Guide to Hiking the Routeburn Track New Zealand

Guide to Hike the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

The Routeburn Track rivals any of the best hikes in New Zealand and does not disappoint. The trail is relatively short but boasts stunning views. The hike begins at the Routeburn Valley, crosses an easy mountain pass at Harris Saddle, and finishes with beautiful views of the Hollyford Valley.

Transportation is tricky and expensive on the Routeburn. Although the track is only 20 miles long, the driving time from the start of the track at the Routeburn car park to the finish at The Divide is just over four hours. 

The hike can be combined with the Greenstone-Caples track, which ends at the Greenstone Valley car park just south of Kinloch. This allows for easier and cheaper transport options back to the Routeburn car park.

Read on to learn all about how to hike the Routeburn Track to help you plan your trip!

Routeburn Trek, New Zealand: Lake Harris
Lake Harris from Conical Hill

Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.

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Guide to Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

Getting There

Located in the Fiordlands on the South Island, access to the Routeburn is near Glenorchy for the Routeburn car park, as well as The Divide on the Milford Sound Highway.

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Best Season to Visit

Routeburn Track, NZ: Lake McKenzie
Descending to Lake McKenzie

The Great Walk season is from October to April. During the season, the huts and campsites require prior bookings. In season, huts have cooking stoves and a resident hut warden. Out of season, huts are first-come-first-serve with discounted rates.

The Routeburn Track hike can be done out of season within the first couple of weeks before and after the season closes depending on the weather. If you want to do the hike during the winter you’ll need to have experience in alpine and snow/ice conditions.

How Many Days to Stay

Routeburn Track, New Zealand: Valley
The Routeburn Valley

Due to its shorter distance, the Routeburn can be done quickly or at a relaxed pace. There are four huts along the hike (which in our opinion is a bit overkill). If you are relatively fit this hike can easily be completed in two days.

There is also the option to add on the Greenstone Caples to make this a longer hike. Here are some recommended options:

One Day

Only for experienced and well-conditioned hikers, it is possible to hike the Routeburn entirely in one day and finish at The Divide. The DOC does not recommend this. However, hiking with a day pack will make this much more manageable.

It is good to start early and give yourself an ample amount of time to finish the hike. We hiked the Routeburn in one day and combined it with the Greenstone-Cables  Track, finishing at the McKellar Hut.

Two or Three Days

Typically, the hike is done in two or three days. For a two-day hike, hike to Lake Mackenzie Hut and finish the next day at The Divide.

For three days, stay at the Routeburn Falls Hut and a second night at the Lake Mackenzie Hut.

Four to Five Days

You can combine the Routeburn with the Greenstone-Caples Track for a longer hike. The Greenstone-Caples is a circuit track that connects with the Routeburn at the Howden Hut.

There is an option to go down the Greenstone Track (mostly valley walk) or the Caples (one scenic mountain pass and then a bush/valley walk), ending at the Greenstone Valley car park. Located just south of Kinloch, it is roughly 19 miles from the Routeburn car park.

For more details on hut locations, distances and maps, check out the DOC website for the Routeburn Track.

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How to Book

Huts and tent camping must be booked ahead during the Great Walk season. Huts book out far in advance during the peak summer season. Campsites cost and huts have different prices for in-season versus out-of-season. It can cost $65 pp in season. Book online for in-season at the DOC’s website.

Booking Transportation

Routeburn Track: Conical Hill
Cloud passing at Conical Hill

The Routeburn starts near Kinloch/Glenorchy and finishes at the Divide, closer to Te Anau. Transportation is required and somewhat of a hassle (and expensive). Another option is to add on the Greenstone-Caples, ending only 19 miles south of the Routeburn start. There are a few transportation options:

Transport to/from The Divide and Routeburn car park: Shuttles do not go directly from The Divide to the Routeburn car park. A transfer is required in Queenstown. Book with Tracknet.

Car Transport: Car transport is available having your car driven from one end of the track to the other end. The cost for car transport is around $300 with Easy Hike or Trackhopper.

Shuttle Greenstone car park to Routeburn car park: Shuttle service is available with Glenorchy Journeys.

Hitchhiking: It is also possible to hitchhike. During the summer and on weekends, it is easy to get from the Greenstone car park to the Routeburn car park. Out of season, there may not be cars on the road making it difficult to hitchhike. Hitchhiking from The Divide back to the Routeburn car park is possible, yet it is a long endeavor that may take multiple days.

Our Experience Hiking the Routeburn

Distance and Elevation Gain

Routeburn Trek, New Zealand: Summit
Key Summit

Hike: Routeburn car park to McKeller Hut on the Greenstone track.
Distance: 25.2 miles / 40.5 kilometers
Elevation: 5,577 feet (1,700m) ascent, 5,069 feet (1,546m) descent
Time: One day (11 hours)

Hike Details

While most people hike the Routeburn in three days, for experienced and fit hikers, it is possible in one or two days. We hiked the full Routeburn in one day to avoid having to book far in advance (and save over $100).

The first few hours were within the forest with a small incline. After the Routeburn Falls Hut, the valley opens with amazing views of Lake Harris. Harris Saddle and the off-shoot hike to Conical Hill are the highlights.

The track to Lake Mackenzie is on the side of the mountain chain overlooking the Hollyford Valley. Lake Mackenzie, a beautiful alpine lake, was another favorite spot. Most of the track from Lake Mackenzie is relatively flat to the Divide.

If connecting with the Greenstone Track, the trail turnoff is at the Howden Hut (turn left). There is a free campsite nearby, the Greenstone Saddle Campsite, or continue an hour and a half to McKeller Hut.

Day Hike Alternative

Routeburn Track: Lake McKenzie
Lake Mackenzie

Routeburn is excellent to visit for day hikes. For a shorter day hike with stunning views (when clear), from The Divide, hike up to Key Summit. It is a two-hour return and comes with amazing views down the Hollyford Valley and to Mount Christina.

For a longer day hike, from the Routeburn car park, you’ll hike to the Harris Saddle Shelter and then return to the Routeburn car park. This is an 8-hour return.

Important Things to Know

  • Water is available at each hut. Water is not filtered and you can filter/boil it for your own precaution; however, hut water is almost always drinkable in New Zealand.
  • During the season, huts have gas stoves for use; however, tent campers cannot use the hut facilities. There are no cooking utensils or cookware for use. Tent campers are not allowed to use hut facilities.
  • Hiking in the winter requires extensive alpine experience with snow/ice equipment.
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That’s it – We hope you enjoy exploring the Routeburn Track!

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