Hiking Tracks and Guides
Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. To hike independently of a tour group for either the Milford, Kepler, or Routeburn Track, call the Great Walks Booking Office at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre or book online through the website. Reservations for the coming season can be made starting on the first of July every year. Book well in advance—especially if you plan to go in December or January. Independent walking, without a guide, requires that you bring your own food, utensils, bedding, and other equipment. You stay in clean, basic Department of Conservation huts. Lakefront Dr., Te Anau, Southland, 9600. 03/249–8514; www.doc.govt.nz.
Hollyford Track. If you're itching to see some coastline during your hike, and have good fitness, consider the Hollyford Track. At 56 km (35 miles), it's usually a four-day endeavor, taking you from the Hollyford Road down to Martins Bay by roughly following the Hollyford River. You'll pass a couple of lakes and waterfalls on your way; at the coastline you'll likely spy seals and penguins. Be particularly careful of flooded creek crossings. Make sure you buy your hut tickets but you can't book in advance. It's a good idea to drop in to the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre to check on conditions before you head off. Lakefront Dr., Te Anau, Southland, 9600. 03/249–7924; www.doc.govt.nz.
Milford Track. If you plan to walk the Milford Track—a rewarding four-day bushwalk through Fiordland National Park—understand that it is one of New Zealand's most popular hikes. The 53½-km (33-mile) track is strictly one-way, and because park authorities control access, you can feel as though you have the wilderness more or less to yourself. The trail ends for the track are remote. Independent and guided groups stay in different overnight huts. Guided and unguided walks begin with a 1½-hour ferry ride to Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau and end with a 20-minute ferry taking you from Sandfly Point over to the Milford Sound wharf. The track's well maintained during the restricted hiking season, which runs from late October to April (because of the risk of avalanche). Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, Southland, 9679.
Great Walks Booking Office. For seasonal reservations on the Milford Track, Kepler Track, and the Routeburn Track contact the Great Walks Booking Office or book online. Make sure you book well in advance. 03/249–8514; 0800/694--732; www.greatwalks.co.nz.
Real Journeys. If you don't have enough time for the whole Milford Track, you can still experience a good slice of what makes it New Zealand's most famous walk on a guided day-walk with Real Journeys. It includes a cruise across Lake Te Anau. You'll hike about 11 km (7 miles), lunch is included, and the good thing is there are no big hills. No children under 10. Lakefront Dr., Te Anau, Southland, 9640. 03/249--6000; 0800/656–501; www.realjourneys.co.nz. NZ$195.
Routeburn Track. The 33-km (20.5-mile) Routeburn Track, like the Milford Track, is designated one of the country's Great Walks, so you need to book in season. The Routeburn goes between Lake Wakatipu, near Glenorchy, and the road between Milford and Te Anau; it takes about three days to hike. The alpine landscape is stunning, and once you're above the tree line, the sand flies back off. It's a linear track so make sure you organize your transport home. The track's well maintained but be prepared for rain and mud. Tramping out of season is not advised for most people as there's avalanche risk. Milford Sound, Southland. www.doc.govt.nz.
Ultimate Hikes. If you want to do the Milford Track but don't like the idea of hauling a heavy backpack for 34 miles with all your food and gear, then Ultimate Hikes is the rather wonderful alternative. All your meals are provided, you'll have a comfortable bed and hot showers, and you can wash and dry your gear if it rains. They'll organize your transport and provide backpacks. Their Milford Track journey includes a cruise on Milford Sound and transport to and from Queenstown; the Routeburn Track is a bit less expensive. If you're not up for a multiday trek, you can take a single-day "encounter" hike on either the Milford or Routeburn Track. The Station Bldg., Duke St. entrance, Queenstown, Otago, 9300. 03/450–1940; 0800/659–255; www.ultimatehikes.co.nz. From NZ$1,325 (in multishare accommodation).