Routeburn Track New Zealand Highlights

My first ever overnight hike in New Zealand was the Routeburn Track. This was some 17 years ago, but my memories of lush green forests, big rivers, still lakes and misty snow cap mountains are backed up by my photos. I also recall the terror of crossing my first major landslide.

Lake Harris with button grass foreground and snow cap peaks behind

Image: Lake Harris, Day 2

Routeburn Track Overview

#1 Location

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s great walks. It is in the south west of the South Island.

The start of the trek, if you start at Routeburn shelter is a 75 minute drive south of Queenstown. The 30 minute drive from Glenorchy is along a dirt road.

The other end of the track is 1.5 hours from Te Anua, which is on the way to Milford Sound.

You may refer to the link below for details on transport to and from the track.

#2 Distance and topography

The standard track is 2 nights, 3 days covering 32km. The track can be walked in two directions, but we opted for what was the common route at the time, which started at Routeburn Shelter.

Being only two nights, it was the perfect introductory hike for me.

Routeburn shelter is at 500m and the highest point of the track is at Harris Saddle, 1250m.

Day 1) 3 to 4 hours walk over 8.8km from Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut

Day 2) 4.5 to 6 hours for 11.3km, Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake McKenzie Hut

Day 3) 4 to 5.5 hours over 12km, Lake McKenzie Hut to The Divide

Further details of the route and transport options can be viewed here

#3 When

If you walk during the hiking season (24 October to 30 April) and stay in the huts you don’t need to carry mattresses and gas cookers. There is also a Department of Conservation (DOC) ranger stationed at the huts. Camping is also an option.

Completing the walk outside of the hiking season is not recommended due to the unpredictability of the weather and risk of avalanche.

We completed the hike in December. You may have sunnier weather during February to April.

#4 Highlights

This track offers wonderful diversity over the three days

  • Forests
  • Rivers
  • Mountains
  • Valley views
  • Open alpine plains
  • Birdlife

I apologise for the quality of my photos. These images have been taken from printed photos. Digital cameras were still in their infancy back then. Fancy that!

Day 1 

Routeburn River

Routeburn River

Day 2 

Routeburn Falls Hut

Valley and river view from veranda on Routeburn Falls Hut

Wet gear in the bunk room at Lake Mackenzie Hut

Wet clothes drying in the bunk room at Lake Mackenzie Hut

Day 3

Lake Mackenzie

Aqua waters of Lake Mackenzie with mountain range behind

Beech Forest

Track through beech forest, Routeburn Track

#5 Lessons about food and gear

I will be writing separate posts on food and gear for overnight hikes, but a couple of important lessons I learnt from this track.

  1. Do not carry canned food, juices and packs of fruit compote for every meal. They are really heavy.
  2. Make sure your rain jacket is water proof. I didn’t have a water proof shell jacket of my own. I made sure I bought one before the next hike!
  3. Proper boot fit is essential. Now this usually means that your boots will be up to 2 sizes bigger than your usual day to day footwear. You need the space for your toes on the descents. I got this right, as I didn’t develop any blisters or foot soreness.

As mentioned, the Routeburn Track is a great introduction to overnight hiking. Even though we had rain and a highlight for me each day was reaching the hut, my passion for trekking was born. The next trek I will feature is from Nepal.

If you have concerns about your fitness, or haven’t undertaken regular physical activity for some time, please have a medical check with your doctor before starting any hikes.

Please comment below if you have any questions about the Routeburn Track or hiking in New Zealand. Also let me know if you’d like to join us for a group hike.

Further details of the route and transport options for the Routeburn Track can be viewed here 


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