An internationally renowned and popular alpine crossing between Fiordland and Lake Wakatipu.
The Routeburn Track is managed as one of the DOC Great Walks, and as about 7500 trampers visit the Routeburn Track over summer months, it is regulated to control visitor numbers.
Bookings and fees
This track is managed as a Great Walk. While the track itself is free to access, huts and campsites must be booked in advance during the Great Walks season, late October to late April.
Bookings for the following Great Walks Season open in July and are available through the Great Walks Booking Desk. Visitors to New Zealand are advised to book before departure or immediately after arriving in New Zealand. Booking requires payment of accommodation fees. Off-peak discounts apply during October, November and April, and family discounts are also available.
Camping is prohibited within 500m of the track except at the designated campsites. Camping is also possible off track at Routeburn Flats and Greenstone Saddle.
The Routeburn Track is exposed to adverse alpine conditions at any time of year, including heavy rain, snow, and wind.
Heavy, persistent rain is a common feature of Fiordland, and the exceptional views for which this track is renowned are by no means guaranteed.
During the early season to December, there is avalanche risk on the track which is monitored and managed by DOC. 32 avalanche paths have been identified between Routeburn Falls Hut and the Earland Falls. Avalanche risks from melting snow often delay the season's start, and ice axes may be required throughout November.
Children and young people
Children 17 and under must book, but stay for free at huts and campsites. Children 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult. The full track is not recommended for children under 10 years of age. However, overnight walks to Howden Hut or Routeburn Flats or Falls Huts are suitable for families.
Outside the Great Walks season, huts are managed as serviced huts, providing toilets and tank water but no ranger or cooking facilities, and possibly no fuel for heating. Payment is made using hut tickets. Some bridges are removed to reduce risk of damage. Conditions on alpine sections of the track require snow skills and avalanche awareness. However, lowland sections of track are suitable for general off-season use.
The Routeburn in winter or early spring is a highly worthwhile destination with alpine views that are unmatched by those of the summer months. Check conditions with DOC before departure.
The track starts near the shores of Lake Wakatipu, and finishes on the road to Milford Sound, at the Divide. The two track ends are 323km apart by road, but transport packages are available starting from Te Anau or Queenstown. The Routeburn Track connects with the Greenstone or Caples Tracks, providing a longer option that returns you to Lake Wakatipu.
The track may be walked in either direction. Overnight trips to parts of the track are also allowed.
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut
Crossing a bridge over the Route Burn immediately, the track follows the river and wanders through a tall, handsome forest of red and silver beech. Beyond the debris-choked Sugar Loaf Stream the track meets up with the wide old bridle trail. It follows this trail in a gentle climb before turning into the Routeburn Gorge and crossing the deep, breezy gut of Bridal Veil Stream. The track winds comfortably alongside the log jams and boulders of the rough gorge as the cliffs tower high overhead. Where a sign indicates Sapper's Pass the track flattens off, the valley widening into forested flats (1 hour). Forge Flat is nearby, along a brief track to the left. This grassy spot by the river was the site of the blacksmith camp during the construction of the bridle track.
A bridge soon crosses to the forest on the opposite bank of the Route Burn and the grassy flats open out on the right. The track keeps away from the flats however, providing only intermittent views as the Routeburn Falls appear ahead. As the North Branch valley begins to appear, the track divides, leading straight ahead 5 minutes to the Routeburn Flats Hut, or branching left onto the hillside to continue on.
The hut and campsite sit on the edge of a very wide clearing of golden grasses marking the confluence of the two branches of the Route Burn. It is crossed by the Left Branch in the foreground, with the inviting valley of the North Branch stretching into the distance.
Side trail: Route Burn North Branch
An easy but lightly used track leads along the smooth North Branch valley, providing a pleasant escape if you have some spare time. You can walk as long as you like on the grassy track, and camping is free and unrestricted. First though you must cross the Left Branch. This is a wide but smooth crossing right outside the hut in more or less knee-deep water. From there a vague trail cuts through the tall grass plain, sometimes dropping onto the river-bank, sometimes splitting and disappearing, sometimes crossing small side branches.
