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Routeburn Track - The Ultimate Guide

Embark on an alpine adventure with our ultimate guide to the Routeburn Track. Connecting Mount Aspiring to Fiordland National Park, this 32km trail offers breathtaking scenery, rich history, and diverse wildlife. Below you’ll find everything you need to know for a spectacular Routeburn Track adventure.

Routeburn Track Overview

Winding its way through the South Island’s breathtaking alpine scenery, the Routeburn Track leads you through an ever-changing panorama of snow-capped peaks, pristine mountain lakes, immense valleys, and along the crystal-blue Routeburn River.

Māori are believed to have utilised the route as early as the 1500s in search of precious Pounamu (greenstone), and early Europeans began scoping out the area for animal grazing in 1861, leading to the discovery of gold and an official track being cut to transport it. Though the project was later abandoned, the track provided the perfect opportunity for adventurous explorers to hike amongst the area's spectacular backcountry, and the present-day track will take you along the explorers’ original route, witnessing the same awe-inspiring views. 

Routeburn Track Map

Location and Duration

Routeburn Track Map

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s shortest Great Walks, being 32km (19 miles) long and taking most hikers two nights and three days to complete. Located in the lower South West of New Zealand’s South Island, the trail allows hikers to walk amongst Kā Tiritiri O Te Moana, the Southern Alps, overlapping both the Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, with the highest point being the Harris Saddle at 1,255 metres (4117 feet). 

The track can be walked in either direction, beginning near Glenorchy (a short drive from Queenstown) or from Milford Road (between Te Anau and Milford Sound), with the option of exploring various side trails along the way.

Full Track Hiking Options

The Department of Conservation (DOC) classifies the trail at an intermediate hiking level, and it is not recommended for children under 10 years to walk the full track due to large drop-offs, exposed alpine environments, and often challenging weather conditions.

Like the Milford Track, the full, multi-day Routeburn Track can be completed as an independent hike, staying in DOC huts or campsites, or as a guided hike, staying in private lodges.

Independent Hiking

The most popular option for hiking the track is to start at the Routeburn Shelter near Glenorchy, around a 45-minute drive from Queenstown, and finish at the Divide Shelter off Milford Road, in the heart of Fiordland National Park. 

DOC operates three huts and two campsites along the track to accommodate independent hikers. 

Routeburn Track Huts:

  • Routeburn Flats Hut with 20 bunks

  • Routeburn Falls Hut with 48 bunks

  • Lake Mackenzie Hut with 50 bunks

DOC Huts on NZ Walking Tracks

During the Great Walks season (late October to late April), there is a DOC ranger stationed at the huts, and the huts have bunks, mattresses, heating, solar-powered lighting, cold running water (boil before use), flush toilets, and basic cooking facilities. The huts don’t have showers, and you’ll need to bring all your own food and cooking equipment. 

It’s not recommended to hike the Routeburn Track outside of the Great Walks season (early May to late October) unless you are a very experienced hiker with sufficient alpine skills. If you hike outside the season, there will be no DOC rangers at the huts, and the facilities may be reduced, such as no gas for cooking.

Routeburn Track Campsites:

  • Routeburn Flats Campsite with 15 non-powered tent sites, accommodating 30 campers

  • Lake Mackenzie Campsite with nine non-powered tent sites, accommodating 18 campers

If staying at a campsite, you are not permitted to use the hut facilities. You’ll have access to basic facilities at the campsites, including non-flush toilets, sinks, a water supply (boil water before use), picnic tables, and cooking shelters. 

Guided Hiking

During the Great Walks season, Ultimate Hikes offers a fully guided three-day / two-night hike with accommodation in private lodges. The package includes transport to and from the entry and exit points of the track, all snacks and food provided on the hike, and the option of borrowing a 40-litre backpack.

This guided hike option is only available during the Great Walks season and must be booked well in advance. Prices range from NZD$1,820.00-$ 3,175 per person depending on room choice and time of year. 

Wildlife Highlights

Along the Routeburn track, you’ll see the kōtukutuku, the world’s largest tree fuschia, reaching up to 12 metres tall, noticeable by its vibrant orange, paper-like bark. The kōtukutuku is popular with native forest birds like tui, waxeyes/silvereyes, and bellbirds.

Parakeet bird on Routeburn Track NZ

Near the Glenorchy end of the track, you’ll find some rare endemic forest birds, including kakariki/yellow-crowned parakeets, and the mohua/yellowhead, a little bird with bright yellow head feathers. 

You’ll also encounter New Zealand’s famous alpine specialist, the cheeky kea, along the Routeburn track. They are most commonly seen between Routeburn Falls and Lake McKenzie where alpine flowers are abundant in spring and early summer, providing excellent food sources of fruit and seeds. Kea are curious, extremely intelligent, and highly attracted to people, often visiting huts and campsites, particularly at dusk and dawn, so make sure to secure your belongings. 

Hikers with a keen eye may also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the rare whio (blue duck), which lives in higher stretches of the Routeburn River. These unique ducks blend in seamlessly with the blue river water and blue-grey river stones, but they often reveal themselves with their distinctive whistling call.

Independent Hiking - Know Before You Go

When to Go

The Great Walks season runs from late October to late April every year, and it’s best to hike the Routeburn Track during this time. The weather conditions are most settled during the season, and there are fewer hazards. 

It will likely be very cold and wet outside of the season, with ice, snow, and shorter daylight hours. The risk of avalanches is also high outside of the season, so the bridges across some of the main river crossings will be removed to prevent damage. The rivers are also prone to flooding, so you should only hike outside the season if you have adequate alpine and river-crossing skills, and never cross a river if you’re unsure.

