Two national parks, two iconic valleys, and more stunning views, lakes and waterfalls than you can point a selfie-stick at – the Routeburn is the complete package.
Starting from The Divide off Milford Road, the track sidles around the northern flank of the Livingstone Mountains before reaching the side track to Key Summit, a highlight of the trip.
Few places summon such vast and enthralling views as Key Summit. To the north is the Hollyford Valley, flanked by the Ailsa and Darran mountains. Above the Lake Marian bowl Mt Christina and serrated Mt Crosscut. East is the Greenstone Valley, with the Eglinton sneaking into the south.
The track then continues to Lake Howden Hut, descending through silver beech forest with the trees smothered in moss before reaching the lake and namesake hut.
The track then sidles around the steep sides of the Hollyford Valley, slowly climbing to reach Earland Falls. The 174m-high falls spread on their descent, sending bursts of spray in all directions. Shortly after is a clearing caused by a landslip which offers the first extensive view of the Darran Mountains, with all the major peaks in sight.
On the way to Lake Mackenzie is The Orchard. Aptly named, this clearing is filled with ribbonwood trees which could be mistaken for a Somerset apple orchard. The first views of Lake McKerrow open up at the head of the Hollyford Valley with the spurs of the Skippers Range receding into the distance.
The track descends to Lake Mackenzie and hut, which features spectacular views of the Ocean and Emily peaks.
From the lake, orange waratahs mark the zigzags up the Hollyford Bluffs. At the apex of the spur is a view stretching from the Earl Mountains 50km to the coast at Martins Bay. It includes the impressive glacier-clad Darran Mountains. The section along the Hollyford Bluffs is open and exposed, far above the treeline. If you catch this section on a bad day, the journey to Routeburn Falls Hut will be arduous, and at times you’ll be thankful for the orange marker poles.
The track continues to sidle until reaching Harris Saddle (1255m), the high point of the trip. However, there is an excellent side trip here, climbing higher to Conical Hill (1515m), which features views of the Darran peaks, including Mts Christina, Crosscut, Te Wera, Madeline and Tutoko – Fiordland’s highest at 2723m.
The track then sidles the bowl above Lake Harris through a strange terrain of hummocky rock and tussock. The lake is a hollowed-out cirque, carved by the head of a glacier, which scoured the surrounding headwalls steeply. On the far side of Lake Harris is the Valley of Trolls and its bizarre rock formations. Excellent camping opportunities abound at the head of the valley, after climbing to Lake Wilson.
The track then descends to Routeburn Falls Hut, with views down the Route Burn Valley and out to Mt Earnslaw’s lower slopes.
From the hut, continue down the gently sloping track through beech forest before reaching Routeburn Flats and its namesake hut. From here, the track is relatively flat, heading along the river flats before entering beech forest. The trail follows the strikingly blue Route Burn, before reaching Routeburn Shelter and the end of the trek.