The Routeburn Track is a stunning hike in Fjordland on the South Island of New Zealand. The mix of alpine and rainforest with some great views is superb. I had done this walk a few years ago and consider it one of the best walks I’ve done anywhere in the world; the availability of huts all made for a perfect pick for Masako’s first multi-day hike outside Japan (and its superb hut system).
So it was off to Queenstown with DOCS hut bookings in hand.
New Zealand has a great transport system for hikers, it is very easy to get dropped off at the trailhead, get picked up at a different place a few days later, and they will keep bags for you. In case you get stuck in bad weather they will even come again the next day.
The track is about 32km long and can be done in either direction; we decided on East-West finishing at the Divide Shelter, mostly since the first day is then more time walking with less time on the bus. It also meant steeper up then slow down, my knees would be thankful 🙂
The walk starts fairly flatly and is easy walking along a gorgeous glacial valley surrounded by beautiful mountain scenes. With the incredible smell of green and clear skies (between the rain) it is a superb way to start.
View on the Track
The day ends at the stunning Lake Mackenzie.
The views of the lake and surrounding mountains are incredible. After a day’s hiking I decided it was worth a try for a quick bath in the lake, after all, glacial meltwater is well known for being like a warm bath – not! Even though it was freezing it is most definitely recommended, the water is crystal clear and tastes fantastic.
The first day is a trap for the unwary of things to come. On the second day the plan was for Lake Mackenzie hut to Routeburn Falls hut, it is harder with a lot more altitude gained. The day goes across Harris Saddle (Tarahaka Whakatipu) at 1,255m. It is not particularly tough and the view of the surrounding mountains range name from the top is stunning – at least it was until the clouds and sleet closed in and it became cold and wet. I was very glad to have brought my stove, hot tea in Harris Saddle Shelter was great!
The walk down to Routeburn Falls Hut from there isn’t too bad and has stunning views. The day is only about 11km long, NZ DOC recommends 4.5 – 6 hours – 6 hours is pretty much right if you stop for lunch and take many photos.
One of the features of this walk is the huge range of vegetation. The flats at the bottom are green temperate rainforest with long whispy old-mans-beard draping the trees. As you go up you through the Alpine zone and things get more and more scarce until it is snow and ice. In between are many, many, wildflowers. This hike isn’t only about the great mountain vistas.
Many wildflowers are along the tracks
New Zealand has a LOT of rain, you have noticed the pictures look wet, it was. This part of NZ has an annual rainfall of about 7m, which makes it beautiful green and soggy – bring good rain gear. Of course, this much water and mountains mean you pass yet another gorgeous waterfall or river every half hour or so…
Lots of water
As always with multi-day walks food is tricky, I decided to try those tasty-looking freeze-dried meals that are in all hiking shops now for dinners. Bad move, we were hungry and jealous of all these people who were walking in the other direction and had fresh scrambled eggs two days into a hike! Maybe they would be OK if bumped up with some veggies, cheese and herbs… maybe… Some were edible, tasty was not a word that came to mind once they were out of the bags – except for the dried mashed potato which was yum!
One day I tried to do pancakes on the hut stoves, they were super hot gas so it was a really bad move. It melted my silicon-sided pot, burned the base and didn’t cook through at all 🙁 I also didn’t take a spatula, it is amazingly hard to flip pancakes without a spatula! A combination of charcoal and wet dough – thank god for the emergency extra meal I always carry! I am now the proud owner of one 🙂 I think though the idea will work well with a normal hiking stove – and a spatula.
The final day is very easy compared to the others, but it is still a reasonable walk.
One of the advantages of walking in this direction is that the bus arrives at about 2 and then you get back to Queenstown with plenty of time for a shower and a nice dinner; always very much appreciated at the end of a hike.
The Routeburn Track is 32km long and is part of the New Zealand Great Walk system and huts or campsites must be booked with DOC during hiking season; late October to late April. When we went the huts were $108 per night for two people. The huts provide a mattress and stoves; unlike some other countries, there is no food available and no power for charging (modern hiking!). I don’t know if it is everywhere in the world, but everywhere I have tried them, huts have lots of friendly like-minded people to meet. They are particularly social in Japan where they sell alcohol and food, but New Zealand is great too. Of course, there are the snorers if you sleep in the hut.
Long-distance running is extremely popular in New Zealand and this route is popular – for both hiking and running. The fastest time is 2h 37m which is quite amazing, this walk is hardly flat!
We went in February and it was a good choice, Harris Saddle was a little cool (read below 0 and windy 🙂 ). The rest was warm but cool enough to be comfortable hiking, definitely need a winter sleeping bag though.
I absolutely love this walk and would recommend it to anyone, one of my favourites anywhere in the world.
Note – This post is finally catching up on a walk I did a couple of years in what seems an aeon ago, pre-covid times… Mar 2017.
Just a couple of notes on the tools that I use.
For navigation I use Gaia GPS, which was fantastic as usual; while I love maps it is so handy to just pick an area of the world, find a GPS track and go. Great battery life now – a few days if I leave it in Flight Mode, much simpler and more powerful than a ‘real’ GPS.
Like many hikers I know I carry a large capacity extra battery (an Anker E3) to charge up everything overnight, I get about 4 days phone charging out of it. With everything from my phone, torch and iPad to my water purifier now chargeable by a USB cable, it’s a worthwhile addition.