Hiking the Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Some years ago when NZ was added to my bucket list of countries to visit, one of the things I had in mind was to do at least one of the Great Walks, and at that time I wanted to do the Milford track. But when I finally decided to go to NZ and started to plan the itinerary it was not easy to decide which of the nine Great Walks I should do, I even thought I should do two of them, the thing was I had not enough time. Eventually I choose to do parts of two Great Walks: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Abel Tasman Coast track. And the multi day Routeburn track was the winner over Milford, don’t ask me what exactly changed but after a lot of research I concluded that this one was the one.
I did the track in January, it’s necessary to book the track some months in advance, unless you are planning to go on the low season, which is not suitable for most of the trampers. The best thing is to do your registration at the Department of Conservation, and whenever they open the bookings online, in late May or June (please confirm, everything changes from time to time), you’ll receive a notification and then you can proceed with the reservation. This was what I did, and as soon as I’ve received the notification I booked the huts on the days I wanted, paid for it, and calmly waited for it, for 6 months!
This track passes through both Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks in the country’s Southern Alps and may be walked in either direction.
You can see all the information on the nine great walks here.
Are you ready to follow me along the Routeburn track? Let’s start: after a bus ride of almost two hours from Queenstown there I was at the Routeburn Shelter, near Glenorchy, 68 km from Queenstown. The other option to start this track is at The Divide, on the Milford Road, 85 km from Te Anau, and this was where I’ve finished the track.
So, there I was, all by myself for the first time into a multi-day hike, ready to spend three days tramping, as they say in this wonderful country. Well, at that moment I felt I was not ready at all, suddenly I was filled with fear, but I said to myself, come on, just go ahead and enjoy it! There’s no need to be scared of! A lot of other independent trampers have done it alone. I knew this would be an easy track for me, so I really can not explain this thing with the fear, probably it was because I never did more than one day all by myself in a track with this kind of characteristics.
Actually as soon as I started the Walk I forgot everything and kind of entered in a new dimension as if being in another world. The weather was excellent and I was beyond happy. After a few kilometres a beautiful river with turquoise waters “called” me, no need to say that I immediately left the path and carried me down to those waters, the place is Forge Flat, cold but awesome waters, just rested there a little bit dreaming that I was all alone (no, there was a few other trampers, noisy… spoiling my desire of just hear the waters going down the river).
Back to the trail, not so easy from this point until the Routeburn Falls Hut, now all the way was up and up… sweating, I cursed me: why the hell is my backpack so heavy? Why did you bring so much food? Sure you could survive with no food over the next few days… but well, it’s impossible to do this independently without carrying all the food you need for the 3 days tramping, plus your clothes, sleeping bag and other needed staff.
When I thought it was time to do a break and have lunch, suddenly I saw in the middle of the trees some kind of a big installation, oh boy, there it was, the Routeburn Falls Hut, on the right side and the Lodge for the guided hikes on the left side.
I was one of the first hikers arriving there; I could choose my bunk and had a kind of lunch. As it was very early I decided to go further in the track. So I went all the way until the Harris Saddle shelter and back to Routeburn Falls Hut. I did most of the way without seeing nobody except three workers repairing parts of the track. On my way back I saw a family of five, the parents and three little girls. At the Hut there were some more kids, from maybe 8 to 12 years old. And they were as happy as the grownups! I mean, I never thought there would be kids doing it, but I’ve heard that it is common for the parents to take their children to do this kind of program during the holiday’s period. I also saw several groups of older people, in their seventies, walking with guides from the Harris Saddle to the Routeburn Falls Lodge. This means that everybody can do it, and also, it means that I can do it either in some decades! As long as I continue with my legs moving, and in good shape!
At the time I arrived at the Hut, for the second time, there was starting to rain. Have I mentioned the great views from the Hut porch? Wow, what a view, and with the rain, the mist, it was like if I was in another world, which in fact it is, far from the cities, far from everything. You can either get here walking or by helicopter, so this feeling of being on the end of the world is great! There is no stress, no problems, nothing that can disturb this general sense of happiness and satisfaction that I was feeling! Time to go to sleep. Climb to my bunk bed and getting in my sleeping bag and immediately fall asleep.
