Te Araroa Trail Day 103. Queenstown 2711kms – Routeburn track – Off Trail

Te Araroa Trail Day 103 - Routeburn Track

I was up early and out by 7.15am this morning. I decided to get a bus to the Routeburn trail head for $45, because at least that way I didn’t waste time trying to hitch, and I hoped I could get most of the trail done today. As it turned out when I got the bus the road was very quiet, so good decision! The bus left Queenstown at 8am (Buckley Transport) and arrived at the Routeburn Track trail head on the Glenorchy side at 9.30am.

Te Araroa Trail Day 103 - A beautiful start to the Routeburn Track
Te Araroa Trail Day 103 – A beautiful start to the Routeburn Track

Looking at the DOC recommend times (they recommend taking 3 days for the trail) 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.. naughty girl.

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 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 Lake Howden campsite, 20 mins away from the hut on the Greenstone track, which was free. There was a toilet and a small stream for water. If I wasn’t doing Te Araroa trail I would definitely suggest doing the Routeburn track the other way, from ‘the divide’ to Glenorchy. The views coming down from the saddle would be amazing.

Te Araroa Trail Day 103 - Boardwalk provided
Te Araroa Trail Day 103 – Boardwalk provided 😉

I really enjoyed the trail but it lightly rained for most of the day. 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 flat and wide.

Te Araroa Trail Day 103 - Routeburn Track
Te Araroa Trail Day 103 – Routeburn Track

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 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 gravel track. I couldn’t see anything other than the immediate trail, so I presume I missed some more amazing mountain views.

Te Araroa Trail Day 103 - Routeburn Track
Te Araroa Trail Day 103 – Routeburn Track

I chatted to lots of people en route, including some who were following Bruce’s podcasts. I passed a stone memorial dedicated to 3 people who had lost their lives on the trail – another reminder of how quickly things can turn bad on these alpine routes. I paused and 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), but I’m not sure you get them in these parts.

Te Araroa Trail Day 103 - Lake Howden campsite 30 mins from the DOC hut
Te Araroa Trail Day 103 – Lake Howden campsite 30 mins from the DOC hut

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, as there are no free-camp options. I was glad to reach the Lake Howden camping area. The weather became fine & I enjoyed the mountain views before bed. It was quite a popular spot with maybe 10 other tents. I enjoyed a nice quiet evening.

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