|Glenorchy, South Island|
Routeburn Track to Harris Saddle
|Highly Recommended One Day Hike|
|The Routeburn Track is a high country traverse between Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks via the Routeburn and Hollyford Valleys. It is one of several classic multi-day hikes in south-west South Island, usually done over 2-3 days, but in good weather it is possible to cover a large part of the track as a day hike. We describe the route from the Mt Aspiring end to the Track’s highest point at Harris Saddle, with an optional ascent of Conical Hill for magnificent views over Hollyford Valley.
Cross a bridge over the river and head through beech forest. You will soon pass Routeburn Shelter, across the river to your left. The trail climbs steadily and, after crossing another bridge over Sugar Loaf Stream, turns to the west. The trail continues its steady climb as it heads into Route Burn Gorge. Beyond the gorge, the gradient levels. A bridge takes you across the Route Burn (river) and, with the river now to your right, you emerge from the forest into the open Routeburn Flats. The trail returns to the forest for a time as it approaches Routeburn Flats Hut.
About 1.5 hours from the trailhead, the track forks. Routeburn Flats Hut lies 5 minutes straight ahead, but you need to take the left path to Routeburn Falls, about 1 hour away. Now the work really begins, as there is around 1,000 ft/300 m of ascent in the short distance between you and Routeburn Falls. The climb on the narrow, rocky path is steep in places, but never particularly arduous.
Swing-bridges cross a couple of creeks – first Israeli Creek, then Emily Creek. Then you cross a large landslide area, where there are the most wonderful views down to the river and across to snow-capped peaks. A final climb takes you up to Routeburn Falls Hut, with the falls themselves a few moments further on.
The track switchbacks up and away from the hut – as it disappears from view, there is a great unobstructed view over the Routeburn Valley – and heads into Harris Basin. This high country heralds a noticeable change in vegetation and scenery – the beech forest and river flats given way to exposed tussock slopes and bare rock. In good weather, you will have no difficulties crossing this land, but it is a different story in winter and early spring, with deep snow and bitter temperatures. At any time of year, be prepared to turn back if the weather is bad.
The trail is easy to follow in good conditions, with red posts marking the route. The rocky path curves around the edge of the basin, with the Route Burn to your right winding its way down to the valley floor. As you ascend ever higher towards Lake Harris, you are rewarded with a dramatic view over the basin framed by high peaks. The lake itself remains hidden until you finally climb above it. Continuing past the lake, you reach the highest point on the trail, and then drop slightly to Harris Saddle. Ahead are the tops of the peaks lining Hollyford Valley.
This marks the turn-round point of the day hike. But if the weather is good, there are enough hours of daylight, your legs feel strong and the tantalizing glimpse of the valley proves too much, take the side track by Harris Saddle Shelter. Via switchbacks this climbs 780 ft/238 m to the top of Conical Hill and a magnificent view along Hollyford Valley towards Key Summit.
Summary of Times, Distances and Ascents
Full Day Option
If you are in good condition and hiking in summer, with good weather and plenty of daylight, it is possible to hike the entire Routeburn Track in one very full day. Estimates of the length of the track vary – we have seen 33 km and 39 km quoted – but a measurement of the topographic map produced by Infomap indicates a distance closer to 18.75 miles/30km.
Your biggest problem will be transport – although public transport is available at either end, it is unlikely that timings will fit with the necessary early start and late finish. Alternatively, take a more relaxed pace by overnighting at MacKenzie Hut (reservations through the Department of Conservation are essential in summer).
The Track ends at The Divide, on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Te Anau (85 km south of The Divide) has plenty of accommodation and travel information, and is a good place to overnight before returning to Queenstown (168 km, about 2.5 hours by public transport). Beautiful Milford Sound (35 km north of The Divide) is something of a tourist Mecca but only has limited accommodation. It is 307 km (about 5 hours) to Queenstown from Milford Sound, via Te Anau.
|Location: Head of Lake Wakatipu, north-west of Queenstown in south-west South Island.
Directions: Take the 6A through the center of Queenstown, turning left onto Shotover Street and continue on to Lake Esplanade. This road, which becomes Glenorchy Queenstown Road, hugs the north shore of Lake Wakatipu for 50 km to Glenorchy. The trailhead is about 40 minutes drive further on.
Trailhead: End of Routeburn Kinloch Road. From Glenorchy, continue north on Glenorchy Paradise Road for 7 km, branch left and shortly after turn left onto Glenorchy Routeburn Road. Turn right onto Routeburn Kinlock Road in 8.5 km, and continue for 6.5 km to a car park just before the end of the road. Public transport to the trailhead is available from Queenstown – check with the Department of Conservation visitor center for times and prices.
Length: 14.5 miles / 23.2 km
Trail Type: Out and back
Elevation Change: 2,697 ft / 822 m
Duration: 7.5 hours
Trail Condition: Gravel track to Routeburn Flats. Beyond this, the trail continues to be defined but is steeper and more rugged. Red posts help to mark the route beyond Routeburn Falls.
Features: Beech forest, river and valley, cascades, alpine lake and meadows, snow-capped mountains.
Climate: Changeable and subject to heavy rain – weather tends to be most stable in late summer (February/March). In winter or early spring, snow and avalanche risk can make travel beyond Routeburn Falls extremely hazardous.
Accommodation: Motels and holiday park (with cabins, tent and RV sites) in Glenorchy. Plenty of choice in Queenstown for all budgets.
Trail Notes: Trail times posted along the way are conservative – in good conditions and carrying a daypack only, you could reach Harris Saddle in 4 hours or so. Trail and topographic maps available at DoC visitor centers in Queenstown and Glenorchy.
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