A Beautiful Alpine Walk in New Zealand
This track takes either three or four days and in many ways is more scenic than the Milford Track. Whilst the Milford Track follows some stunning valleys, the view is rather limited. On the Routeburn Track, much of the route is along the edge of mountain ranges and the views are much more panoramic.
We started at the Glenorchy end of the track and spent the first day doing a short walk to Routeburn Flats Hut. The river was crystal clear and it was easy to see the sand and pebbles on the bottom even tough it was over 3 metres deep in places. It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed the sun and being able to lounbe around on the grass outside the hut, which we had reached by lunchtime. In the afternoon, we took a sidewalk up the North Routeburn Valley to a lookout over Mt Somnus. By the time that we had returned, the weather was closing in and beginning to rain.
It was clear again by morning so we began a trudge up the valley to the Routeburn Falls Hut. The track was well formed and at one place a large slip (landslide) had cleared the forest enough for a spectacular view back along the valley. We reached the hut by lunchtime and spent the afternoon exploring the falls which drop over a series of steep cliffs and onwards to a higher area past the hut where there were a number of little alpine tarns. We had to take special care of the fragile environment here.
On the third day, we climbed to Lake Harris to see a broad panorama of alpine scenery including Lake Harris surrounded by huge glacial outcrops of sandstone with the Serpentine Range in the background. We passed Conical Hill, where the track was still closed because of deep snow, but none-the-less a few of our party climbed it and had a spectacular view as far as the Tasman Sea. From there, the track drops down to the Harris Saddle where we had lunch at the Refuge Shelter. From here, the track sidles along the side of the Humboldt Range through alpine herb fields and tussock grass. Below us we could see the Hollyford Valley and the Darran Mountains on the other side.
By mid afternoon, we began the descent of abut 300 metres down to Mackenzie Hut which is situated in a valley on the side of McKenzie Lake. It was warm enough for some to go for a swim in the lake and for the rest of us to use the facilities for a good wash and clean up before dinner. This was new year’s eve so we celebrated with a nip of scotch and a saw in the new year with a bunch of young kiwis from Wellington.
The final day took us past Ocean Peak which we had seen on the previous day on the track high above McKenzie Hut. We then walked past (under) Earland Falls and on to Lake Howden which was full of walker sheltering from the rain which had settled in over the last two hours. Eventually, we were able to find room on a table and cleaned out our supply of food as was to be our last meal on the track. From here it was a 3 kilometre walk the end of the track at ‘The Saddle’ on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. We only had a short wait for the 3.00 pm bus to Queenstown where we enjoyed a good shower and a fine meal.
Overall, we had a very pleasant 32 kms of scenic walking.