Booking and Prices

Booking the Routeburn Track huts and campsites is essential during the Great Walks season, and you need to book them well in advance. You can book huts online from the DOC Great Walks bookings page.

Hut Prices During the Great Walks Season:

Prices for NZ residents and those living long-term in NZ:

  • Adult 18+ years: NZD$68 per person, per night

  • Child 17 years and under: free, but you still need to book the space

You’ll also need to provide eligibility proof for the NZ rate, such as a passport or driver's licence. Find out about what you can use as proof here.

Prices for International visitors:

  • Adult 18+ years: NZD$102 per person, per night

  • Child 17 years and under: NZD$51 per person, per night

Campsite Prices During the Great Walks Season:

Prices for NZ residents and those living long-term in NZ:

  • Adult 18+ years: NZD$21 per person, per night

  • Child 17 years and under: free, but you still need to book the space

Prices for International visitors:

  • Adult 18+ years: NZD$32 per person, per night

  • Child 17 years and under: NZD$16 per person, per night

Prices Outside the Great Walks season: 

Bookings are not required outside of the Great Walks season, and the huts and campsites operate on a first-come-first-served basis. To access the track huts and campsites outside the season, you can buy Back Country Hut tickets from the DOC visitor centre in Te Anau before you go. 

Off-season prices for all visitors:


  • Adult 18+ years): NZD$25 per person, per night

  • Child 17 years and under: free


  • Adult 18+ years: NZD$10 per person, per night

  • Child 17 years and under: free

No Cellphone Coverage 

There is no cell phone coverage on the Routeburn Track, so it's a good idea to tell someone about your hiking plans and when you expect to return. You should also check in at the DOC visitor centre in Te Anau before you leave.

Full Hike Packing Essentials

  • Waterproof jacket

  • Warm sweater

  • A warm underlayer for your top and bottom - e.g. merino thermals

  • Good-quality hiking socks

  • Quick-dry outer layers

  • Sun hat, warm hat, sunglasses

  • Personal medications

  • First aid kit

  • Light-weight food items

  • Sleeping bag

  • Supportive hiking boots

  • Comfortable pack

  • Change of clothes for the evening

  • Toilet paper

  • Cooking supplies

  • Waterbottle or bladder

  • Matches or lighter

If you’re camping, you’ll also need a tent, sleeping mat, and a gas cooker. You’ll also need more supplies if you’re hiking in the off-season, such as more clothing items and a gas cooker for the huts, as no gas will be available. 

To ensure you are properly prepared to hike the Routeburn Track, you can check out this gear list for a comprehensive Great Walks packing guide. 

Accessing the Routeburn Track

There are two possible starting points for your Routeburn Track adventure. The most popular starting point is a 25-minute drive out of Glenorchy at the Routeburn Shelter. Alternatively, you can start from the Fiordland end of the track at the Divide Shelter, accessible by a 1-hour drive from Te Anau down Milford Road. 

There are several operators providing transport services to both ends of the Routeburn Track, including car relocation services if you’d like to use your car before and after you finish the hike. Check out these pages from Destination Queenstown and Visit Fiordland for information on the various transport packages and prices.

In the off-season, transport operators require minimum numbers to operate and may not operate every day. Transport may also be impacted by bad weather, so you’ll need to contact transport operators for information about their off-season services.

Safety Tips

  • Be aware of steep drop-offs along the track and pay attention to the markers and signposts.

  • Be prepared for all weather conditions. Heavy rainfall is common in Fiordland National Park year-round, and cold temperatures, strong winds, and snow can occur at any time of year. Conditions can also change quickly on the Routeburn Track, so check the NIWA forecast page regularly for the most up-to-date forecast before you go. 

Routeburn Track Day Hikes

If you can’t do the full multi-day hike, then there are multiple day hike options for experiencing the Routeburn Track, all starting and finishing at the same point. 

Divide to Key Summit

This is one of NZ’s most popular day walks, providing a three-hour, moderate-easy climb through native forests to above the treeline for stunning alpine views.

Divide to Earland Falls

For a full-day, moderate-challenging hike, this option provides a six-hour return adventure through a variety of stunning landscapes to the 174m tumbling Earland Falls. 

Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut

This option provides an easy two- to three-hour hike along the Routeburn River through native beech forest teeming with birdlife. This day hike is an ideal option for young families, and the grass area outside the hut is a great spot for a picnic lunch. 

Staying in Glenorchy and Te Anau

To ensure you’re well-rested before and after your hike, it’s a good idea to book some accommodation at both ends of the track. Glenorchy is the closest town to the Routeburn Shelter access point, and you’ll find various accommodation options there, such as the Headwaters Eco Lodge and Mrs Woolly’s Camp Ground. Queenstown, a 45-minute drive from Glenorchy, is a great place to stock up on food and hiking essentials. 

Radfords on the Lake, Te Anau accommodation
Radfords on the Lake, Te Anau

Te Anau is the closest town to the Divide Shelter access point, and you’ll also find plenty of accommodation options there, from luxury lodges to backpackers and campgrounds. With plentiful activities, such as the glowworm tour and cycling trail, it’s worth staying a few nights if you can. Te Anau is also a convenient base if you’d like to get in a visit to Milford Sound while you’re in Fiordland. 

The Routeburn Track stands as a captivating alpine journey, weaving through New Zealand's South Island from Mount Aspiring to Fiordland National Park. Tracing historical routes of Māori and early European explorers, the track offers diverse landscapes and wildlife. With careful preparation, you’re guaranteed an unforgettable adventure in this pristine wilderness.

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