Which is Your Pick? : Milford, Kepler, or Routeburn Track

There are many comparisons and statements regarding the Fiordland National Park. A few common assumptions in regards to the three main trails in Fiordland National Park are always debated on back-and-forth and we can never come to a clear, comprehensive conclusion! I decided to try my luck with three of the Great Walks and I absolutely loved all three. But we won’t sit on the fence, we will eventually conclude with our final thoughts. So what is my pick? Read on! 

       1. Milford Track 

General findings: 

Milford Track is known to be one of the finest hikes in the world. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced hiker, this hiking spot is perfect for you. With its valley carved by glaciers, ancient rainforests, and cascading waterfalls, this place is known for its beauty and grace.The Milford Track which spans over 53.5km in total starts at Glade Wharf and finishes at Sanfly Point in Miford Sound. The track can only be walked from one direction - from the start to end - and usually spans for around 4 days in total. Yes, it is certainly possible to finish the hike in less than 4 days, but you might not be able to do a pitstop in all the huts in this multi-day hike. Each night is spent at a different pre-booked hut for the finest experience. In terms of the hut facilities, here are some of them: 
  • Bunks with mattresses in a communal sleeping layout. (don't forget your sleeping bags)
  • Water supply, flushing toilets, wash basins with cold running water (but no showers) - Camping Shower, anyone? Definitely not an essential.
  • Heating with fuel available, and usually solar lighting in the main area.
  • Cooking facilities with fuel, tables and seating (but no cooking cookware or camping utensils).
  • A resident DOC ranger - they can tell you about the environment and weather, or help out should an emergency arise.

Overall, Milford Track is known to be one of the finest hikes in the world. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced hiker, this hiking spot is perfect for you. With its valley carved by glaciers, ancient rainforests, and cascading waterfalls, this place is known for its beauty and grace. Take time in enjoying the scenic view and for all its nooks and crannies.

Photography by: Mike Reyfman

 

Is the Milford Track for you?

  • Track 

The tracks are also usually quite wide depending on terrain - some even fit two people walking side by side in flat areas. So not to worry, if you are afraid of trails that are too narrow, this will do its job perfectly by giving you space! Despite its wide trails though, this trail is similar to others in a sense where it is made out of gravel, rock, or dirt. This means that the track can accumulate water in wet seasons. As a result, the track can get slippery. You should keep in mind proper footwear and clothing as safety measures. Besides, you should also be careful when you hike in general!

General Experience: 

After a boat cruise from Te Anau Downs which takes around 1 hour 15 minutes, take a walk through beautiful beech forest along the banks of the Clinton River to Clinton Hut, where all the hikers spend their first night. In a way, this is a mandatory spot that you will come across. Once you arrive, take some time to check out the swimming holes near the hut or simply take a short walk around the wetland boardwalk. 

When you arrive at Clinton Hut where you will stay on your first day, there are plenty of facilities you can find here. There are around 40 bunk beds located here. With the bunk beds, you can do without the sleeping mat but sleeping bag is definitely and essential. Keep in mind that Clinton Hut only has communal spaces - for instance, the cooking and washing up facilities require you to share your space. In any case if you do not prefer communal spaces, maybe this hike might not be the best fit for you. Make sure to place your bookings beforehand as it is very high in demand. 

The second day, I spent my time in Clinton Hut and Mintaro Hut. After the steady uphill inclination after you reside in Clinton Hut on the first night, you will be led to Hirere Falls. Here, you can get your first view of Mackinnon Pass and the impressive Pompolona icefield. 

Once we left Mitnaro Hut, we went to Dumpling Hut. Along the way, you will be treated to some of the most exceptional views of Lake Mintaro and Clinton Canyon. This memorial is a great spot to take your Instagram photos so you can take awe-inspiring panoramas, before reaching the highest point of the track.

Travel to and from the Milford Track usually requires road transport and boat access at both ends of the track. You can only walk the Milford Track in one direction, and the below transport options are for the summer Great Walks season only.

The track starts at Glade Wharf at the head of Lake Te Anau. There are three scheduled daily boat services (10.30 am, 1 pm and 2 pm) and on-demand water taxi services from Te Anau Downs. Boat transport takes one hour from Te Anau Downs to the start of the track.

Te Anau Downs is 27 km from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound. It has a car parking area if you wish to leave your vehicle. Bus services run daily scheduled services from Te Anau to meet the boat at Te Anau Downs.

 Photography by: Milford Lodge

       2. Kepler Track 

General findings: 

Days: Four

Difficulty: Moderate. A very steep climb on day one, undulating on day 2, flat on day three and four.

Distance: 60km (can be shortened by exiting at Rainbow Reach car park). 

The Kepler Track is the walk that wins for wow factor. As soon as you hike above the tree line on day one, you'll be greeted with a panoramic view so spectacular it stopped us in our tracks.

This continues on day two as you hike ridge line after ridgeline. 

You are completely surrounded by mountains and it will truly take your breath away. 

The track itself is 60km and starts and finishes at the Kepler Track carpark. 

