Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

Fiordland National Park / Mt Aspiring National Park


137 Rankers Reviews

131 Face-to-Face

4 Glenorchy

Your Nature Guide

Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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View along the Routeburn Track
Bush and waterfalls along the Routeburn Track


Time: 3 days, Distance: 32 km

The Routeburn Track is a classic New Zealand multi day hike and traveller reviews show that people love it!

Choose from two start points (the Glenorchy start is shown on the map) with greater side-trip choices on route. The Routeburn Track can also be linked to the Greenstone and Caples track for a longer, more challenging trip.

This is a challenging alpine walk plus New Zealand weather changes quickly. Make sure you also book hut tickets in advance. So plan well and enjoy!

There are guided walk options available as well.


The track can be started from the Queenstown end at the Routeburn Shelter or from the Divide on the Milford Road.

From Queenstown, follow the road to Glenorchy then continue along the Glenorchy Routeburn Road until making a crossing of the Dart River. Turn right onto the Routeburn Road and continue to the shelter at the road end.

To start from Te Anau follow the Milford Road 83.5 km to the Divide and the start of the Routeburn Track.


Day 1

The Divide to Howden Hut
1 ½ hours 3.5 km

The first section of the walk to Key Summit is the most popular of the longer walks off the Milford Road, although if you avoid the 11am to 2 pm pulse, the rush is barely noticeable. The well-used and even track is a steady climb from 530 metres at the Divide to 919 metres at Key Summit.

Numerous small rivulets cascade down the hillside, smothered with silver beech forest and Weymouthia. This is a dense, well-watered forest, reminiscent of the luxuriant west coast forests encountered in the warmer and wetter climes. Approaching the bushline, mountain flax, snow totara and Dracophyllum are amongst the alpine species creeping into the assemblage.

You should take the 1 hour return detour to Key Summit, as few places summon such vast enthralling views. Looking north is the Hollyford Valley, flanked to the east by the Ailsa Mountains and to the west by the Darrans. Above the Lake Marian bowl is the pyramidal Mount Christina and serrated Mount Crosscut. Looking east from the Lake Marian lookout is the Greenstone Valley, with the Eglinton sneaking in to the south.

The European name of Key Summit refers to the fact it is the ‘key’ to three watersheds. A drop of rain falling on Key Summit can end up in one of three oceans.
Should it head south it would flow into Lake Fergus, Lake Gunn, the Eglinton River, then pass through Lake Te Anau, the Upper Waiau into Lake Manapouri. If we conveniently forget about the possibility of being diverted through the power station into Doubtful Sound, then our drop of rain may continue through the Waiau River to Te Waewae Bay and the Southern Ocean.
If our raindrop heads north, it would reach the Hollyford River and flow into Lake McKerrow and then on to the Tasman Sea on the west coast.
If by some quirk of fate it heads east into the Greenstone River, it ends up in Lake Wakatipu. After a quick jaunt down the Kawerau, it reaches Cromwell and joins the Clutha River, eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean at Balclutha.

Back at the junction with the track to Howden Hut the track then descends through a forest composed almost entirely of silver beech. It is hard to see the bark of the trunks and branches, such is the smothering of moss. In the early morning, before the sun has risen over the peaks, or in the wet, the Usnea lichen glows like fairy lights, illuminating the form of the branches.

The rippling stream emanating from Lake Howden accompanies a break at the hut and time to digest the views of the surrounding peaks of the Ailsa Mountains. Black swans forage in the cool waters, while red-fronted parakeets and tui enliven the forest rim.

Howden Hut to Mackenzie Hut
4 hours 8.6 km

The mossy silver beech forest could be the haunt of a hobbit or the stamping ground of a leprechaun, such is the profusion of green and abundance of drooping branches.

A number of delightful cascades trickle down through the forest and emanate in sprays of white. They are often bordered in a mat of intensely green mosses, which highlight the dripping water in displays of utter perfection. No need to fill your bottles here, there’s ample to drink. Look for orchids inhabiting the banks.

For the most part the views of the Darrans are tantalisingly concealed behind the Japanese-like architecture of the silver beech. Then, after 1 ¼ hours, the audible rush of the Earland Falls provokes your gaze skyward, to where they disgorge over a cleft in the rock.

The 174 metre high falls spread on their descent, so by the time they reach their plunge pools, are in bursts of spray. Their own force gives genesis to a wind, which sends the spray over the surrounding forest and rocks. Take care as the surfaces are slippery. The streams emptying the plunge pool weave around rocks and to get a good photo, you need to crouch in the lee of the spray and poke your camera up like a sniper would shoot his prey.

A delicate sphagnum garden with Dracophyllum menziesii and ourisia inhabits the rocks on the trackside. You then reach a clearing caused by a landslip. This is the first extensive view down the Darrans, a view you will never get used to. Major peaks from the Milford Road end include Mount Christina, Mount Crosscut, Mount Te Wera, Mount Madeline and Mount Tutoko.

Hebes and wineberry colonise the slip, with views back to the Earland Falls. Put a waterfall like this in a country like England and it would be a major tourist attraction, with coach park and tearooms to boot. However, in Fiordland such beauty is commonplace, but never to be taken for granted.

The sphagnum gardens are microcosms of perfection, their superior water retention capabilities nourishing beds of celmisia. The track dips in an out of the forest. Soon, a deep rumbling bass note creeps into the forest and for a few moments could trick the imagination into thinking an earthquake was imminent. In fact it is another water feature, echoing off the cleft walls and resonating with force. Other smaller rods of water dive off nearby boulders in a confusion of miscellaneous waterfalls. Take a look behind you shortly after for the view of the scene and Earland Falls.

The track stays mainly in the forest for 45 minutes on the way to the Orchard, aptly named, as this clearing filled with ribbonwood trees could be mistake for a Somerset apple orchard. No apples to scrump however. The first views to Lake McKerrow open up at the head of the Hollyford Valley with the spurs of the Skippers Range receding in misty tones. This is quite a sight.

On the 45 minutes to Mackenzie Basin, the track drops in and out of the forest, then drops steadily over a footbridge and a deep gouge in the rock. There are bizarre scribble marks on the astelia leaves to look for before a section of silver beech, where the sizeable trees have no branches, only an open crown hugging the light at the canopy. Cushion mosses soften the trunks’ contours.

The clearing before Mackenzie hut is smothered in hebes. Pass the guided walkers hut before Lake Mackenzie Hut and the lake. Be prepared for a scene of overwhelming idyll. The rocks scattered at the base of the lake are joined by countless colleagues, submerged beneath the green waters, which lead up to Ocean and Emily Peaks. Trampers lie strewn asleep on the grass or take a quick dip.

