Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxation, exercise, spiritual well-being or a special place to simply enjoy with your family and friends, the diverse Routeburn track is an excellent place to visit.
So you have decided you want to walk the Routeburn track. Read on to find out how to get there and what to take.
Plan your trip.
In the summer season (late october to end of april) you need to book huts and/or campsites on the track.
For info on how to book and check for availability of huts and campsite. See DOC website. Look under Fees and Bookings.
In the winter season you don't need to book. However, you must buy backcountry hut and campsite tickets before your walk.
You can buy these via any DOC visitor centre.
During the winter season there are reduced facilities and additional safety hazards to consider.
How to get to the Track.
Since this is not a loop track the Routeburn can be walked in either direction.
Most hikers start on the Queenstown side at the Routeburn Shelter (477m), and finish on the Te Anau side, at the Divide (532m). However if you start at the Divide you have 55m less height to gain overall and once pass Harris Saddle it's all downhill to the Routeburn Shelter.
Travelling with your own vehicle.
From Queenstown take the scenic drive along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy (45km). Then turn right and continue until you cross the long Rees River bridge. Make sure you then turn left staying on the sealed road.(Quite often people continue straight ahead onto a gravel road which leads to Paradise and the Dart track.) After crossing the Dart bridge (end of sealed road) turn right onto the Routeburn road. Take care as this is a gravel road, keep an eye open for stray sheep on the road. The road soon narrows but is still two way traffic, so extra care is required.(when faced with oncoming traffic, slow down and stay on the far left of road). Follow this gravel road for 8.6km to the Routeburn Shelter, carpark and beginning of the Track.
From Te Anau follow the Milford road for 85km to the Divide. This is also a very photogenic drive, with plenty of interesting places to stop and admire the scenery.
It may be only 32km to walk the Routeburn track, but by road it is nearly 350km and 5.5hrs driving. So at the end of your walk, you are a very long way from your car by road. So now you have the option to either walk back, (yeah right!) Catch a bus to Queenstown then the next day another bus to the roadend,
Or otherwise get Trackhopper to relocate your vehicle while you are walking the track. By the time you reach the other end of the track your car is there, ready and waiting. For info on this service see www.trackhopper.co.nz
For those who require transport to the track roadends, there are various track transport companies that can take you there. See these sites for more information on costs and timetables. Info & Track, Tracknet, Buckleys.
Tell someone your plans
What to take.
For articles on what to take see our Blogs
Backpacks, Clothing, Footwear, Food and beverages, Hiking with Children.
Depending if your Routeburn adventure is from a few hours to a few days you may consider some of the following:
Backpack (40–60 litre size for multi-day hiking)
Waterproof/plastic pack liner Sleeping bag (3–4 season)
First aid kit (including insect repellent, sunscreen, blister kit, personal medication e.g. antihistamine for allergy to wasp stings)
Survival kit (survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, high energy snack food)
Safety equipment relevant to the track and time of year (e.g. map, compass)
Drink bottle (1-2 litre capacity)
Eating and cooking utensils (knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup,pot/pan/billy, cleaning kit, tea towel)
Matches or lighter in waterproof container
Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
Tickets and ID
Portable stove and fuel
If you're camping…
Ear plugs for communual bunkrooms
For multi-day walking you'll need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Tramping/hiking boots or firm footwear (should be comfortable and well broken in)
Socks (wool or polypropylene)
Shorts (quick dry material)
Shirt (wool or polypropylene)
Under layers, top and bottom (wool or polypropylene)
Mid-layers (wool or polar fleece)
Raincoat (waterproof, windproof with hood)
Overtrousers (wind and water proof)
Warm hat and gloves
Sunhat and sunglasses
Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey
Lightweight shoes for inside the huts
You can't buy food on the track.
Bring food that is lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value. For example:
Breakfast: cereal/porridge/oats, firm bread, honey or other spreads
Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, jam/jelly, fruit
Dinner: instant soup, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze-dried) meals.
You'll also need water, snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea or coffee, powdered fruit drinks and emergency
food in case of any delays on the track.
To download and excellent checklist from DOC see here.
For Equipment rental
SAFETY AND RISK MANAGEMENT
The Department of Conservation, ensures the basic safety of its National Park facilities. However, many of the natural features on this track, to which the public have right of access, are inherently hazardous. Therefore, everybody walking this track should make sure they, and those for whom they are responsible, are aware of those hazards and are adequately equipped and experienced.
DOC Rangers and Visitor Centre staff are available for advice on potential hazards in the National Park.
Take responsibility for your own safety - be prepared
Before you go, know the The Outdoor Safety Code – 5 simple rules to help you stay safe:
Plan your trip
Be aware of the weather (Read our info on the Weather).
Know your limits
Take sufficient supplies
While hiking the Routeburn track
Always consider others, they have a right to enjoy the bush as much as you do. Teach children to respect and protect the land.
