A Kiwi Adventure
Senior Travel in New Zealand
By Charles P. Carlson
A tramp along New Zealand’s Milford Track, advertised as “The Finest Walk in the World,” can be done in two ways: very inexpensively as an independent tramper staying in government-operated huts or as a participant in a moderately-priced and fully-supported guided walk. My wife and I recently completed the Milford as our final activity on a tour of New Zealand. It was not only a marvelous “dessert” after a memorable trip but also a great international experience. Our tour group included people from Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Germany, and even two New Zealanders.
The walk is a 5-day trip over a distance of 34 miles. My wife and I are experienced hikers in our sixties and had no difficulty. A detailed description of the walk is on the official website (see sidebar).
The first day is occupied mostly with a bus and boat ride from Queenstown, the major resort and adventure sports center on the South Island, to the trailhead. It ends with a 5-mile walk to the first independents’ hut, or a brief 1-mile walk to the first lodge for guided walkers. On day two, independents have an 8.5-mile tramp along an easy trail through a scenic river valley. The distance for guided walkers is ten miles.
The fun starts on day three with a climb of 1500 feet up Mackinnon Pass. The zig-zag trail is well graded, however, and the mountain views from both directions make the effort worthwhile. A hut provides shelter for lunch and tea. I heartily recommend a rest stop, whether you need it or not, at the famous “loo with a view.”
The afternoon section is the most challenging one on the track, a steep 3000-foot descent down a very rugged trail. As any experienced hiker knows, the downhills are much tougher than uphills, but frequent stops to admire the views will ease the fatigue. Distances are about 9 miles for independents and 12 miles for guided walkers.
The longest distance—13 miles—is covered on day four, but along mostly flat trail and through some of the best scenery on the track.
The track ends at Milford Sound. The highlight of the final day is a boat tour of Milford Sound and a bus journey through interesting countryside back to Queenstown.
Accommodations: As mentioned above, independents stay at three well-equipped huts staffed and maintained by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The trail and hut fee for the 2004-05 season is NZ$105 (about US$60).
The more expensive option, the guided walk, includes lodges that are attractive and comfortable, excellent meals with two entrée choices, plenty of beverages and snacks, and hearty trail lunches.
Most rooms are shared, with four or six bunks (a very few singles are available). Inclusive cost for this coming season is NZ$1,750 (just under US$1,000)—in our opinion, a good value.
Of course, the major expense is getting there. A trip from North America or Europe should probably be combined with a general tour of New Zealand.
The tramping season runs from late October to late April. It is critical to book either trip very early since only 40 independents are allowed per day and about the same number on the guided walks. Demand is heavy. Independents should book in early July and guided walkers even earlier.