Day 2

Mackenzie Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut
5 hours 11.3 km

Mackenzie Hut to Harris Saddle 3 hours

From Mackenzie Hut, there is a detour towards the campsite. After a 400 metre section over high rocky bluffs (due to be replaced with a gantry section along the lakeshore in the future) the new campsite is located near the lake. The detour continues 30 minutes to Leaning Rock.

Back on the main track, an assortment of boulders have peeled off the bluffs and the track now threads between them. Mossy encrustations and densely packed silver beech create a shady maze.

In a sudden break, the track pokes above the treeline and immediately views of Lake Mackenzie, Ocean Peak and Emily Peak fill the view. The alpine gardens clothe the mountainside with celmisas, whipcord hebes, dracophyllum, aciphylla and Mount Cook Lilies, included in the assemblage.

Orange waratahs mark the zigzags up the face, which takes around 1 ¼ hours to climb. Then, at the apex of the spur is another Routeburn treat. This is probably the widest panorama on the track, apart from Conical Hill. The view stretches from the Earl Mountains all the way to the coast at Martins Bay, a distance of over 50 km. All the major peaks of the Darrans are there, with glaciers hanging off the summit peaks.

It’s worth making this trip in the evening if you have time to spare at Mackenzie Hut, because with the low angle of the sun, the sunbeams striking through the cols on the Darrans, provide a dusky view. The crisp light also reflects off Emily Peak and the southern side of the Mackenzie bowl.

The section along the Hollyford Bluffs is open and exposed, as you are way above the treeline. If you catch the Hollyford Bluffs section on a bad day, the journey to Routeburn Falls will be the most arduous, and at times you’ll be thankful for the orange marker poles.

The track is benched into the mountainside with the summits of the Serpentine Range not far above and the vastness of the Hollyford Valley below. Each headland beckons another and the views back are as enticing as those ahead. It’s a privilege to be here on a fine day.

After 1 hour is the Deadmans Track junction, 30 minutes from where the track reaches it’s high point at Harris Saddle. The shelter is a lifesaver on a rough day and is provided for day use.

The detour to Conical Hill start here.

Conical Hill
3 kms 1 ¼ hours return

In a tramp filled with views, this is the viewpoint of the tramp. It’s around 260 metres to the summit of the oddly shaped hill, a smoothed hummock of rock on the range. The climb is a rocky old track with some nice cobbled track work at the start. Poles are anchored into the rock and in places it helps to lever yourself.

You can tick off the Darran’s peaks, including Mounts Madeline and Tutoko. Moriane Creek, leading up to Lake Adeliadie is clearly visible. The view also stretches to Lake Gunn in the east and to Martins Bay, at the mouth of the Hollyford Valley, in the west.

This section from Marian Corner to the coast used to be called the Lower Hollyford Valley, but this term is now used only for that part of the river below Lake McKerrow. Conical Hill is seen from both Lake Gunn and Martins Bay. If you have been to both, it’s rewarding to now see both from the one point. It’s the fulcrum of the views.

At this point it’s also poignant to reflect on what the early pioneers were thinking trying to build a road over the Harris Saddle! Jamestown was certainly doomed when you consider how tough conditions would have been, even on a fine day.

Harris Saddle to Routeburn Flats Hut 2 hours

The track now sidles the bowl above Lake Harris. It’s a strange terrain of hummocky smoothed rock and tussock (mainly Chionochloa spiralis). The far side of the lake is the Valley of Trolls and the bizarre rock formations could certainly be the lair of a troll, ready to eat you for supper.

The track perches on bluffs above Lake Harris and has been laboriously cut into the rock. A road indeed! Tramping track maybe, but no way could you envisage a road suitable for horse traffic.

The lake is a hollowed out cirque, carved by the head of a glacier, which has scoured the surrounding headwalls steeply. Large boulders lie strewn in the alpine meadows and the sweet scent of ribbonwood, with pretty white flowers, wafts through the late summer air, Crickets leap between rocks and tussock swirls in the warm breeze.

Lake Harris empties into the Route Burn via a set of waterfalls, spilling gently from their elevated source. This sound accompanies the descent through meadows, with side creeks feeding in.

Views of Mount Earnslaw’s lower slopes start to open up ahead, then culminate in a view point above Routeburn Falls Hut. This is probably the most photographed spot on the tramp. The overall perspective down the Routeburn is memorable, with a steep spur forcing the wide braided river into a sinuous course. The valley flats are hemmed with a dense silver beech forest.

The Routeburn Falls find numerous paths through the smoothed rock, winding their way though clefts to the valley floor.

Day 3

Routeburn Falls hut to Routeburn Flats Hut
1 hour 2.3 km

The track drops into the silver beech forest, where the trees are immediately lofty, unlike most treelines where the silver beech becomes stunted and moss covered. A short section of towering red beech occupies a drier, better drained site. The track crosses a swingbridge over Emily Creek, the backside of the peak viewed yesterday from Lake Mackenzie. Other footbridges give vantage points for other creeks.

From the large slip, created during the January 1994 storm, there are impressive views up the Routeburn North Branch to Mount Somnus (2293 metres), with it nevee, glacier and couloir, penetrating straight down the flanks. A skier’s Holy Grail. The slip has caused a graveyard of dead trunks and requires care to cross due to falling debris.

Shortly after, the track circumvents Phoenix Bluff, here again you should keep a keen eye, especially in heavy rain, when falling rock may become dislodged.

The track descends to a junction with Routeburn Flats Hut, 5 minutes to the left. Beautifully sited on the flats with Routeburn North Branch and Mount Somnus in view, this is the New Zealand of tourist brochures. The campsite is 200 metres upstream.

Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Shelter
2 hours 6.5 km

Skirting the grassy Routeburn Flats at the bush edge before re-entering the forest, this section is almost entirely through sliver beech forest, with the track following the course of the Route Burn. There are 2 swingbridges, the second catching views up the bouldery stream.

Forge Flat is a sunny beach by the ice blue waters of the river. This is a popular spot to linger for lunch, throw rocks in the water and listen to the crashing of water.

A section colloquially-known as Sappers Pass is just one of the undulations on the wide smooth track, cultivated for day walkers, but an easier surface than the rocky descent from the saddle.

The Route Burn suddenly ends, or so it seems, in a barricade of rocks and tree trunks. The entire river dives out of view though a narrow gap in the rock, before re-emerging into the wide flats once again.

A large wooden bridge on steel girders spans a set of canyons, with the force of water excavating small chasms in the rock. Canyoners belay eachother through torrents while clipped to the rock faces.

Views towards the Dart Valley peek through the forest foliage, with a high vertical cliff face on the right.

