The Routeburn Track is the shortest of New Zealand’s Great Walks but it's a powerhouse. The trail traverses both Fiordland National Park and Mt. Aspiring National Park through old-growth rainforest, past tumbling waterfalls, across tussock, and over the connecting mountain pass of the Harris Saddle. Along with the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track is one of the quintessential New Zealand hikes.
Routeburn Track Overview
Distance: 32 km one-way
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Time: 3 days/2 nights
When to Go: Peak hiking season runs from November through April; January and February are the busiest months. Average high temperatures during the peak season range from 15°C to 20°C with frequent rain throughout the year. The Routeburn Track remains open during the winter but snowy conditions and avalanches are common requiring proper equipment and backcountry experience.
Starting Points: The Routeburn is a one-way track that can be walked in either direction from the Divide (Milford Road) or Routeburn Shelter (30 minutes from Glenorchy).
Transportation: Buckley Transport and Tracknet provide round-trip transportation from Te Anau and/or Queenstown. Trackhopper will even move your car from one side of the track to the other.
Guiding: The Routeburn can be completed with or without a guide. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow with rangers on duty during the peak season. Guided trips are pricey (from $1,000 USD per person) but include cushier private huts, tasty meals, and baggage transport.
Accommodation: Most hikers stay at the 4 huts and 2 campsites operated by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The guiding companies operate private huts adjacent to the DOC huts at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls.
Cost: For the 2012-13 peak season, DOC huts on the Routeburn Track are $45 USD per person and campsites are $15 USD per person. Day hiking is free. All-inclusive guided trips start at around $1,000 USD per person.
Reservations: All huts and campsites should be booked as early as possible (the Routeburn fills up months in advance during peak season). Bookings can be made online or at any DOC visitor center.
Services: Huts are equipped with gas cookers, running water, and flush toilets (no showers). Camping areas have water, established tent sites, a covered shelter for cooking, and pit toilets.
Inside Scoop: The Routeburn Track often gets rated among the world’s best hikes and rightfully so. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get a reservation: day hiking is free and a good chunk of the trail is reachable from either end. From the Divide, Key Summit is a popular day hike and ambitious hikers can make it to Lake Mackenzie and back. From the Routeburn Shelter, the Harris Saddle is attainable in a long day (or at least the scenic alpine section above the Routeburn Falls Hut).