Routeburn Track, path of waterfalls

After my Milford Sound cruise I was dropped off at the Divide, start of the Routeburn track.
This is another of New Zealand’s 9 “Great Walks”, my second with they other being the Kepler Track.

I found this trail much more rugged and enjoyable than the Kepler, though again the sections between huts were a bit shorter than I’d like, with the main stretch only taking a half day to walk.

The weather was not very co-operative and the time at the high point of the track at Harris Saddle was spent in heavy rain which obscured the view. In spite of this there was some great scenery.
There were also more waterfalls per km than any other hike I’ve been on, including those in Norway which is saying something.

A bit sad to come to the end of this as it will be my last hike in New Zealand before heading home.


Day 1
Start: The Divide (550m)
Distance Walked: 10km
Elevation Gain: 550m
Highest Point: Hill above Lake Mackenzie (950m)
End: Lake Mackenzie Hut (900m)

Started late, around 3:30pm due to Milford Sound cruise earlier in the day. Guide time to the nights hut was 4 – 5.5 hours, encouraging a hard push even with the assumption that it would take less.

Set of from the Divide (550m) under threatening clouds, heading steeply up the hillside. Good footing of slightly loose rock. Track began to switch back before reaching the junction with the Key Summit track (850m), an optimal detour to a nearby peak. Bypassed this as the rain had begun and it was already getting gloomy, even with sunset a couple of hours off.

Track became much rougher at this point, descending to Lake Howden Hut (700m), which sat on the edge of the pretty lake of the same name.
Steep climb out of the valley, crossing Pass Creek and several other small waterfalls before reaching Earland Falls.
The falls were unexpectedly dramatic, with a 174m drop smashing into a pool right alongside the path. Being unprepared for this, was drenched with spray on turning a bend in the track.

From here, path ran fairly level along to a clearing with the rather grand name of ‘The Orchard’. At this point a heavy mist descended, giving limited visibility and further encouraging a faster pace.
Track climbed steadily from here, crossing some more small streams and working it’s way around a steep hillside, peaking at about 950m before doing down steeply to Lake Mackenzie Hut (900m).

Reached the hut just ahead of heavy rainfall after 3 hours of walking.

Day 2
Start: Lake Mackenzie Hut (900m)
Distance Walked: 14km
Elevation Gain: 450m
Highest Point: Harris Saddle (1300m)
End: Routeburn Flats Hut (700m)

Set off a bit later than usual, waiting for a break in the weather after heavy overnight rain. Forecast was for more of the same, so limited chance of staying dry. Left in a light drizzle in full waterproofs.
Better opportunity to see the lake today, beautiful green color cost to the hut, darkening further out. Great place for a swim in warmer weather.

Trail climbs immediately up through the trees, fairly steep until reaching a switchback section. Fairly rough track of uneven rock and tree routes. Soon climbed above the bushline and briefly had good views back over the lake before low cloud blew in to obscure.

Reached the lip of the valley at around 1150m and followed the track as it contoured around to the upper side of the Hollyford Valley. Found myself between two layers of cloud here, and as the track wound along above the valley was treated to good views in spite of the clouds.
At one point, sunshine broke through above causing a rainbow on the misty clouds filling the valley. With the mountains pushing through the higher clouds in the background it made for a spectacular view.

Track dropped about 50m while heading around the lip of the valley before making the final ascent up past the Harris Saddle shelter (1277m) and on up to the top of the Harris Saddle (1300m). Good views from here across Harris Lake over rugged scenery reminiscent of the Scottish highlands, especially the now heavy rain.
Track on each side of the saddle heavily flooded with the effect of walking along a river bed. Shortly after the top of the saddle my boots gave up under the onslaught and started letting water in.

Climbing down past Harris Lake the track crossed a number of streams running fast due to the rainfall, then reached the Routeburn Falls (1000m). Not as dramatic as the Earland Falls of the previous day, but much broader with a lot more water coming through.

Easy descent from there down to the floor of the Routeburn valley to the Routeburn Flats Hut (700m). Sky lightened a little during this stretch before returning to heavy rain after arrival at the hut.

Only 4 hours of walking today on a guide time of 5.5 – 7.5 hours, a lot shorter than expected but not too bad given the weather.
Short trip down to the trail end in the morning.

Day 3
Start: Routeburn Flats Hut (700m)
Distance Walked: 6.5km
Elevation Gain: 20m
Highest Point: Routeburn Flats Hut (700m)
End: Routeburn Shelter (600m)

Nice night in the hut, spent most of the evening chatting to a couple of Ozzy lads and an English girl – there are some benefits to the busier tracks – and woke up early to do the last short stretch of the track.

Walked along the Routeburn Flats under patchy cloud, with good views back up the valley. Crossed over the Route Burn, a wide pretty river running down out of the head of the valley. Track follows along the river for a while, looks like a good grade 4 kayak with good flow.

Climbed about 20m above the river to go over the Routeburn Gorge, narrow twisting corridor of rock that the river runs through. Maybe not so not for kayaking after all.
Track climbs up a little more to the crossing of Bridal Veil Stream, then descends back down to river level.

Final stretch of the trail runs through peaceful Beech forest to the car park at the Routeburn shelter.

From there got a shuttle bus back down to Queenstown. Absolutely breathtaking scenery on the drive that runs through Glenorchy and down along the north-east coast of Lake Wakatipu. Idyllic valley surrounded by rugged mountains, with the bright turquoise lake waters made for a view that rivalled the journey to Milford sound.

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