It is now an easy path back to the swingbridge over the river and the road. The Routeburn Shelter is 200 metres further up the road on the right, with an open fire for those wet days or a grassy flat for those sunny summer days, when the Routeburn is at its best.


The Geology of Fiordland

Fordland’s geological story is only just beginning to be understood. A combination of remoteness, rugged terrain, sandflies, unpredictable weather, sparsity of settlement and geological complexity has deterred geological funding to research the story. The wondrous scenery of fiords, mountains, glaciers, valleys, lakes and coast is a major drawcard for the region and awe-inspiring to all.

The geological story begins around 450 million years ago in the slaty mudstones around Chalky and Preservation Inlets. Geologists have unearthed fossils of graptolites, filter-feeders from Ordovician times, which are some of the oldest fossils in New Zealand. The lack of tectonic upheaval or metamorphism of the rocks has preserved the fossils and gives clues to the climatic conditions present in those times.

Most of Fiordland’s basement rocks were laid down while New Zealand formed part of the vast ancestral landmass known as Gondwanaland. This amalgamation of the southern hemisphere continents we know of today was composed of Antarctica, Australia, Africa, South America and New Zealand, the proto-continent of New Zealand occupying the south-eastern rim. The schist, gneiss and orthogneiss characteristic of Fiordland were eroded off a volcanic arc on the edge of Gondwanaland then subsequently compressed and heated, being metamorphosed into the rocks we see today. The schist tends to be brittle and fine layered, while the gneiss is more granular and streaky.

Between 300 and 100 million years ago, the intrusive plutonic rocks such as the hard granitic diorite and gabbro, rock displayed on the walls of the Darrans and around Milford Sound, bubbled up between these basement rocks. The granite is silica rich with many quartz and feldspar crystals, while the diorite contains large black crystals of hornblende.

This homogenous block of Fiordland rocks is relatively unbroken with faults and fractures, thus facilitating the retention of steep valley side slopes. Furthermore there is little topographic homogeneity, and a cursory glance at a map reveals a higgledy-piggledy hotchpotch of valleys, ranges and peaks, with little constancy in the grain.

During the Permian Period, 245-295 million years ago, a period of volcanism formed the basalts and andesites, rocks which were subsequently metamorphosed. The rocks of the Eglinton and Hollyford Valleys, together with the Takitimu and Longwood Ranges, were also formed around this time.

Around 100 million years ago, Fiordland was a large uplifted block of land, seriously under the weather. The force of the deluges was intense enough to erode significant quantities of debris, transported by the swollen rivers and deposited off the coast. During the Cretaceous, 135-65 million years ago, more granite intrusions occurred, most notably those of Mount Titiroa, to the south of Lake Manapouri.

Around 30 million years ago global climates were warmer than today, sea levels were substantially higher and the nascent New Zealand landmass exhibited lower relief. Fiordland was effectively an island, 120 km long and 70 km wide, stretching from present Caswell Sound to Lake Hauroko. At this time the limestones of the eastern ranges around Te Anau were formed. This belt of limestone is around 70 km long and is discontinuous between the Murchisons and Lake Hauroko. In the Kepler area the limestone is deposited over gabbro, whereas south of Mount Luxmore it is a conglomerate of pebbles, sand and mud. This suggests the waters were disturbed, possibly at the delta of a river. Marine fossils such as paua and brachiopods, echinoids and bryozoa have been found in these deposits.

The Alpine Fault also developed around this time, with the Te Anau and Waiau Basins also forming from movement along fault lines. The Alpine Fault is the major line of tectonic movement in New Zealand and defines the country’s landscape. It hits land at John O’Groats River just north of Milford Sound, then weaves over the Hollyford Valley before commencing its journey up the spine of New Zealand. Out to sea it drops very steeply, 10 km off the coast being 1800 metres deep. In the Fiordland area, the Australian Plate is subducting beneath the Pacific Plate and the collision forms the Fiordland Mountains and the Southern Alps. Over the last 5 million years the movement has been around 10 mm per year, a veritable hares pace in geological terms. In fact this is one of the most dynamic plate boundaries on the planet.

The Alpine Fault was one of the pieces of evidence put forward to explain the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift. Until the late 1950s, geologists could map the distribution of earthquakes and volcanoes over the Earth, noticing they occurred in roughly the same locations. What they couldn’t explain was why. Various theories emerged, the most convincing being that of plate tectonics.

The idea postulated that the surface of the Earth was formed of crust, like the skin of an onion, and this outermost layer moved. Geologists deciphered that the entire earth’s surface was split into 11 main plates, all of which moved and jostled for position relative to each other. Movement mainly occurred on the plate boundaries and this, they discovered, is where earthquakes and volcanism happen. Fiordland had a part to play in how the jigsaw was pieced together.

The Red Hills, just north of the Hollyford Valley, are an ultramafic rock with high concentrations of manganese and iron. The imaginative European naming highlights the fact the hills glow red, especially at sunset. The acidic soils support little vegetation. Curiously the Dun Mountains of Nelson, 480 km to the north, contain rocks of exactly the same chemical makeup. There is no way two geographically isolated masses of rock could be so similar. The only explanation to convince geologists was that the two ranges were once joined, the Alpine Fault bisecting them and slowly nudging them apart over the last 25-30 million years.

The Waitutu Marine Terraces are another of Fiordland’s most celebrated geological formations. They represent a physical imprint of sea level changes over millions of years The13 terraces rise to 1000 metres above sea level and stretch 12 km inland from Te Waewae Bay to Lake Hakapoua. Due to glacial episodes, which are accompanied by rises and falls in sea levels, the erosion height at the coast varies, compounded by the tectonic uplift of the landmass. The last 3 terraces were formed in the last interglacial 80-120,000 years ago.

Over the last 2 million years the Earth has undergone at least 12 glacial episodes, times when the global climate is significantly cooler than today. The rain falls as snow in upland areas, compacts, and over time forms vast ice sheets. Their legacy is the most recent act in Fiordland’s legendary scenery and there are few places on the planet where the work of ice is so dramatically displayed.

Geologists have purported various theories for why Ice Ages occur. Today it is generally accepted that since Antarctica has occupied its present position, and allowed a large ice sheet to develop over the land’s surface, this has had the effect of reflecting large quantities of solar radiation back to space (white being the best reflective colour). Once coupled with the fact that solar output of radiation is not a constant (it varies on a 40,000 year cycle) and that the orbit of the Earth around the sun is not a perfect ellipse (the wobble is on a periodicity of around 100,000 years), the changes in the global solar radiation budget can vary enough for episodes of global cooling to occur.

