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Walking the Great 9 - The Routeburn Track

The Southern Great walks are renowned for their sublime yet surreal scenery, the only factor hindering them is the ever-changing weather. With it being almost impossible to predict how the days weather will pan out, it keeps you on your toes when traversing the alpine sections; but that's what makes it real and exciting, don't you reckon?

To date i've managed to get 4 of the 9 Great walks completed, but having not yet set foot on any of the southern walks, it was like stepping into a whole different realm altogether; exciting yet invigorating. Adventure enthusiasts from far and wide come from all over the globe to traverse these tracks, which, in Summer can be very difficult to book onto with the bookings for this season becoming fully booked, within the day they opened; quite amazing really. I was one of the fortunate ones able to get a booking in, phew!

I wasn't to take this one on alone though, there would be a full 10 of us completing this track together. It had been in the planning since April, yet like anything, you palm it off thinking it's so far away to worry about until you realise it starts to creep up on you quickly, but luckily enough we were an organised bunch and got all the logistics sorted early.

So what's there to know about the Routeburn Track?

A 32km route through the heart of Fiordland, this track can be started either at the Glenorchy side or from the Milford road. Considered one of the ultimate alpine adventures of Fiordland National park, the track weaves through meadows, reflective tarns and alpine gardens. You'll be rewarded with spectacular vistas over vast mountain ranges and valleys. Side tracks to places such as Key summit, as well as passing right by a 174metre waterfall in the form of Earsland falls, this has been one of my favourite Great Walks to date!

So how did we do it?

Flying into Queenstown airport, we hired a minibus for 10 of us and drove out to the small town of Te Anau. I like to think of it as the gateway to the Southern Great walks, with it being the last town before any of them as well as the entry point for several others amazing tracks. Here you can grab any supplies you need for your adventure ahead, with there being a supermarket and several outdoor shops available to purchase from. Stopping the first night at the Te Anau Lakeview holiday park, we were parked right on the Lake front, offering spectacular views of Lake Te Anau and the ranges beyond.

The next morning after a much needed rest, we headed to the track start, The Divide which is located along the Milford Road and began our adventure! The track immediately turns upwards, offering several switchbacks until you reach the turn off for Key Summit, which is definately worth the stop for. We decided to leave our packs at the junction, but be wary of alpine Kea, they can reign havoc in these parts! The summit offers perfect reflections of the Darran Mountains and a look down into the Hollyford Valley; a perfect spot for some lunch!

Shortly after the Key summit junction, the track drops down towards Howden Hut, a 28 bunk hut nestled in Beech forest and marshland. We stopped here momentarily for some morning tea while the rain hammered down on the hut, we waited as long as we could but it didn't seem to cease; Fiordland weather for you! It's reported in these areas of the National park, 6 metres of rain are expected every year and for the Milford track, it can be as much as 9 metres! So it was safe to say, the odds were pretty high!

After a short break, we winded on the niggly track toward Lake Mackenzie hut, passing by the renowned Earsland falls (174m) along the way. Unfortunately, due to the amount of rain, I wouldn't dare get out my camera as we were all pretty much soaked head to toe by this stage. Passing by the falls was a journey in itself, with the spray coming from it enough to soak you through 10 times over! From here, the track drops steeply down toward Lake Mackenzie hut, a quaint hut parked by the side of Lake Mackenzie where you really get a feel for what lies ahead. The range to the left in the following photos would involve several steep switch backs until you rise over it, all of which we would face the following morning.