Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Routeburn Track, New Zealand - December 2014

Routeburn Falls Lodge is just below us.

The Routeburn is my favourite multi day tramp in New Zealand so I figured that it would be an appropriate walk to finish my five weeks in the shaky isles at the back end of last year. With Sam now having joined me I thought that a guided walk would be the best option, well Sam joining me and the fact that I'm getting soft! So that's how we ended up booking through Ultimate Hikes again. We walked the Routeburn back to back with the Milford as we had around 9 years ago, once again feeling very privileged to be able to tramp through such stunning scenery. Between the two walks we had a night in the big smoke of Te Anau which gave us a bit of a break from walking each day and allowed me to take Sam to my favourite fish and chip shop for some delicious Orange Roughy.
The Routeburn starts with a fairly easy climb to the turn off to Key Summit.
16 kilometres                                   Lake Mackenzie Lodge
After a mid morning pick up from Te Anau we headed on up to The Divide car park to start the tramp. The weather this morning was a bit on the dodgy side, being grey and overcast, but at least it wasn't hosing down. Last time we'd walked this section of track nine years ago the weather had been very average indeed so grey and overcast was a definite improvement. We left The Divide accompanied by the occasional light shower and headed on up the first climb of the tramp. the section from here to the turnoff to Key Summit is a steady up hill walk but the track is well graded and superbly maintained so its still a pretty cruisey walk. On reaching the side trip to Key Summit Sam decided to head down to Howden Hut for lunch, while I went up Key Summit to take in the view, last time I was here all I'd got were a couple of tantalising views through the cloud. Even with the grey skies I got some nice views today, although the photo's appear a little drab it was good to see what I'd missed last time. After five weeks of tramping I was pretty match fit so the side trip barely raised a sweat and I was soon re united with Sam at Howden Hut.
The top of Key Summit is fairly flat.
I got a few more views from Key Summit than I did nine years ago.
Howden Hut is situated on the shore of Lake Howden and as with Key Summit this was the first time that we'd actually seen much of the lake. We enjoyed our lunch on the veranda of the DOC hut taking in the magic views of the lake and getting to know our new group of walkers. Leaving Lake Howden the Routeburn slowly climbs along the western face of the Ailsa Mountains, easily gaining height with little effort. One of the highlights of this section is Earland Falls which the track almost passes underneath, with the wind whipping the tops today a lot of the water was getting whisked away. Re filling our water bottle we continued on into the gathering gloom, the weather now looking a lot more threatening, eventually the Routeburn comes to a opening in the cliffs and starts its short roughish decent to Lake Mackenzie Lodge. The lodge had been re built since our last visit and was stunning, with lots of glass and polished wood, which made it a very pleasant spot to sit and watch the weather deteriorate outside. In between rain showers I wandered down to the shores of Lake Mackenzie to take in the view, not trusting the Fiordland weather to be any better tomorrow.
Earland Falls.
Lake Mackenzie.
Lake Mackenzie Lodge.
The food is a cut above the usual freeze dried that I normally have to eat.
15 kilometres                                  Routeburn Falls Lodge                         31 kilometres total
Hmmm... Lucky I'd wandered down to the lake yesterday as the weather was very ugly this morning, so ugly infact that the guides had to delay our departure until it improved a bit. Like the day on the Milford that you cross Mackinnon Pass, day two on the Routeburn involves tramping up above the tree line so its definitely better in benign conditions. and like the Milford a few days ago we got some more typical Fiordland weather. The worst of the weather held off until we'd climbed to Ocean Peak Corner however on rounding the corner onto the Hollyford Face we copped the full brunt, yeah it was going to be a long day. Sam and I now traversed high above the Hollyford Valley, not that we could see it often as it was buried in the cloud way below us. The rain was once again bringing the country alive with many waterfalls cascading down from the peaks to our right, and the alpine grasses and shrubs glistening, eventually after crossing one last stream we made the final short climb to Harris Saddle and the guided walkers shelter. As with our challenging weather day over Mackinnon Pass, the guides today were certainly earning their money, handing out hot drinks and generally making sure all the punters were safe. Being the face of Ultimate Hikes the (mostly) young guides are what make the walks for me and our lead guide Sadao and his team were no exception on this walk.
Lake Mackenzie from the track up to Ocean Peak Corner.
A rainbow in the Hollyford Valley, unfortunately the weather only got worse.
Like the Milford most of the streams are bridged on the Routeburn.
Sam, high up on the Hollyford Face.
Arriving at Harris Saddle Shelter.
After lunch it was time to pull on our wet gortex and head back out, the Routeburn climbs gently for a little longer to the highest point on the track before starting the descent that more or less finishes at the end of the tramp tomorrow. The weather now was getting a little more serious, along with the wind and rain we started to get thunder and lightning, in this bare rocky landscape it wasn't ideal. The walking along this section of the Routeburn is stunning with the track sometimes etched into the cliffs high above Lake Harris, we sloshed along slowly losing height as we made our way down the wide water logged valley beside the infant Routeburn towards Routeburn Falls and the lodge. On reaching the final steep section above Routeburn Falls we stopped and asked Sadao to take a photo of us, soaking wet but with huge grins on our faces, life is good. Once at the lodge we were shown to our room and after showering and placing all our saturated gear in the drying rooms we headed into the communal lounge area to watch mother natures show outside. Being New Years Eve some of the hardier trampers stayed up to see in the new year, but being old and broken (well I am anyway) Sam and I saw in the new year asleep in bed.
After lunch the weather got a little worse.