During the last glacial episode, ice stacked up in the upland areas of the Southern Alps and weaved ways down the valley courses to either side. Whereas water leaves a V-shape in a valley profile, the glacial signature marks a characteristic U-shape. The glacial bulldozers charged through whatever lay in their paths and the U-shaped valleys, already carved by previous glaciations, were deepened and their form accentuated. Milford Sound or the Eglington Valley are apt examples of this distinctive profile.

Myriad other glacial features are also observed in Fiordland and all the tramps witness the work of glaciers. Feature of note include hanging valleys, arêtes, cirques and truncated spurs.

Where two glaciers are divided by a ridge this is usually chiselled to form a sharp edge, known as an arête. The Kepler Track between Mount Luxmore and the descent to the Iris Burn is a good example. As the weight of ice scours down the headwall of a watershed, it nibbles back at the head of a valley until it meets the glacier of the adjacent watershed. The bowl at the head of a valley is a cirque, well illustrated at MacKinnon pass on the Milford Track.

Hanging valleys are the remains of a tributary glacier that met the main valley glacier. Smaller glaciers harness less erosive power and are less able to incise deeply into the bedrock. They thus meet the main valley glacier at the same height, but do not cut down as deep. When the glaciers melt, the hanging valleys are left perching above the main valley. These are well illustrated on the Darrans the far side of the valley to the Hollyford Track.

Previous to glacial action, many valleys were characterised by a system of interlocking spurs protruding into the valley floor – the legacy of water’s erosion carving V’s into the land. Glaciers worked differently and having no regard for these obstructions, simply bulldozed through the rock, truncating spurs to leave a triangular face bisecting the former ridgeline. These are best seen on the Lake McKerrow section of the Hollyford Track.

Glaciers filled the valleys and joined in the upland areas to form ice caps. The last Ice Age was known as the Otiran and occurred between 80,000 and 10,000 years ago. Ice was up to 2 km deep, thus all but Fiordland’s highest peaks were smothered in ice. Sea levels were up to 120 metres lower and ice reached over 10 km off today’s shoreline. Stewart Island was joined to the Mainland. At least 5 glacial advances and retreats are evident on the floor of Milford Sound. At the conclusion of the last glacial between 35,000 and 14,000 years ago, a Glacial Maximum occurred, a short but intense episode of global cooling. This spurred on the glaciers in a final pulsing advance, which built up the vast terminal moraines. These details give some fuel for thought on the rapidity of climate change that occurs without the influence of humankind.

Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri are also glacially sculpted, Lake Manapouri reaching 267 metres and Lake Te Anau 214 metres below sea level. Vast quantities of glacially eroded material were transported and deposited in the basins as huge outwash plains, the repository for the erosion on the glacier’s journey. The moraines and outwash gravels have left a series of terraces, now the prize of property developers, who now sell the elevated positions for too much money.

Sitting smack in the face of the roaring Forties and being the first shard of land weather systems encounter, Fiordland’s rainfall is legendary. The impressive storms not only nurture the verdant forests, but also supply the nourishment for the streams and rivers to flow. When in flood the erosive powers of these fast moving and impressive watercourses is sufficient to move boulders the size of a truck. The rivers, streams and creeks are all continuing the work of their predecessors. The fine craftsmanship of the elements is still a work in progress. The unparalleled majesty and dramatic landforms we see today in Fiordland are not finished yet.


Fiordland’s greenery hides many secrets. For many, the innumerable hues of green, entwining lattice of vines, mantle of moss and luxuriance of the foliage, fools trampers into feeling they are in a tropical jungle. Indeed Fiordland’s rainfall totals put tropical figures to shame and it is this abundance of moisture that nurtures the enlightening world of green.

The vegetation fills every altitudinal zone from sea level to the nival, after which nothing grows. The predominant vegetation type is beech forest, which extends from sea level to the tree line. The abrupt horizontal line through which the majestic peaks rise is almost too horizontal to be natural, but demarcates a line beneath which hundreds of ferns, conifers and flowering plant species are represented.

The Southern Beeches

The most dominant forest type in Fiordland is beech, with ancestors stretching way back to Gondwanaland, the ancestral landmass for the southern hemisphere continents we know today. Relatives of the New Zealand beeches occur in South America, Australia, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea and fossil evidence in also present in Antarctica.

Silver beech, with its white or silvery bark is the most widespread. It can grow to 25 metres tall and compete in the canopy with podocarps. At the tree line, between 850 and 1000 m, it is the ubiquitous tree and takes on a stunted form, dripping with moss or Usnea lichen (old man’s beard). Clipped by the howling winds, stunted by a cool growing season and deprived of sunlight by the prevalence of cloud, these gnarled, twisted trees are sometimes known as ‘goblin’ forests.

Red beech grows on more fertile sites, while mountain beech tolerates both drier conditions and shallow infertile soils.

The beech’s means of seed dispersal is rather rudimentary - a seed drops from the tree and lands where it lands. Unsurprisingly this slows the advance of a beech forest. As seedlings also need a mycorrhizal fungus, which only lives on the roots of adult beech trees, young trees cannot survive far from their whanau. Beeches however, once established, leave little room for other emergent species in Fiordland, save a few podocarps in lower altitude forests.

On many specimens large wart-like galls grow on the trunks, formed by a fungus. The soft fruiting bodies resemble golf balls and are sometimes sprinkled on the floor at the base of trees. They are sometimes referred to as ‘beech strawberries’.

The genus for the southern beeches is Nothofagus, or false beech. This naming arose in the early 1800s, when European exploration and interest in the scientific world exploded. Botanists often accompanied explorers (Joseph Banks was aboard Endeavour) and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew set up mechanisms for the collecting, naming, growing and classification of plants.

It was not an easy task for early botanists, encountering flora completely removed from anything they had hitherto witnessed. All they had to go on was what they knew. It was thus unsurprising everything they came across was described according to the northern hemisphere counterparts. On Cook’s voyages, beeches were collected from South America, Australia and New Zealand. These were later described by Sir W.J Hooker, director of Kew and son of the famous first director J.D Hooker in the 1840s. In 1850, a Dutchman, Blume, managed to separate the northern from the southern beeches, conferring the name Nothofagus on the southern genus.

The remarkably similar species collected from disparate parts of the globe, separated by thousands of kilometres of ocean, now confounded plant geographers. How could such strikingly similar species occur so far away from each other, when the seed’s only vehicle is gravity? From the 1960s fossilised southern beech pollen grains were also discovered on Antarctica, further confusing the botanists. The obvious conclusion to draw was at some time these southern continents must have been joined. It was not an easy theory to gain credibility in a dogmatic scientific world, however with a growing body of evidence from other earth science disciplines, the theories of plate tectonics, continental drift and the existence of Gondwanaland soon became the accepted explanations of the day. Nothofagus had played it’s part in the story.

