New Zealand boasts nine “great walks,” hiking adventures that show off the beauty and splendor of the country. The Routeburn Track, following a stream by the same name, takes you on an adventure on the South Island of New Zealand. The 28-mile tramp takes three to four days of hiking to complete. Most trampers start on the Queenstown side of the Southern Alps near the northern end of Lake Wakatipu and finish at the continental divide at Te Anau, a few miles from the Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound.
During the walk, encounter two national parks: Mount Aspiring National Park and Fjordland National Park bridged by the high ridges of Harris Saddle. On your journey, find red beech and mountain beech. On the Harris Saddle, expect to find sweeping views of the lush valleys below.
The hike starts from Queenstown on the sparsely populated South Island.
Routeburn’s growing popularity requires that you reserve your spot on the trail in advance through the New Zealand Department of Conservation website.
Start your journey crossing a swing bridge over the Routeburn Stream and follow along the stream. This well-graded track crosses the Bridal Veil Waterfall and continues on to a steeper climb above the gorge to Forge Flats, home to an early blacksmith shop. Here the valley opens up and the trail crosses the Routeburn to head toward the Routeburn Flats.
From here pass Eagle Bluff and Emily Creek to see a cleared view of the beech forest and Mount Somnus and Mount Momus. The track becomes narrower and more technical as it ascends to Lake Harris. Pass below bluffs and walk around Lake Harris for a view of the Valley of the Trolls toward Lake Wilson. Above Lake Harris, you can take a side trip to Conical Hill for a 360-degree view of the area. Back on the Routeburn Track, pass by the Hollyford face for views of Martins Bay and the Tasman Sea before descending a series of zig-zags to Lake Mackenzie Hut.
From Lake Mackenzie, cross a small flat before climbing to the bushline and then descending again past the Orchard, an open grassy area peppered with ribbonwood trees, to the Earland Falls, where you pass under the falls. The track continues its gradual descent to Howden Hut. From here the track branches off toward the Caples/Greenstone tracks, which create a semi-circlet back toward Glenorchy. Stay on the Routeburn to go past Key Summit to The Divide Road end and the end of the track.
Where to Stay
The New Zealand Department of Conservation maintains four huts along the track: Routeburn Flats Hut, Routeburn Falls Hut, Mackenzie Hut and Howden Hut. Camping is allowed as well. Huts and camping space must be booked in advance. On the western side, stay at the Mackenzie Hut. On the eastern side, choose between the Falls Hut or Flats Hut. The Falls Hut is more popular, since staying there breaks up the climb to the Harris Saddle, especially when you’re hiking from the east. Camping is not allowed at Falls Hut. In the summer, the Falls Hut is used as a ski touring base for easy access into the Serpentine Range.