Routeburn Track Notes:
The Routeburn Track can be walked in either direction but the track notes below describe the route across the Humbolt and Ailsa Mountains from east to west (Routeburn Valley to the Divide on the Te Anau – Milford highway). This walk can also be linked with the Greenstone and Caples Tracks. The 32km long Routeburn Track is usually completed in three days of 4-6 hours duration, with most walkers sheltering overnight in Routeburn Falls and Lake Mackenzie Huts.
For the latest in track conditions, contact The Department of Conservation.
Routeburn Roadend to Routeburn Flats Hut. (6.5km, 1.5-2hrs)
After crossing the swingbridge across the Route Burn below the carpark, an easily graded track through the beech forest leads to Sugar Loaf Stream, which is crossed by a footbridge. The grade is gentle for another 20 minutes but then the track climbs steadily to another bridge, across Bridal Veil Stream. This section of the track is wide, a remnant of a bridle path built over 130 years ago. It continues to climb more steeply through red, silver and mountain beech forest, before levelling off and sidling above the impressive Routeburn Gorge. After crossing another swingbridge back to the true right bank of the Route Burn, the first glimpses through the trees of the extensive grassy Routeburn Flats are gained. The short side track to Routeburn Flats Hut (20 Bunks) is signposted at the right hand of the fork in the track. The hut (and nearby campsite) has a superb outlook from the forest edge out across the flats to Mt Somnus (2293m) above the north branch of the Route Burn.
Routeburn Flats Hut To Routeburn Falls Hut. (2.3km, 45mins-1.5hrs)
The wide track climbs steadily through beexh forest,from 700m at the flats to bushline at 1000m. A footbridge crosses Emily Creek, an avalanche path in winter and spring, and the track emerges into the open beech forest and shrubland around the lip of the hanging valley of the west branch of the Route Burn, at the top of the impressive Route Burn Falls cascade (176m). Routeburn Falls Hut has 48 bunks and the nearby ice smoothed rocky ledges provide vantage points for views of the Routeburn Flats and the peaks of the Humbolt Mountains.
The Falls above The Routeburn Falls Hut.
Routeburn Falls Hut to Harris Saddle. (1.5-2.5hrs)
This section of the track is subalpine in character. The track sidles steadily up the southern side of the hanging valley of the Route Burn, with the stream meandering through wetlands and tussock-covered flats below Lake Harris. A steep sidle through bluffs above the lake leads to the highest point on the track, Harris Saddle/Tarahaka Whakatipu (1255m) on the main divide. There is an emergency shelter on the saddle, available for day use (but no overnight camping).
Harris Saddle to Lake McKenzie Hut. (3-4hrs)
From the saddle the track traverses the slopes of Ocean Peak about 100m above the bushline. This section of the track is well known for its impressive array of alpine plants – speargrasses, cushion plants and flowering herbs. Two hours from the saddle, the track crests a prominent spur and begins a steeper zig-zag descent towards Lake Mackenzie, nestled in beech forest in the glaciated valley below Emily Peak. Lake Mackenzie Hut has 50 bunks and there are nine campsites a few minutes along a side track.
Note: This section of track is exposed and can be hazardous in adverse weather conditions. 80-100km winds occur regularly, combined with rain and lower temps. Therefore ensure that you are prepared and well equipped for such conditions.
Lake McKenzie Hut to Lake Howden Hut. (8.6km, 3-4hrs)
The track climbs steadily through silver beech forest to bushline again, before sidling along to a natural clearing of mountain ribbonwood (Hoberia) trees, colloquially named 'The Orchard' because of their resemblance to a grove of fruit trees. The impressive Earland Falls (174m) drop almost onto the track formation and, when in flood, need to be passed by a detour to a bridge just downstream. From the falls (at 1000m altitude) the track through the forest gradually drops 300m in altitude over the next 3km, to reach Lake Howden Hut (28 bunks) beside picturesque Lake Howden. The campsite is situated 20 minutes away down the Greenstone Track, near Greenstone Saddle at the southern end of the lake.
Lake Howden Hut to The Divide. (3.4km, 1hr)
The track climbs for about 15 minutes to the turnoff to Key Summit, a subalpine vantage point well worth the one hour return side trip. From this turnoff, the main track drops steadily (losing 300m in altitude in 2 km) through the lichen and moss-festooned silver beech forest to the Divide shelter beside the Milford Road. At only 532m, The Divide is the lowest pass in the Southern Alps/Ka Tiritiri o te Moana.
Routeburn Nature Walk. (1hr return)
An easy going, well interpreted loop track ideal for a family walk.
From the Routeburn shelter carpark, cross the Route Burn on the swingbridge and follow the main Routeburn Track for 10 - 15 minutes. A marked turnoff on the left takes a winding path down from the main track onto the valley floor. After meandering its way through this flat area for 10 - 15 minutes, the track rejoins the main Routeburn Track at Sugarloaf Stream. From here you turn right and follow the main Routeburn track back to the carpark (20 - 30 minutes).
Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn North Branch. (2 hrs to full day return)
From the Routeburn Flats Hut, cross the unbridged Route Burn and follow the north branch of the river through beech forest and tussock clearings. Good views of Mount Somnus, North Col and Mount Nereus can be found at the head of the valley. For those that have an early start, they can reach the North Col where there are impressive views out to Lake McKerrow and Martins Bay on the West Coast.
Harris Saddle to the Valley of the Trolls. (2hrs return)
From the highest point of the Harris Saddle a non marked and non maintained track descends steeply down to Lake Harris. The route continues around to the head of Lake Harris and then enters into the Valley of the Trolls. The vegetation on this valley floor is fragile and is most times wet and boggy.
Harris Saddle to Conical Hill (1515m) (1-2hrs return)
A rewarding side trip is the short but steep 260m climb to Conical Hill (1515m) on the northern side of the saddle. The summit provides panoramic views of the impressive Darran Mountains across the Hollyford River, Lake Harris far below, and the full sweep of the Hollyford Valley from below Key Summit and the Milford highway right out to Lake McKerrow and Martins Bay.
Be aware that snow and ice can sometimes make this trip hazardous early and late into the Great Walks season.
Key Summit (2 -4hrs return)
This popular walk is well named. Three major river systems, the Hollyford, Greenstone-Clutha and Eglington-Waiau have their origins on the flanks of this viewpoint. Starting from either Howden Hut or the Diviide, follow the well graded section of the Routeburn Track through forested slopes until the bushline is reached. From the turnoff a short steep 30min climb over open ground leads to the summit. This shrubland area is scattered with small tarns and alpine bog. From the summit there are magnificent views of the surrounding Darran and Ailsa mountains and Hollyford valley.
Stay on the track and boardwalks, as this is a fragile vegetation area.
Key Summit along part of the Whiskey Trail.
When the weather is perfect and you have a spare hour or two. Then a walk further along the ridge from Key summit on the Whiskey trail is well worth the effort. This section of track is not marked and is not maintained. Expect windfalls and boggy ground when going through the short bush section. The track soon comes back out into the open country. The views from the ridgeline on a good day are spectacular. On the left are the Ailsa Mountains and the Greenstone valley, looking down to Lake McKellar and across to the McKellar saddle on the Caples Track. On the right are the Darran Mountains and the Eglington valley, looking down to Lake Gunn and Lake Fergus.