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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.

Until then, we proceeded to enjoy the sublime views of the lake and its surroundings and for pretty much the first time all day, the rain had stopped!

The following morning was to be an onslaught of bad weather, with rain and high winds battering us as we sidled up and over the range, steadily climbing up to the harris saddle. We arrived at the Harris shelter, pretty well beaten and soaked, but our excitement for what lay ahead wasn't knocked in the slightest. Due to the closing in of the weather, we opted not to head up Conical Hill which is an option to do right behind the Harris shelter. During the winter months the chances of Avalanches on this stretch of track become increasingly high and I could only begin to imagine the relief of a shelter in such tough conditions.

The track then begins to sidle along the exposed Hollyford face, offering spectacular views over Lake Harris, an amazing Glacial Lake formed at the base of Mt Xenicus (1912 m).

This part of the walk was slow going for us, sheerly due to the fact we couldn't help but gaze at the surreal view that lay was laid out before us. The view of Lake harris, then the run off from the lake forming into cascading waterfalls eventually running down into the Routeburn valley. We stopped a lot during this section of track and I advise you do the same; it's pretty damn spectacular.

Upon dropping off the harris saddle, the track involves many steps and rocky ground ever downward, until eventually reaching the Routeburn Falls hut. A very new looking hut, the Routeburn falls hut is huge, with it being nestled right on top of a Rocky outcrop, backing right onto the Routeburn Falls. The views from the hut are astounding, allowing you to see right down into the Routeburn valley which is flanked by the Ailsa Mountain range. Stopping here the night was pure luxury, with each 4 bunks divided into their own little section with heaps of storage space.

The following morning a few of us woke early to start the trek down the Routeburn Valley to the Routburn flat, a not too strenuous walk but with the ability to take in the morning colours. On the way down was a big slip that scoured down the Ailsa Mountains, but provided incredible views right across the valley and the Humboldt range. With a purple morning hue and the surreal view mixed together it turned out to be one of my favourite Great Walk photos so far!

We carried on, reaching Routeburn flats hut where the rain came once again hammering down without any indication of stopping. We'd been used to sleeping above the treeline at Routeburn Falls, but the renowned sandflies of Fiordland lived up to their name and were quickly onto us, so we decided to get moving.

The route out to to Routeburn road is reasonably flat, with a bridge crossing here over the Routeburn River.

We followed the Routeburn river onward until we reached the Routeburn, we were finished! It was so good to have finally ticked this one off after having been in the planning for so long. The weather may not have been the best but Fiordland almost makes it impossible to predict any weather pattern, so it's a good idea to bring wet weather gear, even in the height of summer! Thanks to the whole group for making this such an epic trip, and as they headed off to Queenstown airport, I was to head back to Te Anau for my next great walk beginning the very next day, the Kepler Track! I'll tell you all about this epic trip in my next blog!

Thanks for Reading!

Jack Austin

Follow my Instagram page - @austinsadventures_ for awesome adventure content and imagery!

Below is a list of gear I used for this trip as well as recommendations for doing this walk!

Meindl Island Boots

This fabulous boot is superbly comfortable and has what it takes for those who want to explore the

countryside whether on or off trail. This 100% waterproof, Gore-Tex lined boot has integrated pronation and supination zones which promote correct posture and support. I found this boot to be super supportive which definitely helps for the winding trails we found on the circuit. An amazing back country standard boot which could tackle a number of terrains; I honestly don't think i've tried a boot more comfortable. The Meindl Island MFS Active is the most awarded boot in history and has received a Gold Medal Award at the 2009 European Outdoor Expo - voted by a panel of independent experts as the most technically advanced, correctly supportive, and proven outdoor footwear for the last 20 years.

Jetboil stove kit

Since taking on a lot more adventures of late, I

feel investing in good, quality equipment is

always a good investment; it makes life in the outdoors that bit easier. Jetboil, produce a variety of different stove kits, different sizes and shapes, ones adapted for cold weather etc. These stove kits boil water at an insanely fast speed, which is definitely handy if your on top of a cold, windy ridge line and in need of a hot cuppa. I wouldn't go on a trip without one of these in my pack now, so take a look at their website and see which stove kit best suits you. I opted for the "Mini-mo" set-up which is rated for below freezing temperatures and even has simmer control.

Marmot Featherless Jacket

Insulation in alpine environments is key. Even in the height of summer, you should always take an insulation jacket for up on the tops as the weather can change quickly; look no further than the Marmot featherless Jacket. In the Marmot Featherless Jacket, there are no feathers to ruffle. They designed this layerable jacket, ideal for a variety of cold-weather activities when constant warmth is a must, with the revolutionary new 3M Thinsulate Featherless , a water-resistant, loose-fill synthetic insulation that matches the warmth and pillowy feel of 700-power-fill down, yet maintain warmth when wet better than down. The state-of-the-art materials and functional design make this jacket a jet setter in thermal technology's upward flight, I highly recommend it!

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