Hiking New Zealand’s Great Walk the Routeburn Track

Hiking the Routeburn Track istock.com/Credit MartinM303

Discover untouched landscapes and magical views on this 3 day hike.

Where to start

This three day hike exploring the stunning Southern Alps, traversing two popular National parks, Fiordland and Mt Aspiring. You can access the hike from either Routeburn Shelter (30 minute drive from Glenorchy) a short trip from Queenstown; or The Divide Shelter(1 hour 30 minutes from Te Anau). This popular 3 Day /2 Night hike, covering a distance of 33km you reward you with spectacular vistas through ice-carved valleys and majestic peaks.

Routeburn Track - Credit: giantrabbit/shutterstock.com
Routeburn Track - Credit: giantrabbit/shutterstock.com

Be Prepared

This ultimate alpine adventure.  It is not recommended for children under 10 years due to some terrain and longer days.  A good level of fitness will be required. There are some steep bits on the walk and parts of the track can be narrow and rocky in places so ensuring you have good walking boots (and especially polls for those with joint issues) will provide good stability.

Before heading out and buying all the hiking gear you need, you can also consider hiring gear from camping stores in Queenstown.  For the children on our walk it was easier (and cheaper) to hire boots, sleeping bags and jackets versus buying gear that might be too small by the time they do a second great hike the following year.

Weather can be unpredictable so be prepared for all weather conditions with enough equipment and clothing for all weather events. A First Aid Kit a must!

Load up with good snacks to give you energy – our trusty staples were scroggin and beef jerky.

Keep your load light and invest in some freeze dried food packets. The best kinds come solely down to personal taste – but who knew you could have a freeze dried gluten free beef stroganoff and it would be tasty!

Check out this link to DOC’s recommended ‘what to take’ for more information and a detailed packing list.

What to Expect

Traversing two popular National Parks, Fiordland and Mt Aspriring

This three day hike exploring the stunning Southern Alps, traversing two popular National parks, Fiordland and Mt Aspiring. You can access the hike from either Routeburn Shelter (30 minute drive from Glenorchy) a short trip from Queenstown; or The Divide Shelter(1 hour 30 minutes from Te Anau). This popular 3 Day /2 Night hike, covering a distance of 33km you reward you with spectacular vistas through ice-carved valleys and majestic peaks.

Routeburn Track - Credit: Stewart Nimmo

Day by Day 

DAY 1:  (9.8km – Approx 3-4 Hours)

The first day is a shortest of the three walks (8.8km) taking only 4-5 hours totally dependant on how many stops for drinks breaks and photo opportunities you take.  It is an easy terrain along a well defined gravel track, passing over swing bridges through the beech forest.  With views across the valley of the Routeburn Gorge there is plenty of stunning scenery as you enjoy an easy walk for all but the last hour which is the final ascent (250m), a little steeper into the Routeburn Falls Hut

We had made the decision to make the first day a leisurely walk and started late morning after a coffee stop in the picturesque town of Glenorchy.  This still meant we would make the first hut by 3-4pm in the afternoon, however it is worth noting, the later you arrive the less chance you will have of the pick of any bunks that are side by side. (especially may be important if travelling with young children).

The huts communal area is incredibly spacious, with a fire place and multiple cooking stations which was more than adequate for the maximum number of 48 guests permitted in the cabin. Lights out at 9pm so if you wish to continue on with your evening game of cards, or board game a head torch is a good idea!

Routeburn Track - Credit Evgeny Gorodetsky/shutterstock.com
Routeburn Track - Credit Evgeny Gorodetsky/shutterstock.com

DAY 2:  (11.3km – Approx 4.5 – 6Hours)

The next day you will find the terrain a little tougher and with loose rubble and a few rocky patches underfoot the trail is mostly uphill aside from some flattening off in parts.  The climb to Harris Saddle  (The highest point of the track at 1277m) is worth it as you are rewarded with magnificent views both in front and behind you offering many photo opportunities.  Keep an eye out for the resident kea who may greet you with their presence! 

At Harris Saddle there is a hut providing shelter, where it is also possible to leave your pack if you wish to take the side trip to the summit of Conical Hill for higher valley views adding approximately an hour to your trip)

Following this is your descent down to Lake Mackenzie where you walk through a green and mosey forest – picture something like you may have seen on the ‘Lord of the Rings’.

Arriving at the two-story Lake Mackenzie hut you will find both bunks plus one long platform lined with mattresses, so if you prefer to sleep on your own bunk bed it is worth arriving early to be one of the first to claim a bunk.

Routeburn Track - Credit iStock/Anette Fast
Routeburn Track - Credit iStock/Anette Fast

DAY 3:  (12km – Approx 4.5 – 5 Hours)

Leaving the Lake Mackenzie behind, you wind your way through the forest passing several waterfalls to reach the spectacular Earland Falls.

Plan your last hike with a stop at Lake Howden Hut for a snack stop.  Here you can recharge before continuing uphill through the dense beech forest and aim for the added extension of climbing to the Key Summit. The short loop to Key Summit from the Divide will take approximately 30 minutes. It is worth the trip and on a clear day you will be rewarded with panoramic views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains.

Reaching the end of your trail at the end spot ‘The Devide’. We had arranged for a transfer drive to deliver our vehicle from the starting point to the end of the track ready for our arrival on the last day.  This was an easy way to save on transport (especially for a group) with the bonus of arriving at without having to have an arranged meeting time.

Routeburn Track - Earland Falls Credit: istock/naruedom

Don’t Forget

Book well in advance as these hikes are extremely popular (especially during the peak summer months of Nov-Mar) 

IMPORTANT FOOT NOTE:

The Routeburn Track is only partially open due to flood damage, however the track will reopen in full from 7 December 2020.

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