Next morning was raining a lot so I stayed there until 10:30 am hopping that the rain would stop, but no, it didn’t. Time to go. Until Harris Saddle it was impossible to see anything through the thick fog, I was so glad that I’ve done all the way in the previous afternoon and took pictures of all the amazing landscape! When I arrived at Harris Saddle Hut there was some hikers having tea and snacks and resting a little bit before going on. After the resting time even my backpack seemed to be light in my back, actually I felt so good, it was like if I was levitating on the trail instead of walking! And eventually the rain stopped. So far so good. Then the wind came, and at some point it was difficult to move forward. The trail was narrow and the wind was so strong, I had to walk literally glued to the mountain wall on my left, because on my right there was only the void! But the views were magnificent from there.
After a while there was a turn on the mountain side so the wind stayed behind. And then, another great view, this time, the Lake Mackenzie down the mountain, and the Hut on one side of the Lake, almost hidden on the forest. After this point the way was always down, passing through a beautiful forest.
About the space surrounding the Huts were I stayed, the Routeburn Falls Hut and Lake Mackenzie Hut, I only can say they are pretty awesome, and yet so different, one could stay at each one for a few days but I believe there is only one day allowed for each one!
I think that the most powerful feeling on the track is that sense of freedom and also the fact that you know everything is at a considerable distance, so none of the common problems will arise here. Oh no! Here one can be or at least feel safe, out of the city jungle, far from the noisy days, far from the crowds, far from almost everything. And I felt exactly the same at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, when I did the Togariro Summit, where I was alone most of the time. I suppose all of these feelings arise from two conditions, the fact that I did it alone and the fact that most of the time I was alone on the trails without no one on sight.
On the third morning… rain again, what else? It is supposed to rain a lot here! Let’s go, under the rain. No problem. The way from the Hut until The Divide is green, green, and green!
Here I could see a lot of traps to catch the mammals that are endangering New Zealand ecosystem. The conservation ranger at Lake Mackenzie Hut had a long conversation on this matter, he explained what they are doing on the track to keep the mammals away. Nowadays that’s difficult to see some birds and I hardly listen some chirping, but hopefully in a few years the track will be full of birds singing.
I also have seen two or three runners doing all the track in a row!
When I arrived at the bus stop there were a few trampers already waiting for their transports, but most of the trampers would wait a long time for the bus to Te Anau. This was the day that I really felt the cold temperature affecting me, but the biggest issues were the wet clothes and the wind. But the bus arrived, before I died frozen eheheh… and it was so cozy inside. I think that that was the warmest bus I caught ever! It felt like the most luxurious transport ever at that time and conditions.
I would like to conclude this post saying that the track itself is not difficult; of course one has to be in good shape to do it easily. For me the hardness of it is to carry a heavy backpack.
So, if you want to do this Great Walk, you only have to start preparing yourself some time before the date of the tramping.
Also, I am very happy that I choose this Great walk. The landscape is much diversified, there are glacier-carved valleys, beech forests, still, glacial lakes, rushing streams and waterfalls and craggy slopes that get snow. There are also a number of endemic bird species, including the endangered bush canary and the kea. So, I suppose, this was the main reason to choose this track over the Milford, well, maybe the extra day of the Milford too.
You can check all the information you’ll need on this Track at this Department of Conservation brochure. As mentioned there: “The Routeburn Track can be walked in either direction. The track is well marked and signposted, but some sections are steep and rough and may be muddy and slippery. Poor weather conditions can make this walk challenging, even in the Great Walks season.” and ” This guide describes a 3-day easy hike for independent, non-guided walkers during the Great Walks season (late October to beginning of May)”
Things needed to be arranged before:
. You need to book online or at a DOC Visitor Centre at Queenstown or Te Anau and pay the huts ($54 per adult per night) before you go and collect the tickets needed to sleep at the chosen Huts. I did it online, 6 months ahead.
. Book your transport to and from the track. I used Tracknet and I can recommend it. They have a very good service and it is possible to send the luggage you will not need on the Track in another bus and collect it at the end.
. There is no place to buy food or water along the track, all you need you have to carry with you. You’ll need food and water and a sleeping bag, the Huts do not provide food, cooking utensils, showers or bedding. Also you have to carry all the garbage with you until the end of the track. Remember that there are no roads, no cars. The Huts are accessible only by foot or helicopter. There is water on the toilets for the basic personal hygiene but not showers. But you are free to dive in the cold waters…
And that’s all that I can remember. I truly hope that you liked to read my experience and if you have any questions go ahead, I’ll be happy to answer them.
Next post will be Milford Sound and Te Anau. Thank you for visiting and come back soon!
Link for the previous post: Queenstown.