Fiordland’s Great Walks – which one is for you?
1 Jun 2017
If you’re a lover of big mountains and glaciers, and looking for a feeling of solitude, you can’t go past Fiordland’s Great Walks. But which of this remote region’s three legendary walks is right for you? We explore the good (and not so good!) things about the Routeburn, Kepler and Milford Tracks.
The Milford Track
The most famous of New Zealand’s walks, this 53.5km track is a true stunner and well deserving of its status as one of the top 10 treks in the world (Lonely Planet). The words ‘awe-inspiring and majestic’ are often used to describe the beauty of the landscapes this track cuts across – but really there are no words that do justice to the steep glacial valleys, alpine passes and superb waterfalls you’ll find on this track! Here are some other things you should know about Fiordland’s famous Milford:
- Be prepared to get wet. But don’t let that dampen your spirits, because rain means even better waterfalls and beautiful, misty valleys. Just don’t forget to pack good waterproof gear.
- If you’re walking independently, remember Milford Track books out a year in advance! Hut passes sell out very quickly. For travellers on a tight schedule, this can be tricky. Keep in mind there is a Milford guided day walk as an alternative.
- The track is open year-round, but winter hiking can be dangerous in this region and is only recommended when the weather conditions are mild. Access to the track is by boat at each end and transport operators will only offer access when it is deemed safe.
- You can only walk this track in one direction. Hence you’ll need to organise a drop-off and pick-up from the start and finish points. You’ll be walking the track for 4 days, so you will become friends with everyone out there – and never really ‘walk alone’, even if going solo.
- The track generally has a good gradient and is well formed. Though on day 3 when you hike over McKinnon Pass this can be challenging with a good climb and descent, so you’ll need to be moderately fit.
- Expect big, clean and modern huts on the track – some of the best among New Zealand’s walking tracks. Like on all Great Walks in the summer season, the toilets at the huts flush, there is running water and gas is available for cooking.
- The sandflies here are notorious. Our advice is to keep walking, and to cover bare flesh when taking time out to soak up the views, or on your lunch break. The birdlife is extraordinary – from the cheeky kea and playful weka, to the rare Blue Duck, you’re likely to encounter all sorts of delightful feathered native species when you walk this track!
The Routeburn Track
The shortest of Fiordland’s Great Walks (but in no way less beautiful), this 32km track can be completed in 2-4 days. You can walk it in either direction, starting at Glenorchy or Te Anau. You’ll walk alongside pristine rivers, through ice-carved valleys and beech forest, enjoying meadows, tussock flats and wetlands. Like its other Fiordland counterparts, bird life on the track is epic. There’s even something for history buffs with the old forge and blacksmiths camp. A side trip to Key Summit (we also offer a guided day walk option here) with views of the Darran Mountains and Hollyford Valley (a 1.5 hour return trip) is highly recommended.
What else should you know about this track?
- Book well ahead. This is another popular track that sells out fast. In fact some argue that it is too popular. In high season (October-April), you’ll be sharing the track with many others seeking New Zealand’s wilderness. If you miss out, our guided Key Summit day walk is a great option.
- With fewer people around, April and early May are good times to walk this track, although it can be cold and in May the huts are not serviced so you will need to bring your own cooking gas.
- Like Milford Track, the climb and descent is well graded, but you’ll need moderate fitness to see you walking over multiple days.
The Kepler Track
Relatively lesser known of the three Great Walks in Fiordland, but no less stunning in views, the 60km Kepler Track is a well-maintained loop track from Te Anau. Unlike many of the other New Zealand walks that retrace old paths and routes, the Kepler was tailor-made for hiking. Swing bridges and boardwalks make the walk doable by anyone who has a good level of fitness. From alpine views to caves, lakeside walks to waterfalls, the Kepler has everything Fiordland is famous for. Numerous forest and alpine native birds also delight on the track – including the cheeky kea, iconic kiwi, curious robins and tomtits, and tiny rifleman. Facilities on the walk are excellent with the Luxmore Hut featuring some of the best views you’ll find on any of NZ’s Great Walk. A guided half day walk option is available or Luxmore guided heli-hike, and very convenient for those on a tight schedule. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.
- The Kepler Track isn’t spared Fiordland’s changeable and unpredictable weather, with rain adding strokes of majesty to the waterfalls and landscape. The wind on exposed ridges, even in summer, can be extreme. Come prepared for all weather conditions.
- The Kepler is steeper and has a higher climb and descent compared to the Milford and Fiordland Tracks.
- Unfortunately, the ruthless sandflies don’t spare anyone, particularly around the huts and campsites nestled alongside the idyllic lakes and rivers.
- Book in advance. Independent or guided, the high season (October – April) can get very busy as spaces are limited. In the winter a popular choice is to stay a night at Luxmore Hut, which is safe to access in most weather conditions… but be prepared for the cold!
Experience the best of Fiordland’s Great Walks in only 3 days
If you’re limited by time or missed the booking deadline for these epic walks, don’t sweat. There’s another way to experience it all. Our popular 3 Great Walks in 3 Days experience is a fully-guided package that gives you a taste of the grandeur of all three tracks – in only 3 days! See the very best of the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler, minus the need for heavy packs or busy huts. Our small groups, and experienced, friendly nature guides will help you spot all sorts of beautiful native birds and plants along the way, making the experience unforgettable.
After each day of hiking, enjoy a nice meal and rest easy in your choice of accommodation, from Luxury Lodge, to a fully serviced motel unit, Bed & Breakfast or hotel. Te Anau is a small town boasting plenty of amazing restaurants and accommodation to make your New Zealand hiking (or tramping as we kiwi’s call it) experience complete. What are you waiting for? Don’t wait to book your ultimate New Zealand Great Walk holiday!