  • Te Anau to Kepler Track carpark

45 min, 5 km

Firstly, everyone starts their journey on the lake side path outside Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. Once you pass Te Anau Wildlife Park, you can continue walking around the shores of Lake Te Anau to the Kepler carpark near the Lake Te Anau control gates. This will be your first encounter to the trail itself where it starts and end in Kepler Track carpark. 

  • Kepler Track carpark to Brod Bay

Time: 1 hr 30 min

Distance: 5.6 km

The track begins with a stroll through the beech forest along the shore of Lake Te Anau, the largest body of fresh water in Australasia, to Brod Bay.

  • Brod Bay to Luxmore Hut

3 hr 30 min - 4 hr 30 min, 8.2 km

A challenging climb under impressive limestone bluffs takes you above the bushline to panoramic views of the Te Anau Basin and surrounding mountains. Luxmore Hut is a 45 minute walk from the bushline.

  • Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut

Time: 5 – 6 hr

Distance: 14.6 km

Start your day from the peak with beautiful landscapes and good weather! From the hut, you’ll climb to a ridge just below Mount Luxmore, with stunning views across the south fiord of Lake Te Anau to the Murchison Mountains. A welcoming sight after a day on the tops, Iris Burn Hut is situated in a large tussock clearing.

  • Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut

Time: 5–6 hr

Distance: 16.2 km

Experience ever-changing scenery as the track takes you over a low saddle, then down past a large slip caused by heavy rain to Rocky Point. 

You’ll then wind through a gorge and lowland beech and podocarp forest, before reaching the shore of beautiful Lake Manapouri. The beach-side Moturau Hut has stunning views of the lake.

  • Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach

Time: 1 hr 30 min - 2 hr

Distance: 6 km

The last day is easy walking across a unique and fragile wetland. The track then follows the Waiau River terrace to the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach. You can leave the track here and catch a shuttle bus to Te Anau.

  • Rainbow Reach to Kepler Track carpark

Time: 2 hr 30 min – 3 hr 30 min

Distance: 9.5 km

Continue alongside the Waiau River to the Kepler Track car park.

Is the Kelper Track for you? 

Difficulty wise, this track is probably the hardest of the three, mainly due to its steep climbs and longer distances compared to the other two trails. 

During some of the days, the track can be very windy - it can go up to 130 kmph winds which is considered quite extreme and can be closed off. 

Make sure to best avoid this track during windy days as it will not look too good for you! Despite its apparent difficulties, 

Although the Kelper Track was definitely a great experience for me personally, many people were not fond of the rather lengthy duration. Despite the obstacles that I faced during my hike in Kepler Track, I had an eventful and fruitful experience overall. The forest was beautiful and worth every second of my hike. Having said that, I can conclude that all three tracks also has a lot of forest walking, so does the Routeburn track. 

 

        3. Routeburn Track 

General findings: 

If you are short on time and want to see the Greatest Hits of Fiordland, the Routeburn Track is waiting for you. Even with such a short distance, you can see stunning views; valleys, glaciers, blue rivers, and truly stunning views that keep you moving! 

The Routeburn Track is considered one of the easier tracks compared to some of the more renowned and difficult ones such as Kepler Track and Milford Track as observed above. It is relatively short and can be completed in two or three days depending on your pace. 

Key Observation: 

  1. You can swim in the gorgeous but freezing cold Lake Mackenzie. 
  2. You can take a short (45-minute return) side trail to Key Summit for some of the best views in New Zealand. 
  3. Our fave hut ranger is stationed at Lake Mackenzie hut. 

In terms of hut facilities, both Milford Track and Routeburn Track had similar offerings: 

  • Bunks with mattresses in a communal sleeping layout.
  • Water supply, flushing toilets, washbasins with cold running water (but no showers).
  • Heating with fuel available, and usually solar lighting in the main area.
  • Cooking facilities with fuel, tables, and seating (but no cooking utensils).
  • A resident DOC ranger - they can tell you about the environment and weather, or help out should an emergency arise.

Is the Routeburn Track for you? 

This shouldn’t be a problem even for beginners! 

The only clear difficulty of the Routeburn Track is the huge distance between the start to end, there will be a lot of walking - but that’s the true essence of going on hikes right? You will just have to rely on long bus rides to get back to your car at the start/ end of your hike. Apart from that, this route is perfect for beginner to advanced levels as it entails some degree of difficulty either way.

Mildford, Kepler, or Routeburn Track -- what’s your pick? 

Ultimately, each of these unique tracks has its own positive and negative attributes. 

If we had to pick one track out of the three, I would probably pick the Kepler track for its exceptional landscapes and view. Although all three of the tracks were immaculate, no walk we’ve ever done was like the ridge lines of the Kepler track. 

Either way, you have to experience all three of the tracks in the Great Walk and they are all recommended visits! 


To quickly wrap-up, 

Easiest and shortest route: Routeburn. 

Challenging and poses most difficulties: Milford 

Personal favourite: Kepler 

 


Some essential and non essential camping gear from our camping store for your tracks:  

Essential Hiking Gear

Other Camping Gear for the extra comfort


 

Related Blog Posts that may be helpful:

 


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