GREAT WALK: ROUTEBURN TRACK
The Routeburn Track leads from Lake Wakatipu over the Harris Saddle to Fiordland, through the wide glacial Routeburn Valley and above the bushline to give stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The 32 kilometre three-day walk links the Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland, taking in a wide variety of scenery along the way, including mountain lakes and waterfalls, and offering unsurpassed views of the steep-sided Fiordland mountains. Many native bird species are found here - bellbirds, fantails and wood pigeons inhabit the forested valleys, cheeky mountain parrots, or kea are found above the bushline, and from the huts and campsites at night you can hear the call of the native owl, the morepork.
The Routeburn is one of New Zealand's finest tramping tracks, and more than 13,000 people complete the walk each year. The track begins at the head of Lake Wakatipu, 25 kilometres from Glenorchy, in the Dart River valley, the site of Isengard in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and ends at the Divide on the Milford Road. The nearest Department of Conservation Visitor Centres are in Glenorchy, Queenstown and Te Anau. The Routeburn and Greenstone Track map is available at the visitor centres, or online from Craig Potton Publishing or Clearwater Tarn, and you can download the Routeburn Track brochure from the Department of Conservation's website.
There are four Department of Conservation huts and two campsites on the track, and bookings are required for the peak season from late October to late April. Bookings open on July 1 each year for the coming season. The Routeburn offers more flexibility than the nearby Milford Track, allowing you to walk the track in either direction, and stay up to two nights in each of the huts. You also have the option of walking in to one of the huts and out the same way. Ultimate Hikes is the only operator to offer guided overnight walks on the track.
This track guide follows the Department of Conservation guide in going east to west, starting at Lake Wakatipu and finishing at the Divide, 85 kilometres north of Te Anau.
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut (6.5 kilometres, 1.5-2.5 hours): >From the car park at the Routeburn Shelter, the track leads across the swingbridge and follows the sparkling Route Burn steadily uphill through beech forest to the Sugar Loaf Stream, and then climbs slowly up above the Routeburn Gorge. It crosses the swift Bridal Veil Falls Stream and heads back across the Route Burn to the open grassy flats around the Routeburn Flats Hut. The endangered mohua (yellowhead, or bush canary) can often be seen with parakeets feeding in noisy groups behind the hut.
Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut (2.3 kilometres, 1-1.5 hours): The track climbs steeply through red, silver and mountain beech forest and across two bridges before negotiating a slip, from which there are good views of the valley below. The track then leads uphill to the hut, perched on the bushline, with views back to the Routeburn Flats. Waterfalls cascade into the rocky gorge just behind the hut.
Routeburn Falls Hut to Mackenzie Hut (11.3 kilometres, 4.5-6 hours): This is the most spectacular, and most strenuous day, the track climbing steadily past the Routeburn Falls and up to Lake Harris. The track then becomes steeper, climbing up to the top of the bluffs above the lake and on to the tussock-covered Harris Saddle, at 1,255 metres. A steep side track from the Harris Saddle leads up Conical Hill (1-2 hours return), for magnificent all round views, down to the lakes and valleys and out to sea. From the saddle, the track drops steeply down a gully and traverses the exposed Hollyford face before descending through the bush to Mackenzie Hut. There is a good short walk to the head of Lake Mackenzie underneath beautiful Emily Peak.
Mackenzie Hut to Howden Hut (8.6 kilometres, 3-4 hours): The track crosses a small tussock flat before climbing steeply to the bushline. It then descends gradually past a natural clearing dotted with ribbonwood trees, known as the Orchard, to the rainbow-garlanded Earland Falls. The track continues its gradual descent to Howden Hut, at the junction of the Routeburn and Greenstone/Caples Tracks beside Lake Howden.
Howden Hut to the Divide (3.4 kilometres, 1-1.5 hours): The track climbs for about 15 minutes before reaching a short side track to the 919 metre Key Summit, which offers magnificent views of the mountains and valleys below. At the summit, there is a 30 minute nature walk which loops around the alpine wetlands and tarns. From the Key Summit turnoff, the gradual downhill walk to the Divide is through silver beech trees, ribbonwood and fuchsia. The Divide (532 metres), on the Milford Road, is the lowest east-west crossing of the Southern Alps and buses stop at the car park here to pick up passengers for the trip to Milford or Te Anau.