I'd last been to New Zealand about 10 years ago so I planned some time here as part of my sabbatical.
After an overnight stay in Queenstown, I caught an early morning bus to the start of the 3-day Routeburn Track. It's one of New Zealand's "Great Walks" so hut places need to be booked months in advance to secure a place. The Routeburn Track is also one of the wettest places in New Zealand so it's a gamble on the weather when it's booked so long in advance.
Fortunately blue sunny skies greeted us at the start of the walk. As with all walking ("tramping") in New Zealand, everyone must carry their own sleeping bag, clothes and food for the duration of a multi-day hike. There had been snow only a week before so we had to ensure we were prepared for any weather conditions.
The walk climbed up through a steep canyon on the Route Burn river. It was covered in beech trees and there was plenty of bird life. The track flattened out to a wide valley. A campsite had views up a side valley while the main track climbed up to Routeburn Falls Hut. It was a relatively short day to start but a good warm up as my pack weighed around 15kg.
The hut warden mentioned the stoats, which were introduced to New Zealand to eradicate another introduced species, rabbits. Unfortunately the stoats are now a threat to New Zealand's bird population. Stoat traps are now laid in an effort to control the stoats and therefore save the native birds of New Zealand. A New Zealand parrot, the kia, is also proving to be a pest. They are very smart, strong and can rip windscreen wipers off cars! The kia population has figured out that the stoat traps have tasty eggs as bait inside and they can rip the top off (which is nailed on!) to steal the bait and not get trapped. It's a constant battle between the national park rangers and the kias. We were warned not to leave anything outside overnight due to the danger of kias.
Mist filled the valley overnight so we delayed our start as the forecast was for the weather to improve during the day. The mist lifted slightly and we climbed up Harris Saddle. Unfortunately the mist lingered so we couldn't see the views across Lake Harris. We waited in the Harris Shelter until after lunch and finally the mist cleared. We climbed up Conical Hill and could see right across Fjordland and up the Hollyford River to the Tasman Sea. Apparently it's quite unusual to see that far so we were lucky!
The rest of the afternoon we walked through the alpine plants above the Hollyford River around to Lake Mackenzie. The next hut was there and it was warm enough to have a swim in the lake. The sun set across the Darren Mountains and we had hour-long talk from the hut warden who we think had been there a bit too long (20+ years) and had a few loose screws.
We were back in the beech forest the next morning and continued the walk towards Lake Howden. There were waterfalls coming off the high mountains and lots of birds along the track. A worthwhile side trip was up Key Summit. It was a steep climb again but worthwhile views in the continued good weather.
The last part of the walk was a gentle descent to the Divide shelter. We could hear the sound of traffic on the Milford Highway gradually come nearer and finally we were at the end of the track. There were lots of "normal" people there (ie. people who hadn't walked for the past few days and had a recent shower) who asked us all sorts of question about the Routeburn track.
It was a four hour bus trip back to Queenstown. We are staying in Wanaka for the next few days and will see plenty more of the South Island. Hopefully the good weather will continue!
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