Brace yourself, we are going to walk one of the best great walks in New Zealand together from the beginning to the end. A 3 days journey with me, joined by Ashley (whom I met in Rotorua) and her sister, Rachel through one of the most photogenic trails in the world, the Routeburn Track.
Within this post, you will experience lush forests, massive waterfalls, and ridiculously beautiful mountain range like we did but with the comfort of your seat. Without further ado, let's begin the journey:
Looking for a complete itinerary for New Zealand? A Month In New Zealand On A Budget.
- New Zealand Travel Video
- Things to Know before Hiking the Routeburn Track
- Day 1: Hiking The Key Summit and Lake MacKenzie
- Day 2: Summiting Harris Saddle and Hike Down to Routeburn Falls Hut
- Day 3: Stroll Down to Routeburn Shelter
- Getting Back to Queenstown
- Further Reading for Backpacking in New Zealand
New Zealand Travel Video
Things to Know before Hiking the Routeburn Track
The Routeburn track is a 3 days one-way trail which starts at The Divide (near Te Anau) and ends at the Routeburn Shelter (near Queenstown) or vice versa. In order to go to these points though, you will need to book a shuttle service. I booked mine from Tracknet both for drop off and pick up at both points.
You will also have to book a mountain hut which you will be able to do it on the official website.
Gears needed are normal trekking gears like a fleece jacket, weatherproof jacket and pants, breathable shirts, sunglasses, trekking shoes and most importantly, a sleeping bag. Keep in mind that it rains/snows a lot in the Fiordland so do wear something warm.
Day 1: Hiking The Key Summit and Lake MacKenzie
We woke up early in the morning to catch our Tracknet transfer from Te Anau to The Divide with a bunch of other people doing the Milford trail. Since I did not need most of my stuff, I decided to send my daypack to Queenstown ahead of time via Tracknet Bag Transfer for 15 NZD.
The shuttle bus was kind enough to stop at the Mirror Lake before heading to the Divide.
From the beginning of the trail, we started hiking up on the side of a mountain. After an hour or so, we reached one of the first destination, the Key Summit.
Most people we met along the way were doing this little hike in a day. The view was phenomenal as you can see. They even created a nice nature walk at the summit. The Kiwi really knows what they are doing when it comes to creating a scenic walk.
Rachel immersed in mother nature.
There was a small little pond up at the summit. I would totally jump in if it wasn't covered in mosses.
Meet my companion for the trip, Rachel on the left, and Ashley on the right.
Oh, how I was so grateful meeting Ashley in Rotorua. Initially I had no plan to do any of the great walks, but she convinved me to give it a go and there I was.
It was getting very chilly at the top so we decided to head down and continued to our first lunch stop. On our way we spotted the most scenic toilet ever!
The trail took us through some of the most beautiful forest I've seen. Dark green, mosses covered trees with sun rays peaking through leaves.
We stopped at Lake Howden hut for lunch. Before I left Te Anau, I bought a delicious bacon and egg pie at the famous Miles Better Pies and I devoured the whole thing in seconds.
The girls were more resillient than I thought. They barely ate and continued on with absolute focus.
We spotted many waterfalls along the way but the next one caught our attention..
It was a behemoth!
We asked a few day hikers to snap our photos with this behemoth waterfall.
We continued on relentlessly. The forest became more and more alien as we advanced. "So this is what untouched nature looks like" I thought to myself.
If you look carefully, it seems like the trees were trying to grasp for the little sunlight that peaked through.
After a few hours, we were eventually in the open. Our stop for the night was in sight.
Or so we thought. Apparently, this nice little house was for the VIP trampers only. We paid the cheaper option for the huts so ours was not as luxurious. I heard they have free wifi and warm breakfast!
Welcome to the Lake MacKenzie mountain hut, perfectly located by the lake.
We were so happy to finally rest our feet and enjoy the scenery of this wonderful place.
This was our little cozy mountain hut shared with 30 other trekkers.
Rachel preparing for bed. It was early but we knew the next day would be long and cold. The weather did not look so good and we anticipated snow.
