Great Walk | Hiking | South Island

Can I do the Routeburn Track in two days?

So you decided to go on an adventure, but you’re not sure if you can complete it. One of New Zealand’s best adventures lies in the heart of the Southern Alps. Most backpackers spend three or four days on the track of this Great Walk. 

But what if I told you that it’s possible to do the Routeburn Track in two days? Or even one, when you are very fit and experienced. 

Well, it is! Sort-of…

Let’s dive into this stunning track to see what’s possible and what you need to know.

Routeburn Track view from Falls Hut
Photo: view from just above Routeburn Falls Hut by Kiwishirts

Can I hike the Routeburn Track in two days?

You can do the Routeburn Track in two days. Start at the Divide car park and walk the 12 kilometers up to the Lake Makenzie Hut. On the second day, you will hike 20 kilometers by starting the climb to Harris Saddle. From there, it is a long way down back to the car park at the Routeburn Shelter. 

On day one, you can even choose to do a little sidetrack to the Key Summit, where you will have panoramic views over Fiordland mountains and alpine lakes. The second day will probably blow your mind further. The views are absolutely stunning! 

Another way to do the entire Routeburn Track in two days is to start at the Routeburn shelter, hike up halfway (or something like that) and return the same way. Do the same at the other end, the Divide. You won’t need to pay for overnight stays, so it is cheap and accessible when everything is fully booked. 

I actually did this a couple of years ago. It is quite an effort, but worth it, in my opinion. Another option is to book a hut or campsite at the Routeburn Flats and explore the environment from there. That is what I did with my husband in the summer of 2019 when the entire track was fully booked, but there were a couple of campsites available for two nights. 

Routeburn Track Swingbridge
Photo: Swingbridge over the Routeburn by Kiwishirts

Can I hike the Routeburn Track in one day? 

Although it is only 32.1 kilometers to be exact, it has a lot of vertical meters. Still, some very fit and experienced hikers do the Routeburn Track in one day. You will need a lot of daylight to finish this hike in one day and have time to rest and enjoy the environment. It will take around 11 or 12 hours to do the whole hike. 

Add an hour or two for lunch, rest, and photo stops. Make sure you pack lite. There is plenty of water on the track, but you need to bring plenty of food to get you fuelled for a long day of hiking. Don’t forget to bring a rain jacket that will help in wet and windy conditions. 

What is the Routeburn Track?

The Routeburn Track is a Great Walk within the Fiordland National Park in New Zealand. The track was opened in 1893 as one of NZ’s first walking tracks. It shares the same alpine scenery as the nearby Kepler Track, Hollyford Track, and Greenstone/Caples Track. The trail goes from the Divide in Fiordland to the Routeburn shelter in Mount Aspiring National Park (or vice versa). 

How many kilometers is the Routeburn Track?

The Routeburn Track is only 32.1 kilometers and very accessible for hikers of all ages. An average fitness level will suffice. Most hikers will spend two half days and one full day on the track, but you can do it in two days or even one day. The first parts on either side of the trail slowly climb until they reach the foot of the mountain range. It is a very straightforward hike all the way up until you reach the base of Harris Saddle. From there, it’s a bit tougher but not too difficult. 

How difficult is the Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is considered an intermediate to moderate track. The track steadily but easily climbs on either side of the track towards the base of the mountain range. It becomes steeper, rockier, and more technical, but nothing a pair of hiking shoes or boots can’t fix. Most people with a bit of hiking experience and training can do this hike without any problems. 

Routeburn Track Map with Toilets
Map: Routeburn Track by DOC

Track section #1 – Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats hut and Routeburn Falls hut

The track starts alongside the Route Burn (river) and winds gently upwards. You will pass the Sugarloaf Stream with a swing bridge and climb towards the magnificent Bridal Veil Waterfall. The track continues above the gorge where crystal clear blue water thunders down. Another swing bridge will lead to the open grass flats from the Routeburn Flats. After a short while, the track will turn left and lead up to Routeburn Falls. But if you continue the track in the valley, you will reach Routeburn Flats hut and campsite where you can rest and use the toilet. Get back to the trail and climb up through beech forest while enjoying views of the Humboldt Mountains. You will find another well-equipped hut close to the stunning Routeburn Falls at the end of the bush line. 

