Summer Season with or without snow.
The Routeburn Track traverses a high rainfall alpine locality. The Darran, Humbolt and Ailsa Mountains stand as a wall against the prevailing northwesterly wind streams, causing these moisture-laden winds rise over the crests, dropping their precipitation on the western mountain slopes. The 'rain shadow' effect in the east is quite dramatic – annual precipitaion (rain and snow) averages around 8000mm on the western side of the Homer Tunnel, 1200mm at Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu, but only 800mm at Skippers Station near Queenstown.
Snow can fall at ANY time of the year above the bushline. A typical weather pattern is high cirrus cloud advancing from the west or north, which gradually thickens to form 'hog backs' (lenticular clouds) beneath the cirrus. High winds will then be experienced around Harris Saddle / Tarahaka Whakatipu and in the Greenstone and Caples Valleys, followed by low cloud and rain. The rain can become heavier as the wind shifts to the south, sometimes bringing snow and generally a clearance to fine weather. This pattern usually takes 3 to 4 days to complete.
Avalanche risk in winter and early spring
Late autumn and early winter snows effectively close the Routeburn Track to all but experienced and well-equipped alpine travellers. In particular, the benched track above Lake Harris becomes a dangerous steep snow slope crossed by avalanche paths. Deep snow drifts can also cover the Hollyford faces above the bushline. The zig-zag leading down to Lake Mackenzie freezes and becomes covered in ice. Sections of track between Lake Mackenzie and Earland Falls are also prone to avalanches. During winter months, Lake Harris may be covered by thick ice. The avalanche risk is highest in late winter and spring. Thirty two different avalanche paths have been identified on the section of the track between Earland Falls and Routeburn Falls. However, both ends of the track (to Routeburn Falls Hut and Lake Mackenzie Hut, respectively) are relatively safe for day-or-overnight return trips for those wanting to experience something of the Routeburn's winter majic.
For more info on Hiking the track out of the summer season, see our Logisitics page.
Looking for what the weather will do this Summer. See our Blog on Weather Predictions for Summer 2018-2019
October Mixed weather with cold snaps and snow to low levels. Track usually still covered in snow in Alpine areas.
November Usually a wet and windy month.
December Wet to begin with then after mid December starts to get warmer and finer.
January Almost always rains on the 1st with heavy rains in early Jan. Otherwise a good month. Temperatures can reach into the high 20's.
2018 was a record hot and dry month.
February Historically the best month for hiking. A few years ago we had a record 30 days with no rain during this period.
Then 2018 had 222mm on the 1st and 2nd followed by an above average rainfall.
March Start of the wetter days again.
April Can be either a great month with fine Autumn weather or plenty of Rain. River levels can go from lowest in season to highest within 24hrs.
May Cooler Autumn weather. Temperatures drop and snow begins to fall more often.
Actual Rainfall at Routeburn Falls Hut. (mm)
Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr Total for Season
2008-2009 537 387 547 123 301 664 2559 mm
2009-2010 309 528 392 137 447 885 2998
2010-2011 174 667 474 470 320 230 2335
2011-2012 373 98 204 78 234 298 1285
2012-2013 487 343 740 93 218 364 2245
2013-2014 249 323 628 149 165 260 1774
2016-2017 479 414 645 266 101 176 2081
2017-2018 207 339 97 537 472 551 2203
Average 352 387 466 232 282 429 2185
Highest rainfall on record in 24hrs was 222mm. If you think that was a lot then bear a thought for the hikers who were 25km due west on the Milford Track. For the same 24hrs they had 600mm!!!
With the above average temperatures during the summer becoming more frequent, the weather patterns are changing. Usually when a rain front hits NZ it is at the lower to mid south island region. With the warmer weather these similar fronts are now hitting NZ mid to upper south island region. The warmer sea temp also means there is more moisture being sucked up into these fronts. Which means heavier rainfalls. We could start to see October - January have below average rainfall and February - May above average rainfall
During the Summer Season the Hut Warden at each hut will write up a new weather forecast each day at 8.30am.
