Dramatic scenery on the Routeburn Track. © Stewart Nimmo

The Routeburn Track: over the hills and far away


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The Routeburn Track is the ultimate alpine adventure, taking walkers through ice-carved valleys and below the majestic peaks of the Southern Alps Ka Tiritiri o te Moana.

A short trip from bustling Queenstown, this Great Walk links the Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks in the Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

Weaving through meadows, reflective tarns and alpine gardens, walkers are rewarded with spectacular vistas over vast mountain ranges and valleys. The highest point of the track is 1255m above sea level, so the views are particularly breathtaking.

The walk passes through both forested sections and alpine environment, shaped by glaciation into fiords, deep valleys and cliffs decorated by lakes and waterfalls. Birdlife is prolific in the beech forest, and native tomtits, robins, fantails, wood pigeons and bellbirds are commonly seen, as well as the cheeky kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. 

DOC is working with the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust to further support and expand conservation projects on the track, aiming to turn up the birdsong along the Routeburn. The rare whio or blue duck, rock wren and mohua or yellowhead, which live and breed in the mountainous headwaters of Lake Wakatipu, are a major focus, as stoat plagues have hit their numbers hard.

Boosted by the partnership, four times the original number of stoat traps have been laid over 40 kilometres in the Route Burn, Rock Burn and Beans Burn areas, ready for the reintroduction of endangered wildlife into these valleys. Whio are now being seen in the main stem of the Route Burn.

The Routeburn is 32 kilometres one way. It can be walked in either direction, but the road distance between each end of the track is 325 kilometres, so you’ll need to arrange transport at each end.

Most walkers take three days and two nights, usually staying at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls huts. The trip can be extended by also staying at the other huts and made into a circuit by linking with the Greenstone and Caples Tracks, which starts and finishes near the Routeburn Shelter.

There are great side trips off the main track, and also a number of day walks to be enjoyed, including the Earland Falls Track, Key Summit Track, Lake Howden Track or the Routeburn Nature Walk. 

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