A walker enjoys the view from the Routeburn Track above Lake Harris
View a description of the Routeburn Track during the Great Walks season, distances and estimated walking times, and optional side trips.
What to expect
Great Walk tracks are of a higher standard than most other tracks so are well formed and easy to follow. The tracks are usually quite wide depending on the terrain – some fit two people walking side by side in flat areas.
The surface is usually gravel, rock or dirt, and like any track can get slippery in wet weather.
Most rivers and waterways on these tracks have sturdy bridges. Occasionally there are also small streams that cross the track but are usually easy enough to step across safely. Be aware that in wet weather rivers can rise very quickly and flood the tracks.
There are hill climbs where the track becomes steeper, which is all the better for views.
The Routeburn Track offers extensive views over the Hollyford Valley
The Routeburn Track has two starting and finishing points and may be walked in either direction. One track end is at the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy and 68 km from Queenstown). The other is at The Divide (on the Milford Road, 85 km from Te Anau).
If walking the whole track, most walkers take 3 days/2 nights to complete the track, usually staying at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls huts. The trip can be extended by also staying at the other huts and made into a circuit by linking with the Greenstone and Caples Tracks, which starts and finishes near the Routeburn Shelter.
Places to stay
ou can stay in four comfortable, well-equipped huts (Routeburn Flats Hut, Routeburn Falls Hut, Lake Mackenzie Hut and Lake Howden Hut) and two campsites (Routeburn Flats and Lake Mackenzie).
Camping outside the designated campsites or staying overnight in the shelters is not permitted.
Hut facilities over summer season (November to April)
- Plenty of bunks with mattresses (between 20 to 50) in a communal sleeping layout.
- Water supply, flushing toilets, wash basins with cold running water (but no showers).
- Heating with fuel available, and usually solar lighting in the main area.
- Cooking facilities with fuel, tables and seating (but no cooking utensils).
- A friendly conservation ranger – they like to chat, they know the area well and can tell you about the environment and weather, or help out should an emergency arise.
Reduced hut facilities over winter season (May to October)
- Gas is not provided – you will need to bring your own cooking stove.
- Flush toilets are replaced with pit toilets.
- Running water is turned off inside the huts. Water can be obtained from the outside water tank, if this is frozen, then from the nearest water course or by melting snow.
- There are no conservation rangers based at the huts.
- Beds are on a first come basis only
Great Walk campsites are in scenic locations, and usually near huts. You cannot use the hut facilities, but at each campsite you will find:
- An open cooking shelter.
- Water supply tap.
- Clean toilet.
- A friendly hut warden (from the nearby hut during summer season) who may visit to chat and check campsite tickets.
Toilets are available at huts, campsites and shelters.
A family enjoys a peaceful day walk though beech forest
The Routeburn Track also offers fantastic day walk opportunities for families or those with less time.
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut
1.5–2 hr, 6.5 km
From the car park at the Routeburn shelter, cross a swingbridge to the well formed track that meanders through beautiful beech forest. Once past Sugarloaf Stream, the track is a remnant of the old bridle path built in the 1870s, and climbs directly to Bridal Veil Stream. It then sidles above the Routeburn Gorge.
A second swingbridge takes you back across the Route Burn to open grassed flats. At the marked junction, turn right to Routeburn Flats Hut and camping area, or left to continue to Routeburn Falls Hut.
Routeburn Flats Hut
Routeburn Flats Campsite
Side Trip – North branch of the Route Burn
4–5 hours return
From the Routeburn Flats Hut, cross the unbridged Route Burn and follow the north branch of the river through beech forest and tussock clearings. Good views of Mount Somnus, North Col and Mount Nereus can be found at the head of the valley.
Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut
1–1.5 hr, 2.3 km
This is a steady climb through beech forest crossing two Swing bridges. A recent slip allows excellent views of the valley below. Care should be taken crossing this slip, especially after heavy rain. The Emily Creek Bridge is considered to be the halfway mark to Routeburn Falls Hut.
Routeburn Falls Hut
Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
4.5–6 hr, 11.3 km
The track climbs steadily from Routeburn Falls Hut to the outlet of the river at Lake Harris. Stop occasionally and look behind you for great views of the Routeburn Valley.
A sidle through moraine and above Lake Harris leads to the high point of the track at Harris Saddle/Tarahaka Whakatipu (1,255 m). (Allow 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes for the climb to the saddle.) Keep to the track as vegetation in this sub-alpine area is very fragile. Harris Saddle is located on the boundary between Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. There is a day shelter and toilet located here.
Note: The following sub-alpine section of track is exposed and can be hazardous in adverse weather conditions – being prepared and having the right equipment is vital. Allow 3 to 4 hours to Lake Mackenzie Hut from the Harris Saddle.
From Harris Saddle, the track descends and traverses the exposed Hollyford Valley face – there are excellent views down to the valley below.
Lake Mackenzie is visible below at the end of the traverse, and a series of zigzags descend through bush to Lake Mackenzie Hut. The campsites are located 10 minutes from the hut.
Lake Mackenzie Hut
Lake Mackenzie Campsite
Side Trip – Conical Hill
A short, steep climb from the Harris Saddle up Conical Hill gives superb views of the Hollyford Valley through to Lake McKerrow and beyond to Martins Bay and the Tasman Sea. Allow 1 to 2 hours for the return trip. Be aware that snow and ice can sometimes make this trip hazardous early and late into the Great Walks season.
Mackenzie Hut to Howden Hut
3–4 hr, 8.6 km
The track leaves Mackenzie Hut, crossing a small flat before climbing steeply to the bush line. It then gradually descends past the ‘Orchard’, an open grassy area dotted with ribbon wood trees. A toilet is located just past the Orchard. The track continues on to the magnificent Earland Falls (174 m). An emergency bridge is situated downstream, should the falls be in flood.
The track continues its gradual descent to Lake Howden Hut, situated at the junction of the Routeburn and Greenstone–Caples tracks.
Lake Howden Hut
Lake Howden Hut to The Divide
1–1.5 hr, 3.4 km
The well graded track climbs steadily for about 15 minutes to the Key Summit Track turn-off. From the Key Summit turn-off, the gradual downhill walk is through silver beech forest to The Divide on the Milford Highway. At 532 m, The Divide is the lowest crossing of the Southern Alps in New Zealand. A shelter, car park and toilets are located here.
Side Trip – Key Summit
1–1.5 hour return
This popular walk climbs above the bush line to an alpine wetland and, in good weather, offers magnificent views of the Darran Mountains and the Hollyford Valley.
Stay on the track and boardwalks, as this is a fragile vegetation area.