New Zealand / Travel

The Routeburn: A Great New Zealand Walk

Our trip with Clare and Tim was very fast, so after Franz Josef we visited Lake Wanaka and Queenstown before embarking on the Routeburn Great Walk. I’ll come back to Wanaka and Queenstown in a later post, as we will be returning there again before we leave New Zealand, so hopefully I can go into more depth. One of the main things Clare wanted to do on her holiday to the South Island was the Routeburn, one of New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks’. It starts just outside Glenorchy in Mount Aspiring National Park and finishes in Fiordland National Park, half an hours drive from Milford Sound. We walked for three days through beautiful alpine scenery, and I’m pleased it was on the itinerary.

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Day 1
The first day was a fairly short walk. In the morning we drove to Glenorchy, after a few hours of grey and miserable weather. At first it wasn’t looking like an inviting prospect, getting soaked in the rain, but by the time we left Queenstown the sky had cleared. Then by the time we arrived in Glenorchy it was bright and cheerful. Lake Wakitipu (the large lake which both Queenstown and Glenorchy sit on) was reflecting the sky and mountains, like a huge rippling mirror, and it looked amazing. We did some stretches on the pier, against the stunning backdrop, and then we headed to the Routeburn start point. The path went gradually uphill, and we walked all together at a steady pace, stopping frequently to admire the native birds and the small, trickling streams. We got caught in some light drizzle several times, but it wasn’t enough to dampen our moods.

The most alarming and memorable part of the first day’s walk was when Tim alerted us to the sound of a falling tree up ahead. We stopped suddenly and heard an almighty crack and thump. Reluctantly we walked on and a few metres up the path, around a bend, was a fairly large tree that had broken right through the trunk. It’s towards the end of the Routeburn season and once winter sets in I think it becomes a little too dangerous to do. The weather in Fiordland can be quite extreme, and avalanches are not uncommon. Luckily, the drizzle and the falling tree were the worst of it, and the next two days brought on brilliantly clear skies and sunshine.

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The days walk finished at the Routeburn Falls Hut, a giant corrugated shed on a forest of stilts run by DOC (Department of Conservation) and situated by a waterfall. We spent the evening in front of the fire, playing cards and reading our books. We went to bed early, wrapped up in all our thermals, sleeping in a large dorm room with the other walkers.

Day 2
The next day’s walking was quite a bit longer than the previous. We breakfasted together and compared how well we had all slept (a bit cold and slightly uncomfortably, was the general consensus), before setting off for the day. Tim was worried that he would hold us all up by walking slower, as he has slightly dodgy knees, so he set off a little earlier than we did. The Routeburn Falls Hut is at the foot of a waterfall, so this was a pretty start to the day. On the way to Lake Mackenzie, which was where we were to sleep, we had some great views of the mountain ranges, and it felt a lot higher up than the day before. Mid way there was an extra bit of walk up Conical Hill, which was an extra hour or so. It was a slippery scramble up steep rock, but the views from the top were well worth it. Grace and Tim decided not to add extra walking onto their day, but Toby Clare and I climbed to the top. The mountains were capped in snow, and looking out into the distance you could see out to the Tasman sea. The 360 degree views were incredible, and the highlight of the walk for me.

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When we arrived at Lake Mackenzie that afternoon, we were all looking forward to a much needed sit down. Another walker who had arrived before us had just been for a dip in the lake, and although I was reluctant, she sold the experience to me, and we went for a ‘nature bath’. The water runs straight down from the mountains, and was absolutely freezing. We hadn’t brought swimming costumes, so we stripped down to undies and went for a very quick dip. Feeling very refreshed and much cleaner, we settled down to another relaxing evening.

Day 3
On the final day of the walk we woke up and breakfasted like the day before. We laughed about Clare getting up in the night and hitting a large Australian man who had been snoring obscenely loudly, keeping the whole dorm awake. We ate watery porridge and bananas, packed up our things and set of for the final third of the walk. The DOC ranger from Mackenzie Lake Hut had told us that we had been incredibly lucky with the weather so far. He said that usually they would get seven days of rain and then one day of sunshine, and we had already had one good day and the forecast for our third day was also good. We had been incredibly lucky for the time of year. The final day of walking was quite short; we walked for two hours above the tree line before a short downhill walk, with increasing signs of civilisation becoming apparent. We finished by descending to a rather anti climatic finish, the walk ending in a car park. We were all pleased to have completed the walk without any major injury (Grace and I fell over a few times). We high-fived and took photos at the finish line, feeling proud of our team!

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