Routeburn Track: A Journey Through New Zealand’s Wilderness

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Imagine embarking on a breathtaking adventure deep into the heart of New Zealand’s untamed wilderness. Picture lush forests, majestic alpine meadows, and crystal-clear lakes stretching out before you, all waiting to be explored. This is the Routeburn Track, a renowned hiking trail that takes you on a remarkable journey through some of the most stunning landscapes the country has to offer. From towering mountain peaks to enchanting beech forests, this is a trek that will leave you in awe at every turn. Lace up your boots, pack your sense of wonder, and get ready for an unforgettable journey along the Routeburn Track.

Routeburn Track: A Journey Through New Zealands Wilderness

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Overview of the Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is a breathtaking hiking trail located in the South Island of New Zealand. It stretches for 32 kilometers (20 miles) through the heart of the Southern Alps, offering awe-inspiring scenery and a true wilderness experience. This iconic track is widely regarded as one of the best multi-day hikes in the world, attracting adventurers and nature enthusiasts from all corners of the globe.

Getting There and Logistics

To start your journey on the Routeburn Track, you’ll need to make your way to one of the trailheads, either at Routeburn Shelter or The Divide. From Queenstown, it’s approximately a 1.5-hour drive to Routeburn Shelter, while The Divide is about 3 hours away. Both trailheads are accessible by car, and parking is available.

It’s important to note that the Routeburn Track is not a loop, so you’ll need to arrange transportation at the end of your hike. Shuttle services operate between the trailheads, making it convenient to return to your starting point. Alternatively, you can organize private transport or arrange a pick-up with a friend or family member. It’s essential to plan your logistics in advance to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey.

When to Go

The best time to embark on the Routeburn Track depends on your personal preferences and weather conditions. The track is generally open from late October to late April, with the peak season being during the New Zealand summer from December to February. During this time, the weather is generally milder, and the days are longer, allowing for more daylight hours on the trail.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the weather in the mountains can be unpredictable, and conditions can change rapidly. It’s recommended to check the weather forecast before setting off on your hike and be prepared for all types of weather. Additionally, the track can get busy during the peak season, so if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring (October to November) or autumn (March to April).

Required Permits and Fees

To hike the Routeburn Track, you’ll need to obtain a Great Walks season pass or pay a per-night fee. The pass allows you to walk on any of the Great Walks in New Zealand, including the Routeburn Track, for the entire season. The fees contribute to the maintenance and preservation of the tracks and facilities.

It’s important to book your accommodation in advance, as the Great Walks huts and campsites can get fully booked during the peak season. The huts along the Routeburn Track provide basic facilities, including bunk beds, cooking areas, and toilets, while the campsites offer a more back-to-nature experience. Keep in mind that the huts require advanced bookings, while the campsites operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

Routeburn Track: A Journey Through New Zealands Wilderness

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Trailhead Options

As mentioned earlier, there are two main trailheads for the Routeburn Track: Routeburn Shelter and The Divide. Both options offer stunning scenery and provide access to the track’s highlights. Routeburn Shelter is located near Glenorchy and provides picturesque views of the Dart River Valley. Meanwhile, The Divide, situated on the Milford Road, offers a beautiful journey through beech forests and alpine meadows.

Choosing which trailhead to start from depends on your preferences and logistics. If you’re coming from Queenstown, the Routeburn Shelter may be more convenient, while The Divide is a good option if you’re planning to combine your Routeburn adventure with a visit to Milford Sound. Regardless of where you start, you’ll be treated to spectacular landscapes and an unforgettable journey through the New Zealand wilderness.

Trail Difficulty and Safety Tips

While the Routeburn Track offers a magnificent experience, it’s important to be prepared for the trail’s challenges. The track is considered moderate in difficulty, with some steep sections and elevation gains. It’s essential to have a reasonable level of fitness and be comfortable walking on uneven terrain. Pack appropriate footwear, such as sturdy hiking boots, to ensure stability and support throughout your journey.

Safety should always be a top priority when hiking in the wilderness. It’s recommended to familiarize yourself with the track and carry a map, compass, or GPS device. Be aware of the weather conditions and be prepared for changes. It’s also crucial to pack essential items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, a first aid kit, and plenty of water and snacks. Always let someone know your plans and estimated return time, especially if you’re hiking alone.

Routeburn Track: A Journey Through New Zealands Wilderness

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Accommodation Options

As mentioned earlier, the Routeburn Track offers both huts and campsites for accommodation along the trail. The huts provide a comfortable shelter with basic amenities, making them a popular choice for many hikers. They often have communal cooking areas, where you can prepare your meals and interact with fellow adventurers. The huts offer a warm and cozy atmosphere, especially during those chilly nights in the mountains.

If you prefer a more rustic experience, camping is also permitted along the track. The trail has designated campsites equipped with basic facilities, including cooking shelters and toilets. Pitching a tent amidst New Zealand’s natural beauty can be a magical experience, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in the wilderness. Just remember to bring your own camping equipment and leave no trace, respecting the environment and keeping the track pristine for future hikers.

What to Pack

Packing appropriately for the Routeburn Track is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Here is a list of essential items to consider:

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Waterproof and breathable clothing layers
  • Warm clothing for cooler temperatures
  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for sun protection
  • Insect repellent
  • Map, compass, or GPS device
  • First aid kit with any necessary medications
  • Ample food and water
  • Cooking equipment and utensils (if camping)
  • Sleeping bag (if camping)

Remember to pack light but be prepared for various weather conditions. It’s also a good idea to have a waterproof cover for your backpack to protect your gear from rain showers.

Highlights Along the Route

The Routeburn Track is renowned for its stunning scenery and diverse landscapes. As you journey along the trail, you’ll have the opportunity to witness breathtaking alpine vistas, crystal-clear rivers, ancient beech forests, and majestic waterfalls. One of the highlights along the route is the Routeburn Falls, where you can marvel at the cascading water as it tumbles into a deep valley.

The Harris Saddle, located at an elevation of 1,260 meters (4,133 feet), offers panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and lakes. It’s a perfect spot to take in the grandeur of New Zealand’s wilderness and capture some incredible photographs. Another notable highlight is Lake Mackenzie, a pristine alpine lake nestled amidst towering mountains. Its tranquil beauty and turquoise waters make it a picturesque spot for a rest and a picnic lunch.

Side Trips and Detours

While the Routeburn Track itself is a remarkable journey, there are also opportunities for side trips and detours to further explore the area. One popular option is a visit to Key Summit, which offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. This relatively short detour from the main track rewards hikers with breathtaking vistas and a chance to spot unique alpine plant species.

For those looking for an extended adventure, it’s possible to combine the Routeburn Track with the nearby Milford Track, another of New Zealand’s famous Great Walks. This multi-day hike allows you to experience the best of both tracks, immersing yourself in the untouched beauty of Fiordland National Park.


Embarking on the Routeburn Track is a remarkable journey through New Zealand’s wilderness. From the moment you set foot on the trail, you’ll be captivated by the breathtaking landscapes, tranquil lakes, and towering mountains. Whether you choose to hike it alone or with friends, the Routeburn Track promises an unforgettable experience filled with adventure, beauty, and a deep connection with nature. So pack your bags, lace up your boots, and get ready to embark on a journey of a lifetime. The Routeburn Track awaits, ready to take you into the heart of New Zealand’s untamed wilderness.