New Zealand :: Backpacking the Routeburn Track - Emily Tong

New Zealand :: Backpacking the Routeburn Track

New Zealand, as many probably know from experience or seeing Lord of the Rings, is a very serene place. It is a part of the world that hasn't been impacted quite as much by human greed and the need to keep building things. Instead, New Zealand has really amplified the idea of Eco-Tourism and become a leading example of conservation methods. This love for the country and insistence on protecting its beauty can be seen wonderfully while hiking the Routeburn Track. And if you are a Lord of the Rings lover like me, you will feel like you are hiking the ring to Mordor the entire time!


The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks. These walks are highly maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and travel  through some of the greatest parts of the country. Because of this, it is SUPER popular and reservations have to be made to camp on the trek. 


My husband, Cory, and I decided to go East to West, from Mt. Aspiring National Park to the Fiordlands. We booked transportation from Queenstown to the start and from the Divide back to Queenstown with Kiwi Discovery, which made it easy to not worry about our car while on the trip. 


Day One (Queenstown to Routeburn Flats):


First off, the bus ride to the start was epic. We drove the length of Lake Wakatipu and through Glenorchy with vistas of Mt. Earnslaw (one of the mountains used in Lord of the Rings!).


As soon as we got on the trail we crossed a bridge into paradise! Most of the first day was an easy climb through green forest laced with ferns, birds singing everywhere, and gorgeously clear streams cutting into the mountain side. Once out of the forest we entered what is called Routeburn Flats, an alpine meadow again with glassy rivers winding through. And the best thing is you can run through the meadows without worrying about a thing...no snakes, no ticks (or at least not with Lyme Disease), no deadly spiders...so run, jump, play to your heart's content!


We camped at the Routeburn Flats tent camping area, nestled in the meadows with towering mountains enclosing the valley. Although the camping area was relatively small and cramped with tents within earshot of each other, everyone was incredibly respectful of the space and appreciated the beauty around. Like all of the other Great Walks, the Routeburn Track has Huts available as well, though I personally like waking up, unzipping the tent, and seeing how incredibly lucky I am to have slept in a place like that!

Routeburn Flats


BIRD RUNDOWN

*rare


New Zealand Robin

Tomtit

Kaka

Kea

Australasian Harrier

Paradise Shelduck

Fantail

Rifleman

Rock Wren*

Yellowhead*



ITINERARY


Day One:

Queenstown to the Routeburn Shelter via Kiwi Discovery shuttle

Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Campsite

Day Two:

Routeburn Flats to Lake McKenzie

Day Three: 

Lake McKenzie to The Divide

Kiwi Discovery shuttle from the The Divide back to Queenstown


Day Two (Routeburn Flats to Lake McKenzie):


We knew the second day would be a long day, especially with my photo taking and Cory's bird watching, so we started the day before the sun did. After breakfast we worked our way up to the Routeburn Falls (where another much fancier Hut is located). The climb to the falls is fairly steep, though again it is all very well maintained, allowing for ridiculous views of Routeburn Flats from above. We stopped for an early lunch at the Routeburn Falls, layered up on sunscreen, and continued on towards Harris Saddle. 


The hike from Routeburn Falls to the Harris Saddle is the most majestic, beautiful place I have ever been...and I'm not saying this lightly! These photos don't do the place justice as it is more a feeling of complete relaxation. Again, for the Lord of the Rings fans, it looked as though were traveling through Rohan with the large boulders and rocky mountains intermixed with grassy plains and trickling streams adding to the ambiance. Towards the end of the alpine boulder field we hiked the incline approaching Lake Harris, and believe me, the view is well worth the climb. If that wasn't enough, after crossing Harris Saddle, we were greeted with a jaw-dropping view of a snow-capped mountain range (aka the Misty Mountains). The second half of the day was spent taking endless photos and admiring the Misty Mountains while hiking along the ridge line toward Lake McKenzie.


As Lake McKenzie came into view, we realized we needed to pick up the pace (we got carried away with stops along the way) if we wanted to reach the campsite before sundown. As we descended towards the lake, we entered an incredible dense, mossy forest that felt alive in many ways (we called this one Mirkwood). It looked as though moss was painted onto every bit of the forest floor. We finally made it to the campsite where there were designated platforms for each tent, giving a little more privacy than the previous night. Since this area was by a lake and deep in the forest, the sand flies were a little more of a bother than at Routeburn Flats, but didn't stop us from enjoying everything else.

Routeburn Flats Campsite

Routeburn Flats from Above

Lake Harris

View of Hollyford Valley

Harris Saddle

Lake McKenzie

"Mirkwood" Forest


What not to forget in your Backpack


Waterproof Hiking Boots

Wool Socks

Hiking Poles (if you have bad knees like I do)...I forgot these

Backpack Rain Cover

Binoculars (if you love birding)

Sunscreen and Sun Hat

Picaridin Bug Repellent (for the New Zealand Sandflies) *luckily they weren't bad when we went but I could see them being worse when it rains

Camera Gear for Backpacking



Fuji X-T1 Camera Body

Fuji 18-55 Kit Lens

RRS TVC-24 Tripod 

Peak Design CapturePro Clip

B+W 10 Stop ND Filter

B+W Polarizer

Mountainsmith Packing Cube



Day Three (Lake McKenzie to the Divide):


We again woke up early for our slow pace...especially since the bus taking us back to Queenstown arrived at 3:00pm. Day three had similar Mirkwood forests and gorgeous views of some fairly massive waterfalls. The fog was quite low in the morning, making it difficult to see the valley below but it offered a nice break for our sunburns. The track winds right next to the Earland Falls (also a great day hike if coming from the Divide) a super tall waterfall that leads into a crystal blue swimming hole below. We stopped for lunch and lots of photos before continuing on our way to the Divide. Unfortunately, since we were rushing to catch the bus I didn't have quite as much time to take photos but wanted to since most of the third day tunneled through endless green forest and ferns. 


When we reached the Divide, our Kiwi Discovery bus picked us up, we threw our backpacks underneath and attempted to take a nap on the drive. Though a nap proved difficult as the road leading to Te Anau goes through parts of the Milford Road which again, has endless mountains, streams, and greenery. After a short stop in Te Anau, we continued onto Queenstown, and at that point we had only one thing on our mind...a big fat BURGER. Since the line was too long at the famous Fergburger, we headed over to Devil Burger and had a wonderfully delicious BBQ Pineapple Burger with fries drenched in Curry Sauce! The PERFECT meal after a long gorgeous backpack. 

Lake McKenzie at Dawn

Earland Falls


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