Routeburn Track New Zealand
New Zealand,  We12hike

Hiking the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

The Routeburn Track is praised as one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, multi-day hike in New Zealand. I cannot confirm whether it is actually the most beautiful, but like the Milford Track it is a varied and not too difficult trek in the deep south of the South Island. I have now walked the Routeburn Track three times during my various visits to New Zealand. Twice in (semi) good weather and once in the pouring rain. In this article I will tell you everything you want to know about one of my favorite Great Walks of New Zealand.

Note this post as first published in 2014 and updated in 2023 after hiking the Routeburn Track for the third time.

Routeburn Track blog
Start of the Routeburn Track

About the Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is a three-day hike from The Routeburn Shelter to The Divide and takes you from Mount Aspiring National Park to Fiordland National Park. It is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand – a group of nine walks maintained by the Department of Conservation. The trails are well maintained and the walks are never really difficult. You can only spend the night in huts or campsites along the way, which must be booked in advance.

The base for your Routeburn Track adventure is lively Queenstown, also known as the Adventure Capital of New Zealand. Here you can make the final preparations for your trek and of course visit the Department of Conservation office to collect your booking confirmation. This is necessary and they can also give you the latest information about trail conditions here. For example, the first time I heard that there was still snow on parts of the track (mid-December!) and the more recent time that extremely bad weather was coming (so: extra protection against the rain).

The drive from Queenstown to The Routeburn Shelter takes about an hour and a half and takes you along the shores of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy and on to the Routeburn Shelter. Here you can do a final gear check, read more about the track on the information panels and start your adventure on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.  

Harris Shelter
Harris Shelter

Overnights in Queenstown before and after your trek

Once you have made reservations for your trek, it’s to immediately book your overnight accommodation before and after your hike on the Routeburn Track, since Queenstown is very popular and expensive. You can often leave your luggage at your accommodation (sometimes for a small fee). In terms of camping, I prefer to be on the Queenstown Top 10 (a bit of a drive from the center) and my favorite hostel in Queenstown is the Haka Lodge. You can find other Queenstown accommodation options here.

Day 1. Routeburn Shelter – Routeburn Falls Hut (4 hours)

The first part of the track is relatively easy, whether it is good or rainy weather. The first two hours take you along a well-formed and gently ascending path to the Routeburn Flats. The Routeburn River has a beautiful emerald color when it is dry weather and wild and milky during the rainy days. You will probably also encounter many day hikers on this part of the route, so it’s sometimes quite busy.

The Routeburn Flats is a wide valley with a hut at the end: the Routeburn Flats Hut. This is a great alternative when the Routeburn Falls Hut is fully booked. It’s a good place for a lunch break and to take off the backpack for a little while. I camped here in 2022 as there is no camping option at the next hut (Routeburn Falls).

From the Routeburn Flats Hut the trail rises steadily through a forest with occasional views of the Flats. After a good hour and a half of ascent you reach the Routeburn Falls Hut. When the weather is nice it’s a beautiful area, when it rains there is little to see.

Routeburn Shelter
Routeburn Shelter
The Routeburn River
The Routeburn River
At the Routeburn Flats
At the Routeburn Flats

Day 2. Routeburn Falls Hut – Lake Mackenzie Hut (6 hours)

Day two of the track is the most beautiful one. The first and last time I had sunny weather and I walked through the alpine meadows with a continuous smile on my face. The second time the path was swept away by the water and it was a lot less pleasant to walk here, because there is no shelter from the wind and rain. In bad weather, the alpine part of the route can even become downright dangerous.

From Routeburn Falls Hut the trail climbs steadily to the Harris Saddle. Just before the ridge you arrive at Lake Harris, the beautiful mountain lake that you can see in the cover photo of this article. After crossing the mountain pass, you leave Mount Aspiring National Park and enter Fiordland National Park: the wettest region in New Zealand. In good weather you have a view of the Darran Mountains on the other side of the valley. The shelter at the top is great for a lunch break or a snack.

The trail between the shelter and the descent to Lake Mackenzie is not too difficult, but it can be slippery in wet weather. The trail is usually wide, but sometimes requires some scrambling over rocks. The view of the Hollyford Valley below you is simply beautiful. On clear days you can see Mount Tūtoko in the distance, the highest mountain in Fiordland National Park.

