Going to the Routeburn Track is a long story
The Routeburn Track is another Great Walk in the Fiordland National Park. Well in facts, it is shared by two different parks (it’s the only great walk on two of them!): Fiordland and Mount Aspiring.
As the hike is still around Te Anau, we decided to stay there for the three days we had after the Milford Track and take a bus that would bring us to the beginning of the track.
Going to and coming back from the Routeburn track is quite annoying, whatever solution you choose. The entry point (for us – because you can walk it both ways) is next to Glenorchy (about an hour away from Queenstown) and the end point is somewhere on the road that goes from Te Anau to Milford Sound (point called The Divide).
On the bus from Queenstown to Glenorchy
You see the problem? There is no short cut between the entry and the end point. You have to go all the way around Te Anau to get back to Queenstown and it takes about six hours to go from one side to the other by car.
Road to Glenorchy
The only viable option for us as we had to do the Kepler Track after (that starts in Te Anau) was to leave the car in the city and take a bus to the start and from the end. Otherwise we would have spent too much money on gas to get there and we would have to get the car back somehow (taking another bus which would have cost us the bus price + the gas).
The campground we were in in Te Anau offers to keep bags for as long as your walk is for $5 (if it is a small bag, $15 if it is a luggage or a bigger bag) and it also offers to park your car for $10 in the campground (or there is a free DoC parking in front of the camping). We preferred to take the paid option just for our peace of mind.
The bus that would bring us from and back the Routeburn track was leaving in front of the campground (perfect!). The company is called TrackNet and it costs $119 for the round trip. We left at 7AM on the morning of February 15th. The annoying thing was that we had to stop in Queenstown for lunch in order to get another bus to the start of the hike.
The good thing was that we had some friends in Queenstown and we got to see them a bit before leaving. They told us they were going to do the beginning of the Routeburn Track the next day, so we might get to see them on the track!
The second bus drove us through Glenorchy where the lake water was just stunning compared to the water in Queenstown. Surprisingly, when we got back to Glenorchy (after doing the Kepler Track), the water was not green at all. It was the usual blue you can think of for a lake.
Glenorchy on the day of the Routeburn Track
Glenorchy a week later
I was a little scared to start the Routeburn Track because the day before it had snowed on the mountains and the DoC lady told us that on the day we will start the hike, at the higher point of it, it would be -6°C at 9AM.
The Hike's profile
Day One of the Routeburn Track
We finally got to the starting point around 2PM.
The Routeburn Track is not like the Milford Track at all. Whereas in the Milford you can only walk it one way and sleep in all the huts (no camping allowed), on the Routeburn Track you can pretty much do whatever you like. You can walk it from The Divide to the Routeburn Shelter in Glenorchy or the opposite way. You can either sleep in tents or in the huts and you can do it in two days, three days, four days or even in one day (for the fittest one!), or do only a slice of it (on either side there is a summit to see).
We booked two huts and our first stop was Routeburn Falls. Not too far from the beginning, it allowed us to start the hike in the afternoon. The hike that day was kind if boring. We walked through the forest up to the hut.
Not so many birds on the Routeburn Track but some cute mice
Where the Milford Track forest was really beautiful, this one was not as much. You walk along a river that you can’t really see in open views (always hidden behind trees).
Crossing the river
There is a point where there is a really nice view over the valley though but you have the same view from the hut..
View of the Valley from the Track
When we arrived to the hut, we saw first a huge one on the left. Ahah that is not the hut we were going to sleep in. That was a hut for the Guided Walks.
Milford Track had guided walks too. It is a walk that you pay much more than the unguided one but you don’t have to carry anything except you clothes for the track and your bottle of water. Your lunch, break food and tea are carried by the guides. Same goes for the dinner, there is a restaurant in the hut where they take care of the food for you and you can even have hot showers. Plus, it is a real bed, kind of like in a hostel. Nice right?
The Freedom Walkers Routeburn Falls Hut
Well I think it takes off the charm of doing a multiday hike but it is a nice option for those who would be scared to not succeed alone or for older people who still wants to see some beautiful landscapes without hurting their back too much (don’t miss-understand me, you still have to walk).
The hut we had was quite big though with huge bunk rooms. The experience was kind of strange because during the Milford we were walking with the same people for the four days, here we didn’t really know who was going to be with us for the three days, everyone was doing a different walk.
Sunrise at the hut
The ranger made a nice animation with making us group to recognize the more languages on the flags as we could. If we found 20, we got a chocolate bar. Unfortunately our team won but we only got 15 (that was really hard!).
How many can you recognize?
Day two is the most stunning and will take you up high
The second day we woke up quite early (as usual on the tracks) in order to take our time on the hike. Well let me tell you something first. The night was FREEZING. It was so cold, gosh. I was hoping it would get warmer on the track because otherwise we would loose a finger or two.
The Routeburn Falls
The start of the walk with the sun rising over the valley was as cold as it was nice. We had the gloves, the hats and the hot jackets out.