# Protect plants and animals # Remove rubbish # Bury toilet waste # Keep streams and lakes clean
# Camp carefully # Keep to the track # Consider others # Respect our cultural heritage # Enjoy your visit
Flora and Fauna: if you have to walk off the track for any reason, be careful not to damage vegetation. Do not pick, cut, or carve into any living plant or tree. Never feed animals or birds intentionally.
Waste: Take your rubbish home with you, do not bury it. It will look unsightly if animals dig it up. Take a last look before leaving the area to make sure you have not left anything behind. Ablution facilities are provided in some areas. If you do need to relieve yourself in the bush,do so as far away as possible from any streams or tracks. Dig a shallow hole and bury the waste. Instead of washing hands in streams or rivers, use handywipes.
Walking the Routeburn Track outside the Great Walks season
Outside the Great Walks season (early May to late October) facilities are greatly reduced (no gas for cooking, limited water supply, no rangers or emergency radio facilities) and there are additional safety hazards to consider.
Each year there are more and more people who wish to walk The Routeburn Track during the off season. Whether this is to save money as the huts are now at a lower rate or they prefer to go hiking when the numbers are lower and have a chance to explore the Routeburn Track in more peace and quiet. Either way you need to be aware that the track should now be treated like other back country alpine tracks which are remote. Hikers must now make their own assessments of the track conditions. The track is usually still fairly busy in May until the first major snowfall comes. In the past there has been waist deep snow in early May and in other years no snow until mid June.
Plan and Prepare.
DOC has a good Routeburn Track Winter Tramping brochure to download here.
Like any summer hike remember to leave details of your trip.
See the Outdoors Intentions Process – Adventure Smart website.
Remember also to leave details of your plans in the hut books provided at each hut. During an emergency the Police always look at each hut book to see any updated details that hiking parties have left.
Know that you will be in avalanche country!
The Routeburn Track is rated Challenging and complex on the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES). There are over 32 avalanche paths between Lake Howden Hut and Routeburn Falls Hut. Conditions can be hard to read and some avalanche paths cannot be seen as they sit high above the track.
Lake Howden Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
You will encounter nine known avalanche paths, with the Earland Falls and Sunny Creek paths being the most avalanche-prone in this area
At Earland Falls watch for small destructive avalanches that can land in the pool at the base of the falls. Snow can be released weeks after any significant snowfall creating a wind and/or water blast out from the base of the waterfall. During winter we recommend you use the marked flood route at Earland Falls.
Sunny Creek has four paths that can be very active during and after snowstorms. Their start zones release from well above the track and once in motion there is little chance of avoiding them.
The Earland Falls and Sunny Creek paths, along with four other avalanche paths on the Routeburn Track, are signposted for your safety and information.
Lake Mackenzie Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut.
Here you may encounter a different type of avalanche. The entire snowpack tends to slide on the slippery tussock ground surface during times of warming, more often in spring. Although not as impressive as the plunging avalanches of the Milford Track, these glide slabs are still dangerous. They can bury you or push you off the track into unforgiving terrain. Due to the complexity and number of these avalanches, especially on the Hollyford faces and in the Harris Saddle area. These avalanches are not signposted. We strongly recommend alpine skills and equipment for people travelling in this area.
During winter and spring, some of the bridges over creeks and streams are at risk of avalanche damage and so are removed. Namely at Potters Creek and Deadmans Creek. Both are on the Hollyford face, between Mackenzie Hut and Routeburn Falls Hut. You must be experienced at crossing large, swift, icy water. If you reach an unbridged stream, then assess the risk before attempting a crossing – and remember: if in doubt, stay out.
Fiordlands weather is highly unpredictable and can change quickly. Heavy rain, snow and high winds can be extremely dangerous.
Track conditions can change daily so prepare to change plans if necessary.
It may be safer to stay at the hut and wait until conditions improve.
Hikers should plan to travel only when there is minimal avalanche danger and a favourable weather forecast.
See the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory website for avalanche forecast.
See Metvuw and Metservice for weather forecast.
Even if it is a mild winter be aware that it can still be very wet and very cold. Alpine areas will usually have snow. Winter daylight hours are limited and the surrounding mountains let less sunlight in the valleys.
Snow and ice conditions on the hollyford face and at the Harris Saddle can be extremely dangerous. Even when frozen, Lake Mackenzie is not safe to walk on.
During the winter months you need to be totally self-sufficient. It is essential to have the correct clothing and equipment. Besides all the equipment suggested above, it is recommended you take the following safety equipment:
Personal Locator Beacon
Mountain Radio (optional)
In Case Of Emergency or when things simply start to go wrong.
Stop: Take a breath, sit down and remain calm.
Think: Look around you, listen and brainstorm options.
Assess: Evaluate the options and the potential consequences
React: Choose the best option.