The Routeburn …. One of NZ’s Great Walks, a multi-day, 32Km hike through ever changing bush, meadows, alpine valleys, waterfalls and beautiful lakes. If you ever wanted to do one walk that gives you the best of what NZ tramping (what they call hiking here!) has to offer, then this is one of the best contenders for the job. There are some spectacular vistas along the way, lake filled valleys, Fiordlands famous Hollyford valley and the impressive hanging valley feature lake Marion.
Itinerary wise it’s great to link this track with visiting Milford Sound, an essential for any Fiordland visitor. (See our Milford Sounds Blog) The Routeburn track gets you most of the way there by walking through NZ best landscapes, not spending hours on a tourist bus or driving in a car!
It’s a popular alternative to the extremely popular Milford Track. It offers, in many people’s opinions, just as good an experience without having to book sometimes up to a year in advance!!
The Routeburn is generally completed in 2 nights/3 days or 3 nights / 4 days depending on distances you want to walk and the demands of your linking itinerary.
Along the way there are 4 huts provided by DOC all kitted out with gas and cookers (in Great Walk Season), toilets, bunks with mattresses and a Warden! The huts you stay in will depend on your itinerary and your preferences.
Usually walked from Routeburn Flats to the Divide, the first section of the tramp is a gentle uphill section, ascending about 500m over 8.8km to Routeburn Falls Hut. The track passes through Beech Forest and follows the Route Burn river until the meadows of the Routeburn alpine valley start to appear. From here the climb is short and sharp up to the hut.
Routeburn Falls Hut has an expansive view down the valley to the alpine meadows below and the snow-capped tops of the Humbolt Mountains. This is a fantastic example of a modern NZ hut. As a result, well designed for facilitating socialising with your fellow walkers, and having a good nights sleep in your bunk.
The second day is a real change from the first. The track continues along the river and climbs up through a narrow gap in the mountains, taking in the impressive waterfall the way. This valley has a real alpine feel, higher and much more open, tramping through tussocks and wetlands, the track winds its way to the end to the head of the valley. Here a climb takes you up along the buffs above Lake Harris, an impressive sight and to the Harris Saddle (the track high point at 1250m).
The side track to Conical Hill is well worth the 45mins of effort! With fantastic panoramic views of and down into the Hollyford valley and back to where you have come from. The snow-capped mountains opposite will take your breath away.
The next section traverses along the exposed side of the Hollyford valley, where the fantastic mountain views continue. If you’re as lucky as I was, you could see Kea’s along the way. Kea are one of New Zealand’s very clever parrots, they live above the bush line in alpine areas and are the cheekiest, cleverest bird you’ll ever meet!
Lake McKenzie appears in the valley below and the track descends, the bush is phenomenal here, extremely beautiful emerald green because everything is seemingly covered in moss!
I stayed at the Lake McKenzie hut, which is nestled on the shores of the lake. After 12 or so Km walked and as the afternoon cleared and warmed up, a dip in the lake felt compulsory!! However, it’s always a good idea to be careful with bare feet in a lake… I managed to cut the sole of my foot pretty badly, but luckily for me there was a fantastic nurse staying in the hut too and she strapped my foot up much better than I could have done!
I always like to swap tramping stories with fellow hut goers and also ask people, “What is their favourite tramp in NZ?”. This time I had answers including some great little gems in the Wanaka area (from some Wanaka locals!) and The Kepler, one of my favourites too!
From Lake McKenzie, the next day’s walk isn’t too far to the next hut Lake Howden. (about 3-4hrs, 8.5Km) Through beautiful native bush, over little streams, past an impressive waterfall. 174m of it, there is an alternative track if it’s been raining lots… as you’ll get pretty wet! and through a beautiful little orchard section!
Whether you stay at Lake Howden really depends on your plans after finishing the tramp. It can be a very good plan to link the Routeburn in with a visit to Milford Sounds, especially if you don’t have your own transport. If you’re doing this you probably want to stay a night at Lake Howden, alternatively it’s only another couple of hours to the end of the tramp at the Divide.
If the weather is good and the cloud is high, a side track between Lake McKenzie and Lake Howden up to Key Summit is not to be missed. It’s only 45mins max up to the Nature Loop track and it is well worth it for both the alpine plants and the amazing views! Lake Marion is a favourite of everyone up here, it’s a beautiful corrie lake in an impressive hanging valley, right across the valley.
Some of the cool alpine plants to be found on the nature walk loop.
The final descent to The Divide is again through some impressive bush, here in the summer with a keen eye you can find a few different types of orchids and also the biggest Fuchsias (they are actually trees here!) the Kōtukutuku.
This hike has it all, and is one of the best. Ask Adventurers to add on a Routeburn ‘Tramp’ into your NZ itinerary.