40 Miles, 2 Days, 1 Epic Hike – The Routeburn Track

40 Miles, 2 Days, 1 Epic Hike – The Routeburn Track

As we’ve said, New Zealand has a lot of good hiking (I think I was previously quoted as saying they had 8 billion hiking trails but again I’m rounding) but there are a few that are not simply classified as good, but rather great.

There are 9 hikes throughout the North and South islands that are so stunningly beautiful they have been deemed the country’s Great Walks.  These hikes range from 2-5 days and pretty much have a monopoly on the pages of New Zealand’s tourism brochures – they’re that gorgeous.

But not realizing that hiking these storied tracks is a life aspiration for some people who book a year in advance, we waited until the last minute to try and secure a spot in one of the cabins (you’re required to sleep in one of these or use limited tent space) and were promptly rejected by all 3 Walks in our region; the Milford Track, the Kepler Track and the Routeburn Track.

Bummed out, we conceded that we may have to wait until our next visit to knock out one of these bad boys.  But at the suggestion of a friend in Queenstown a few days later we checked again in hopes of someone canceling a booking an opening up and spot – and there it was!  One night available on the Routeburn Track!

Great right!?!  Well kinda.  The Routeburn is a one-way hike – from an area called The Divide near Milford Sound, you hike about 20 miles in towards Queenstown and finish near Glenorchy.  You’re supposed to take 2 days to complete this entire thing and then either have someone waiting to pick you up at the other side (if you don’t have a car) or pay a company to drive your car from one side to the other.

This created a couple of issues for us:

1.) We were going to have to complete the entire track in 1 day because we were only able to book 1 cabin

2.) Both options for transport were really expensive and we didn’t want to pay them

So what did we decide?

Obviously the only logical solution; hike it twice in 2 days.  Out and back.  Half the time and double the distance.  20 miles per day.  5000ft total elevation increase.  Bring it on Routeburn.

Here’s a map and an elevation chart for your cartography aficionados.


 So the day approached and guess what?  There was a blizzard the night before.  Maybe we should talk such trash to mother nature in future endeavors….

But although it did make for some tough hiking on Day 1 – but wow.  Just wow.

See for yourself.

waterfall routeburn-return4 routeburnlakemackenzie routeburn2 routeburn3 routeburn4 routeburn5 routeburn6 routeburn7 routeburn8 routeburn9chriscouplecabin

That was all Day 1.  Just absolutely stunning.  After about 10 hours we crawled (almost literally – 20 miles is a long way) into our cabin beds and crashed hard for the evening.

But we were only halfway done.  Dragging ourselves out of bed the next morning we embarked on what would be one of the most physically challenging things either of us have ever done – 20 mountainous miles back to where we started.  The first hour neither of us honestly thought we were going to make it – we were too exhausted from the snowy haul the day before and had no less than 9 hours of hiking ahead of us.

Fortunately we noticed that a warm evening and morning had done some serious melting to the snow and the going was a lot faster than before.  We got into a groove and found ourselves almost running at points – our cozy camper bed was within reach!

nens routeburn-return2 routeburn-return3 routeburn-return4 waterfall2

9 hours later…

WE FINISHED!!  It was a relief like neither of us have ever felt before.  I forgot if we tried to celebrate that night but it was resoundingly unsuccessful as both of us were fast asleep as soon as we touched the cushions.

Great Walk: Check.

I guess the long ones are next (Milford Track takes 4-5 days) – we should probably consider some planning ahead for those…


Posted by on February 6, 2015