The valley we had to cross was really beautiful. We go along on the side. We could see the sun rise over it all. What a magical spectacle. It is totally worth the cold and the lack of sleep.
I though that would be the best part of the Routeburn Track. My bad, that was only the beginning of the best part. When we reached the opposite side of the valley, the Harris lake revealed itself to us. Wao. That was beautiful.
You go along the side of a mountain to go around it with a perfect view on the lake.
The surprising thing at that moment was that we met a friend we made at the campground, he was doing the walk on the other side (as a day trip).
Reflection of the Darran’s Mountains on a lake.
We finally arrived at Harris Saddle two hours and a half later. The view was already stunning but we decided to climb up the side track: Conical Hill.
Harris Saddle has a look of a mountain house
View from Harris Saddle
This was quite a hard climb, very steep. You have to use your hands sometimes (often) and as the sun was not totally up yet, some rocks were slippery with light ice on them.
You can trace the path in the Valley
It took us a bit less than an hour to reach the top.
It was SO worth it.
SNOOOW. In Summer!
Oh my god. That view. 360° over the Darran Mountains, the Tasman Sea, the valley we just came from and we could even see the Te Anau lake. Add to that the snow on top of all the mountains because it snowed two days before.
On top (Side Harris Lake)
On top (Side Tasman sea - in the back)
View of the valley from the top
There is nothing like it.
No picture can ever tell how beautiful it was. You would have to make a 360° picture but even that wouldn’t compare.
The Darran’s Mountains
The Darran’s with the Tasman Sea
The Hollyford Valley
I was speechless. It was just so beautiful. I would have stayed for ever on top if I could.
Actually we stayed more than an hour on top. Our friends that we saw in Queenstown reached the top not long after us so we could catch up on top of the Fiordland.
We can see the lake Te Anau in the back
Together on top of the Fiordland!
I was terrified of the Routeburn Track because it seemed way harder than the Milford Track (elevation wise), but it was not that hard and even if it had been, it was totally worth the climb.
The rest of the day was not as enjoyable (what could be after that!), we just walked along the side of the mountain, above the tree line for three hours, under the midday sun.
I was eager to reach the Mackenzie lake to be able to rest and enjoy that hut that is supposed to be the best hut of all the three hikes (Milford, Routeburn and Kepler).
Lake MacKenzie from the top! And the huts.
The walk was long but we finally made it.
Damn that lake was nice too. Surrounded by the mountains. I could see the night picture already. Zero light pollution and no sandflies.
Lake MacKenzie (campground)
What I liked about that hut was the beds. For once it was not only bunkbeds but there also was beds lined up next to each other.
The must? There was roof windows from which we could watch the stars falling asleep. What else could you ask for?
The hut ranger was from far the funniest one of them all. There is a “war” between the Fiordland rangers and the Mount Aspiring one. As the hike is divided between the two.
Lightening up the milky way
On the Mount Aspiring National Parc side, they say the others are “The Dark Side”. And on the other side, the rangers also say crap about the other ones (in a funny way of course).
We were not the only one with the idea of going out to take night pictures that night. We were three or four out there next to the lake.
What a beautiful sky. I had never seen that many stars before. Even in Lake Tekapo that is supposed to be the darkest sky of New Zealand, there was not that many.
Shooting stars, Orion, the Magellan Nebulas and the milky way were our friends that night.
Day three kills your feet
Reflections of the mountains
Day three was nothing compared to the previous day. We were back in the forest, walking up and down to the Divide where we had a bus waiting for us at 3:30PM.
Sunrise over the valley
The Earland Falls, good place to take a shower after three days of walking 🙂
The Earland Falls from away
There was a side track, called the Key Summit, that most people do in a day trip from the Divide (it’s an hour up and down when you are on the track). I didn’t want to do it as my feet were already dying and we had seen the most beautiful view the day before but Alexis went up. He confirmed what I thought, it was not as pretty as Conical Hill.
The end of the track is never ending, like on the Milford. When you know the end of the path is near, it looks like it is never going to be there.
Lake Marian that you can see from Key Summit
We reached the Divide, finally around 1PM that day, glad to finally be back. I was a bit disappointed because there was no sign saying ‘you did it!’ like on the Milford.
On top of Key Summit
Everyone told us that the Routeburn Track was more beautiful than the Milford Track (and more accessible because you can drive there and do one day trips contrary to the Milford). I don’t know if I think that because I really loved the Milford Track and the experience there with the people and the MacKinnon Pass. But I also love day two of the Routeburn. Conicall Hill is definitely the best view you can ever get over the Fiordland and Lake Mackenzie the best night view ever.
On top of Key Summit
There is also something else you can do if you don’t want to pay that much for the Routeburn Track transportation. There is another track that you can catch near the Divide
If you had only one day, don’t do the Key Summit. Keep your energy for Conical Hill. It will be way more worth it.
Have you done the Routeburn Track? How did you do it?