Hiking the Tutoko Valley Track, Fiordland National Park
Having done most of the popular hikes on the road to Milford Sound we found ourselves searching for this area’s more hidden gems. That led us to the Tutoko Valley Track, which starts a short distance from Milford Sound. It isn’t one of my favourite hikes (in fact, it’s one of my least favourites!) but it was eventful and the view at the end is pretty impressive. Keep reading to find out more about the hiking the Tutoko Valley Track.
The Tutoko Valley Track: An Endless forest
I hadn’t done much research about this track beforehand but I had seen some cool photos, which is generally enough to inspire me to do a hike. You can see from the bridge at the start of the hike that the Tutoko Valley is a beautiful place, but after two hours of hiking through a muddy forest we still hadn’t reached a clearing. It’s frustrating knowing that you’re surrounded by amazing scenery but you just can’t quite see it. Throw in one of the rougher forest tracks we’ve walked on in New Zealand and you start to see why it wasn’t that enjoyable. It’s not that the terrain is particularly challenging but you’re constantly walking through mud, small river crossings and slippery tree roots. It’s one of those tracks where you have to focus on every step, which at least means that time seems to go quickly and you never get bored. There is, however, always the thought that you have to walk back the same way, through the same frustrating bit of forest.
The End of the Track (or maybe not)
After around two hours we finally reached a clearing where the scenery we’d been playing hide and seek with (and losing) finally made an appearance. It’s a great spot — snow-capped peaks and green foothills provide the backdrop to an exotic section of clear blue river. So, a pretty special view, but I’m not sure it was quite worth the journey to get there (and back).
I ended up crossing the river. My boots were about 80% wet at the time so I didn’t have much to lose. Apparently, you can keep going on the other side of the river, but I figured the view wouldn’t change much and we still had two hours’ worth of uninspiring forest to walk through.
If you want to see the Tutoko Valley (a small section of it at least) but don’t want to do this hike you can always just stop at the bridge by the side of the road. It’s a pretty good view (not quite as good as at the end of the track) and you’ll save yourself 5 hours!
A Bag by the Side of the Road
We eventually made it back to the parking area, exhausted, and then headed to the camping ground nearby to get set up. We soon realised the bag I’d been carrying, which housed two cameras, two wallets and two cell phones wasn’t in the car. We rushed back, mortified that we’d lost all that stuff on a hike we hadn’t even enjoyed. Luckily it was still sitting by the side of the road unscathed. I guess if this track was more popular we might not have been so fortunate.
It takes around 5 hours (return) to hike the Tutoko Valley Track although you could do it slightly quicker if you don’t stop for long at the end. It’s a rough track and could be awful after some rain (we hiked it in relatively dry conditions). There are several hikes nearby of similar distance and difficulty that I’d recommend over the Tutoko Valley Track, including Lake Marian, Key Summit and Gertrude Saddle (Gertrude Saddle is hard but is in my opinion one of the best day hikes in New Zealand). If you’re on your own, I’d suggest one of the more popular hikes – the Tutoko Valley Track was very quiet (the only people we saw were a couple of DOC workers with a cute dog) and there’s no phone reception – if you rolled an ankle you’d be waiting a while until someone found you.
The Tutoko Valley Track is located a few kilometres from Milford Sound. There’s not much signage but it should be easy to find.
Are you planning a trip to Fiordland National Park? Which hikes are you most excited to do? Let us know in the comments below!