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32kms - 3 days
A magnificent alpine adventure
While the Routeburn Track may be one of the shorter of the Great Walks, it has some of the biggest scenery. With soaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, waterfalls and jewel-like lakes the track links the Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park.The highest point of the track is 1,255 metres above sea level - so it is less about hiking, and more about mountaineering!
The 32 kilometres long track usually takes three days to complete but extreme athletes regularly run the track in a single day. Every May there is a mountain run along the track - completion times range from three to nine hours.
The Routeburn Track is part of Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. This treasured part of New Zealand has been shaped by successive glaciations into fiords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. Two-thirds of the protected area is covered with southern beech and podocarps, some of which are over 800 years old. The kea - the only alpine parrot in the world - lives here, as does the rare, flightless takahe.
The long climb to the Harris Saddle, the highest point of the track, is worth every step. Beautiful Lake Harris greets you with waters that will be either deep blue or slate gray, depending on the weather. The saddle has many other pretty little tarns hidden in its folds.
From the Harris shelter, you are surrounded by mountains - the Darren Range, Mount Madeline (2537m) and Mount Tutoko (2746m), just to mention a few. There is a well-trodden path from the shelter heading up Conical Hill (1515m), where there is a 360° panoramic view.
Water, water everywhere
Moss-draped forest, energetic streams and busy waterfalls point to the fact that it rains a lot in this corner of the world. However that should not be seen as a deterrent - the Routeburn is magical in any weather. A rainy day is a bonus, making waterfalls even more breathtaking.
Swing bridges provide an entertaining trip over numerous rivers and creeks. Particularly memorable is Israeli Creek, which was named after an Israeli couple who got lost coming over a nearby untracked pass and spent some time trapped on a ledge above the creek.
At the southern end of the track, Key Summit provides panoramic views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains. During the last ice age, which ended about 14,000 years ago, a huge glacier flowed down the Hollyford Valley and overtopped Key Summit by 500 metres, with ice branches splitting off into the Eglinton and Greenstone Valleys. There is a self-guided alpine nature walk at Key Summit, which is a 20 minute detour off the main trail.
Birds of the Routeburn
Birdlife is prolific through forested sections of the Routeburn Track. Native tomtits, robins, fantails, wood pigeons and bellbirds are commonly seen. But of all the birds that live on or around the track, there is one that every walker hopes to see - the kea. Officially the world’s only alpine parrot, the kea is a beautiful olive-green bird with red underwear. They are comical to watch and are famous for stealing things like sandals, hats, cameras and anything else they can get their beaks on.
Shorter or longer
This is not a track for the winter months - 32 avalanche paths have been identified between Routeburn Falls Hut and the Earland Falls - however you can walk for a day at any time of the year. The section of track from the road end at Routeburn Shelter to the Routeburn Falls Hut is clear all year. Likewise the section between The Divide and Earland Falls makes an excellent one day walk.
For a longer walking adventure, the Routeburn Track can be linked with the Greenstone or Caples Tracks.
The greenstone trail
Long before Europeans arrived in New Zealand, people of the Tai Poutini iwi regularly walked the Routeburn Valley to access a pounamu (jade) source at the head of Lake Whakatipu. Pounamu was highly valued as a material for tools, weapons and ornaments.
The first Europeans to see the area were pioneers David McKellar and George Gunn, who on 9 June 1861 climbed to the top of Key Summit. Tourism began in the 1880s - visitors were taken into Routeburn Flats by horse, and then guided on foot to the Harris Saddle.
Booking a walk with a tour provider
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your walking experience to life. Whether you are looking for a guided tour or accommodation along the track browse through our business listings to find the walkin experience that is right for you.
Booking a walk independently
If you want to walk a Great Walk independently you will need a Great Walks Pass The fees for this varies between each Great Walk, but all prices are very reasonable as they are heavily subsidised in order to foster participation by many people.
For some Great Walks you may need to make a booking, for others simply purchase a Great Walks hut or campsite pass before your trip
- For the Milford, Kepler, Routeburn, Heaphy and Abel Tasman the online system allows you to check availability and pay for your booking. Book online
- Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centres national wide can make hut or campsite bookings on your behalf. A booking fee applies.
- Call on +64-3-249 8514, fax +64-3-249 8515, email firstname.lastname@example.org