The Routeburn Track in New Zealand is an excellent 2-3 days hike into the mountains and deep mossy forests. Situated in the south-east of New Zealands south islands, the track goes through some beautiful mountain scenery. Just getting there from Queenstown, a 45 minute drive away from the start, is spectacular.

queenstown lake

Lake on the drive to the Routeburn Track.


The Routeburn Track Hike


The beginning of the hike starts with a relaxed 1-2 hour walk through forest, with streams, waterfalls and a fast flowing river running through, to reach the first campsite for the night at Routeburn Flats. Raining slightly just adds to the forest atmosphere, providing a misty scene amongst the mossy interior.

With the fresh water falling down from the mountain tops there is no need to purify water, just drink some of the freshest water you could have straight from the streams.

routeburn track

Reaching the campsite for the night you set up your tent or bivy and look at the view around you. Waterfalls streaming down the side of the mountains and a stream running on the low ground, with clouds flowing through, propelled by the fast winds up high. This is a good place for sleeping the night.

routeburn flats

View from camp.

There is a hut you could stay in but it is much better to camp to get closer to nature. To get even closer to nature you could use a bivy bag instead of a tent with a tarp above if there may be rain. A bivy bag is basically a waterproof, breathable sleeping bag cover, and allows you to sleep out not surrounded by a canvas tent wall, bringing you closer to your environment.

routeburn campsite

My bivy and tarp setup.

Waking to a beautiful blue sky, you warm up in the sun and then start the walk uphill to reach the mountain top. This takes about 2-4 hours, depending on how slow you want to go, and as you go higher up you pass through the tree line and into alpine scenery.

routeburn track

Into the mountains.

There is an alpine lake on the way up, glistening in the midday sun. Unless you happen to be walking up in the middle of rain and clouds of course!

lake on routeburn track

Lake on the way up the Routeburn Track.

Reaching the pass at the top, you get a view across to snow peaked mountains all around. Climbing up the side excursion trail to Conical Hill is worth the while for even better views. Climbing the Conical Hill in autumn can be a little tricky, as a lot of the rocks you have to scramble up are covered in slippery ice. However it is worth it.

conical peak routeburn track

On top of Conical Hill.

It takes again around 2-4 hours to reach the next campsite for the night. This is an easy walk, traversing around the mountain mostly straight without climbing up. The clouds can come and cover the area in a foggy mist, making it impossible to see anything, but adding a great surreal feeling to the mountain.

routeburn track

Clouds cover the trail.

You may be lucky enough to have the company of the Kea. Kea are the only alpine parrot in the world and are very curious and social. It is easy for them to get close to you, but be careful, they like to peck at your belongings!

Watching and listening to the Kea flying in and out of the misty clouds will stay in your memory.

Kea parrot

Kea keeping you company on the Routeburn Track.

The clouds disappear slightly and you can see a lake below, with sheer rock cliffs rising up behind and forest surrounding it.

lake on routeburn track

Lake appears through the clouds.

Then you descend down from the mountain to reach the next campsite at Lake Mackenzie Hut. This is where one of the most unexpected joys of the walk comes in. On the descent you enter a deep mossy forest, it feels like you have entered The Lord of the Rings, it is a magical world all of its own. Truly brilliant and surprising.

mossy forest routeburn track

Mossy forest. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Having reached the campsite you can go and chill down by the lake. Apart from the scenery, the Mackenzie Hut campsite is pretty bad, cramping all the camp spots close to each other. The next day it is around 4-6 hours walking to get to the exit of the track at a place called The Divide. This part of the walk is all in forest, with a few brief moments in the clear to see the views of the mountains around.

routeburn track

Hiking out.

It is on this part of the Routeburn Track that you can see some of the more impressive waterfalls, cascading down the sides of the cliffs. Some of the smaller waterfalls make for great stops to drink some of the mountain water, and devour some nuts and raisins for energy.

waterfall on routeburn track

Small waterfall.

It is the larger waterfalls that send spray flying across the Routeburn Track. Sometimes during heavy rains you will have to take detour trails due to flooding from them.

waterfall routeburn track

You eventually descend from the mountain and forest and back to the modern world, satisfied and feeling slightly fitter.

Hiking the Routeburn Track.

New Zealand is famous for its great walks, and getting out hiking, or tramping as they call it in New Zealand, is one of the best ways to see the nature. You can get to the Routeburn Track either from Queenstown side or Te Anau side. It is possible to walk the trail in either direction. This account was walked from Queenstown side, by Glenorchy.

You can officially camp at three campsites on the trail and three huts. Staying in the huts during peak seasons will cost you around 50 New Zealand dollars a night, and campsites will be around 15 dollars a night. In the off season starting 1st of may, the prices drop dramatically to 15 dollars a night for the huts and 5 dollars for the campsites.

Officially you are not allowed to freedom camp (camp for free) on the trail, but there is one or two possible places where this could be possible. Personally I believe taking your own camping gear and sleeping out is better than staying in the huts.

Either way, if you make it to New Zealands south island, then definitely consider a walk over the Routeburn Track.

Read this post about hiking the Kepler Track which is also in the region.

Get the Lonely Planet New Zealand (Travel Guide) to help plan your trip.






Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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