu, which can reach up to 40 metres in height. Not as big, but just as impressive are the unique lancewood trees and the colourful tree-fuschia, which bring in the birds to feed on its nectar.

Rimu forest and fern forest, milford sound day walk

Wildlife

With very few native mammals in the forest, it is the birds nature spotters will enjoy along the track. Among the foliage on the Milford Track, you are likely to see (or at least hear) bellbirds, tuis and grey warblers. Little robins and fantails may also pay a visit, often curious to see what hikers may stir up as they walk by.

As a conservation area, Fiordland is also home to more vulnerable species. You may be lucky enough to see the endangered blue duck/whio. This rare creature is usually only visible on remote rivers. Around Giant Gate Falls, keep your eyes peeled for weka on the ground. Weka are a native New Zealand flightless bird, and this particular species is often bold enough to say hello or attempt to steal some food. 

How to get to the Milford Track Water Taxi in Milford Sound

The Milford Track Water Taxi service departs from Deepwater Basin, on the Deepwater Basin Road. As you drive into Milford Sound, take the first left turn after Milford Sound Lodge. If you get to the airport or the Milford Sound car park on the foreshore, you have gone too far.

Helpful Info on hiking the Milford Track day walk

  • Toilets and shelter are located at Sandfly Point and also at Giant Gate Falls (over the bridge).
  • Giant Gate Falls a perfect rest or refreshment stop. The hike from Sandfly Point to Giant Gate Falls is an easy 5.5 kilometres or 11 kilometres return.
  • The weather in Fiordland is highly changeable. Despite what the weather may look like when you head out, it is always advisable to bring a rain jacket and warm layers. Keep some insect repellent, snacks and water in your day pack.
  • A day hike from Sandfly Point allows you to enjoy the track at its most quiet time. You’ll be walking in the opposite direction to most hikers as they come to the end of their 4-day hike. 
  • If you’ve been contemplating doing the full 4-day Milford Track hike, this may just give you the encouragement you to come back and do the full experience.

Bookings are essential. Book the Milford Track Water Taxi from Milford Sound to the Milford Track here.