Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

The Routeburn Track in New Zealand, considered to be one of the great hikes of the world, is a 2- to 4-day, 32 km track, linking Mt Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks in the south island. Access to the Routeburn Track is by road, with the starting point at either the Routeburn Shelter or The Divide. The road distance between each end of the track is 350 km. Accommodation is available in the townships of Queenstown, Te Anau and Glenorchy or at Milford Sound / Piopiotahi.

New Zealand hiking

View from Routeburn Track in New Zealand

How to get to the Routeburn Track

There is a 21 hour time difference between the US West Coast and New Zealand during the winter in the Northern hemisphere, so jet lag is minimal (only 3 hours). A non-stop flight from SFO or LAX to Auckland with a quick connection to Queenstown airport makes this a relatively easy trip (See Mapplr travel guide to Queenstown for more information). You can hike this trail on your own, though you will need to reserve a bunk bed in advance in the huts on route and carry your own food (the water near the trail is pure and fit to drink). A more convenient, though costlier option is to sign up with Ultimate Hikes which is the main tour operator in the Milford and Routeburn tracks. Ultimate Hikes also has its own private huts offering hot showers, hearty 3 course meals, beer and wine, heating, drying rooms and warm snug beds. You are paying a premium for not carrying any food and having the comfort of a clean cosy lodge and semi-private rooms.

routeburn track

Itinerary along the Routeburn Track

A typical west to east itinerary would be as follows:

Day 1 – The Divide to Lake Mackenzie 13km, 5-6 hours walking – this day is mostly an graduate uphill climb.

Day 2 – Lake Mackenzie to Routeburn Falls 15km, 5-7 hours – the main hiking day climbing up Harris saddle and descending to the falls.

Day 3 – Routeburn Falls to Routeburn Road 10km, 3-4 hours – a decent walk through the woods.

Independent backpackers can reverse course and start at Routeburn road and head west to conclude at the Divide and from there continue to Milford Sound.

routeburn track

 When to go

Early December to late March are the optimal times. In late November snow may still cover the saddle with a risk of avalances.

new zealand south island

About Arnon Kohavi

Arnon is a tech entrepreneur and worldwide traveler. He writes hotel reviews and travel guides for Mapplr to help people find the best places and itineraries.