Sam, traversing high above Lake Harris.

We were heading down this valley to the notch on the left of centre.

The Routeburn cascading out of Lake Harris.

Routeburn Falls in the rain.

The view from our room at Routeburn Falls Lodge.
Hardcore tramping, Routeburn Falls Lodge.
10 kilometres                                 Routeburn Car Park                          41 kilometres total
Our last day dawned clear with bright blue sky so after a quick breakfast I wandered back up the track to the top of Routeburn Falls. The contrast to yesterday was amazing, with far reaching views of snow capped peaks and deep valleys. Today is a fairly easy day so the guides allowed for a slightly later start and it was a pretty relaxed crew that eventually hit the trail. Initially the Routeburn drops down to Routeburn Flats, once reunited with the river on the park like flats the track more or less follows it down for the rest of the tramp.
Routeburn Falls on day 3.
Looking down towards Routeburn Flats.

After an early lunch break beside the river we pushed off on our final section to the waiting bus. The Routeburn making a final descent to the Road End. Crossing one last swing bridge we arrived at the end of the tramp and our New Zealand walking holiday was over. Getting one last photo to commemorate the occasion we then boarded the bus and headed to the historic pub at Glenorchy for our final drink together as a group, the guides handing out certificates of achievement to all the walkers.
The weather on day 3 was perfect.
Descending to Routeburn Flats.

The Routeburn.
The Dirt.
As with the Milford we walked with Ultimate Hikes, a small kiwi company that provide a world class experience.
If you want to check out some what the view looks like on the Hollyford Face or from Conical Hill here's the link for our Routeburn walk around nine years ago. We had rain on day one but day two was a pearler.
Finally if your a glutton for punishment and you want to see some more photos here's the link to my Crazy Guy journal which has a lot more shots in it.
I'd rate the Routeburn as an easy/medium walk, like other walks in Fiordland the weather can make a big difference to the tramp. There is some climbing on the tramp but its generally well graded and the New Zealand National Parks people are obviously pouring a bit of money into maintaining the track as its almost as well maintained as the Milford. The Ultimate Hike Lodges are particularly good on the Routeburn, I actually wonder weather Ultimate Hikes should schedule a few trips a year that could stop for rest days at the lodges so the punters could enjoy the wild surrounds and the superb lodges a bit more.

One last swing bridge.
And we've finished.
Our 2014 Routeburn group.

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