Crossing the snow on the terrace above Lake Harris
Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2020 - 26 October 2020):
- facilities are greatly reduced
- there are additional safety hazards to consider.
Walking the track at this time should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people.
Conditions and risks outside the Great Walks season
- The winter environment in Fiordland is very cold and wet, with snow and ice common in high areas. Deep snow often hides the track markers.
- Daylight hours are short and light is low due to mountain ridges.
- Avalanche-prone bridges across some major water courses are removed.
- DOC does not manage hazards such as flooding or avalanches.
The Routeburn Track has a lot of challenging and complex avalanche terrain. Avalanches are frequent. There are over 32 avalanche paths, some of which may bring avalanche debris to the valley floor and have the potential to cross the Routeburn Track – their start zones cannot be seen from the track.
If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you:
- have checked the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure scale system (ATES) for the area where you want to go
- have the skills for the ATES class you are going into
- have checked what avalanche advisory and alert information is available from the DOC visitor centre nearest the area where you want to go
- take an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and a snow shovel. Know how to use these tools.
Many of the bridges are removed over winter to avoid damage from avalanches and flooding.
Rivers can rise very rapidly. You must be able to judge when it is not safe to cross and be prepared to turn back. If you decide to cross, you must be competent at crossing large, swift, icy cold rivers.
Take all river crossings seriously. Never cross a flooded stream or river. If in doubt, stay out!
Learn about river hazards on the Mountain Safety Council website.
Huts outside the Great Walks season
Fees are charged per person per night, and hut beds are on a first come, first served basis only. All huts require a Serviced Backcountry Hut Ticket, which must be purchased in advance. Alternatively, a Backcountry Hut Pass (valid for 6 or 12 months) may be used. See Fees and bookings.
Hut facilities 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.
- No emergency radio facilities.
- There are no DOC rangers based at the huts although DOC staff do occasional checks on facilities (and hut tickets).
Transport outside the Great Walks season
All transport must be arranged before starting the track. During winter, transport operators require minimum numbers and do not always operate a daily service. Transport arrangements can be affected by bad weather. You must discuss an alternative option with transport operators before you begin your walk.
What to take outside the Great Walks season
You need to be totally self-sufficient. It is essential to have the correct food clothing and equipment. See What to take on your Great Walk in Fiordland.
Outside the Great Walks season, you also need the following equipment:
- personal locator beacon
- mountain radio (optional)
- avalanche beacon
- snow shovel
- avalanche probe
Take responsibility for your own safety - be prepared
Before you go, know the The Outdoor Safety Code – 5 simple rules to help you stay safe:
- Plan your trip
- Tell someone
- Be aware of the weather
- Know your limits
- Take sufficient supplies
Walking the Routeburn Track outside the Great Walks season should only be attempted by fit, experienced and well equipped people. Navigation, river crossing, and alpine skills are essential for your survival. Visit or contact the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre for conditions and weather before your trip.
Find out more about preparing for your trip to Fiordland.