One interesting note was that after analysis of the fossil record of pollen grains, plant palaeontologists were able to deduce that the southern beeches actually pre-dated the northern beeches.

Fiordland Forests

In the mix of the beech forests are also representatives of the podocarps, another famous lineage of trees inhabiting the New Zealand landmass. The podocarps are a family of cone-bearing trees, whose lineage stretches back over 200 million years. They evolved before the appearance of flowering plants and are distinguished by a succulent foot-like appendage on the seed. This gives rise to the term podocarp (foot seed). Their fleshy fruits are carried by native birds, kaka, kereru and tui being just some of the dispersers playing an important role in the forest ecology. The podocarps mainly occupy the fertile deep soils of valley floors or the heads of fiords. Notable species encountered in Fiordland are rimu and kahikatea.
Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) is a handsome tree and can live over 1000 years. It’s drooping branchlets and archaic foliage impart an ancient feel to the tree. You could easily imagine dinosaurs browsing on the prickly leaves. Rimu is the most widespread of all New Zealand forest trees, occurring throughout the North, South, and Stewart Islands from lowland to montane forest. The hard timber has a rich red colour and attractive grain.
Kahikatea (Podocarpus dacrydioides) or white pine likes wet feet and predominates on swampy lowland site, where dense stands thrust skywards in raggedy unison. It is the tallest native tree (up to 50 metres high) with a trunk as straight as a mast. It’s absence of odour made it the favored timber for butter exporters as it imparted no tainting smells.
The understorey composition of Fiordland’s forest is largely determined by altitude. Lower elevations including the coastline are occupied by species tolerant of salt and exposure, such as mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus) and pigeonwood (Hedycarya arborea). You do not have to travel far from the coast to more sheltered forests and the characteristic broadleaved species such as Coprosma colensoi come into their own. Other notables include lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius), mapou (Myrsine australis) and broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis). At higher altitudes there are species such as Coprosma pseudocuneata, celery pine Phyllocladus alpinus and near the treeline Dracophyllum uniflorum, D. menziesii, Olearia colensoi and leatherwood. Ground cover is mainly composed of mosses, Astelia, prickly shield fern and filmy ferns.

Slips and erosion scars peel off the precipitous hillsides in huge triangles and accumulate as fans. This encourages the process of regeneration. First to recolonise the thin soils of slip faces are tutu or manuka. Wineberry, fuchsia and putaputaweta are also pioneers on the jumbled rock and soil. Mountain ribbonwood likes the deeper soils of upland fans.

A glance at exposed areas of rock, possibly disturbed by a slip or on the edges of streams gives a good indication of the succession of plant life that recolonises bare rock. In the presence of atmospheric weathering agents such as frost, rain and sun, minerals are released from the rock’s makeup freeing up the essential nutrients needed for plant life.

On the bottom rung are lichens, able to colonise bare surfaces, where no other forms of life can survive. Lichens are able to lie low to the wind, derive nutrients from the rock and hibernate in a torpid state without water. The complex interaction between the fungi and algae, which form the lichens, allows a symbiotic relationship to flourish. The fungi’s side of the bargain provides a home for the algae, which manufactures food from the sunlight and photosynthesises. Moreover the crustose lichens, seen mottling the bare rocks with colourful adornments, are able to secrete an acid which eats into the rock and helps to create the embryonic soils for higher plants to exploit.

Enter the mosses and liverworts (bryophytes), which are for many the most startling immediate feature of Fiordland’s forest. Enshrouding every conceivable surface in a mantle of greens, reds and browns, these delicate and numerous plants provide a cushion for raindrops, reducing their erosive powers. By locking in moisture, they also maintain a humid forest interior, providing suitable conditions and seed beds for higher plants to germinate. As the higher plants die and decay, the bryophytes trap the litter and organic acids, allowing for deeper soils to develop.

A closer examination of ferns in the forest reveals collections of spore producing bodies on the underside of the fronds known as sori. These are the asexual reproductive part of the fern and are dispersed by the wind to germinate into a gametophyte, a moss-like plant at different stage in the lifecycle to the spore bearing sporophytes. The gametophyte however contains male and female sex organs, which take advantage of the moist forest conditions for a small sperm to swim and fertilise the female. These grow into another fern plant, that moves aside for the sporophyte once its job is done.

Fern species in Fiordland include the tree ferns. Cyathea medullaris or mamaku is the largest, with it’s skirt of dead fronds hindering the adhesion of epiphytes. These old fronds were used by Maori and early pioneers as mattresses. Cyathea smithii or soft tree fern is common, with its colleague Dicksonia squarrosa, or hard tree fern, also known as wheki. These stand like sentries in moist gullies.

Ground ferns are abundant, and the ‘eastern’ forests are almost totally dominated by Blechnum discolour or crown fern. Other common ground ferns include Blechnum capense or kiokio, Asplenium bulbiferum or hen and chickens fern, where the new growth perches on the old fronds, and Polystichum vestitum or prickly shield fern, so named because of the texture of the fronds.

Epiphytic filmy ferns are a conspicuous shroud on many forest trees and shrubs and also abound on the forest floor. The most common are the delicate Hymenophyllum species and the kidney fern Trichomanes reniforme, which shores up trunks like gaiters.

While tramping through the Fiordland forest, spare a thought for the forest floor, an often overlooked, but equally remarkable part of the entire ecosystem, Without the fungi, bacteria and invertebrates which consume the litter, the recycling of nutrients would not take place.

The Subalpine World

The plants brave enough to venture into the alpine world are rewarded with a stunning home, but have to cope with an environment that is harsh in the extreme. Take the Homer Tunnel area for example, where avalanches are common, wind bombs, floods, landslips, droughts and tumbling boulders create a desolation to the landscape. But plants still survive. Other areas above the tree line have high winds, extreme cold and submersion in snow, searing summer heat, torrential rain and periodic disturbance of the soil to contend with. To survive in their niches, they have developed cunning and ingenious ploys.

Snow tussocks thwart the wind by weaving a dense mat of interlaced stems, trapping a warm layer of air near the ground. They hibernate in winter, conserving moisture and nutrients. There are 22 species of snowgrass Chionochloa in Fiordland and all are endemic to New Zealand. Three species are found only in Fiordland, C. spiralis, C. ovata, and C. acicularis.