Usually everyone wants to walk the track on a warm sunny day with clear blue skies. However there are a few others who prefer the challenge and excitement of hiking the track in a raging storm with gale force winds and pouring rain. So below are a few photos of the same section of track taken on a fine sunny day and then again on a slightly more wetter day.
If the moon is in the sky it is less likely to rain.
New moon days are pleasant, not too hot or cold.
First Quarter days are cloudy in the morning but generally clear later. If the moon is not in the sky during daylight hours, it is likely to turn unpleasant: too hot or too cold, too windy or too wet.
Full Moon brings snow.
(Personal observations made over the last 10 years include: During any month the heaviest rainfalls are during the approx 2 week period when the moon is over the southern hemisphere. During that period it's almost 100% guaranteed to rain 2 days after a full moon.)
If they are fluffy like balls of wool it is a sign of settled weather.
If the clouds increase then rain may be on the way. If they seem to get less than the weather is improving.
If they are low and wispy it is sign of cold.
Any shape other than the fluffy balls means bad weather could be coming soon. For instance there may be lines in the sky, stringy candy floss like wisps, dense grey or two different types, one above the other. Fluffy shapes that pile themselves high are called tower clouds and these bring sudden downpours even though the days may also be sunny.
Other indicators of deteriorating weather are:
Clouds lowering and thickening
Puffy clouds beginning to develop vertically and darken
The sky dark and threatening to the West
Clouds increasing in numbers or moving rapidly across the sky
Clouds at different heights moving in different directions
A ring (Halo) around the Moon
Leaves turning over away from prevailing wind and showing their backs, and temperatures far above or below normal for the time of year.
Signs of impending strong winds are:
Light, scattered clouds alone but moving quickly in a clear sky
Sharp,clearly defined edges to clouds
A yellow sunset
Unusually bright stars
Major changes in the Temperature.
The higher the moon, the higher the clouds.
The higher the clouds, the finer the weather.
Notice when the wind starts to blow.
If it is calm then the wind starts up, the wind may blow some rain to you.
If it is already raining and the wind starts, the wind may blow the rain away.
The wind is the strongest when the moon is on the horizon, and it is more likely to be strongest in the hour when the moon is rising.
It is also likely to be fairly strong exactly halfway between the moon setting time and the rising time. (Moon directly underfoot)
Red sky at night means good weather next day.
Red sky in the morning means bad weather will come today.
A misty ring or band around either the Sun or Moon is a sign of bad weather to follow.
A Halo around the Moon is a sign of wind.
The open side of the halo tells the area of the sky from which the wind or rain may soon come.
If the moon is lying on its back, expect winds in two days.
A dark blue sky that looks gloomy means it will be windy.
A light blue sky means fine weather.
A bright yellow sky at sunset indicates wind.
A pale yellow sky at sunset indicates rain.
A pale Moon means rain.
A reddish Moon means wind.
If the Moon's outline is not clear, expect rain or snow soon.
Rainbow in the East will be in the evening and means rain going.
Rainbow in the West will be in the morning and means rain coming. (As in the title photo above, taken at sunrise from Routeburn Falls Hut.)
Rainbow at lunchtime can mean sudden downpours.
Small broken rainbow pieces on a cloudy day mean storms and blustery weather.
If a rainbow fades quickly, expect good weather soon.
A perfect Rainbow after rain means good weather.
When a Rainbow appears over water but it does not reach down to the water, expect clear weather.
If a Rainbow can be seen from a great distance, expect clear weather.
If the Rainbow disappears all at once, it means good weather coming.
Double or triple Rainbows indicate fair weather only for the present, but more heavy rains soon.
If Stars are flickering or look larger or brighter than usual, rain or a storm may be approaching.
Twinkling can mean that weather is about to change. Excessive twinkling means heavy dew's, rain,snow or stormy weather to come.
If faint Stars have disappeared than wind is about to rise.
On a clear night if you cannot see the smaller stars rain may be not far off.
When the sky is very full of Stars and it is winter, expect frost. If summer, expect a nice day following.
If Venus is close to the Moon, expect rain soon.
If Mercury moves close to the sun, expect wind and cold swings in winter and hot swings in summer.
The sound of a Morepork (Ruru) at night usually means a good day tomorrow.