The Routeburn Track is nearly as famous as the Milford Track, but many people think that it’s the nicer one of both.
The countryside got more changes and something which is very important is that there are less sand flies, as most parts of the track are above the tree line. The distances between the huts is also chosen wiser.
Altogether is the Routeburn Track one of the finest tracks of the world... if you are lucky with the weather. :)
The track is very popular and there is a limit for people to walk it. So you should at least book it 10-14 days in advance or be lucky that someone cancels his booking.
You’ll walk through valleys with rain forrest, along waterfalls, rivers and lakes. The track will get you as high as 1277 meters. Even up there it might be snowing in the summer time. We experienced it ourselves. A day later it was sunny and warm again.
Many travelers start the track from the Routeburn Shelter on the eastern side of the Humboldt Mountains. That’s the side of Queenstown. The track then ends at the Divide Shelter on the road to the Milford Sound, west of the Humboldt Mountains. To get from the Divide Shelter to the Routeburn Shelter or the other way round by car, you’ve got to take the road via Queenstown and Te Anau. That’s a distance of 300 kilometres. There are special bus services which can take you from one to the other point or can drop you off at one of the cities.
Perhaps you’ll find some other travelers (also with a car), who are doing the track at the same time, but from the other side. Then you can meet on the track, swap the keys and meet again in Queenstown or Te Anau to swap cars again. We did that and it worked great.
Another possibility is to walk the Routeburn in one direction and take the Greenstone or Caples Track (both further south) back again. If you start the Routeburn on the western side (Divide Shelter) and finish it at the Routeburn Shelter, you’ll need a bus transfer to get you to the start of the Caples and Greenstone Track (further south). Both tracks starts/end in the west with the Routeburn Track at the Divide Shelter. You can book these transfers and others at the DOC offices in Queenstown and Gelnorchy or at the Walks Booking Desk in Te Anau.
These are also the places to book the huts for your trip. A night costs around NZD 35,- per person. You’ll sleep in dorm rooms (up to 20-30 beds) on matratzes. So you’ll only need your own sleeping bag. There are gas cookers in the huts, so you will only need your own cans, food and water.
If you would prefer to camp, there are also campsites close by which costs around NZD 15,- per person. But then you just get bush toilets and would need to have all the equipment to survive in your backpack.
If you should decide to walk the complete round (Greenstone or Caples Track back), then you should know that you will need all the equipment. There are huts (around NZD 10,- per person), but no electricity, gas cookers or similar. You’ll also need food and water for around 5 days. That’s quite a lot of stuff to carry!
Remember that you are always walking (feels like climbing with all the stuff on your back) up the hills, down into the valleys and up again. We’ve had all the stuff for 5 days, but decided “only” to walk the Routeburn.
You should count 3 days for the Routeburn Track:
Sure, some guys/gals do it in 2, but I would recommend 3 to take it slowly and to enjoy the great scenery!
Day 1 – Divide Shelter – Mackenzie Hut
We’ve started at the Divide Shelter (western side), passed the Howden Hut (just at the first hill) and went to the Mackenzie Hut to sleep there. You’ll need about 4 – 6 hours without any breaks. The Mackenzie Hut lies beautifully at the Lake Mackenzie.
Day 2 – Mackenzie Hut – Routeburn Falls Hut
That part is said to be the nicest! I can’t tell, as we were unlucky and it rained heavily all day long and even snowed at the Harris Saddle pass (1277m). We were only able to make 1 single photo that day! That day was horrible at that time, but great afterwards! At the top of the pass, is a small shelter, where you can rest for a break. But it’s not heated and if the weather is cold and rainy, walking keeps you warmer. You should try to get a bed at the Routeburn Falls Hut as it lies right next to a big waterfall and with an awesome view down the valley! Another possibility is the Routeburn Flat Hut, a bit further and right at the bottom, in the valley. You’ll need about 4 – 6 hours from the Mackenzie to the Routeburn Falls Hut & another hour to the Routeburn Flat Hut.
Day 3 – Routeburn Falls Hut – Routeburn Shelter
That day will take you all the way down into the valley. You’ll pass the Routeburn Flat Hut and will cross several times rivers with using hanging bridges. For that part you should need about 3 – 4 hours. You should start early if you want to make it for the bus transfer. Make sure to get the right times, but I think the last bus was about noon or 2 pm at the Routeburn Shelter.
More useful Routeburn Track links:
If you shouldn’t have all the equipment with you... here is a great travel tip: