Routeburn Track – New Zealand Great Walks

Trail Distance: ~18 miles Elevation Gain: ~3400′
Terrain Rating: Moderate to Easy
Total hiking time: 9 hours
Book/DOC Time: 10.5-13.5 Hours

  • Routeburn Shelter Car Park to Routeburn Flats 1.5 hours [DOC 1.5-2 Hours]
  • Routeburn Flats to Routeburn Falls in 50 minutes [DOC 11.5 hours]
  • Routeburn Falls to Harris Saddle 1.5 hours [DOC 2 Hours]
  • Round trip from Conical Hill to Conical Hill takes 1.25 hours [DOC 1.5-2 Hours]
  • Harris Saddle to Car Park: 3.75 Hours [DOC 4.5-6 Hours]

Trailhead: Routeburn Shelter, or The Divide We chose Routeburn Shelter as our starting point.

One of New Zealand’s most famous Great Walks is the Routeburn Track. This track can be done in two ways: day hike or overnight hike, with the start at The Divide and Routeburn Shelter. Queenstown is approximately 4 hours away from The Divide, while Routeburn Shelter is just an hour away. If you decide to hike the thru-hike, there are many companies that can help you transport. This day hike showed us that it is possible to hike from Routeburn Shelter up to The Divide for an experienced hiker.

Our original plan was to hike overnight and camp at Lake McKenzie. Our graduate school changed our mandatory dates after we had already booked our flights. We had to pay a lot! to change our plans. Routeburn was near the end of our trip so we changed our overnight hike to a longer hike, Routeburn Shelter to The Saddle with optional Conical Hill spur.

On a sunny and bright day in Queenstown, we woke up to head to Routeburn Shelter. We were blessed with good weather considering it had been raining the day before. We started at and parked in the lot. Although we didn’t see any break-ins at the lot, it was important to remember to bring your valuables. We were also instructed by the locals to open any empty glove compartment boxes.

The track begins very gently, crossing several bridges and passing through dense forests. Although we didn’t feel much elevation going up, the track profile shows that you are going up 1,650ft in just 5.5 miles. Routeburn Falls is the final point where you can see the scenery. You can use the toilet and refill your water at Routeburn Flats, or Routeburn Falls. This hike allows you to carry only 1L of water. These huts are more luxurious than the apartments I lived in after college. Bravo New Zealand DOC

The forest ends at Routeburn Falls and the valley becomes a beautiful valley with a stream running through it. There is also a large lake. This area is reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings film and Middle-Earth movie. I highly recommend that you finish the section to the Saddle, even if it’s only a short hike. Arriving at the Saddle in the early hours, we asked the guides if it was worth continuing on or going to Conical Hill. We climbed Conical Hill 1.5 hours and enjoyed a 360-degree view of the valley.

We turned around, and half-jogged back to our carpark. It felt longer to get from Routeburn Falls back to the carpark, as the forest scene didn’t change too much. The hike is relatively short and not too steep, so you’ll be able to keep your feet and joints healthy. While poles were useful for long-distance hikes, you will want to store them away for Conical Hill spur.

Like most New Zealand hiking trails, the terrain is well-maintained and easy to navigate. Weather is the main danger factor, so you will need to make sure that you are properly dressed. For some inspiration, check out my gear list.

  • Osprey 36L Sirrus pack and rain cover
  • Leki Corklite Trekking Poles
  • Salomon X ULTRA MID2 Boots
  • 1.5L water in my MSR Drolite 2L
  • 5 bars + 2 GGUs
  • Lululemon yoga pants
  • Arc’Teryx Beta SL Pant
  • 2 Icebreaker Merino Wool shirts (1 long-sleeve).
  • Mid-layer Icebreaker Merino
  • North Face HyVent 2.5L raincoat
  • Gloves are essential if you plan on carrying poles!
  • Additional clothes to pack: fleece, socks
  • Emergency Gear: Headlamps, First-Aid Kits, Swiss Army Knifes, Emergency Blanket


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