To withstand the environmental extremes, other plants have a hairy leaf and stem known as a tomentum, a fine hair like peach fur which insulates them from the desiccating effect of wind. Some alpine plants also have chemicals and salts in their held moisture, which act as a type of anti-freeze, inhibiting the expansion of freezing internal water, which would result in tissue damage. To keep grounded in moving scree slopes, many plants send out snaking underground stems, with tap roots penetrating deep into the soil like an anchor. During winter these perennials also die off, only to re-emerge the following spring and spread like a mat. This has the effect of binding the unconsolidated rocks allowing a seed bed for tussocks and other plants, thus stabilising the slopes for colonisation.

A feature of note displayed by New Zealand’s alpine plants is that 93% of them are endemic to the New Zealand landmass, compared to 80% of the vascular plants in general. Of the 24 plant species endemic to Fiordland, most are subalpine species. This high degree of endemism is usually associated with a long history of evolution, but it is generally agreed alpine conditions have only been in existence in New Zealand for 2 million years. The most likely explanation is that a rapid evolution has occurred.

Another curious feature of the alpine flora is its split in distribution, for example some plants are only found in Nelson and Fiordland and absent from the intervening regions. The best guess here is that during the last ice ages an extensive ice sheet covered the entire central region, splitting the island with an uninhabitable nival zone. The plants have not yet re-invaded the gap.

Unlike other counterparts in Europe, many New Zealand alpine flowers are lacking in colour, white and yellow being the preferred palettes. The lack of specialised pollinating insects probably contributes to this, with long-tongued bees and butterflies being the most attracted to colour, and both being scarce in our insect inventory.

As you walk up from the treeline, the alpine vegetation traverses differing zones, from mixed snow-tussock scrub with a variety of tall snow tussocks, shrubs and large herbs. The herbfields are characterised by taller Celmisia, Ranunculus and Aciphylla species. On flatter ground, bogs are common in hollows and depressions, matted in a soft turf and mottled with small tarns and lakelets.

In the higher alpine zones, mostly above the domain of the Fiordland tramps are fellfields and scree communities, where plants occupy scant soils or exploit moisture in crevices. Cushion plants such as rock sheep (Raoulia) lie low to the ground and take advantage of the warmer layers with greater shelter from the wind.

Identification of individual alpine species takes decades of meticulous study, however learning the main families can be accomplished relatively easily with a curious mind and a little research. The main genera are as follows:

Ranunculus or buttercups – representatives in Fiordland include Ranunculus lyallii, the largest buttercup in the world and Ranunculus buchananii.
Anisotome – a relative of the carrot family and with similar leaf forms.
Aciphylla – forty alpine species distinguished by their sharp leaves (a direct translation of their botanical name). Also known as speargrass or Spaniard. Fiordland representative include Aciphylla takahea, A. lyallii and A. congesta.
Dracophyllum – Prone to hybridise, the most commonly encountered are D. menziesii, with its pineapple-like leaf head, D. uniflorum and D. longifolium.
Celmisia – One of the most important alpine geneera with over 50 representatives. Often called mountain daisies, look for C. ramulosa, C. bonplandii, C. petriei and C traversii.
Raoulia – cushion and mat plants sometimes with a spongy texture and a mosaic-like appearance.
Gentianella – the southern hemisphere version of the much loved European gentians, with similar delicate flowers.
Ourisia – only found in South America, Tasmania and New Zealand. Often found with white 5-lobed leaves.
Hebe – almost 100 New Zealand species, with opposite leaves and sometimes with a whipcord form.
Chionochloa – snow grasses include C. teretifolia and C. crassiculata. C. spiralis is unique to the limestone regions near Lake Te Anau, seen on the Kepler.

The forests of Fiordland are amongst the least modified in New Zealand, mostly thanks to their isolation, but more recently due to National Park status affording some protection. Possums are the forest’s greatest threat, munching through thousands of tonnes of rata, tree ferns and epiphytes a night. Red deer also favour succulent broadleaf trees and cause significant damage. The introduction of possum control measures in valleys such as the Clinton and Arthur, will undoubtedly enhance the forest’s health.

The botanical world comes alive when it is raining. The colours are vibrant, the smells fresh and the light uniform. When the world outside is masked by cloud, this is the time to look inwards to the world of green. As John Muir, the Father of National Parks once said: “the clearest way into the universe is through the forest wilderness”.


Before the arrival of humans, New Zealand was truly a land of birds. Having embarked on a voyage of evolutionary isolation for 10s of millions of years, with only a few mammals (bats) on board, the stage was set for birds to rule the kingdom. Sea birds nested in abundance on the coast and the forests were filled with the chorus of tuneful residents.

The absence of ground predators fostered lines of avian genetics not encountered on other landmasses. The plentiful supply of insect life on the forest floor helped an uncharacteristic number species including the kiwi, kakapo and takahe, to loose the ability of flight. Why bother engineering light bones, strong wing muscles and the need to sustain an athletic energy output? Other morphological changes included a tendency to gigantism while other unusual avian physiological features such as the ability to smell, whiskers and feathers that resemble fur (in the case of kiwis) also evolved. A curious trend emerged; in an ecological void, some birds were evolving into honorary mammals. Given a few more million years and the kiwi may well have occupied a similar niche to a hedgehog.

The avian paradise, where birds were free to roam without fear of predation, was abruptly shattered when the first Polynesians arrived, bringing with them kiore (Polynesian rats) and kuri (dogs). Able to negotiate branches and feed on defenceless chicks, rats also scoffed the bountiful eggs, often laid in tree hollows or scrapes in the ground. By the time Europeans arrived, many species were extinct, including the Haast eagle and the moa.

European arrival heralded a more comprehensive annihilation. Not only were vast tracts of forest habitat cleared for conversion to pasture, but the introduction of the ship rat, Norway rat, cats, dogs, mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels), possums, goats, deer and pigs announced the demise of numerous species. Of this dubious roll, the rats, cats and stoats were the main culprits of extermination, devouring the passive prey with reckless abandon. By the early 1900s the list of extinctions was sorrowful and many other species rested on the brink. Early European explorers such as those plying the route to Jamestown through the Hollyford Valley recount stories of seeing dead kakapo every 50 yards after the first wave of stoats advanced down the valley.

This flagrant decimation did not go unnoticed and in 1894, Te Anau resident and passionate ornithologist Richard Henry, was appointed Caretaker of Resolution Island – an attempt to provide a haven for the nurturing of endangered species. Thus began Fiordland’s history of conservation, attempts which are still carried out today.

Despite this sorry legacy, enclaves of avian good news stories do exist, such as the takahe’s rediscovery in the Murchison Mountains. Efforts by the Department of Conservation aimed at reversing this decline are meeting with some success, and areas such as the Eglinton, Clinton and Arthur Valleys are slowly being restored with pest eradication programmes and reintroductions of key species such as whio (blue duck).

