Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

New Zealand has a series of nine “Great Walks,” popular “tramping” (aka hiking + camping) trails that go through some of the most scenic parts of the country. My dad had heard great things about one of these hikes, the Routeburn Track, from his friend who is a New Zealand native so we decided to give it a try.

Off we go!

Planning the Hike

What is the Routeburn Track??!

The Routeburn Track is located in the southwest of New Zealand, connecting Fiordland National Park and neighboring Mount Aspiring National Park. It starts at “The Divide” near Milford Sound and winds through the mountains for 32 kilometers until it reaches “Routeburn Flats,” about a 1 hour drive from Queenstown (or vice versa). Along the way there are several huts with bunk beds and kitchen facilities for hikers. There are also several campsite options available.

The campsite options are pretty scenic!

Getting There

Doing the hike took some tight logistical planning. The first hurdle was getting to and from either end of the trail. While the walk from one end to the other is only 32 km, the driving distance between the two end points is quite long at 325 km. We thought about doing an out and back hike to avoid having to deal with transportation but ultimately decided we wanted to pursue the entire trail. After doing some research, we hired Mike from Track Hopper to move our car from where we started to the finish line so we could do the trail one-way. The service was really easy. We picked up a lockbox provided by Mike from a gas station near the start of the hike and left it attached to the car with our key inside. The next day we found our car parked at the other end of the trail and grabbed the key back from the box. We swung by Mike’s house, on our way to Queenstown, to return the box and were on our way. Great!

Planning the Route and Making Sleeping Arrangements

The next hurdle was planning our route. The official brochure recommends that hikers do this track in 3-4 days and stay at the huts along the way. However, the hike is very popular and spots at most of the huts were already reserved by the time we got around to planning it. After doing some calculations we figured we could do the entire hike in a day or two as long as we’d be willing to do one really long, probably tough walk. We all agreed we were up for the challenge and settled on hiking 25.5km the first day and finishing the 6.5km the following morning. We were able to book one indoor bunk and one campsite at the Routeburn Flats hut, the spot we decided we’d stop for the night. While three hut spots would have been ideal and saved us (ok John) from carrying our camping equipment, we were lucky to find some accommodations and John was a trooper and made sure our tents and sleeping bags arrived with us.

Way to go, John!

Hiking the Trail!

Day 1: The Divide to Routeburn Flats

With logistics behind us, the real challenge was actually completing the hike! The first half of the day trended uphill, with a mix of moderate and steep climbs to the peak of the hike. The morning started out a bit rainy but we waited out the worst of it in the car before getting started. As the day went on the clouds burned off and we had incredible views of the southern alps and the valley below.

The beginning of the hike took us through some beautiful mossy forests.
Then through some open fields. The sun is finally coming out!
Going up up up from Mackenzie Lake post-lunch.
The scenery was spectacular and made the tough uphill climb quite fun. 
The clouds were moving quickly. We were in and out of fog for most of the day.
Almost at the top! Posing in front of the southern alps.

Thankfully, the second half of the day was primarily downhill to our hut. We continued to pass spectacular lakes and waterfalls, eventually getting to our camp area around 7pm. We made it more or less in tact and enjoyed a slightly tasty dinner of freeze dried meals before hitting the sack early.

Beautiful lake on our way downhill.

Day 2: Routeburn Flats to Routeburn Shelter

When we woke up the next morning, we were COLD and excited to start the hike so we’d warm up quickly!

Our last day took us for two hours through some forest areas and past more waterfalls before we reached the car. We were glad to have a significantly easier day this time around and enjoyed a more leisurely hike before heading to Queenstown.

Walking past super blue rivers. The water in New Zealand is so nice – and we were able to drink it freely all along the trail!

Hiking the Routeburn Track was a top New Zealand experience; the scenery was absolutely breathtaking and we all enjoyed the physical challenge. We hope to be able to try some more Great Hikes on our next New Zealand adventure!

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