I often wonder how an Iowa born and bred boy like myself could develop such a passion for the mountains. Needless to say, snow-capped peaks aren’t a common sight anywhere in the midwest, and this is certainly true in my homestate of Iowa.Yet after two years of living in a mountain-town on New Zealand’s South Island, I’ve developed a love for the hills – a passion for exploring, climbing and simply getting amongst the New Zealand backcountry. With literally dozens of tramping tracks and mountain bike trails in the very close vicinity to my home, it’s an easy addiction to fulfill.
I enjoy the quiet solitude that comes from walking through the bush, climbing up mountains or pedaling my bike. It’s times like this that allow me to decompress, relax and reflect on life.
Last weekend, I was in definite need of some of this relaxation and decided to spend a day walking and running in the mountains. I was in need of the mountain cocktail – crisp and fresh air, sun, sweeping views and a bit of exercise. I found it on the Routeburn Track.
The Routeburn Track is a “Great Walk” – one of nine multi-day tramping trails scattered about New Zealand. It’s arguably one of the most popular Great Walks in New Zealand and offers a fantastic combination of native bush, towering mountains and alpine lakes. At 32 kms, most trampers choose to tackle this over two or three nights. Given its close proximity to Queenstown, it’s also an excellent choice for a day walk. From Queenstown to the trail head, it’s about a 90 minute drive – while you could get there slightly quicker, the drive warrants no short of a dozen photo-stops. Leaving Queenstown, you’ll follow Lake Wakatipu all the way to Glenorchy, some 45 minutes away. With views like this – it’s not a trip you’ll want to rush.
After arriving at the Routeburn Shelter and the trail head, you have a 1.5 – 2.5 hour walk to the first hut on the Routeburn Track – the Routeburn Flats Hut. The majority of this walk is through the bush – in the winter, this is almost entirely in the shade and the result is ubiquitous permafrost and incredibly fresh and crisp air.
Glimpses of Snow-Capped Peaks
On the way to the Routeburn Flats Hut, the track meanders its way through native beech forest. It gradually undulates with few hills for about 7kms.
It was incredibly still and peacefully quiet with fresh snow on and around the track. Perfect snow-flakes.
As you near the Routeburn Flats Hut, you sense getting closer and closer to the sunlight with more snow-capped peaks towering above you.
The Routeburn Flats Hut is the first hut you’ll come to. Huts in the New Zealand backcountry run from incredibly well-kept, clean and comfortable to various stages of disrepair. With a bunkroom, a kitchen and a sitting room with a wood-burner, the Flats Hut is a pretty cozy spot to spend the night. And the view isn’t bad either…
A view down the Routeburn Valley…
Past the Routeburn Flats Hut, the trail gets significantly steeper for about an hour as you climb through the bush and up towards the Routeburn Falls Hut. Midway along, you reach a point where a slip (i.e rock/land slide) has cleared the trees resulting in an epic view of the Humbolts Mountain Range.
It’s an idyllic spot, and a fantastic place to sit back in the sun and take in the awesomeness of the South Island’s Southern Alps.
The Routeburn Falls Hut sits about 20 minutes further on. It’s a large hut that is an incredibly busy place in the summer months. In the winter, it’s another peaceful place to reflect on the views.
Over the winter months, it’s dangerous to go too far past the Routeburn Falls Hut. From here, it’s an alpine pass over the Harris Saddle and is known for frequent avalanches. I opted to go 15 or so minutes past the hut to the Routeburn Falls.
From here, another fantastic view back towards the Humbolts and down the Routeburn Valley…
This day walk on the Routeburn Track took me just about four hours – yet this included me jogging about 50% of the time. If you were only walking, you’d want to allow 7 – 8 hours. Have you found the perfect mountain cocktail in New Zealand? Let us know in the comments section below. Interested in more walking or hiking opportunities in New Zealand? Check out these other NZ hiking experiences: