Life as a Milford Track Guide

5 May 2020

This blog post is presented by local guide Geoff Barnes.

I am a proud born and bred local from a small township called Te Anau (population 2500) which borders the spectacular Fiordland National Park in the south west corner of New Zealand.

Te Anau is a great base to access Fiordland and enjoy all the special attributes New Zealand’s largest National Park has to offer.

Growing up in Fiordland was a magical time for me. My parents owned and operated a small cruise boat on the fiords of Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound. I had three sisters and a brother with plenty of pets in the mix.

Historical article with 4 wet men off on a tramp

Tourism is in the blood here in Fiordland, check out this historical article featuring both current Trips & Tramps guides Geoff and Douglas's fathers!

From Telecommunications to Tourism

I went to the local schools where there were plenty of opportunities to indulge in outdoors pursuits. I was fortunate to be offered an apprenticeship upon leaving school in Telecommunications, although 7 years later I became "surplus to requirement".

Living in a tourism town naturally I fell into the tourism industry. A job on the world-famous Milford Track was advertised and little did I know it was to lead to my career in guiding. The Milford Track is one of 10 Great Walks throughout New Zealand and the Great Walks are held up as the best hikes to do.

My first year I was the assistant manager at the most remote lodge on the Milford Track, Pompolona. Whilst in this role an opportunity arose to guide a group through the track and from that experience, I knew I wanted to become a full-time guide.

Pompolona staff group photo

Geoff Barnes (far left) Assistant Manager at Pompolona, staff with Grant Fox on the celebratory trips 1993 season

Learning the ins and outs of Milford Track

Over the next 3 years I became very intimate with the Milford Track, learning and studying the rich history, geology, flora and fauna of this special place as I guided groups from around the globe through the glacial valleys of the Milford Track.

Unfortunately the seasonal aspect of working on the Milford Track eventually meant a different direction was required as I entered parenthood and for the pursuing 15 years I was employed in different roles around the country in the Tourism sector, but my passion for the outdoors never changed and I knew one day I would return.

Glacier carved valley clad in forest

The mighty Clinton Valley on the Milford Track (photo Douglas Thorne)

Pursuing a full-time passion

That one day came in September 2015 when Steve Norris a former work colleague, friend and co-owner of a successful guiding company, Trips and Tramps, called to offer me employment as a full-time guide. How could I refuse?

Trips and Tramps offer guided day hikes on Fiordland’s Great Walk tracks, (Milford, Kepler and Routeburn) and a fantastic day excursion to Milford Sound with an emphasis on hiking, photography, and wildlife.

It has been wonderful to not only get back to my passion of guiding but to reconnect my soul to the Milford Track.

We operate day hikes at both ends of the Milford Track. The most popular being the Milford Sound end of the track, where clients get a stunning half day hike to the beautiful Giants Gate waterfall early in the morning which then allows them the opportunity to get out on Milford Sound for an afternoon cruise.

IMG 2466

Geoff guiding around Fiordland with Trips & Tramps

Why Milford Track is the best of the best

There are many reasons I still, to this day regard the Milford Track as the jewel in the crown of our hikes in New Zealand.

  • History - Milford Track has been a guided walk since 1888. Ever since it was founded by Quintin MacKinnon and Ernest Mitchell. The motivation was to find a route over the Southern Alps to the beauty of Milford Sound. Quintin then became the first guide.
  • Access onto the track is by boat only and off the track by boat. Which is a unique feature and limits the number of people on the track.
  • Everyone hiking the full track must walk in one direction. Starting at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishing at Sandfly Point at Milford Sound. 
  • Hiking in one direction gives a wonderful sense of being isolated.
  • Everyone hiking the track must spend 3 consecutive nights on the track. They cannot stay 2 nights at a hut or miss a hut.
  • The mighty Sutherland Falls. New Zealand’s highest waterfall and the 5th highest in the world at 580 metres or 1904 feet.
  • The stunning, but vastly different glacial valleys of the Clinton and Arthur.
  • Lush, sub-tropical forest vegetation.

If there is one track in New Zealand you should experience, even for a day, it should be the Milford Track. With Trips and Tramps, we have all the options covered.


Moss dripping from trees surrounding trampers

Lush greens surround trampers on the Milford Track 

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