What to expect
Great Walk tracks are of a higher standard than most other tracks so are well formed and easy to follow. The tracks are usually quite wide depending on the terrain – some fit two people walking side by side in flat areas.
The surface is usually gravel, rock or dirt, and like any track can get slippery in wet weather.
Most rivers and waterways on these tracks have sturdy bridges. Occasionally there are also small streams that cross the track but are usually easy enough to step across safely. Be aware that in wet weather rivers can rise very quickly and flood the tracks.
There are hill climbs where the track becomes steeper, which is all the better for views.
Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2018 - 22 October 2018):
Facilities are greatly reduced and there are additional safety hazards to consider.
Walking the track during this time should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well-equipped people. For more information see Walking the Routeburn Track outside the Great Walks season.
Walk the full track. Most walkers take 3 days/2 nights usually staying at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls huts. The trip can be extended by also staying at the other huts and made into a circuit by linking with the Greenstone and Caples Tracks, which starts and finishes near the Routeburn Shelter.
Places to stay
There are 4 huts and 2 campsites along the Routeburn Track, which must be booked in advance during the Great Walks season.
Be aware that huts and campsites can book out many months is advance. Bookings for the coming summer season usually open in February - exact opening dates will be advised on our website closer to the time.
Camping outside the designated campsites or staying overnight in the shelters, even when huts and campsites are fully booked, is not permitted. The track is patrolled by DOC rangers.
In the Great Walks season these include:
- Bunks with mattresses in a communal sleeping layout.
- Water supply, flushing toilets, wash basins with cold running water (but no showers).
- Heating with fuel available, and usually solar lighting in the main area.
- Cooking facilities with fuel, tables and seating (but no cooking utensils).
- A resident DOC ranger can tell you about the environment and weather, or help out should an emergency arise.
Outside the Great Walks season these are reduced:
- Gas is not provided - you will need to bring your own cooking stove.
- Flush toilets are replaced with pit toilets.
- Running water is turned off inside the huts. Water can be obtained from the outside water tank, if this is frozen, then from the nearest water course or by melting snow.
- There are no DOC rangers based at the huts.
- Beds are on a first come, first served basis only
Great Walk campsites are in scenic locations, and usually near huts. You can't use the hut facilities, but at each campsite you'll find:
- An open cooking shelter.
- Water supply tap.
- Clean toilet.
- A friendly hut warden (from the nearby hut during summer season) who may visit to chat and check campsite tickets.
The Routeburn Track has two starting and finishing points and may be walked in either direction. One track end is at the Routeburn Shelter (near Glenorchy and 68 km from Queenstown). The other is at The Divide (on the Milford Road, 85 km from Te Anau).
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut
Time: 1 hr 30 min – 2 hr 30 min
Distance: 7.5 km
The track begins at Routeburn Shelter, gently winding alongside the crystal-clear Route Burn (river). After passing Sugarloaf Stream, you’ll climb to Bridal Veil Waterfall and continue above the gorge. A swing bridge leads to open grassed flats, and the Routeburn Flats Hut and Campsite.
Route Burn on Google Street View
Routeburn Flats Hut
Routeburn Flats Campsite
Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut
Time: 1 – 1 hr 30 min
Distance: 2.3 km
The track climbs steadily through stunning beech forest, providing views of the Humboldt Mountains. End the day at Routeburn Falls Hut, on the edge of the bushline and close to the impressive Routeburn Falls cascade.
Routeburn Falls Hut
Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
Time: 4 hr 30 min – 6 hr
Distance: 11.3 km
Climb steadily up the valley, through wetlands and tussock-covered flats, before sidling along the bluffs above Lake Harris to reach the highest point on the track at Harris Saddle/TarahakaWhakatipu (1,255 m).
The track then descends and traverses along the exposed Hollyford Face, with expansive views over the Darran Mountains. This section of the track is well-known for its impressive array of alpine plants. A steady descent leads to Lake Mackenzie Hut, set beside the enchanting Lake Mackenzie.
Darren Mountains on Google Street View
Lake Mackenzie Hut
Lake Mackenzie Campsite
Side trip: Conical Hill
Time: 1 hr 30 min – 2 hr return
A short, steep climb from the Harris Saddle up Conical Hill gives superb views of the Hollyford Valley through to Lake McKerrow and beyond to Martins Bay and the Tasman Sea. Be aware that snow and ice can sometimes make this trip hazardous early and late into the Great Walks season.
Mackenzie Hut to Howden Hut
Time: 3 – 4 hr
Distance: 8.6 km
Leaving Lake Mackenzie Hut the track crosses a small flat before climbing to the bush line. A gradual descent then leads past the ‘Orchard’, an open grassyarea dotted with ribbonwood trees, to the impressive Earland Falls (174 m). The track continues its descent through beech forest to Lake Howden Hut.
Earland Falls on Google Street View
Lake Howden Hut
Lake Howden Hut to The Divide
Time: 1 –1 hr 30 min
Distance: 3.4 km
The well graded track climbs steadily for about 15 minutes to the Key Summit Track turn-off. From the Key Summit turn-off, the gradual downhill walk is through silver beech forest to The Divide on the Milford Highway. At 532 m, The Divide is the lowest crossing of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.
Side trip: Key Summit
Time: 1 – 1 hr 30 min return
This popular walk climbs above the bushline to an alpine wetland and, in good weather, offers magnificent views of the Darran Mountains and the Hollyford valley. A self-guided alpine nature walk passes a range of native vegetation: beech forest, subalpine shrublands and alpine tarnsand bogs. Birdlife is prolific and tomtits, robins, New Zealand pigeons/kererū and bellbirds/korimako are commonly seen.