How to Prepare for Ultimate Hikes Guided Milford Track Hike

 

The Milford Track is a bucket list hike for New Zealanders and Internationals alike. By taking the fully guided lodged and catered 5 day 4 night hiking option this is surprisingly do-able. Caveats to this are preparedness – and i don't mean buying the latest kit from an outrageously gorgeous purveyor of hiking gear – yes you can take your warmest lightest microns of organic merino mountain goat – but I am talking about what do you really need to succeed.

Swing bridge on the Milford Track

How Fit Do I need to be?

I would recommend hill walking as much as you can if you don't already have good cardio fitness. It doesn't have to be long – I had a 5km loop which i did 3-4 times per week and then I added longer walks in towards the last 6 weeks before I did the hike. The last 4 training walks (none was longer than 11km – roughly 3 hours of walking for me) I walked with a backpack of about 5kg. I was actually surprised how easy I found the hike overall – but our weather was wonderful (only a half day of rain – on the steepest longest day). Not everyone finds it so easy – on our trip a woman in her 70’s struggled and took 12 hours ( to my 8)  to reach the Clinton Lodge after crossing the Mackinnon Pass – and that was with others in our group carrying her gear! The guides ultimately have the final decision on whether you can continue the walk safely (taking in to consideration the other hikers and guide safety) or whether you have to turn around and go back the way you came and walk back out to the Te Anau end. 

What do I really need to bring?

The desire to have 5 sets of clothes and ‘options’ will be strong – but resist! You really only need the gear you are hiking in – with the ability to layer up an additional two layers of warmth, assuming you are already walking with a base layer and an overtop. Even though you are in an alpine environment this hike only runs during the New Zealand Spring, Summer,  and Autumn months of  October to March, so you will be hot if the sun is shining. Throw in your swimwear because you might just want to tick off a swim as part of your epic trip! You also need clothes to wear at the end of the hiking day. Just make sure its comfortable and light – I chose a light skirt and top, the lodges are warm so you wont need heavy layers at all and they are protected from the pesky biting creatures. (Interesting side note – it appears that New Zealand does not actually have sandflies at all – instead we have ‘Black Flies’ – but believe me they are every bit as annoying – their mouth appartus is designed to slice your flesh and find a capillary to feed the female and support its reproduction).  At the end of day you can hand wash any gear you require (including your smalls) and get this dry in a jiffy in the massive gas blasted drying rooms.
Also on the last night in Milford Sound there are proper washing machines and clothes dryers so you can happily return from your hike with clean gear.
Take slides or jandals to wear in the huts in the evening – or instead you could bring a pair of hiking sandals as the last day could easily be hiked in these if you strike good weather and you’ve had enough of your boots.
For toiletries - shampoo, conditioner and body wash is supplied, but do bring insect repellant, deodorant, sunscreen and lip balm. A mask may be required depending on current covid restrictions.

And most important of all - a well broken in pair of hiking boots! I was one of 2 people to fall victim to footwear fails. In my case I bought cheaply from Mountain Warehouse (curses on them!) a year prior and the boots sadly failed on top of the Mackinnon Pass, with the soles coming away from the uppers - with a piece of kiwi ingenuity from one of my friendly guides - we eventually moved from tape to a cable tie looped through the sole and lace keeping the boots secure. 

Another woman was wearing her boots for the first time .... needless to say I passed her in agony going up the Mackinnon Pass. 

Packs, Poles & Raincoats

These are all available either free of charge (packs and raincoats) or to hire - walking poles. 

You only need a small capacity hiking pack as you will only be carrying the small list of gear that I have outlined above. My own pack was a 56L and it was perfect. A friend of mine loved the Ultimate Hikes one so much that she purchased one on her return.
I chose to use the hiking poles – having never used before I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to walk with – I actually only used them on the Mackinnon Pass day but it made me feel very footsure over the uneven terrain.
I took my own jacket but several friends borrowed Ultimate Hikes jackets. They were waterproof but not very breathable and lacked any pockets. I had for this reason brought along a hip bag – a.k.a in NZ as a bum bag – and in North America as a fanny pack! This was useful for carrying lip balm, bug spray, warm gloves without having to reach into my pack.

