Near the start of the Routeburn Track
I've been busy my last couple weeks in New Zealand. Two Thursdays ago, I had ultimate practice. Friday morning, I was on a bus for Queenstown and Saturday morning I was hitting the trail again. This time, I was bound for the Routeburn Track and hopefully following it up with a clear day on a Milford Sound boat tour.
Glacial runoff coming down Sugarloaf Stream
The Routeburn Track begins in Mount Aspiring National Park and traverses over to Fjordland National Park. It is part of Te Wahipounamu, the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The Routeburn Track is named for the Route Burn that it follows. A burn is an old Scottish term for a waterway.
On my first day, I started out alone and was hurrying along to try and catch B-Nelson who was waiting for me further along the trail. I wasn't quite sure if I was meeting him at the Routeburn Flats or Routeburn Falls Hut, but both were pretty close to the trail so I didn't expect too much difficulty finding him.
The Routeburn Flats campsite.
For the first couple hours, the path meandered through the woods with an occasional view of the mountains. Some of the mountains still had a little snow on them. However, the best views were from where the valley floors opened up into broad flats.
Overlooking the Routeburn Gorge and Flats, that we had hiked up,from the Routeburn Falls Hut balcony.
After the flats, we started our slow climb up towards the Harris Saddle. On this climb, I once again had the misfortune to lose my camera lens cap. I put my pack down and went down the hill to find my lens about fifteen minutes back. Yeah for extra hiking on a long day! Shortly after recovering my lens cap, I finally caught up to Brian at the Routeburn Falls Hut. I think he was about to drift into a nap. He had been waiting a while for me.
Hiking up the moraine to the Harris Saddle.
After a quick lunch, we continued following the burn up to its source, Lake Harris. On our way up, I felt like I was at McMurdo again. One helicopter must have made a hundred deliveries of river rock for trail maintenance.
Looking back down the Routeburn Gorge.
Lake Harris, the source of the Route Burn.
A couple hours later, we were rounding Lake Harris and approaching the Harris Saddle. As we crested the saddle, I think the mountains were finally muting the sounds of the helicopter so we could at least pretend we were off in the wilderness. With so many other walkers traveling with us or going the opposite direction, this hike often felt like a day hike just outside a city.
Harris Saddle at 1255m.
At the Harris Saddle, we took a quick side trip up Conical Hill. From Conical Hill, we could see the outlines of the Hollyford Track extending from the road, to river, to mountains, to the beach at the end. It looked like one straight shot. I believe it is an eight day hike and I was surprised we could see from one end of it to the other. However, since we could also see the Tasman Sea (between Australia and New Zealand), I probably shouldn't be surprised.
Looking back over what we hiked (the track is on the right and then center)).
The one big difference between the Routeburn and Milford Tracks was that you had the opportunity to walk above treeline for an extended amount of time after getting to the top of the pass. On the Milford, we were in the valley, up the pass, down the pass, and back into the trees. The Routeburn has a huge section between Harris Saddle and Lake Mackenzie that traverses the steep Hollyford Valley walls instead of dropping down to the trees. It is fantastic and, according to Brian, made this hike as good as the Milford (and since it is easier to book and possible to camp for cheap, maybe even better).
Our home for the night, Lake Mackenzie.
After our really long hike, we finally arrived at the hut. Unfortunately, we had ten more minutes of walking to do before we finally reached our campsite. When we got there, we had to choose one of the designated spots. Each spot was designated by an 8x10 piece of astroturf. I guess that was better than camping on rocks. I'm still not sure. It was weird. Apparently, other people found it weird in the past too and went off to find their own campsites as well. They know have great signs (like the one below) so those people don't get confused about their options.
In case you needed a sign . . .
Walking above treeline
Our second day was a nice leisurely walk in the sun. We had a couple short climbs, but it was mostly a slow descent down to The Divide at 532m which is the lowest crossing point of the Southern Alps. Once we got to The Divide, I had planned to hitch a ride over to Milford Sound to take a boat tour. Fortunately, one of the guys I had met the day before (from Ninth and Lincoln in Denver) had his brother picking him up for the same thing so I just grabbed a ride from them. Great stuff. B-Nelson got a ride over to Te Anau where I'd meet him later that night for the Glowworm Cave Tour.
Routeburn Track (32.1 km) by the numbers: