Backpacks full of gear, food and water Eric and I headed to downtown Queentown to the InfoTrack shuttle station. We boarded our bus with other trekkers at 8am and began the journey to the Routeburn Track. New Zealand has nine Great Walks. We chose to do Routeburn because it is not as crowded as the more popular Milford Track and also has the most diverse ecosystems. Furthermore, the Routeburn Track which is normally a 3 day trek can be linked with the Greenstone Track creating a almost complete loop in 5 days. All tracks in New Zealand are well signed at each junction and display and estimated time bracket (ie: 3.5-5 hours)  to your destination. We found these times to be pretty accurate for our speed.

We began our drive around Lake Wakatipu while the driver regaled us ab out natural and cultural history of the area. We paused briefly for photos at an overlook a d then for 30 minutes at the small hamlet of Glenorchy. From there it was a 40 minute drive to the Routeburn Carpark in Mt Aspiring National Park. We were greeted by Keas, the only alpine parrot in the world. They are beggers and came right up to us in search of a free handout.

The trail begins from the Routeburn Shelter and heads off to the left into the forest. New Zealand is known for ferns and we passed millions of these prawns as were journeyed from the mossy thicket.  Several birds sung exotic along the trail, but not many.. The birds of New Zealand are in trouble. Before ships landed on the Island these birds had no enemies. Many build nests on the ground and have little fear of anything. Thus was humans introduced possums and stoats to the Islands, the birds were swifted devoured. Traps for these invasive species line the Routeburn Trail and every other trail in NZ. Several birds can right over to us and one pecked at Eric’s shoe and then walked between my legs!

We eventually arrived in Routeburn Flats, an open valley with golden high grasses. The trail skirts the edge of the valley in the tree providing appreciated shade from the strong sunshine. A folk is reach. One way points up to Routeburn Falls hut and the other to the right toward Routeburn Flats Hut. It was still early even though we had a late start at 10 from the shelter so Eric and I decided to take the side trip to North Routeburn Branch. The trail begins across the river from Routeburn Flats Hut. It is easy to hop rocks across in late season, but would require a ford in early summer. The trail follows the North Branch of the Routeburn Valley providing gorgeous views of Routeburn Falls high on the mountain behind the Flats Hut. The Falls Hut was hidden behind trees and we could not see it. However, we could see Harris Pass which we will climb tomorrow. The trail int he valley is faint at time in the tall grass, but wooden poles mark the way.

The valley ended after about a mile or so and we began to climb a muddy trail in the brushy forest gaining about 300ft. At the tope of the small pass the forest opened up into a clearing providing a view of the next valley below. Just beside the trail a large boulder loomed before us topped with a cairn. Eric and I knew that we still had to climb the steep trail to the top of Routeburn Falls Hut and thus opted to not contiue the side trip. However, we did take about 20 minutes to study the boulder. Eric put up a new problem following the horizontal cracks on the cleanest side of the boulder. He dubbed the VB climb after we completed it “No Climbing Shoes Allowed” since we only had hiking boots (this we could not do difficult problems). There is a walk off descent. It should be noted that we did not clean the boulder and no one ever should since this is a National Park in NZ. Leave things in their natural state please.

We followed the North Branch back to the Flats hut and then returned to the fork. The Tail climbed steeply toward the Fall Hut. The path crosses some major rock and mud slide areas and signs indicate to move quickly and not stop in these sections. By the time we reached the hut it was about 4:30pm. The Routeburn Falls Hut it set on wooden stilts overlooking the valley. There are little wooden section in the sleeping hut each hold two bunk beds. The building beside it is the kitchen. Behind the Hut is the Lodge which is set aside for guided groups only. A paper with a chart of the beds was on the bulletin board. The notice indicated that we choose bed and then right our ticket number on the coordinating bed on the chart. There was going to be a ticket collection and safety meeting with the warden at 7:00.

Eric and I selected our beds and then headed outside to explore in what remained of the daylight. Routeburn Falls was just about 3 minute walk up the trail. Two men were taking a shower under the falls! Further on the trail followed the river into a handing valley. Across the water massive boulders beckoned, but the only way across was a ford across the swift river or a sketching leap across just above the falls in a narrow section. As it gre dim we headed back to the hut for dinner.

The cooking facilities featured several gas burns. You needed to bring your own matches, pot, bowls and utensils. After dinner we waited for the Warden. He briefed us on the weather and what laid ahead of us on the track. He then gave a lengthy safety talk telling us how to exit in case of a fire, where to gather and the location of the helicopter pad. Finally he collected out tickets.

Bedtime.

10 miles

2708ft ascent/1023ft descent

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