Other more resilient species have also survived the onslaught and fare quite well in today’s metaphorical jungle. Some of the more likely encounters that will grace your tramps in the Fiordland forests may include:

Kaka Nestor meridionalis

You will normally hear the primeval screech of the kaka before sighting the distinctive scarlet under wing. They are most likely to feed in the canopy, using their strong hooked beaks to prise away bark and reveal the grubs lurking beneath. Morning and evening are the most common times to sight this member of the parrot family. A pleasing number live near the Divide at the start of the Routeburn Track and can show off with circus-like acts in the branches of the beech trees.

Tomtit Petroica macrocephala

The tomtit is a friendly bird, easily distinguished by its black and white marking and diminutive stature. They are sociable birds, and attract your attention by flitting between nearby branches.

Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa

Fantails are the most endearing birds of Fiordland’s forests. Performing a mesmerising acrobatic display in the close-by foliage and chatting away with effervescent ‘cheeps’, the miniscule show-offs are hard to miss. On alighting, males especially, will fan their tails and drop their wings.

These large tail feathers are used to execute abrupt changes of direction while hunting insects on the wing. When a fantail follows you for a considerable distance through the forest, they are in fact taking advantage of the insects you disturb in passing.

Bellbird Anthornis melanura

With an olive green plumage, sleek figure and gently arcing beak, the bellbirds are as visually attractive as their heavenly song. The bell-like notes are learned from neighbouring adults and two birds may be heard in tandem, singing and counter-singing to determine territorial spacing. Members of the honeyeater family, bellbirds consume nectar from many native trees and in autumn, by feeding on berries, they act as important seed-dispersing agents in the ecology of the forest.

Tui Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae
Parson Bird

Distinguished by an aristocratic white throat patch and possessing enviable skill in flight, tuis are many forest visitors’ favourite bird. They are most acclaimed however for composing a symphonic repertoire of song, which resonates through the forest canopy, filling the air with dulcet tones.

Like their musical colleagues the bellbird, these honeyeaters feed on nectar and fruit, often travelling large distances to abundant food sources. Some New Zealand flowers such as the flax have co-evolved with the tui. The nectar treat is hidden approximately one tui beak length at the base of the flower, so when the tuis glean the sweet reward, they meanwhile powder their faces with the orange or yellow pollen from the stamens. This is then distributed to other flax flowers while the tui forages for their sugary fix.

Kereru Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae
New Zealand Pigeon

Kereru love to feed. They are often witnessed voraciously gorging on a variety of native fruits, such as coprosmas, or resting on a sunny perch digesting their meal. Because of their wide gape, the kereru can eat large fruit. Little abrasion of the seed occurs in the gizzard, allowing seeds to pass through the digestive system intact. In this way the kereru ensures the perpetuation of its food source. Listen for the distinctive whistle of the kereru’s wings as they negotiate obstacles on their flight path. On the tops, keep and eye out for lone birds travelling to far-away food sources.

Kea Nestor notabilis

Kea are the mischievous mountain parrots who in one scientific study won the title of ‘World’s most intelligent bird’, beating off competition from mina’s, magpies and crows. They enjoy pastimes such as sliding down hut roofs at day break, prising rubber from windscreens and stealing unguarded lunch. Don’t feed them as their gregarious habits belie the fact numbers are dwindling. During summer, they hang round humans, ‘junking out’ on handouts; however come winter, with no humans and little insect life, they have lost the ability to hunt and consequently starve.

Whio Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos
Blue Duck
The Whio, named by Maori onomatopoeically, lives in fast flowing rivers in the forested upper catchments of Fiordland’s rivers. They are a handsome bird and often seen poised stoically on a boulder encircled by fast flowing water. They are unique to New Zealand.
Whio are fiercely territorial and will defend their patch aggressively, often fighting in pairs for their right to a waterway. Whio are picky with their water conditions, requiring bouldery streams in forest catchments, which ensure the water is filtered, clear, with stable banks and a lively invertebrate smorgasbord. They are thus good indicators of a catchment’s health. Only around 700 pairs remain in the South Island
Riflemen Acanthisitta chloris

The tiny rifleman is the featherweight of the avian world, weighing in at a measly 6 grams. The white eyebrow stripes and green/brown plumage hides their presence well in the dense forest, and it is only their fluttering, skittish movements which give their presence away. Their cheeps are barely audible, but can often be heard as families work a habitual beat around their forest territories. They gained their European name from the fact their plumage resembles the uniform of an early colonial regiment.

New Zealand robin Petroica australis

The endearing robins are one of the forest’s most gregarious birds. They seem to revel in human company, so long as you stay still or move slowly. Once comfortable in your presence, they will often climb your legs or perch on boots to pick off sandflies at leisure.

A visit to the Te Anau Wildlife Centre is a good introduction to the birdlife of Fiordland and the opportunity to witness these species at close quarters. Information and some stuffed specimens are also on show at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre.

Polynesian History

The Routeburn Track was once followed by Maori travellers, plying their route from greenstone sources in Fiordland to settlements on the coast. Between 1650 and 1800, the Maori settlement at Martins Bay was a strategic stopping off point in the search of pounamu. Using the Greenstone Valley as the main route, Harris Saddle was also traversed as a major east-west link. Their series of names stretches from Lake Wakatipu through Te Komama (Routeburn) to the Tarahaka Whakatipu (Harris Saddle) and Whakatipu Waitai (Lake McKerrow). The generic term for the region was ‘Titiraurangi’, meaning ‘the land of many peaks piercing the clouds’. Those early travellers traded with coastal settlers, pounamu, kiwi and kakapo feathers exchanged for muttonbirds, mere, adzes and fish hooks.

European History

In 1863, Government employed prospector Patrick Quirk Caples, travelled up from the Dart Valley along a route roughly following today’s track. His description of a lake ‘surrounded by glacier covered pinnacles’ at the head of the valley is Lake Harris, which he named after John Hyde Harris, the Superintendent of Otago. Harris Saddle also follows in this same praise-seeking vein. Although it was January, Caples was forced to use his shovel and excavate snow steps in the ice bordering the lake. After crossing the saddle, he took a route down to the fast flowing river, which he named the Hollyford after his birthplace in Tipperary, Ireland. Following the river downstream, the first sizeable obstacle was the large tributary he named ‘Pyke Creek’, after Vincent Pyke, Secretary of the goldfields.

