I’ve only been in New Zealand for about 4 weeks, and yet I’ve met plenty of people who claim the Routeburn Track is the prettiest of the country. This walk usually takes three days, but I set out on a two-day walk to see if all those comments were actually true.
From Queenstown it took about an hour to drive to the Routeburn shelter, the start of the Routeburn Track. From the turnoff at the main road, the road becomes less and less easy, and gets more and more potholes. I managed to dodge most of them and together with Lisa, a girl I’d met in a hostel, I set off. The trail is well-marked and it’s obvious which way to go since it’s a path of grey stones in between the trees.
The first hour and a half, we walked through a forest, a pretty, blue river on our side. We crossed it several times on a range of wobbly swing bridges. The magic of this forest is all the moss that grows on literally everything. Tree trunks and stones turn all shades of green. And then there is this grey path. A helicopter was flying around, probably helping with the track maintenance.
After the Routeburn Flats hut, and after we’d told ourselves the path wasn’t steep at all and quite easy to walk on, the road suddenly started going up steeper slopes. The path became rockier, with some natural steps. I admit this is where I started to doubt the whole endeavor. Panting I continued, until after an hour of steady climbing, Lisa yelled we’d reached the hut. I totally did not see that coming. It was 11 AM and finally the sun beat the clouds, revealing a view over the valley from the deck of the hut.
From May the winter season starts. Huts are often unmanned, water taps are closed, toilets limited to one ‘winter toilet’ and the number of walkers reduces significantly. On our way up we only saw a few people coming down. The hut consisted of a huge building, which was not meant for us, with sofas and all the luxuries one could hope for. This was the lodge, used by hikers who put down a fortune for a guided trip. Next to it was the somewhat smaller building for the poorer people. There were two big dorms with 24 bunks each and a separate kitchen building.
We claimed our beds, dropped our bags and set out with some water and snacks. Our goal was to reach the Harris Saddle and walk back before sunset. So we continued ascending. We passed some waterfalls and entered Lord of the Rings country. It was a beautiful green plain, with as a surprise a gorgeous, blue lake in the distance. Instead of going to the lake, the path went up the hill, along a ledge with many rocky steps. In some parts, the steps had transformed into a small waterfall.
It was worth every step. The plain was simply gorgeous, the mountains in the background impressive and at Harris Saddle you could see a different mountain range. As we walked back to the hut, the clouds came back. The walk back was mostly downhill and although I was thankful for that, it was tricky. The stones were slippery and you could easily twist your ankle.
After a beautiful walk we came back to a hut with more people. Some boys were preparing a fire in the stove. People were gathering around tables, setting up their cooking equipment. The sunset looked pretty from our heated kitchen. My prepared pasta tasted like a gourmet meal. Outside it was getting cold and I was happy I dragged my fleece blanket along with my sleeping bag. At night it proved worth it. The hike was tough, but beautiful. I enjoyed talking to the other hikers, listening to their experiences. I am very keen to see some more of the great walks.