The Routeburn Track is a trekking trail steeped in outstanding natural beauty, located at South Island, New Zealand, near to the iconic Milford Sound.
The shortest of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Routeburn Track is a well-known trail that is popular with many hikers.
This 32 kilometre routes takes you through glacial mountain valleys in Fjordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park.
This area of New Zealand has an amazing landscape, and the complex weather systems brings an environment like no other. It is said that you can experience four seasons in one day!
The joy of this route is that it is short enough to complete in two days, yet there is plenty of wildlife and different habitats to see, depending on your elevation.
You can increase the length of this walk by using other paths to make a circular route.
- Stunning mountain scenery
- Alpine plants and meadows
- Lakes, rivers, streams and waterfalls
- Bird watching, including the opportunity to spot rare species
The Routeburn Track takes you over a high hill ridge, so no matter which end you start from, the first half is a long, steady incline, followed by a long, steady descent.
It is suitable for most hikers of average fitness, although there are some steep climbs in places.
Most people take 2-3 days to walk the length, allowing for a side trip or two along the way.
The track begins at the Routeburn Shelter near Glenorchy, and finishes at The Divide, on the Milford Road. The route can be walked in both directions.
This route is one that has a rich Maori history, being a well-used track where tribes collected greenstones to make tools, weapons and ornaments.
Routeburn Shelter is best accessed from Glenorchy, 68 kilometres from Queenstown. It is a 25 kilometre drive from Glenorchy to Routenurn Shelter.
The other end of the track, The Divide, is 85 kilometres from Te Anau. If you prefer a circular route, it is possible to link the Routeburne Track with the Greenstone or Caples tracks.
Public transport is available from Queenstown and Te Anau to either end of the track, or there are companies that will transfer your vehicle from one end of the track to the other.
To get to either Queenstown or Te Anau, it is around a 2 hour drive from Invercargill, a 3.5 hours from Dunedin, and 6 to 8 hours from Christchurch.
If visiting the area from abroad, there are international airports at Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.
The Routeburn Track is 32 kilometres in length, and takes you over a mountain ridge line. The highest point is at Harris Saddle, 1225 metres elevation.
This national park wilderness route has Department of Conservation accommodation along its length, as well as private lodges, but there are no places to replenish food supplies.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
This walk is graded at 3/5. The path along the Routeburn Track is well formed and easy to navigate. The path surface may be of rock, mud, grass or loose stone.
The terrain mainly consists of gradual climbs and descents, with some flat areas. However, the path can be prone to flooding in some places and there may be some steeper climbs and slippery areas.
The signposts are clear, so it is not likely you’ll stray from the path.
Outside of peak walking season, the trail can be considerably different. There may be ice on the ground, and walking should be approached with caution.
You do not need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the Routeburn Track in peak season.
However, you do need to be fit enough to walk for several hours per day, carrying your supplies.
As there are no shops to get food supplies, you will need to stock up before you arrive. Water is available from the campsites and huts.
If you are walking off-peak season, then having more hiking experience is essential.
The conditions can make it a challenging environment, and there is always a risk of avalanche in snow covered hills and mountains.
There are some sheer drops along the route to be careful of.
Weather can be changeable, so make sure you are well prepared for your hike.
It is not recommended that children under the age of ten should attempt the higher elevations of this route.
The weather can be unpredictable, with cold temperatures and strong winds.
Permits are required for staying at the DOC huts and campsites.
There are no other accommodation options unless you have arranged a guided walk or lodgings with a tour company, and wild camping is not permitted.
Guided or Self-Guided
Most hikers choose to walk the Routeburn Track as self-guided, while staying in DOC accommodation along the route.
The advantage of this is that you can enjoy the route at your own pace, take side trips if you wish to do so, without having to follow an itinerary.
Guided walks are available, with overnight accommodation at private lodges.
The benefit of guided walks are that you don’t have to worry about food supplies, as meals are often included, and you can have your bags transferred to your accommodation.
The best time to walk this trail is during the peak walking season, October to April.
This is when the weather conditions and temperatures are most favourable.
You can walk the Routeburn Track off-season, from April to October, however conditions can be treacherous, there are less daylight hours, and facilities at the huts are greatly reduced.
You will also need to have more hiking experiences and outdoor survival skills.
A typical itinerary would be:
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut
Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
Lake Mackenzie Hut to The Divide
There are four DOC huts along the trail, as well as two campsites.
The huts are equipped with dormitory style sleeping areas, showers, heaters, and gas cooking stoves.
There are also hut wardens onsite in peak season.
To stay overnight at either the huts or campsites in peak walking season (October to April), you are required to book.
If hiking during off-peak season (May to October) booking is not required. Facilities at the huts are also reduced.
Admire the cascade of water at Routeburn Falls. There are also other waterfalls along the trail.
Take a side trip to Key Summit for views over the Darran Mountains. This is approximately a two hour return trip from the trail.
Conical Hill is another summit side-trip offering great views of the valley from a 1515 metre elevation.
Keep a look out for native birds along the trail. The Department of Conservation is working hard to reintroduce native species in the area.
Examples of rare birds you might see are blue duck also known as ‘whio’, rock wren or ‘tuke’ and yellowhead or ‘mohua’.
Enjoy the landscape of this unique environment.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Starts at||314 Routeburn Road, Kinloch 9372, New Zealand|
|Finishes at||Te Anau-Milford Highway, Fiordland National Park 9679, New Zealand|
|Length of route||32 Km|
|Average time to complete||2 - 3 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||1225 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear|
|Countries visited||New Zealand|