|Milford Sound, South Island|
|The Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand classic hikes, passes through stunning alpine scenery between Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. This trail follows the initial part of the track at the Fiordland National Park end, detouring to a summit overlooking Hollyford Valley and the Darran Mountains.
From the car park at The Divide (so-called because it lies between the eastern and western sides of the Southern Alps), the track is clearly signed. It is a steady climb through forest, with no views at this stage except the vegetation to either side.
After anything from 30 to 60 minutes of climbing (depending on your pace), in which you ascend close to 900 ft/275 m, the trail forks. The Routeburn Track continues ahead to Howden Hut, but you bear right for the top of 919-m Key Summit.
The track continues to climb, but soon you reach the top of the bush-line. As you emerge from the trees, magnificent views open up over Hollyford Valley to the north. At the summit, the panorama includes the Greenstone Valley to the south. Jagged snow-capped peaks rise majestically, seeming almost close enough to touch. It seems incredible that such a small amount of effort can lead to such a special place.
A boardwalk leads round an area of alpine bog, and a marker points out the different valleys and mountains that surround you. Take your time to soak it all in, before starting the descent back to the car park.
It is a good idea to save this walk for early or late in the day, as the chances are you may have the summit to yourself (as we did when we walked up late one afternoon). Fortunately, most of the tourists who throng to the beautiful fjord of Milford Sound simply rush past this place – just the way we would like it to stay.
|Location: Fiordland National Park, in the south-west of South Island. Milford Sound is less than 70 km north-west of Queenstown as the crow flies, but over 300 km by road.
Directions: Take the 6A east out of Queenstown for 7 km, then right onto the 6 south for about 85 km to Five Rivers. Turn right to Mossburn, about 20 km away, then right onto the 94 for 70 km to Te Anau. Continue north on the 94 – the road to Milford Sound – for another couple of hours.
Trailhead: Car park at The Divide, on the 94 (Milford-Te Anau Road), 85 km north of Te Anau and 35 km south of Milford Sound. Public transport, which stops at The Divide, runs between Te Anau and Milford Sound.
Length: 3.8 miles / 6.1 km
Trail Type: Out and back
Elevation Change: 1,270 ft / 387 m
Duration: 2.5 hours
Trail Condition: Well defined and very easy to follow. Sections of boardwalk loop around the summit.
Features: Valley and snow-capped mountain views, alpine bog and tarns.
Climate: Changeable and subject to heavy rain – Fiordland National Park is notoriously wet. Conditions tend to be most stable in late summer (February and March).
Accommodation: Te Anau is geared towards hikers and has plenty of accommodation. Milford Sound is something of a tourist mecca but has limited accommodation – to our knowledge, Milford Sound Lodge is the only option.
Trail Notes: Transport and travel information from Te Anau visitor center on Lakeside Drive.
Popularity: 18% [?]