The Milford and Routeburn Tracks are a mixture of forest tracks and alpine trails. As a hike they are neither easy nor difficult to traverse but they can be challenging in places so it is important to prepare for your walk and to use suitable equipment such as hiking boots and walking poles. Some of the terrain you will encounter is outlined below.
The steep bits
Both the Milford and Routeburn have some steep uphill sections. These climb from the valley floor to peaks and saddles such as Mackinnon Pass, Ocean Peak Corner and the Harris Saddle. The tracks follow a zig-zag (switchback) pattern and can be narrow and rocky in places. On these sections you are encouraged to take your time, use walking poles and watch where you are putting your feet. It's challenging in places but you are rewarded at the top with panoramic views and the knowledge you've reached the pinnacle of these iconic walks.
Much of the Milford and Routeburn Tracks follow the valley floor, alongside rivers. These sections are fairly wide and flat with some uneven sections and rocky patches where it crosses dry river beds.
In heavy rain these tracks can flood quickly, and you may find yourself walking in water and crossing some running water.
Coming down from Mackinnon Pass is the steepest part of the Milford Track and can take a toll on joints so we strongly recommend walking poles for this section of the track. There is also wooden steps that can be slippery so take your time and stop frequently to view the amazing cascades. The Routeburn has a rocky downhill section with some big steps just before Mackenzie lodge. It's important on these sections that you take your time and step carefully. Your poles should be slightly lengthened to provide stability.
There are a number of bridges on the tracks, some small, some suspension and a few swing bridges. If you are not comfortable walking over bridges please advise your guides. They are mainly to cross rivers and uneven ground - most are not high.
Adverse weather conditions
The weather has a very significant effect on track conditions. High rainfall, wind and snow can affect the tracks at any time of the year. Water from the rivers and streams can come up very quickly and overflow from water falls, causing flooding and slippery surfaces.
Your guides are prepared for these weather events and will instruct you on how to proceed. You may be walking for long periods in water up to your ankles or knees or in high winds in exposed places. This is why carrying the right equipment is essential.