Hiking the Routeburn Track

Since falling in love with the South Island of New Zealand earlier this year, my family and I were longing to go back. However, we didn’t want to see the towering mountains of Fiordland National Park with seat-belts strapped over us. We wanted to be in the mountains.

That’s why, we decided to do the

Routeburn Track – a 33 km trail that takes you through the lush bush and mountains of Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks.

Since this was the first time we were going to be walking for three days in an alpine environment, there was a lot of initial planning to do. Over the course of the year, we bought tramping gear of adequate quality that would be necessary for the Routeburn track. We bought our hiking shoes well before our trek and practiced walking in them to get used to them. Hiking
shoes are essential as they effectively support your feet and prevent slipping. Deciding what to eat on the trek was also an important aspect of planning. We had to cater for two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners diners and snacks while attempting to keep our backpack weight to a
minimum. The entire list of items we took can be found on my personal blog here.

We were dropped at The Divide (off the road to Milford Sound) where we began our adventure. The first hour of the track was a steady zig-zag incline until we reached the turnoff for the Key Summit track. This is not to be missed. Endless panoramic views of the snow-capped mountains
greeted us at the top.

Key Summit Track

We continued walking, sometimes ascending and descending. Along the way, we passed Howden hut which is tucked next to Lake Howden.

Lake Howden

A stunning waterfall called Earland Falls surprised us on our way to Lake Mackenzie hut. At a height of 174m, it appears monstrous. As we walked by, it sprayed icy, cold water on us, nearly getting us drenched! There is a flood detour kept in place because heavy rain makes the waterfall impassable. Taking photos here was impossible.

After a long day of walking (mostly uphill), we were relieved to have reached Lake Mackenzie hut. Walkers were rested against the crystal waters of the lake with white mountains in the backdrop. Others were enjoying hot drinks in the hut. The hut is two storey’s, the top floor
contains bunks while the bottom floor is the main area with the kitchen, tables and sitting area with a fireplace. Toilets are in a separate building a few meters away from the hut. Additional bunks are kept in another hut in the same area. After enjoying a cup of luscious soup, my sister and I took a not-so-comfortable dip in the freezing lake water. The hut warden had a meeting with all the walkers at 7.30, giving track information, weather and updates. Then, it was time to call it a day, and we head off for much needed Zzzz.

The next day, we started climbing. But this time, we were receiving constant views of the hut, Lake Mackenzie and the mountains overshadowing them.

After we crossed the mountain, all we could see was mist. Visibility was reduced to a minimum and we could hardly see each other. After about 30 minutes, the mist suddenly cleared. Views of the granite wall of Darran mountains and the Hollyford Valley surprised us. It instantly became a sunny day and what we saw was overwhelming.

The track kept steadily climbing, however, our attention was glued to the views so we didn’t notice the incline. A small shelter greeted us at the top where the views were spectacular. Elevation level at this point was 1275 m. This area was called the Harris Saddle, the ridge between two mountain peaks. After a small snack amongst the captivating scenery, we headed
on our way. Just as we reached the highest point of the Routeburn Track, a vast alpine lake called Harris Lake appeared down below us. Melted snow in the form of rapid waterfalls fell into the lake from the peaks surrounding it. We were stunned beyond words, once again. 

The other side of the lake opened out into a vast picturesque valley. Descending was relaxing, especially because a large part of the descent comprised of staircases. We could see a large waterfall emerging from Harris Lake and forming a river through the valley. After crossing
bridges and boardwalks, a further descent led us past Routeburn Falls (continuation of the river) to Routeburn Falls hut. This wasn’t the hut we were going to be staying in, but was a good place for a rest.

A further hour of steep downhill walking led us to our destination: Routeburn Flats hut. Our hut was built on extensively flat terrain, providing 360 degree views of the majestic mountains. Since the hut only contained 20 bunks, it was less crowded and peaceful. 

View from Routeburn Flats Hut

The rains began. Sipping mocha and watching it pour down from the comfort of our hut was definitely a rewarding experience, especially after a long day of walking. Everyone slept early that night.  The walk on the last day was a breeze as we only had 6.5km left. A turquoise river ran alongside
us the entire way, giving us frequent opportunities to cross suspension bridges. Finally, we saw civilization and scrambled out of the bush.

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