We kicked off our South Island Trip with a plan to do the Routeburn Track with Jordan’s parents, Jeanette and Russell. They did great on our weekend doing the ULTIMATE Tongariro Alpine Crossing so they were up for the challenge to tackle their first official Great Walk and our seventh of nine!

Known for its glistening alpine lakes and stunning mountain views we heard this was one of the BEST of the nine Great Walks. What makes this track unique is that it runs through two national parks, crossing New Zealand’s Southern Alps, passing through Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park, offering a diversity of landscapes.

Stunning Lake Harris along the Routeburn Track Great Walk

We flew out of Wellington on a sunny morning towards Queenstown, taking in the sunrise from the airplane with Air New Zealand. We were SOOOO excited to get back to the South Island as it had been nearly 5 months since we last explored this area during our 6 week journey when we first landed.

Morning flight into Queenstown

Jeanette & Russell met us in Queenstown and we all decided the best way to fuel up before a big tramp was with a famous Queenstown FERGBURGER! Renowned for their delicious juicy burgers, we just HAD to get one – even if it was only 10:30am in the morning 😛

Fuelling up with a delicious FergBurger

We jumped on the shuttle towards the start of the Routeburn Track with a quick stop at Lake Wakatipu just outside Queenstown. I love the color of the lakes down here – they all have that beautiful turquoise hue.

Beautiful Lake Wakatipu

It was nearly 2pm before we got onto the track so we were thankful the first day was a fairly short one. The start of the track took us through the native New Zealand beech-forest valley’s along fast flowing glacier rivers with a slight steady incline towards the mountains.

Jeanette and I ready to tackle the Routeburn Track

About an hour into the hike we made a quick pit stop by one of the accessible glacier rivers to fill up our water bottles with fresh cold glacier water – best tasting water in the world!

Green glacier rivers flowing along the track

Back on the track we made it to the turn off for the Routeburn Flats Hut, but ventured up the steep hill towards our hut at Routeburn Falls. A good hour’s climb straight up, it definitely got the heart pumping at the end of the day – but it was worth it for the view!

View of the Routeburn Flats valley and Humboldt Mountains

As the hut came into view we were amazed at the size….until we realized that was the private hut for the guided walkers 😛 However our hut was still incredible with its cliff hanging balcony with a stunning view of the Humboldt Mountains and valley below.

Routeburn Falls Hut

We grabbed a bunk, dropped our bags and took off to explore the area. The sound of the Routeburn Falls behind the hut drew us in and we were astounded by the series of cascading waterfalls flowing down from the mountain.

Stunning cascading Routeburn Falls
Routeburn Falls

We decided to run back for a quite bite, grab our bag of wine and head down to the waterfalls to enjoy some vino at sunset. This has become a new tradition as we did the same when we stayed at the Oturere Hut along Tongariro.

Enjoying some wine by the waterfalls
It was a busy hut, but filled with so many friendly people. We met an 80 year old man who was a marathon runner in his day, who was tackling his first Great Walk – and doing it all by himself! Wow I hope I’m able to do the same when I’m his age!
Jordan enjoying some soup inside the Routeburn Falls Hut

As the sunset, the curious Keas came out to play. As Jeanette was stalking one trying to take a photo, little did she know there were two others behind her, stalking her! Funny birds those Keas.

Kea flight at sunset

As usual we were up early to get on the track, but were surprised that the rest of the hut wasn’t moving despite it being a respectable 6:30am. Jordan even got ‘yelled’ at by one girl for being too loud! The only other people that was up was another Canadian couple Matt & Meg. As soon as I heard them talking my ears picked up on their Canadian accent and we soon realized we had mutual friends Lindsay & Scott from London, Ontario! Such a small world! They were heading out of the track so we said our goodbyes as we took off up the mountain.

Heading up the valley towards the peak

The beginning of the track was laid in the wetlands and tussock-covered flat with jagged mountains on all sides. It reminded me of the drive towards Golden in BC’s Rocky Mountains near the range locally known as ‘Castle Rock’ along the highway.

