A few weeks ago I had my first experience on one of New Zealand’s great walks. To get a taste of tramping I walked to the first hut on the Glenorchy side of the Routeburn Track. The scenery was amazing, sleeping in the hut an experience, and it left me longing for more. On my way to Milford Sound I arrived at the other side of the Routeburn track and decided to do a day walk and explore it further.
I arrived on a sunny, yet chilly day and set off from The Divide car park. There were many cars here and I came across several trampers on the way, some doing the full track, some day walkers like me. I remembered the other side being quite tough and steep in some parts and was surprised to learn that this side was easier on me. Perhaps it was the lighter daypack, but the walk to the Key Summit seemed to go very fast.
The first part brought me through forest, much like on the other side of the tramp. There is a good path that leads you zigzagging up the mountain. Soon, there’s a two-way split where you can choose to go to Key Summit or the Lake Howden hut. Since I had plenty of time, I opted to do both. The road to the hut goes down into the valley until you reach Lake Howden. It looked very inviting to go in for a swim, but then I remembered it was winter.
The lake was nice, but the Key Summit is why you want to walk this track. At the top is a nature walk, guided by a laminated leaflet you can find in a small box at the start. it explains about the area and the flora. From Key summit you have a very good view over the surrounding mountains. There are a few ponds, that were frozen. Here and there you could see some bits of snow, but most had already melted.
A short side track led to a view of Lake Marian, which I wanted to walk to the next day. At first I found it hard to find, but another tramper pointed out there was actually a lake hidden in the shade. From here I thought you’d be able to see the valley and mountains on the other side, but shrub made this impossible. A minor letdown. On a sunny day, Key Summit is a good place for a picnic, however basic. I enjoyed my lunch on top, made my way down, and still had time to enjoy some of the other attractions the Milford Road has to offer.
I’ve seen a big part of the Routeburn track now, but if I would have to make you a recommendation, I’d say do the whole thing if you can. I sure wish I did. Although, doing these shorter walks is a good option since you don’t have to worry about transportation at the other side of the track. The Routeburn is not a circuit and this can make walking the whole track a bit tricky, unless you’d like to do it twice of course. You could also invest in one of the expensive transportation packages or hitchhike.