Inspired by my sister’s discovery of NZ’s 9 Great Walks, I planned a trip for Easter 2013. As with any trip the preparation is almost as exciting as the venture itself. So I am a regular at the outdoor shops – in Sydney they are all concentrated around Town Hall station – trying to catch bargains.
Good Friday 29 March 2013 marked the 1st day flying into Queenstown which is always an amazing trip to take. The landing between the mountains, the small airport – you get the same person checking your passport on arrival and departure plus giving you tips for your Great Walk – and quick transfer to town without a single traffic light. Checked into my favourite Novotel for the night and off to DOC visitor centre (you can only pick up your tickets right before your walk) and the shops to buy food for 3 days. One Fergburger to fuel up and an early night for an early start – 7am the hiker bus will leave for “The Divide”.
The bus leaves timely / early on Saturday morning for the 3.5 hr journey stopping at the DOC visitor centre in Te Anau, wharf of the Milford track and finally The Divide leaving you in the middle of nowhere at the Southern sort-of-end of the plant. – Just a tad scary. – But easy to overcome, the other hikers are great people, the air is as clean as it can get, the weather is great … and the mountains are spectacu-sensational.
First hike is up to Key Summit (918m) being on the way to the 1st hut which makes my lunch stop. The track continues on an even level half way up the mountains passing through enchanted forests, the Earland Falls and clearings of which “The Orchard” is the most famous. And suddenly you turn around to Lake Mackenzie and the DOC hut. Got a great bunk, dump my stuff and go for a quick lunch (BYO matches). Then another quick walk around Lake Mackenzie and to Split Rock (which reminds of the Höllenlöcher in Germany).
Easter Sunday, 31 March 2013, marks the best part of the track from Lake Mackenzie to Routeburn Falls hut. The track climbs higher along the ridge, then over Harris Saddle – the highest point of the track – and down over alpine meadows to the hut. There are most spectacular views from the track as well as Conical Hill (1,515m) down onto Harris Saddle (1,288m) and the valleys on either side. The track then continues alongside Lake Harris, across the meadows and down to Routeburn Falls hut which is a perfectly organised hut with great views from its veranda over the Routeburn Flats below.
The freeze dried meals are tasting surprisingly well and the DOC hut ranger provides for a warm and cozy hut – which is great because I will need to get up at 6am.
The rest of the night was interrupted suddenly by some serious thunder and lightening which is all so much more dramatic between mountain peaks. And a 10am pickup by the hikers bus from Routeburn Shelter makes for an early start in the dark at 7am. The track takes you down to the Routeburn Flats in about an hour (in the dark with your headlamp) and another good hour to get to the shelter. The nature was so spectacular crossing the Routeburn river that I got to the shelter right on time – even the shelter is a great feature.
Into the bus and back to Queenstown in about an hour. Weird that I always wanted to head down to Glenorchy from Queenstown and the 1st time I actually am down there I am coming the other way. And can I say, the hot shower was very welcome! Lastly the day rounded up with another Fregburger (my favourite is the “Sweet Bambi” with a deer patty) and some Patagonia ice cream.
The Routeburn track was exactly what I needed. Escape the 1st world problems of Sydney and get some fresh air, real mountains and real people (and few of them). Most importantly: life and enjoy the moment. Needless to say I will be back, I am planning the Tongariro Northern Circuit, (full) Abel Tasman Coast Track (Anchorage hut will be brand new in November) and Milford Track over the next 6 months.