Routeburn Flats from the Routeburn Falls Hut
Routeburn Flats from the Routeburn Falls Hut
Routeburn Falls
Routeburn Falls
Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track
Lake Harris

Day 3: Lake Mackenzie – The Divide (5 hours)

This is the last day on the Routeburn Track. Some walkers continue from here along the Caples and Greenstone Tracks, but the regular trail goes down to The Divide where the shuttle bus will pick you up. From here you can return to Queenstown or opt for a day excursion to Milford Sound, this bus also stops at The Divide. In the latter case, you have to get up in the dark to get to The Divide on time, so you cover the first part of the journey in the twilight.

The first part of today’s walk takes you through a dense forest. The highlight of the route is are the Earland Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in New Zealand. Shortly afterwards you arrive at Lake Howden. Until a few years ago there was a DOC hut here, but it was swept away by a landslide during bad weather. From here it is another hour and a half walk to The Divide. Optionally you can do the Key Summit track, a beautiful tour through alpine terrain with views of Lake Marian. Highly recommended if you have enough time! At The Divide there is a toilet, running water and you can sit under cover until the bus arrives.

Mackenzie Hut, New Zealand
Mackenzie Hut in New Zealand
Lake Mackenzie on the Routeburn Track
Lake Mackenzie
The Earland Falls
The Earland Falls

Practical information about the Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is one of nine Great Walks managed by DOC and is the most popular multi-day hike in New Zealand after the Milford Track. Here are some practical tips to take into account in preparation for your trek.

  • Reservations are mandatory, both for the huts and the campsites. During the high season (Dec-Feb) they are often fully booked months in advance. So book your overnight stay as early as possible via the Department of Conservation website. Campsites can often be booked last minute.
  • The Routeburn Track is an alpine hike and should not be underestimated. I walked it the first time in good weather, which made the trip relatively easy. If it rains it will be a completely different story. Good footwear and rain gear are a must, Fiordland National Park is the wettest place in New Zealand and the chance of rain is greater than that of good weather.
  • There are no food and/or drinks available in the huts, you must bring all this of with you. The hut only has gas stoves for cooking, but if the hut is full you may sometimes have to wait a very long time. Below you will find my detailed packing list.
  • You can of course also hike the route the other way around, but I thought from east to west was the best choice, especially because of the magnificent views on day 2.
  • You should also bring your own sleeping bag. The huts are not heated, so my winter sleeping bag was certainly a nice option. There are no showers, but there is running water that needs to be boiled or filtered.
  • There is no mobile coverage on the Routeburn Track, but from this year a 4G mast has been installed at The Divide, at the end of the walking route. There is no coverage on the rest of Milford Road.
  • If the Routeburn Track is fully booked you have a number of alternatives, including the Kepler Track (also a Great Walk) or the quieter Greenstone Caples Track. Both are also very worthwhile.
Milford Sound
On the Milford Cruise after the Routeburn Track

Camping on the Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand where you can also pitch a tent instead of staying in the huts. This is a lot cheaper than spending the night in the huts and the camping spots can often be booked fairly shortly before departure. You will need to carry a tent, sleeping mat and your own cooking equipment with you as extra luggage. If you are camping (reservations are of course also required), the schedule will be as follows:

Day 1: Routeburn Shelter – Routeburn Flats Campsite
Day 2: Routeburn Flats Campsite – Lake Mackenzie Campsite
Day 3: Lake Mackenzie Campsite – The Divide

When you are camping, you are not allowed to use the hut’s facilities. All campsites have a dry toilet, running water (but filter!) and a shelter where you can cook indoors.

Camping at the Routeburn Flats
Kamperen bij de Routeburn Flats

Great Walks of New Zealand packing list

Below you will find my packing list for the Great Walks of New Zealand. I have done all of them over the past decade and below is my personal selection of items that you should carry:

  • A 35-50 liter backpack, I have the Osprey Aura AG 50.
  • A sleeping bag for the huts, I have this one.
  • A liner if you wish, I carry a silk one that almost weighs nothing but adds warmth.
  • An inflatable pillow.
  • Cooking gear. I brought my own stove (to avoid waiting) but stoves and gas are at the huts.
  • A lightweight mug, pocket knife, spork and pan.
  • Dry bags for my clothes and valuables.
  • Water filter. I have the Sawyer Squeeze.
  • Food and at least two liters of water per day.
  • A powerbank.
  • My Kobo Clara for evening reading.
  • Headlight.
  • Quick dry towel.
  • Clothes: hiking shoes (I hiked on the HOKA Challenger), hiking pants, a woolen shirt, long johns, socks, underwear, hat, mittens, a buff.
  • Raingear: I have a Fjällräven rain jacket plus a rainpants.
  • Hut shoes, I usually bring my Crocs.
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses.
  • Emergency blanket.
  • Ziplocks for waste.
  • Toilet paper.
  • Garmin inReach Mini 2 (there is no mobile coverage on most of the track)
  • Insect repellent and a Bite Away.
View over the Hollyford Valley on the Routeburn Track
View over the Hollyford Valley

Routeburn Track transport options

There are several companies that manage the Routeburn Track transport. Due to the pandemic, there are major changes going on in New Zealand at the moment and the offer is constantly changing. I recently booked my transport via Info & Track.


