Best time: late Oct to late April
With soaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, waterfalls and jewel-like lakes, this track links the Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park.
While the Routeburn Track may be a shorter multi-day hike, 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 the views are simply spectacular.
The part of New Zealand that the Routeburn Track winds through has been shaped by successive glaciations into fiords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. Birdlife is prolific through forested sections of the track; native tomtits, robins, fantails, wood pigeons and bellbirds are commonly seen, as well as the cheeky Kea, the world's only alpine parrot.
This is not a loop track and can be walked in either direction; one track end is at the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy) and the other is at The Divide (closer to Te Anau). It is recommended that this track is avoided between May - September, when there is high risk of avalanches.
Day 1, Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut, 8.8km
From the carpark, cross a swing bridge to begin the track itself. Meander through beautiful beech forest before sidling above the Routeburn Gorge. A second swing bridge takes walkers to open, grassy flats, before the track climbs steadily through more beech forest. Cross two more swing bridges & enjoy the huge views of the valley below before arriving at Routeburn Falls Hut.
Day 2, Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake McKenzie Hut, 11.3km
This morning's walk climbs steadily to the outlet of the river at Lake Harris - don't forget to occasionally stop and look behind you for great views of the Routeburn Valley. 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 grey, depending on the weather. The saddle has many other pretty little tarns hidden in its folds. From the top of the saddle, you are surrounded by mountains - the Darren Range, Mount Madeline (2537m) and Mount Tutoko (2746m), just to mention a few. The track then traverses down towards the Hollyford Valley, where Lake McKenzie becomes visible. Once through the bush walkers arrive at Lake Mackenzie hut.
Day 3, Lake McKenzie Hut to The Divide, 12km
Leaving Lake Mackenzie Hut, the track winds through grassy flats dotted with trees before coming to the spectacular Earland Falls (174m). The track then continues on a gradual descent to the Lake Howden Hut, the perfect place to stop for lunch. From here, the track climbs steadily to the Key Summit Track turnoff. Key Summit provides panoramic views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains. Walkers then head gradually downhill through silver beech forest to the divide on Milford Road.
When to go and what to pack
During the walk
There are four public huts and two campsites on the track (run by the Department of Conservation, as outlined in the suggested itinerary above) as well as two private lodges, run by Ultimate Hikes. The Department of Conservation (DOC) huts are equipped with mattresses, flushing toilets, running water, cooking facilities with fuel and a conservation ranger. During off peak season (May to September), fuel, running water and rangers are not present. Reservations are required for all huts and campsites. You can buy hut tickets and make reservations at DOC visitor centres nationwide, or through their online booking service(opens in new window).
Before & After
The walk is not a circuit, so transport needs to be organised at either end. Shuttles and buses are easy to book in advance. One end of the track begins near Queenstown, where there are plentiful options for accommodation. The other end of the track is closer to Te Anau, where you'll also find plenty of accommodation options.
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your walking experience to life. Take a look at these businesses to find out if a walking tour is right for you
Full track option
If you want to do a Great Walk independently, you will need to book the DOC accommodation on the trails. The fee for this varies between each Great Walk. It is recommended that you book in advance for this popular walk.