There is good camping after 20 minutes by two small waterfalls. A poled route commences, leading through the last of the flats as the ribbonwood, silver beech, and shield ferns close in. After a few minutes the track enters forest and climbs gently on a pleasantly unused, marked trail before emerging in the open space of an old slip. Dropping past a small, weedy tarn, the track wanders onto a long grassy plain that slopes gently to the river on the right. Cairns mark the way, as the track crosses a deep channel washed out of the alluvium and later follows a small creek briefly. Beyond another old slip are a few silver beech trees and some fireplaces left by previous visitors. Soon the track enters forest (1 hour from the waterfalls) on a rough trail. Opening onto the riverbed after a few moments, the track boulder hops over a strand of the river around a massive rock on the river-bank. Scrambling back into the forest, the track quickly emerges onto sloping grasslands that run out in the far distance beneath the white cap of Mount Somnus, where boulders clog the valley floor and the sides close in.
Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut
Back at the junction the track crosses heaped scree and rubble under the trees before turning along the valley and climbing toward the falls and the Serpentine Range. The trail from here is narrower and rockier. Several small, bridged creeks tumble in stony jumbles down the hillside. Israeli Creek is soon crossed, followed by Emily Creek. This creek marks half-way on the climb to Falls Hut. Zipping under the loose rock of Phoenix Bluff, the track crosses a massive slip dating from January 1994. There are good clear views from here down onto the flats as they bend up the North Branch. The rocky track flattens off before clambering finally to the hut.
Routeburn Falls Hut to Harris Saddle Shelter
The hut sits at the bush-line on a rocky saddle where the Route burn commences its drop to the Flats below. The Falls have cut a small gorge at the back of the hut, leaving it balanced on a narrow rock ridge. The track zigzags over the barren landscape by the rumbling Falls and onto the isolated calm of a sub-alpine basin. From here and as far as Lake Mackenzie the trail is marked by red painted iron fencing stakes. The river meanders in long bends through the handsome, open herbfield hemmed in by steep bluffs. Grasses, daisies, gentians, hebes, speargrasses, and ribbonwoods all grow and flower here. Edging around the boggy basin in a long curve, a second series of falls come into view in the distance, and the track begins to climb on a narrow, rocky trail. This striking silver cascade marks the outlet of Lake Harris. The lake appears suddenly as the track climbs above the level of the lake and its low, natural dam.
The climb persists, leading higher and higher to surmount the tall bluffs that drop directly to the water's edge. The highest point of the track is along this section, with views down onto the beautiful lake and along the secret valley that feeds it. Yellow, white, and cream daisies decorate the landscape, where a gap appears to the left. The track crosses the Harris Saddle with little fuss and drops on a smooth track to the shelter located nearby amongst a few small tarns.
Side trail: Conical Hill Track
A smooth side track is prominent zigzagging easily up Conical Hill behind the shelter. This track is deceptive as it quickly becomes an ill-defined chute when it slips out of sight. If the weather is clear the climb is certainly worthwhile, although the track becomes more and more vague as it mounts the sculpted rock forms of the hill. The summit, at 1515m, provides excellent views out along the Hollyford Valley and inland toward Key Summit. Disappointingly, you still can't see Lake Wilson, the 1434m high lake that feeds Lake Harris.
Harris Saddle Shelter to Mackenzie Hut
As the gaping expanse of the Hollyford valley opens out to left and right, the track crosses over into Fiordland National Park. 1000m below, the Hollyford River may be made out winding along the floor of its long north-south valley, with views out to the Tasman Sea in clear weather. The remainder of the track is dominated by this glacial feature. Clouds enshroud the beautiful forms of the mountains opposite more often than not, and the track is exposed to winds blowing along the valley, subject to heavy rain and low visibility. Despite the road winding along the valley floor, this is an isolated and dangerous area. Kea inhabit this environment and may be heard cackling overhead as they whirl on the updrafts.
Losing altitude as it sidles along the Hollyford Face, the track meets the Deadman's Track and levels off. This side track is marked by poles dropping directly down the steep mountainside to the tree-line. This route to the Hollyford Road is steep, dangerous, and slow going.
Eventually (1.5 hours from the shelter) the track bends abruptly around some rocky outcrops and descends to a series of well-graded zigzags above the handsome form of Lake Mackenzie. Moraine blocks the drainage of the valley, and massive chunks of stone are visible piled roughly at the foot of the lake. The track enters trees and crosses the valley floor at the lake end soon after. The hut looks across the lake to a little island, while the campsite is located a few metres further along the track.
