The Routeburn Track can be walked from The Divide on the Milford/Te Anau Highway or from the road-end near Glenorchy. The track usually takes three days. The track may be walked guided, and the Greenstone Track may be included as a round trip, staying in comfortable lodges with hot showers and all meals provided. Independent walkers stay in DOC huts, situated at Lake Howden, Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Flats or Routeburn Falls. These huts must be booked. Camping is only permitted at Routeburn Flats and Lake McKenzie. Great Walks passes are required and are available from Te Anau DOC centres in Te Anau, Glenorchy and Queenstown. Public transport is available to either end of the track.
The Routeburn Track traverses both Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, part of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. The track may be walked in either direction.
The track complements rather than competes with the Milford Track.
The challenging Routeburn Track may also be combined with the gentler Greenstone Track into an excellent round tramp (this option can also be taken as a guided trek).
Length: 39 kilometres
Number of days required to walk: 2-3
Number of huts: 4 public huts, 2 private lodges
Highest point: 1277m
Can be guided: Yes, guided walkers stay in private lodges
Track condition: Very Good.
Track popularity: High
Booking required: Essential
In pre-European times, Maori searching for moa discovered pounamu, or greenstone - which became a much valued material for tools, weapons and ornaments.
To the early European surveyors, prospectors and explorers, the valley of the Route Burn and the passes at its head formed a vital link from Lake Wakatipu to the ranges of the north-west and the Hollyford River and tributaries running down to the West Coast.
It was from the Routeburn Track that the Hollyford Valley was first viewed by Europeans. On June 9, 1861, Southland runholders David McKellar and George Gunn, having travelled via the Greenstone Valley, stood on top of Key Summit taking in the expansive vista before them.
As part of early development, in 1870 a bridle track was started to link Kinloch to Routeburn, planned as access to the pioneering settlement of Martins Bay. However, failure of the isolated settlement and incorrect routing of the road meant construction ceased after four years. The track was later opened as a tourist route, and tourism began in the 1880s, with visitors being taken into Routeburn Flats by horse and then guided on foot to the Harris Saddle. Over the years, use of the Routeburn Track has steadily increased and today ranks as one of the most popular tramping areas for guided and independent walkers.
For guided tramping organised packages are offered which includes one, two or more nights on the track and connecting transport. Meals, beds and hot showers are provided in comfortable lodges (an option to combine the Routeburn Track with the Greenstone Track for an excellent round trip is available).
For independent trampers, the Routeburn Shelter, the starting point at the Mount Aspiring National Park end of the track, is 75 kilometres from Queenstown (via Glenorchy).
The shelter at the Divide, at the Fiordland National Park end, is 84 kilometres from Te Anau on the road to Milford Sound. Queenstown, Glenorchy and Te Anau all offer a range of accommodation.
The track may be walked in either direction.
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut 2 to 3 hours, 6.5 km.
This well formed, easily graded track begins to climb steadily up the gorge after about half an hour through red, silver and mountain beech forest into the narrow Routeburn Gorge, then around the open, grassed Routeburn Flats. Past Sugarloaf Stream the track is the remnant of the old bridle path built in the 1870s. Routeburn Flats Hut has a camping area. From Routeburn Flats Hut trampers can choose to spend a day exploring the attractive forests and clearings of the North Branch Valley.
Routeburn Flat Huts to Routeburn Falls Hut 1 to 11/2 hours, 2.3 km.
This is a steady grade, through red beech forest, then silver and mountain beech and onto the cooler, higher slopes. The track re-enters the bush to the Routeburn Falls Hut.
Beware over winter - avalanches can fall as far as the Emily footbridge.
No camping is permitted between Routeburn Flats and Lake Mackenzie
Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut 5 to 6 hours, 11.3km.
Just above the hut the impressive falls pour from an alpine basin, which is crossed before a steady climb following the Route Burn to its outlet from Lake Harris and then across the Harris Saddle (1277 metres). This sub-alpine section of track is above the bush line and very exposed and can be extremely hazardous in adverse weather conditions. Be sure that you heed the advice of conservation staff in such conditions. Allow one to two hours for the climb. Sub-alpine herbs and cushion plants are a feature of the vegetation, please keep to the track, especially around Harris Saddle, to protect these very fragile plants in the vicinity.
On a fine day a short rewarding climb from the Harris Saddle up Conical Hill offers views of all points of the compass, the Hollyford Valley through to Lake Mckerrow, the Darran Mountains, Martins Bay and the Tasman Sea, and down the Routeburn. Allow 1 to 2 hours for the return trip.
Past the Harris Saddle emergency shelter and toilet the track drops steeply down a gully from the saddle and traverses along the exposed Hollyford face, before descending on a well-formed series of zigzags leading down to Lake Mackenzie Hut. Allow 3 to 4 hours for the descent from the saddle.
Overnight stays are not permitted in the Harris Saddle emergency shelter except in cases of emergency.
There is a camping area at Lake Mckenzie.
Lake Mackenzie Hut to Lake Howden Hut 3 hours, 8.6km.
The track climbs for about 30 minutes then sidles along the mountain face to Earland Falls and Howden Hut. It provides great views of the Hollyford Valley and passes through silver beech forest. An open grassy area dotted with ribbonwood trees and known as "the orchard" is the path of occasional avalanches during winter. There is a camping area near the Lake Howden hut site.
Lake Howden Hut to The Divide 1 to 11/2 hours, 3.4km.
The track climbs for about 15 minutes to the Key Summit turnoff. Key Summit is well named, three major river system (Hollyford, Greenstone-Clutha, Eglington-Waiau) have their origins on the flanks of this viewpoint. The 30-minute side trip leads above the bushline and then follows boardwalks around a delightful shrubland area scattered with alpine bogs and small tarns, with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes. Please remain on the track as this is a fragile alpine area.
From the turnoff the 45-minute downhill walk to The Divide is through silver beech forest.
Hut Tickets and Bookings
Between late October and late April the four Department of Conservation huts on the track are well serviced with gas for cooking, communal bunkrooms with mattresses, cold running water and flush toilets. Cooking utensils are not provided and there is no food for sale on the track. Conservation staff are resident during this time. Trampers are expected to leave the huts clean and tidy.
The huts and facilities for guided walkers are not for the use of independent trampers and overnight use of the Harris Saddle Shelter and track-end shelters is not permitted.
Between 24 October 2000 and 25 April 2001 it is essential to book in advance if you want to walk the Routeburn track. Outside the summer season the huts are unserviced and visitors need Backcountry Hut Tickets or an Annual Hut Pass to use them.
To make a booking now for the Routeburn Track, and for more information on making bookings, e-mail the Department of Conservation: firstname.lastname@example.org
Camping is permitted on the Routeburn Track only at specified sites near Routeburn Flats hut and Lake MacKenzie. No camping is permitted anywhere else.
Transport must be arranged at both ends of the track. The Routeburn Shelter is 74 kilometres from Queenstown on the Mount Aspiring side of the track and The Divide is 80 kilometres from Te Anau on the Fiordland side of the track. Both ends are serviced by bus companies.
Walking the Track
The Routeburn track may be walked either way (east-west or west-east).
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