Te Araroa Trail Routeburn Track (Off Trail)
I was up early and out by 7.15am this morning. I decided to get a bus to the Routeburn track for $45, because at least that way I didn’t waste time trying to hitch. The literature tells you that the Routeburn track is a 4 day 3 night adventure. My aim was to walk the entire length today.
As it turned out when I got the bus the road was very quiet, so good decision! We left Queenstown at 8am (on Buckley Transport) and arrived at the Routeburn Track trail head on the Glenorchy side at 9.30am.
My Routeburn Track Times
Looking at the DOC recommend times I still wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way over in a day, but I hadn’t booked any huts or camping with DOC.. which is of course the wrong thing to do. The Routeburn track is a ‘Great walk‘ which means that you must pre-book with DOC as numbers are strictly limited. Not only are numbers limited but the huts and camping are a lot more expensive/better than the usual backcountry huts. Often they are sold out months in advance too.
Anyway, the Routeburn is definitely do-able in a day if you hurry. It’s 32kms and climbs 700m. My times were as follows:
- Glenorchy-side car park to Routeburn Flats hut 9.30 – 11.00
- Routeburn Flats hut – Routeburn Falls hut 11.00 – 11.45
- Routeburn Falls hut – Harris Saddle 11.45 – 1.00
- Harris Saddle – Mackenzie hut 1.20 – 3.20
- Mackenzie hut – Lake Howden hut 3.30 – 5.50
I stayed at the Greenstone Saddle campsite, 20 mins further on from Lake Howden hut hut on the Greenstone track, which was free. There was a toilet and a small stream for water.
A Rainy Day on the Routeburn Track
I really enjoyed the trail but it lightly rained for most of the day and the cloud was very low. It was still pretty warm so I just wore a singlet and shorts but almost everyone else was dressed in full trousers, boots & rain jackets!
The trail started in lovely beech forest for the initial few hours climb, then came into tussock country above the tree line. The path was wide and in excellent condition, like on many of the Great Walks.
Had the clouds not been so low the views would have been spectacular!!
Before the saddle were the most wonderful views of waterfalls, lakes and rivers in the high country. I fleetingly glimpsed huge mountains when the cloud lifted momentarily. Over the Harris saddle it was tussock, and beautiful flora in between huge rock walks and boulders, which looked like a landscaped garden in some parts. I crossed loads of rivers and waterfalls – all bridged – yay!. The path was poled for this section and more rocky/less conditioned track. I couldn’t see anything other than the immediate trail, so I presume I missed some more incredible mountain views.
Harris Saddle to Lake Howden
I chatted to lots of people en route, including some who were following Bruce’s podcasts. I passed a stone memorial dedicated to three people who had lost their lives on the trail – another reminder of how quickly things can turn bad on these alpine routes. Pausing momentarily, I said a few quiet words to those lost.
On the descent to Lake Howden, the trail crosses the bottom of the 174m high Earland waterfalls. I got soaked from the spray, as I crossed the river below. As the trail descended into mossy beech forest I saw lots of birds – mostly tomtits, and teeny tiny wren (the smallest ones no larger than a ping pong ball!). I heard what I thought might have been kea (a native parrot).
Greenstone Saddle Campsite
The Routeburn is an amazing detour option for Te Araroa trail hikers. I would highly recommend it!! But be sure to either be quick.. or book. There are NO wild-camping options. I was very glad to reach the Greenstone Saddle campsite in a day.
In the evening the weather became fine and I enjoyed the mountain views before bed. It was quite a popular spot with 10 other campers. I enjoyed a nice peaceful evening.