The Routeburn track is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” in the South Island. It winds through Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks for 32km of some spectacular scenery – provided it’s not raining. Raining is the default weather condition on the west coast though, so we were lucky to hit one dry day on our hike.
We parked the car in Queenstown and took ourselves and our backpacks down to catch the shuttle bus. That’s one thing about the Routeburn, it annoyingly starts on one side of a range and finishes on the other. It’s a huge drive to get from one end of the trail to the other, so taking the shuttle bus (or hitch-hiking) is the obvious option. So, we were dropped off in the rain and the hiking began.
Rainy beginnings and roaring rivers
With Mum at the start
Crossing wibbly wobbly bridges
It actually began to clear up a bit after the first hour; the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a little.
Looking down to Routeburn Flats (site of the first hut, which we didn’t stay in) from a large landslip
And so we reached Routeburn Falls Hut, our home for the first night. Huts have to be booked well in advance through the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). They’re not cheap, but are pretty nicely equipped. Camping is an option too, but again, spots have to be booked well in advance (for the tramping season anyway, out of season it’s first come, first served, like a lot of the smaller NZ backcountry huts always are).
Routeburn Falls Hut, and Routeburn Flats beyond
Sunset from the balcony of Routeburn Falls Hut
The next morning we hung around to receive our helicopter rendezvous time. So far this season, everyone tramping the Routeburn had been shuttled by helicopter over Harris Saddle, as there were a few patches of snow hanging around threatening the track. The quoted time was pretty late in the day, so we had a relaxing morning, and wandered up Paddy’s Peak to watch the helicopter flying back and forth dropping explosives on the threatening patches of snow. One slid, but the other took about seven blasts without budging, so they changed tactics and the helicopter started scooping up loads of water from Lake Harris to dump onto the snow. Back and forth for hours.
Down to Routeburn Flats from Paddy’s Peak
Looking across to Harris Saddle from Paddy’s Peak
When we finally reached the rendezvous point, we were told that we’d be hiking through, no helicopter ride today.
Hiking through the snow – we were the first group through for the season, everyone else had been helicoptered across this small section
The far side of Harris Saddle, hot and dry. Thankfully there were a lot of waterfalls along this stretch to refill water bottles. And the warm sun was definitely preferable to driving rain.
Looking down on Lake Mackenzie and the hut – lots of switchbacks to descend
Reaching Lake Mackenzie Hut, we dropped our gear on bunks and I was one of a few mad enough to go for a dip in the lake before dinner. It was not warm.
Lake Mackenzie, with Emily Peak in the background
The third morning we woke up to more rain – persistent rain today, it kept going as we hiked all the way out to the highway.
More traditional South Island west coast weather as we hike out on the third day
Lots of waterfalls happily flowing across the track
And back at the highway with plenty of time to spare, we lurked in the shelter and brewed up some lukewarm tea, and waited for the shuttle bus to take us back to Queenstown.