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Hiking New Zealand’s Milford Track

Marvel at Middle Earth on this 33-mile, four-day Milford Track.
New Zealand, Milford Track, hikingArthur River and Lake Brown on a descent called "Gentle Annie" (David Wall)

The Perfect Circle: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit | Chile’s Torres del Paine Circuit | Corsica’s GR 20 | Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu | Italy’s Alta Via 1 | New Zealand’s Milford Track | England’s Pennine Way | Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro | Everest Base Camp, Tibet | Tour du Mont Blanc

Classic cred  New Zealand’s landmass totals just 103,733 square miles–the same size as Colorado–but the island nation boasts more swoon-worthy "tramps" per square mile than anywhere else in the world. And the 33-mile, four-day Milford Track outranks them all. From Glade House on the northern tip of Lake Te Anau, the route crosses the trout-choked Clinton River, meanders through beech groves (Fangorn Forest in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and vast grassy meadows and around tumbling waterfalls before climbing to 3,520-foot MacKinnon Pass, the track’s highpoint. From here, you’ll descend through rainforest where, at night, glowworms illuminate the undersides of thousands of ferns. At trip’s end, spill into Milford Sound, where cone-shaped mountains pop 5,000 feet above shimmering waters.

Beta  Milford attracts more than 14,000 hikers per year and is therefore strictly regulated. Independent hikers lodge at huts with communal bunks and propane cookstoves, and adhere to an ironclad itinerary–no lingering, skipping huts, or tent camping. From October through April, permits are required (bookings for 2010 start on July 1), but you can have it mostly to yourself in September. Just come prepared for deep snow.

Local’s tip  Time your arrival at Sandfly Point (the terminus) wisely. Too early, and you’ll endure the maddening swarms of sandflies that give this spot its name. Too late, and you’ll miss the 3:15 ferry. Lingering inside treeline is your best bet. Get ferry tickets (NZ$29) at the Department of Conservation office in Te Anau before your hike.

Plan It  Curl up with Jim DuFresne’s Tramping in New Zealand (Lonely Planet, $22) for inspiration and mile-by-mile descriptions. Reserve permits at doc.govt.nz (NZ$135).

Cost  DIY: $ // Guided: $$$

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