Caples was in search of gold to sustain the burgeoning rushes of Central Otago. The lack of any noteworthy prize and dwindling food resources forced his return down the Routeburn. Encountering clear skies, he looked down the Hollyford Valley all the way to the coast at Martins Bay. He clearly deciphered the sizeable lake before the coast, which he called Lake McKerrow after surveyor James McKerrow, who was exploring the Lake Wakatipu region at the time. He also spied an insignificant plume of smoke rising from the beach. After restocking from his food stash, he descended via the Caples Valley and bumped into McKerrow, determined to prove that the Hollyford indeed flowed to the coast at Martins Bay.

On his next foray, Caples ascended the Greenstone Valley, then followed the Hollyford, skirting the shores of Lake McKerrow to the coast. In his search for gold he failed. In the first European east-west crossing of Otago, he succeeded. At Martins Bay he encountered the rudely constructed huts of a Maori camp, whom he presumed was peopled with cannibals. He must have been a scared man as he recorded in his diary “It is easy for a person to find courage when he has law and assistance at this back, but let him be alone and beyond any assistance, near the camp of savages, and he will find how fleeting courage is.”

Caples’ unease was soon discovered to be completely unfounded, based on the experiences of James Hector, provincial geologist for Otago. In August 1863, Hector visited Martin’s Bay and struck up a lasting friendship with Chief Tutoko. Hector returned to Queenstown with no hint of gold, but an idea for a road via the Harris Saddle.

This proposal was taken up by the egotistical Superintendent of Otago, James Macandrew, who held grandiose plans for a port on the West Coast, to be named Jamestown of course. Surveyor McKerrow supported the route over the Routeburn and Harris Saddle and estimated a cost of £400 to construct a bridle track. He reckoned on a days walk from Lake Wakatipu to the Hollyford Valley. The saddle, he surmised, would only be impassable for a few weeks each winter. These overoptimistic judgements grossly underestimated practicability of the project, so after 4 years work ceased. This abandoning of the road was one of the nails in Jamestown’s coffin.

In the last two decades of the 1800s, as tourism started to creep into the lives of the station owners at the head of Lake Wakatipu, guided parties began exploring the Routeburn area. 15-year old Harry Bryant would accompany tourists on an overnight horse trek up to Harris Saddle. Along with Harry Birley from Glenorchy they would guide parties of up to 17 people. After traversing the gorge on a benched track above the Routeburn River, riders would enter the Routeburn Flats and the hut, where they camped for the night.

The following morning the foot journey commenced with a grunty climb to the bushline and Lake Harris, the source of the Routeburn River. Circumnavigating the lake, these first trampers would scramble up the rocky bluff behind the lake to the saddle and take in the view.

In 1912 Minister of Tourism Sir Thomas MacKenzie enthused about the possibility of completing the track from Harris Saddle to Lake Howden. This was the catalyst for Harry Birley to discover Lake Mackenzie during his early forays. Tom Bryant was entrusted with the task of supplying the work gangs on the far side of the saddle and used teams of packhorses. Prince was the workhorse of the operation and nearly came a cropper one day near the saddle when he became jammed in a narrow rock crevice with precipitous drops on either side. Bryant was able to unload the gear and repack the horse to continue the journey, but not without a drop of perspiration or two. The peat bogs near Lake Harris also turned to quagmires with the repeated hoof falls, making Bryant feel he was earning his pay.

Early trampers would steam up Wakatipu aboard the same Earnslaw, which chugs up the lake today. With the construction of the Queenstown Glenorchy Road in 1962, the Routeburn was opened up to buses. Trampers were enlivened by the humorous commentary of driver Harry Bryant, as his blue wagons hugged the mountainsides. Buses were often filled to double capacity, one time contributing to a broken stringer on the bridge’s deck. Although punctuality and efficiency were often compromised, the generally joviality of the atmosphere radiated throughout the trampers and gee’d them up for their journey along the Routeburn Track.


Feature Value Info


DOC Otago

Central government organisation


South IslandQueenstown RegionGlenorchy


  • Walking
  • Free


Showing 13 reviews of 131.

Laura Kudo's avatar

Laura Kudo

Ranking: 8/10

Fantastic weather, definite highlight.

Reviewed over 4 years ago and experienced in March 2017

Dorothy and Graham Glen's avatar

Dorothy and Graham Glen

United Kingdom

Ranking: 10/10

Incredible walk through varied landscapes. A personal challenge for me as I am scared of falling after an earlier hiking experience. I had no problems despite the heights, as we were lucky to have mild weather and low wind. A stunning hike and great huts along the way.

Reviewed over 4 years ago

Jan Christoph's avatar

Jan Christoph


Ranking: 10/10

Best track in New Zealand. The middle part was the best part. The rangers are very awesome and tell stories of their life in the evening.

Reviewed over 4 years ago

Fi's avatar



Ranking: 8/10

The Routeburn is beautiful. We linked the tracks to make a circuit.

Reviewed over 4 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Thank You - to the thousands of travellers that have contributed to our Top Voted NZ Activities Map - it's free from Rankers.

Simon's avatar



Ranking: 10/10

Great river, nice beech forest and birdlife. Only did a day walk (16km), stayed at Lake Sylvan Campsite which was very nice.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in January 2017

Holloway's avatar


United Kingdom

Ranking: 10/10

Track was well signposted off the road. Good parking, walking routes are well kept.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in February 2017

Remy and Rebecca Mans's avatar

Remy and Rebecca Mans


Ranking: 10/10

Amazing walk! We had good luck with very nice weather which made the walk even better. We did a side walk to Conical Hill which was also great! We walked the track in one day so we did not experience the DOC huts.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in February 2017

Melanie and Pascal's avatar

Melanie and Pascal


Ranking: 10/10

Long hike, but worth it. After 6km walking in the forest, the views open up. Stunning scenery.

Reviewed about 5 years ago and experienced in February 2017

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Austin Jurgensmeyer's avatar

Austin Jurgensmeyer

United States

Ranking: 10/10

It is hard to imagine a better track. The views are quite literally some of the best on the planet. The huts were clean and homey, overall the best hike we did.

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in October 2016

Kat's avatar



Ranking: 8/10

Nice and easy walk, helpful rangers.

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Jannika Cao's avatar

Jannika Cao


Ranking: 10/10

Amazing view and not too touristy. Good stops for an overnight trip.

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Mikkel Thomassen's avatar

Mikkel Thomassen


Ranking: 10/10

Magnificent walk! Really good track with a good variation in difficulty.

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in November 2016

Virginia Fradin's avatar

Virginia Fradin


Ranking: 8/10

Really nice walk, a shame it was rainy. Beautiful landscape, huts were okay. Not enough space to hang wet clothes......

Reviewed over 5 years ago and experienced in March 2016

DOC Managed

Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍

Cymen Crick's avatar

Cymen Crick

Rankers Owner