Repeatedly being mentioned as one of the top walks in the world, the main challenge of the Milford Track, one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand is securing a spot! Only about 120 individual hikers (in three huts, no camping allowed) are allowed on the trail at any time, and these spaces sell out almost a year in advance.
According to New Zealand laws, wild camping is allowed 500 meters away from the track, the main intention of the law being to give locals opportunity to fish etc. Since the Milford Track is essentially a valley walk, it is quite difficult, though not entirely impossible to walk 500 meter off track. I discussed this with the Te Anau DOC office and they confirmed it, however they did not recommend it, and frankly, neither do I for the following main reasons: The ecosystem is fragile, massive numbers of people visit the Fiordland and many of those whom this concept may appeal to are not overly experienced.
Since this walk was one of the main reasons I came to New Zealand, my only option was to book the hike through Ultimate Hikes, which is not cheap, but includes guides, meals, accommodation in luxury huts along the way etc. My first, and until now, only experience with an organized hike booked two days in advance, immediately after returning from the Kepler Track.
Somewhat to my surprise, considering I am a very individual walker, the arrangements were very flexible and it was a top experience: The guides were extremely knowledgeable about the fauna and animal life, and a flexible system with a guide in front and another one in the back made sure everyone could walk on their own pace. Sandflys? Not a huge problem when sleeping in luxury lodges..
Is this the most spectacular multi-day hike in New Zealand then not to mention the world? It is very special indeed, the birds, the ecosystem, the views over the McKinnon Pass. However, in glorious weather, I may place the nearby Routeburn Track slightly ahead.
The birds encountered on the route, especially the flightless birds unique to New Zealand; The Sutherland falls; Crossing the MacKinnon Pass; Learning how to get a robin to approach you by scratching the earth with your boot
Information, bookings (all accomodation incl. tent spaces must be booked in advance) and maps: DOC (Department of Conservation). Ultimate Hikes (guided trip). 10 things to know before walking the Milford Track.