Transporting you to nature.
June 19th, 2020

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.

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.

For many New Zealanders, hiking the Milford Track is a rite of passage. For many overseas visitors, hiking the so-called ‘finest walk in the world’ is a bucket list item.

As far as ability goes, walking the Milford Track is suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Independent walkers will carry their own pack but will be rewarded with the comfort of the huts at the end of each day which certainly set a high standard for “backcountry” huts.

The track’s highest peak is done on Day 3, the most challenging day of the walk. On this day, you will hike Mackinnon Pass, ascending around 500 metres to get to the top. It’s a tough slog if you’re not used to this sort of thing, but well worth it.

At the top of Mackinnon Pass, you will forget the hard work you’ve just done as you marvel at views that are truly breathtaking. From here, you will see snow-capped peaks in every direction, the glacially-carved Clinton Valley below, and if you’re lucky experience a visit from the local keas.

This is truly one of New Zealand’s most impressive locations for expert hikers or first-timers.

Milford Track lives up to all its accolades. But for us, we think the part of the Milford Track that takes the cake is where you end up. The track finishes with a boat transfer from Sandfly Point to Milford Sound. What could be better than finishing the “finest walk in the world” at one of the finest fiords in the world?

Routeburn Track – What’s it like?

The Routeburn Track truly is an epic adventure. Passing through both Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks, the Routeburn has earned its reputation as a world-famous walk.

The track is easier than Milford Track and as a slightly shorter walk, making it a good option for families. The scenery on the walk covers rivers, forest, high mountains, glaciers and lakes. The ridgeline walk overlooking the Hollyford valley is inspiring and will give you plenty of reason to power on. This is a Great Walk that is never boring and as far as varied scenery goes, you are getting incredible bang for your buck. F

One of the highlights of the Routeburn Track is the Routeburn Falls Hut. Its remarkable position takes in views of the Routeburn Valley below and, of course, the falls.

Nearby, Lake Harris is one of New Zealand’s most picturesque lakes. This is an incredible part of the walk, and one that gives you that soul-nourishing moment of connection that we often crave when out in nature.

The Routeburn Track is regarded as a must-do walk for anyone keen on exploring New Zealand’s bush. For us, the Routeburn offers something truly unique as provides an opportunity to walk between two national parks are their varied flora and fauna. Fiordland National Park is unsurprisingly, lush and green and dense. And as you enter Mt Aspiring National Park, the landscape changes as tussocks and schist rock take over. The transition between the two happens quickly and it is just another reason why Routeburn has so much to offer.

Can I do both the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track

So, what’s the solution to choosing between the Milford or the Routeburn Track? Simple, you do both. And if you want to conquer both the Routeburn and The Milford Track is one trip, you can spend the night (or two) at Milford Sound Lodge which is ideally located between the two. The Milford Sound Lodge offers all the luxury you need to rest and rejuvenate before heading off on a second hike. Pio Pio restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner so you can take a break from scroggin and freeze-dried meals. The lodge offers luxury chalets or stunning camper van sites in its rainforest campground.

Interested in hiking the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track or both? Fiordland Outdoors Co. operates a water taxi transfer to the starting point and finishing point of the Milford Track. We can also arrange bookings for bus transfers, car relocation and food drops. Get in touch for any questions on hiking the Milford Track or hiking the Routeburn Track. Get in touch.