New Zealand days 15 to 21, Routeburn Track

Monday January 13 and Tuesday January 14, Queenstown

A quiet two days. Haircut, purchased food for the upcoming hike, cleaned and waxed the boots, got one of Inge’s boots repaired (part of the sole had come loose and needed to be reglued), and we bought some additional warm clothes. The weather turned sunny and warm, making it a pleasure to wander around town.

Wednesday January 15, first day of the Routeburn track, to Routeburn Flats Hut

A warm sunny morning. We caught the bus from Queesntown to the trailhead at 8:00, an old tired bus with a friendly driver and about 20 other hikers. The two hour ride up the valley north of Queenstown is beautiful on a twisty narrow road beside the lake and then through the “flats” where the Routeburn river flows into the lake.

A description of the track and a map and elevation profile are on the DOC website.

It was a short day of hiking. The hut we wanted to stay our first night was fully booked months ago; instead, we had to stop at the Routeburn Flats Hut making the next day, the most difficult day of the hike, quite long. We took our time hiking and enjoyed the sun in the afternoon. The hut sits in a wide flat valley beside the river with snow-capped mountains in the distance.

The weather forecast for Thursday was rain, cold and very windy, and the cloud began to move in by late afternoon Wednesday.

Thursday January 16, Routeburn day two, to Lake MacKenzie Hut

We woke to rain, heavy at times, but not much wind and not too cold.

we set off promptly after a big breakfast; no point waiting as the weather showed no sign of improving. The first part is steeply up through forest to Routeburn Falls Hut, about an hour. We stopped for a short break. The hut sits just at the tree line. It is large and new with a good view of the valley below. The mist lifted enough to give glimpses of the view.

After the hut the trail is steep and rocky as it climbs to the Harris Saddle, the pass to the Hollyford Valley. The landscape is rugged and beautiful with waterfalls, tarns (small mountain lakes) and tussock. The wind picked up as we reached the saddle, but not as strong as the 65km/hr gusts predicted in the met forecast. It was cool but not as cold as forecast. The day shelter at the saddle was busy with hikers seeking a dry spot for a snack. A short side walk up Conical Hill near the saddle gives good views in fine weather, but we gave it a miss in the wind and cloud. After the saddle, the rain eased to an occasional sprinkle. It felt good to walk without the jacket hood on. The trail stays high in the tussock following the upper east side of the valley. On a clear day there are dramatic views of the surrounding snowcapped mountains and the deep valley below, but heavy mist gave us only brief glimpses.

Wet weather in the mountains makes streams rush and the waterfalls roar. There are countless streams and waterfalls along the route. As the afternoon passed the mist and cloud dissipated. We had good views by the time we reached the Mackenzie Lake Hut and the mountains were beautiful at sunset.

Friday January 17, Routeburn day three, to the Divide parking lot, end of the hike

The day began clear and very cold after a cloudless night. There was frost in the meadow and brilliant sun on the mountains. I needed my toque and gloves to stay warm.

A short but steep climb took us above the tree line and again along the east side of the Hollyford Valley. It was a cold walk in the morning shade and the sun didn’t reach us until almost noon. This day we could see mountains all around us. The trail crosses the base of Earland Falls, 174m high, which was running strongly after the rain on Thursday. It was a great sight but the cold spray made us move on. After the falls the trail descends through forest to Lake Howden Hut and ends an hour later at the Divide car park. Near Lake Howden we climbed a short side track to Key Summit, an alpine wetland area with good views back the valley and into the nearby mountains. We met the bus at the parking lot and by 3:00 pm we were in the hostel Te Anau for a hot shower then good coffee at our favourite cafe.

Saturday and Sunday January 18-19, Queenstown and back to Auckland

Two uneventful days of travel: Saturday a bus through rainy but pretty countryside to Queenstown (where it wasn’t raining) and Sunday a flight from Queenstown (where it had started to rain overnight) to sunny Auckland.

Routeburn day 1

Routeburn day 2

Routeburn day 3

Travel to Queenstown and Auckland