Early morning along the Routeburn Track

As we climbed a little higher we got a glimpse of a massive dark blue lake at the top of the mountain that was feeding the Routeburn Falls below – Lake Harris. On the hot morning it looked so tempting to jump into! This was a perfect spot for a morning snack so we took off our packs and enjoyed the view.

We decided to pull out our Great Walks t-shirts we won in a photo contest on Facebook so we threw them on for a photo on the beautiful sunny morning! A few more trampers stopped to take in the view and one girl, Chantelle, recognized our t-shirts as she works at the Department of Conservation (DOC). They were a friendly bunch and we ended up chatting with them the rest of the trip.

Sporting our Great Walks T-shirts along our Great Walk #7

As we rounded the corner just past the lake, the Harris Saddle came into view giving you a spectacular view of the Hollyford Valley and Fiordland mountains. With the Harris Saddle Shelter in site, we made our way down to drop our packs before heading up Conical Hill for a quick side trip.

Taking in the view of Hollyford Valley on our way up Conical Hill

A 45min climb, it was well worth it for the amazing views. The first vantage point provided another view of the giant blue glacier Lake Harris and valley below.

Beautiful Lake Harris

The last climb through the rock face up to Conical Hill peak gave 360 degree views of all the Fiordland mountains and Hollyford Valley below – even all the way out to the Tasman Sea. We hung out at the top enjoying the view before heading back down the mountain.

Panoramic view atop Conical Hill
Enjoying the beautiful view

After a quick lunch back at the shelter, we headed off towards the next hut, traversing along the exposed Hollyford face with stunning views of the Darran Mountains – this section reminded me a lot of the Kepler Track (my favorite Great Walk so far but this was definitely close!)

Tracing the ridgeline of the Hollyford face

As we reached the last peak, the Lake MacKenzie Hut came into view in the valley below next to the beautiful large green lake. With the hot sun beating down on us, we couldn’t wait to jump in it to cool down. Unfortunately the track made a very long and windy path towards the hut so it was taunting us the entire way down the mountain and into the jungle below.

Lake MacKenzie

We quickly grabbed a bunk, changed into our swim suits and headed towards the water. Jordan lead us to a private section of the lake just a quick walk through the bush that he spotted from above. The glacier water was FREEZING but it was sooo refreshing after a long hot 8hr day – and the view was pretty great too!

Jordan enjoying a dip in the cool glacier Lake MacKenzie

Just as Jordan was putting on his boots, I just had to take a snapshot as he looked like a mountaineer model with his adventure hat on and camera in hand – looking good babe!

Jordan modelling his Icebreaker boxers

Back at the hut we enjoyed another great freeze-dried dinner while we chatted with a lovely American family, the local kiwi ladies and the 80 year old man Norman who survived his long hot day in the sun. I snuck off to bed early while the rest hung around for a talk with the hut warden where he shared stories and history of the area.

Lake MacKenzie Hut

Up early again to catch the first shuttle, we ate breakfast in the dark and were on the track at first light. The valley looked quite different than the day before as the fog as rolled in, shielding the view of the mountains above. It was evident we had crossed into the Fiordland National Park as the terrain reminded me of the Milford Track.

Hiking through the green Fiordland forest

Although it was cloudy, as we rounded a corner we could hear the rushing of waterfalls in the distance, and just as we looked up the clouds parted for a moment, giving us a glimpse of the magnificent mountains surrounding us.

Catching a glimpse of the mountains surrounding us

As we continued down the path we crossed several bridges with waterfalls flowing down from the mountains above. They were magical in the morning mist.

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One of the many beautiful flowing waterfalls along the track

The most incredible one was the 174m Earland Falls cascading down from the heavens above. You felt dwarfed by it as you walked by the giant boulders along the waters edge.

Admiring the magnificent Earland Falls

After a quick bite at the Lake Howden Hut, we decided to skip the last detour to Key Summit due to the low hanging clouds and made our way down the easy path to the carpark. Happy to see the finish we relaxed on the benches as we waited for the shuttle back to Te Anau. We lucked out with amazing weather yet again and were very proud of Jeanette and Russell for tackling the Routeburn track with us!


Check out Episode 30 – Routeburn Track