Side trail: Emily Pass Track to the Head of the Lake
There is little to indicate the existence of this side trail, but if you look around by the lake edge beyond the warden's hut you will find a series of orange markers entering the bush. The very rough sidle next to the water's edge is often little more than the trail of markers, with frequent stops to struggle (if you are carrying a full pack) up and down awkward drops. At a bend in the lake the track crosses a flat promontory, on an easy and pleasant forest path. Hopping over a little creek and passing a massive rock split by a long vertical crack (worth looking into!), the track runs out abruptly at the water's edge. A few minutes wading along the lake edge will bring you to the sandy shore of the head of the lake. The wade is typically over waist-deep, but the rocks and grasses are slippery and total immersion is a distinct possibility. The reward for these efforts is a small grassy space suitable for private and free camping, a valuable luxury on the Routeburn Track. It is, however, a long way back to the hut toilet.
Winds blowing in from the Hollyford Valley are funneled along the lake, and blast the exposed flats. Also, the lake will rise substantially during heavy rain. If the weather forecasts are poor, you would be ill-advised to camp here.
Mackenzie Hut to Howden Hut
The campsite and the guided walks hut are situated at opposite ends of a small hebe covered flat. Beyond this the track climbs slightly and eases past numerous small falls on a rock trail. The Orchard is passed after 45 minutes. This is an open area with a tarn and scattered ribbonwood that resemble the trees of some abandoned orchard. The Earland Falls are not far away (35 minutes). These are spectacular in wet weather, and may become impassable. Beyond the Falls the track descends gently for 1 hour, soon crossing a small bridge. Another bridge is crossed over Pass Creek before the track turns onto the boardwalk over the fragile valley floor to Howden Hut.
Howden Hut to Key Summit Junction
A short climb through mossy beech forest and past outcrops of limestone leads to the Key Summit side track.
Side trail: Key Summit
A 10 minute track zigzags through subalpine vegetation onto Key Summit (918m). From here there are excellent views north along the Hollyford Valley and southeast to the Greenstone valley, with McKellar Saddle and Jean Batten Peak visible. Views to the west are of snow-covered, glacier-carved mountains just a few kilometres away. The Milford Road winds through them hidden from view in the dark valleys.
The Key Summit Walking Track is a 30 minute loop track that begins here and wanders past tarns, and over extensive sections of boardwalk. You can collect an information sheet from the stand and read its comments as they correspond to the numbered pegs along the track.
Key Summit Junction to The Divide
The track bends south to drop easily into the valley west of the Livingstone Range, occupied by the Hollyford Fault. It passes some steep falls, sidling through a mossy forest of fuchsia, ferns and beech before emerging at the Divide.
- Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut: 1.5 - 2 hours
- Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut: 1 hour up (45 minutes down)
- Routeburn Falls Hut to Harris Saddle Shelter: 1.5 hours up (1 hours 15 minutes down)
- Harris Saddle Shelter to Mackenzie Hut: 2.5 hours
- Mackenzie Hut to Howden Hut: 3 - 4 hours
- Howden Hut to Key Summit Junction: 15 minutes
- Key Summit Junction to The Divide: 40 minutes
Recommended side trails:
- Conical Hill Track: 1.5 hours return
- Key Summit: 1 hour return
Other side trails:
- Routeburn Nature Walk: this track turns off the Routeburn Track near the car park: 1 hour
- Sugarloaf Track: this track leads over Sugarloaf Pass to the Rockburn Track. It would be possible to walk a loop past Lake Sylvan of about 12 hours
- Routeburn Flats Hut to Route Burn North Branch: 30 minutes - 5 hours return (unmarked)
- Deadmans Track, a rough track dropping to the Hollyford Road near Gunns Camp: 5 hours
- Mackenzie Hut to head of the lake: 1.5 hours return (rough conditions)
- Pass Creek Track, a rough old cattle track from Howden Hut to the Lower Hollyford Road: 2 hours
- Howden Hut to Greenstone Saddle: 20 minutes
- Greenstone and Caples Tracks also set off from Howden Hut
Open, bookings required - limited spaces available untill beginning of April
Updated: 09-Apr-2014 10:21:24
Alpine conditions with avalanche risk during winter and spring. Grades explained
Huts and campsites must be booked during peak season (October to April).
11 hr 30 min – 17 hr
2 – 4 days
Altitude change 850m
|From||Routeburn Shelter, Routeburn Road end, head of Lake Wakatipu|
|To||The Divide, Te Anau Milford Highway, SH94|