Day 2: Summiting Harris Saddle and Hike Down to Routeburn Falls Hut
Weren't we the most colorful trekkers out there? It was snowing mildly in the morning. The ranger expected it to snow but he didn't think it would be too bad. He was wrong!
The trek began with quite a steep climb in the beginning and then crawled along the side of a mountain.
At that point the snow was still bearable but it didn't look like it would go away.
We eventually reached the open area and realized how heavy the snow really was. We were protected by the trees before but now, we were out in the open and it would be like this for several hours onward.
Even though it was snowing heavily, I still found it beautiful to look at the landscape around us.
We spotted several small waterfalls along the way as we continued relentlessly through the ever-growing snowstorm.
At one point we could not even see what was in front of us. The snow got worst every minute. I was cold down to my bones.
As my hands started to get wet because of all the ice forming, we reached our first lunch stop of the day. The Harris shelter is a small shelter on the ridge where, on a great day, you had the option to climb to the Conical Hill. It was closed that day for obvious reason.
Again I ate my sandwich whole and the girls barely ate anything. We pressed forward down the ridge as the snowstorm hit us in full force.
But there was nothing to complain about. Even with the snows, the scenery were still unbelievably beautiful.
I believe it was some kind of lake down there. Hard to be sure when there was a snowstorm pouring down on us.
We got to bottom of the hill and found a little shelter between cracked rocks.
No time to waste. We pressed onward hoping to see our mountain hut at any moment.
Still nothing. We were wondering if we actually took the wrong turn..
The girls amazed me. They did not complain one bit and they smiled all the way through the snowstorm.
Yes! Our mountain hut was finally in sight! I was never happy to see a shelter this much before.
Since we knew where we were heading, we strolled around a little bit and found this massive waterfall behind the hut.
We reached the mountain hut at around 2 pm. We couldn't believe it was in the middle of the day. It looked nothing like day to me.
We ended the day quickly as it was getting colder and colder by the night. We couldn't even sit in the kitchen without a sleeping bag wrapping around our bodies. The ranger said that they would have close the trek if they knew it would be snowing that heavily. We were glad they did not! It was cold as hell but very well worth the effort.
Day 3: Stroll Down to Routeburn Shelter
And as you guessed it, the weather was clear and sunny, like nothing happened the previous day. Welcome to New Zealand!
I definitely did not expect this so I decided to go out on my own (the girls refused to wake up) and backtracked my way to the valley so that I could see what it was like without snow.
This was the view in the early morning from our mountain hut.
Magnificent isn't it?
I did not know there were so many waterfalls around the area.
This was where we had to go down that day, but not before I went back up and see what was what!
It must have snowed heavily at night. Everything was covered in snows. It was melting fast though.
It had been incredible to be able to experience the Routeburn track under all 3 climates, snow, cloudy and sunny in one go.
Snowy mountains everywhere! This was the reason why I was in New Zealand. Snowy mountains!
The snow was almost as high as my knees! Crazy!
This was what the valley looked like.
It was early in the morning and I barely heard anything except the sound of running water along the rivers seeping through snows and rocks. No place more peaceful than in the mountains.
My perfect spot away from people, and problems. Only me and the mountains.
I just stood there and watch the mountains moved.
It was 10 am and I decided to go down and checked on the girls. They were already awake getting ready to continue on.
At that point the trail was all down hill. The Routeburn track was stunning in every direction you look from start to finish, it is ridiculous!
We found this open field right after we came down from the mountain. Since our pickup was not until 2pm, we decided to spent an hour enjoying our time here.
It was time for me to recap the whole experience we had in the mountains. It was a hell of a ride we went through.
After a healthy amount of time relaxing we decided to push to the end of our last leg.
We evenrually arrived at the end of the trail in an hour or so. Since we had almost an hour and a half before our pickup time, we setup camp at the end of the bridge and rest.
I was still unable to believe that I was in middle of all these wonderful nature. The whole experience seemed surreal.
The decision to extend my trip for another week to be able to do the Routeburn Track was the best decision I made in New Zealand. Photos don't do this place justice.