  • Time: 3 to 4 hours
  • Distance: 9.8 kilometers
  • Accommodation: Routeburn Falls hut and campsite or a bit higher up at the Routeburn Falls hut
Routeburn Flats Campsite
Photo: Routeburn Flats Campsite by Kiwishirts

Track section #2 – Routeburn Falls to Lake Mackenzie hut

In the second section of the Routeburn Track, you will continue climbing up past the Routeburn Falls. Be careful. It is very rocky, and it can get extremely windy on the ridge above the Routeburn Falls hut. The track continues through wetlands and tussock-covered flats before you will reach the bluffs above Lake harris. A little while later, you will get to the highest point of the Routeburn Track, Harris Saddle, or Tarahaka Whakatipu. By now, you will be at an altitude of 1225 meters above sea level. Enjoy the views and continue the track downwards and the exposed Hollyford Face with incredible views over the Darran Mountains. Don’t spend all your time looking at the snow-capped mountains but check out the alpine plants as well. A steady descent brings you to Lake Mackenzie Hut beside the eponymous lake. 

  • Time: 4.5 to 6 hours
  • Distance: 11.3 kilometers
  • Accommodation: Lake Mackenzie hut and campsite
Lake Mackenzie Hut
Photo: Lake Mackenzie hut by Department of Conservation

Track section #3 – Lake Mackenzie hut to The Divide

The Routeburn Track continues on a small flat before climbing to the bush line. After that, the descent towards Earland Falls begins. It is a 174-meter high and imposing waterfall. A lot of people use the Routeburn Track to go on a day walk to the waterfalls. So it might get busier on the track from here on. Continue your way down to Lake Howden and eventually the car park at The Divide. You can also do a little side tour to Key Summit, an alpine wetland with stunning views over Fiordland mountains and alpine lakes. 

  • Time: 4 to 5.5 hours
  • Distance: 12 kilometers

What do I need to bring on this hike?

Depending on the number of days you will spend on the Routeburn Track, you will need to bring:

  • a backpack with a waterproof liner
  • a sleeping bag
  • spare clothes
  • pajamas
  • first aid kit (with survival blanket and whistle)
  • map (and/or compass)
  • water bottle
  • food
  • eating and cooking utensils
  • matches or lighter
  • stove
  • toiletries (including toilet paper)
  • earplugs
  • sunscreen
  • sunhat
  • sunglasses
  • flipflops or sandals
  • torch
  • rubbish bag
  • smartphone
  • camera (or use smartphone camera)
  • Routeburn track tickets!!

If you are camping, you will need to bring a tent, sleeping mat, and gas cooker. You cannot use the facilities of the huts. Bring a smartphone and/or camera as well to take pictures on the track. 

How do I get to the trailhead of the Routeburn Track?

You can drive your own car to the trailhead of the Routeburn Track. You will need to arrange a vehicle relocation service so you can find your car at the other end of the track waiting for you. Or you can book track transport from and to either side of the track. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on transportation, you can return to the starting point and continue with your own car. That is what I did several times. You can still enjoy the track, but you don’t have to bother with relocation or track transport services. 

Are there toilets on the Routeburn Track?

You will find toilets at both ends of the track at the Divide and Routeburn Shelter and at the huts and campsites. Besides that, there are a couple of long drop toilets on the track. My advice is, use a toilet when you see one. 

Routeburn Track Map with Toilets
Map: Routeburn Track by DOC

When should I book the Routeburn Track?

You need to book the Routeburn Track well in advance, especially when you want to do the track in summer. Bookings are required for the Great Walk season that runs from the beginning of November until April every year. The summer season is the best time to walk the track. There are more facilities and fewer hazards, although strong winds and snow can still occur. Hut wardens can give you information about weather conditions. 

Download the Routeburn Track brochure from the Department of Conservation website

Routeburn Track View
Photo: View on Routeburn Track by Stewart Nimmo

How much does the Routeburn Track cost?

Yeh, you got it right. This epic walking track comes with a cost. How much? Well, if you’re looking to do the entire track – it’ll cost you $65 per person per night to stay in a hut or $20 per person on a campsite. I think The Routeburn Track is well worth the costs, but there are free alternatives. 

You can do the entire track in just one day, without an overnight stop. Or you can hike up the track for several hours and return the same way. When you do this on both sides of the Routeburn Track you will have seen a lot, if not all, of the famous route in Fiordland New Zealand. 

There are three Great Walk huts and two DOC campsites, which must be booked well in advance during the summer season from the beginning of November until the end of April.

Routeburn Track Swingbridge

Why should you do the Routeburn Track?

The Routeburn Track trail has some exceptional views and is generally very well-maintained. It is doable for the average hiker and probably a good introduction to long hikes in the mountains. The circumstances made this one of my favorite hikes in New Zealand so far. I have returned three times to this stunning place over the last 12 years. In my honest opinion, this is a must-do for hikers of all ages.

Where can I download the Routeburn Track brochure and map?

You can download a free copy of the Routeburn Track brochure and map from the website of the Department of Conservation in New Zealand. Every year they will update all the information about the track, accommodation, toilets, and background information on the hike.

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