I hope you found this article about the Routeburn Track useful. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or add ons! If you wish to continue reading, make sure to check the following posts:

Alternatively, check my New Zealand page which has more than 50 blogs about active travel in New Zealand.

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  • Murray Clark

    The Routeburn Track is one of my favourite tracks in New Zealand, and I have tramped twelve of the major tracks in the South Island, and many more in the North Island. Being from New Zealand I am a little biased, but for a small country we do have some amazing scenery.

    • anto

      Hi Murray, thanks for visiting. Am jealous of all your trampings, we’d love to do the other Great Walks one day, too. And I can just say you are 100% right, New Zealand is a truly amazing country with outstanding scenery!

  • Stephanie

    Hello!! Thank you for your trip report. We are planning this trek but wondering if November might be too early? When did you hike this trail?

    Thank you,

    • anto

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for visiting our site! We hiked this trail early December. I would say November is not too early, depending on when you plan to go… the reason they almost closed the track was because there was avalanche danger, I don’t believe it had to do with snow being actually on the trail (the danger came from above, as there was a loose chunk of snow on a higher ridge). If you have enough time, I’d recommend going to visit the DOC office in Queenstown as they will be able to provide you with more information about the situation. But I’d definitely go for it in November. Let me know if you need any more help!

      cheers, Antonette

  • mark

    The scenery always gets me with New Zealand it looks amazing. You can see why they make fantasy movies in this country for sure. We live in Australia and are yet to get their but its on the cards

  • Sophia

    Looks like an amazing hike, I lived in Queenstown for 3 months but somehow missed out on this. All the more reason to return!

  • anna

    Great photos! New Zealand is an adventure mecca that my partner and I would love to visit! Will definitely keep this train in mind!

  • kami

    every time when I read your posts from New Zealand I want to pack my backpack and go there right away! What a stunning place and hike!!! This year I hope to visit mountains more often to prepare myself for eventually hiking in NZ in couple of years! Because of you it’s so high on my bucket list!!

  • Kathrin

    I’m not much of a hiker, however, your pictures and your article just look/sound amazing! Good to know that you need to book the huts in advance. I’d love to travel to New Zealand one day (and maybe I should start hiking)! Are there any hiking trails for beginners you’d recommend?

    • anto

      I hope you can hike in NZ one day! I’d recommend hiking in Nelson Lakes NP or shorter hikes in Tongariro if you’re a beginner, they are easily accessible and not too hard!

  • Mansoureh

    Hiking is one the activities I want to do when I go to New Zealand, thanks for sharing your experience and the photos they were encouraging

  • Mar

    Stunning landscapes. I have never been one for multi day treks but new zealand would be the only place where I would consider doing this

  • LeAnna

    One of the things that we loved about New Zealand was the sheer beauty of it all! We did just a small day hike from Queensland and it was so stunning, I can’t imagine what a several day journey could have provided!!!

  • Andrea Leblang

    Your pictures are incredible! I am headed to NZ for a month in just a few weeks and now I wish I was doing this trek as well! All the more reason to plan a return trip if we can’t squeeze it in 🙂

  • Kristiaan

    Geweldig leuke blog hebben jullie!
    Ik vertrek zelf voor een jaar naar Australië. Bedoeling is minstens(!) een keer voor een aantal weken de oversteek naar NZ te maken om van de natuur te genieten.
    Die kans kan ik uiteraard onmogelijk laten liggen als NZ zo dicht bij is.
    Bij het lezen van jullie posts en het zien van de schitterende foto’s kan ik amper wachten tot ik er zelf kan rondtrekken.
    Ik neem de tips en aanraders i.v.m. de tracks al zeker mee 🙂

    • anto

      Dank je Kristiaan! Wat gaaf dat je gaat reizen daar. Wij zijn de eerste keer ook in combinatie met Australië geweest, 4 maanden daar en 1 maand NZ. Beide landen zijn zo enorm verschillend, terwijl ze zo dicht bij elkaar liggen. Heel veel plezier met je aanstaande reis, geniet ervan!

  • Shin

    Hey Anto, were there any sand flies or were they as bad as in Kepler? Heading over next March and I can’t wait to hit the outdoors!