The Routeburn Track, with its hidden lakes, dramatic waterfalls, and rugged alpine scenery, has been heralded as one of the world's best hikes in one of the world's best settings. The 20-mile (33-kilometer) trail is fittingly listed as a New Zealand Great Walk; it is truly something special.
The Routeburn Track begins near Glenorchy and Mt. Aspiring National Park before snaking over the spine of the Humboldt Mountains toward Fiordland National Park. The trail, which usually takes three days to complete, ascends to 4,100 feet (1,250 meters). The surrounding mountains of the snow-capped Southern Alps tower at 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), which adds to the scenic allure of the landscape.
Though there are campground facilities, most hikers elect to sleep in designated huts, which offer cooking facilities, beds, and the chance to unwind. For those looking for just a taste of the trail, a private or small-group guided day hike is a more leisurely option, with round-trip hotel transport available from Te Anau or Queenstown.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Hikers need to be fit to tackle the route, while guided day hikes offer visitors easier access. Trails are not accessible to wheelchairs.
- Wear all-weather layers that wick away moisture, and bring rain-resistant outerwear.
- Wear comfortable hiking shoes that are suitable for walking on uneven surfaces.
- It is necessary for through-hikers to bring a backpack equipped with food, water filter, cooking equipment, and sleeping bag.
- Hut reservations and camping sites are free to children ages 17 and under.
How to Get There
The trail begins at the Routeburn Shelter, 30 minutes north of Glenorchy. On the southern end it finishes at The Divide, which lies 90 minutes from Te Anau. The Routeburn Trail is a point-to-point track; hikers need to arrange transport before starting the trail, because the road distance between start and finish is approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers). Buses run between the Routeburn or Divide Shelter and Queenstown or Glenorchy.
When to Get There
Due to heavy snowfall in winter, the season for hiking the Routeburn Track starts from the end of October and runs through April. Reservations with the Department of Conservation (DOC) are absolutely necessary at least one month in advance, but spaces can fill well ahead of time on this ever-popular route.
Great Walk Designation: What Does That Mean?
From the moment you leave your first boot print on this legendary route, the rugged terrain will fill you with awe. The Routeburn keeps good company with the likes of the Milford Track and more than half a dozen others assigned Great Walk status for their scenic value. This special designation means it has better facilities and more established trails—also with higher fees to maintain them—than regular backcountry hikes.