Even though, we were hit with a snowstorm on the second day, I wouldn't change a thing. It was all part of the experience.
Again, I devoured whatever the food I had with me and the girls barely ate a thing. I started to wonder if they were humans! They didn't eat or drink much, and they slept like there was no tomorrow. Nothing made sense anymore! I told them and we laughed about it. No matter how hard the challenges are, as long as we can laugh and smile at the end, nothing matters.
Getting Back to Queenstown
Our coach came and picked us up at the Routeburn Shelter, dropped us off in Queenstown and ended our journey of the great walk of New Zealand. I first need to apologize for the number of photos in this post but the Routeburn Track really needs all the photos to give you a glimpse of what it was really like.
I hope you enjoyed the photo essay. Next up, we will plunge down from a moving plane at 15,000 ft above Queenstown, visit Lake Tekapo and walked the famous Hooker Valley walk into the heart of the Southern Alps and stare at Mt Cook face-to-face so stay tuned.
Continue Reading the Next Part: Skydiving in Queenstown, New Zealand with the NZONE.
Further Reading for Backpacking in New Zealand
I’ve spent 5 weeks backpacking in New Zealand and I have written a ton more about my journey traveling throughout New Zealand from the North Island to the South Island that you might help in your trip planning.
Here’s a selection of articles about New Zealand:
- Looking for a complete travel guide to spend one month in New Zealand on a budget? A Month In New Zealand On A Budget - The Perfect Backpacking Itinerary.
- New Zealand has a special place in my heart. It is one of the most memorable trips I have ever done and here are 10 things I love about New Zealand.
- If you are planning to start traveling in New Zealand from North to South, Rotorua is a great place to visit on your way South from Auckland. Here is a travel guide on things to do in Rotorua.
- Did you know that you can climb Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings in real life? Along the Tongariro Crossing trail, you have the option to summit Mount Ngauruhoe which was used as a reference for Mount Doom in the movie. Here a travel guide on how to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in one day.
- Crossing from the North Island of New Zealand to the South is an experience in and of itself. See how to cross from the North Island to the South Island in New Zealand here.
- One of the first big city you will travel in the South Island is Nelson which has a laid-back vibe while Motueka, a sister town makes a great base to traveling to Abel Tasman National Park. Here’s a quick travel guide on things to do in Nelson and Motueka.
- One of the best Great Walk you can do is in the Abel Tasman National Park and you can do parts of it in one day. Here’s a complete guide on how to hike parts of the Abel Tasman Great Walk in one day.
- The West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand is not very popular among travelers, making it a great place to go off the beaten path. Here’s a travel guide on things to do, and where to go in West Port, New Zealand.
- Franz Josef or Fox Glacier, a question that has been asked for as long as travelers start traveling in New Zealand. It doesn’t really matter which one you pick as both are a great place to go ice climbing. Here’s a travel guide on how to go ice climbing on Franz Josef glacier with Ice Explorer.
- You must have a seen photo of a lone tree in a lake with beautiful mountains as a background somewhere. That’s in Wanaka, New Zealand and here’s travel guide on things to do in Wanaka in one day.
- Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. If your body can endure it, you can find it in Queenstown. Here’s a 3 days itinerary on things to do in Queenstown.
- Queenstown is also one of the best places in the world to go skydiving. Here’s my experience skydiving with the NZONE in Queenstown.
- The Milford Sound is touristy, there’s no denying it and you are not wrong to be skeptical but I can assure you, it is worth the hype. Here’s a travel guide on which cruise to pick for the Milford Sound and how to get there.
- Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and the best way to see it is to hike the Hooker Valley trail. Here’s a travel guide on visiting Mt. Cook and hiking the Hooker Valley trail.
- Dunedin is a great place to end your trip in New Zealand. After all the adventure you have been through, here’s how to spend 5 days in Dunedin, taking it slow and seeing the city at your own leisure.
- Not convinced by my words about New Zealand? Come follow me and I’ll show you New Zealand in 70 photos.
- You can see all my New Zealand travel guides and related articles on my New Zealand Travel Guide page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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