Preparing your feet

Dont make the mistake of not giving your toenails a close shave first! Im not going to name names (ok it was me) but after the first day hiking when i removed my boots i thought – hmmm why do my big toe nails feel sore – i hadnt noticed it hiking. So I trimmed them up but actually the damage was done – and I would go on to losing both toe nails sometime during the summery months – not a good look.
There is a product for sale at the predeparture Ultimate Hikes that they highly recommend for walking. Its clumps of sheeps wool and costs around $20 for a pouch– the guides believe this is the best product to use for rubbing and blisters. I did use this and it gave some relief.
In the mornings in the lodge the guides offer first aid help for any feet issues you may have – I would just add – dont soldier on make sure you deal with any niggles as early as possible.

The Weather

Fiordland is renowned for being the wettest place in New Zealand with rain falling on average 200 days of the year. This really is the game changer for your adventure. It can be the difference between  a 8 hour or a 10 hour walking day. But before you panic and are put off – none of that matters when you know there is a hot shower waiting and a drying room for all your gear, and a refreshing gin and tonic from the bar. However note – leave boots and raincoats only for short amounts of time in the drying room as this can have disastrous consequences to the adhesives used in jacket seams and boots, as I was to find out.....

The Facilities

The Lodges

The lodges are comfortable, the food is plentiful, the hot water is high pressure, the beds are freshly made - and there are even hairdryers for those who need it. Top of the price range will see you snorely softly in your ensuite private room: – doubles, twin and single. At the lower end is a 4-6 person bunkroom with shared bathroom. Due to covid restrictions we were lucky to only have 37 and not 50 people on our trip and I only had to share with 2 other friends in a bunkroom – this could be cramped if there were 6 of you in the Pampaloma Lodge which had the least spacious bunk room.

Food and Drink

The catering is amazing – there are buffet style breakfasts including cooked, continental, fruit and porridge with juices and espresso coffee, and a selection of teas. Your lunch is self made packed sandwiches and wraps, with fruit and chocolate and often a baked slice. I am not a huge fan of sandwiches but I would have to rate these as an 11 out of 10 – it may have been the stunning scenery but I dont think I have ever had a better tasting – sarney (NZ slang for sandwich) in my life!

Lunch huts and toilets

Every day we had somewhere dry to stop for lunch and with a toilet - sometimes flushing and sometimes a long drop.  We were able to access the Department of Conservation huts for use of their toilets during the hike. We walked at our own pace with guides assigned to all groups of hikers along the way.

The Guides

We had a bunch of energetic young people as our guides. This may have been due to covid restrictions but there was really only 1 guide who had completed more that a couple of seasons. Their number 1 job is to keep you safe on the hike – ultimately it will be their decision based on the safety of the group whether a hiker is going to be able to safely complete the hike. The Mackinnon Pass day 3 can be long, and in treacherous weather conditions this can make the difference – it can snow, sleet and rain. Mackinnon Pass regularly has a high temperature of 4 degrees celsius and the wind chill can make it seem a lot less. A nice touch is that guides are waiting at the top of the pass with hot chocolate, tea and miso to warm you up. Our morning consisted of very low cloud and a fine mist of rain – but by the time we went over the pass the sun came out again – which I was very grateful for.
If you are interested in the history and the geography and the flora and fauna then I suggest you do some research before you arrive, there are reference books in each of the lodges  – this is an area where I do think the guides miss a beat. They had perfunctory knowledge of this area – I think I was expecting more plant knowledge and history than we received. But they were likeable and encouraging and in an emergency I believe I would have been in safe hands (by the way they do appreciate a tip at the end and an envelope will be discretely handed around at the final dinner).

In summary – this was a truly enjoyable trip – I don't think I would have had nearly as much fun with my friends had we taken the freedom option. It was a splurge but ultimately worth every penny to me.

If you are interested in a trip to New Zealand including hiking - then see here for further self-drive itineraries. If you would like to hike with a group we own one of the best-hiking companies there are - see our hikes here.

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Suzie
By
Suzie Thorp
: 11 Jan 2022 (Last updated: 13 Jan 2022)

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