New Zealands Routeburn Track and What to Expect

Being a huge outdoor advocate, New Zealand was at the top of my list for places to visit. New Zealand being the adventure capital of the world I knew I had to go.  I created my bucket-list and two years later I was on a plane to New Zealand!!

Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Me posing at the peak before descending to Mackenzie Hut

There were many things on my stared on my list, Moeraki Boulders, Pancake Rocks, White Island, Lake Tekapo and of course at least one Great Walk.

There are 10 Great Walks. Some of most famous, which you may have heard, are The Tongoriro Crossing,  Kepler, Routeburn,  and Milford Sound Track.

Milford Sound being the most popular of the Great Walks. Of course that was the track I wanted to do most. However, I missed my chance and booked to late.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand

The only available Great Walk during the time I wanted was the Routeburn Track. Thus the Routeburn Track it was!!

As beautiful as it was, there were things I wish I’d known before hiking New Zealands Routeburn Track.

There wasn’t much “from experience” recourses I could find about the Routeburn Track. Making it difficult to know what to expect, other than rain. I planned for the worst and ultimately got the best. However, hear is what I learnt.

1. Beautiful yet Busy

As beautiful as the trek was, it was busy. The Routeburn isn’t as busy as the other Great Walks which can only make you imagine what the rest are like.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand
I intentionally framed out people from most of my pictures

The Great Walks are not the treks to choose if you are looking for peace and tranquility that’s for sure.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand

The Tongoriro Crossing was also on my bucket-list, decided against it as I knew it would be the same, if not worse. I later learnt that the Tongoriro Crossing is basically one giant line of fluorescent coloured jackets.

2.  Be Prepared to Pay

  • Huts: $162
  • Car Relocation: $350

To stay in a hut for 3 nights, it cost me $162.00  (the price has since gone up). However, you do get what you pay for.  

Routburn Track, New Zealand
Tanner taking a photo of my, while I take a photo of him

These huts are glorious. Woodstoves, running water, flushing toilets, propane cooking stove, comfy sleeping mats. They basically have everything but showers and wi-fi. A bit to hotelesque for my taste.

As for the car relocation, that price can vary.  I failed to notice The Routeburn Track is one way track. Meaning you have to find means of transportation on the other side. By bus it would have taken me 2 days to get my car back. Thus I decided to pay the nasty $350 bill to get it relocated .

There are alternate cheaper options of course. Just make sure you take a look and plan.

3. There was No Sence of Community

In the huts everyone was kept to their own little group with no outside interaction.  Everyone was segregated and did everything within their own party. Cooked within their own group, played cards within their own group, talked amoung their own group.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand

There was no sence of community. No communal games or chats. No exchange of stories or advice.

It felt like something out of the movies. That classic scene, where the new kid at school  enters the  cafeteria, food tray in hand.  Not sure where to sit, they approach one table. Only to receive nasty glares and funny looks. They skip that table and proceed to the next. This time the new kid was allowed to take a seat, however their presence wasn’t acknowledged. Might as well eat alone on the floor in the corner.

Routburn Track, New Zealand
Night shot at Routeburn Flats Campsite

Well, that is what staying in the hut felt like. I didn’t feel welcome.

4. Stay in a Tent

I had a friend from Alaska join me on the Routeburn track. However, he was only staying in a tent. I would go over to the campsite to visit him, as he wasn’t allowed in the hut.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Routeburn Flats Campground. Couldn’t from out all the tents.

Over in tent land, there was much more sence of community. Everyone was together. Playing music, sharing beers, laughing over each others hiking stories.  Funny enough I prefered to hang at the campsite even though I paid $54.00 a night to stay in a hut. (NOTE: Hut prices have increased)

If I were ever to do it again, I would suck it up and bring a tent. Not to mention it costs only $15.00 to tent. Instead of the now, $65.00 to stay in a hut.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Tanner looking graceful, before we hike down to Mackenzie Hut.

5. Be Prepared to Sleep Next to Stranger

If you are not fast enough, you may miss out on claiming your own bunk. Leaving you with the only other option to sleep, in what looks like, one long large communal bed.

I happened to be one of the unlucky ones and missed out on a bunk. Let me tell you, I was not prepared. I wish I some small air freshener  and ear plugs. The noises and smells that came from that bed… I won’t say more.

6. It Will Rain

Expect rain. It is a rainforest after all. I was there mid summer and it rained two out of the three days.

Routburn Track, New Zealand

How to Prepare for Rain:

  • Be Physically Prepared: Gortex Rain jacket, Gortex rain pants, gators, drybag with change of clothes, and extra socks.
  • Be Mentally Prepared: If you mentally accept that you will get wet, then you’ve already fought half the battle.

My day job consists of working mostly outside and in all weather conditions. I’ve done 15 hours days, for weeks on end, working in the rain and cold. The moment you accept the fact that you will get wet, it makes everything else that much easier.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand

I was relieved that I made it to the hut before a giant storm came in. The storm was extreme, I was so glad to be in a hut that night.

***Remember if you are staying in a hut, there is a wood stove where you can dry all your clothes.

7. Bring a Pack Towel

About half way through the trek sits Mackenzie hut. I was lucky enough to book a bunk here as it is one of the busiest huts on the Routeburn Track. Located at the bottom of a beautiful valley, surrounded by green mountain walls, it’s only meters away from a lake.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand
The lake next to the Mackenzie Hut

After the 4 hour trek to get to the hut. I was a hot sweaty mess. I  could actually smell myself ferment.  As unpleasant as it was for me, it must have been horrendous for others.

The moment I dropped my bags at the hut I went out for a swim. Yes, it was cold, and yes, I went in my underwear. I didn’t care. The fermenting smell of sweat had to go. Nothing in that moment felt more amazing.

Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Me posing before I head back to the hut for a swim

However, idiot me didn’t bring a towel!! I didn’t think I would get the luxury of a bath. I made do using my dirty clothes as a towel, but the pack towel would have been much more pleasant.

8. How Fast the Trek Could be Completed

Not knowing how difficult the treks would be. I booked 3 nights and 4 days, giving myself ample time to finish the trek.

Routburn Track, New Zealand

That was way to much time.  Me being a more seasoned hiker, I could have done it in two days.

For those who are new to hiking or would classify themselves as “fair”, you could easily do it in 3 days. 

 9. I Would Have Avoided it All Together

I’m not saying the Routeburn Track wasn’t spectacular or not worth doing, but it wasn’t the style of trek I like. I prefer something more rugged with fewer people. That is just me though.

Routburn Track, New Zealand

There are other hikes that are less crowded and at the fraction of the cost. Had I known about them earlier I would have trekked them instead.

Routburn Track, New Zealand

For those who are not much of outdoor enthusiast, any of the Great Walks are a great options. It allows you to see some fantastic New Zealand vistas with some amenities of home.


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