We emptied most of our backpacks and prepared just the bare essentials for the trip: warm clothing, sleeping bags, and food. We would be staying overnight in designated huts along the way so tents, stoves and fuel were not needed. Note: These huts need to be booked well in advance (6+ months if doing the most popular Milford Trek) as they only allow a certain number of trampers on the track at a time.
The first day out (and up), it rained and misted. Welcome to the rainforest! With this first stretch mostly under the cover of trees we weren't too bothered while suited up in our rain gear. Through beech trees, along a meadow, a winding river and finally a rather steep incline, we made it before nightfall to the Routebourn Falls Hut. This tree-house-like backpacker accommodation was surprisingly luxurious and a wonderful respite from the rain. After a "Bombay Potato dinner in a bag" (these are actually really good), we met and played cards with some new friends: Ann, Pete (from Australia), Sine (from Germany), and two others. We played "Shithead" which apparently is universal, and "Euchre", which Ann and Aaron happily taught us (a much better game). Eventually we all shuffled off to our bunks . . rain still pouring down.
We were up early the next morning with the sun rising and revealing beautiful views from our treehouse hut. The rain had stopped! After a gorgeous walk through alpine meadows and lakes, we began our final assent to Harris Saddle. We stopped to rest at the shelter there (1,277 meters elevation), before deciding to climb Conical Hill (not at all a hill at 1,527 meters elevation). This assent, which at times was a "hand then foot" climb, was an hour detour to the top, but yielded the most spectacular views of the hike. Once at the top, we were on top of the world - looking out over glaciers, craggy mountain peaks, the Hollyford Valley river, and all the way out to the white water of the Tasman Sea. WOW!
The next part of the hike was just as stunning. How lucky we were to have clear skies in a place where is rains 250 days (21 feet of rain) of the year and the clouds roll in quickly and often. The scenery seemed to get more and more stunning at every turn. Winding along the mountains with breathtaking views of the Hollyford Valley, we at last began our decent toward the glacial MacKenzie Lake . . . and the MacKenzie Hut. At the lake, Aaron stripped down to his skivvies and took a running dive into the icy cold lake. Very refreshing!! More cards, bagged dinners and snoring men in the bunk house followed before we crashed after a rewarding day on the Routeburn.
Our last day took us through more rainforest, over endless streams and past many more waterfalls and views. We also pasted Michael from Track Hopper
, who was running the entire Routeburn Trek in 3.5hrs after delivery our campervan to the other side - great guy, great service!
At the end of of three long and beautiful days we finished the Routebourn Track at the Divide to collapse in our campervan just as the rain began to fall. Perfect. What a spectacular experience!
After Queenstown, where we had our last shower and proper meal, we embarked on one of New Zealand's world renowned 'Great Walks'. The Routebourn Track covered ~21 miles and took us 3 days and 2 nights to complete. It covered some of the most stunning, humbling scenery a hike or tramp (as they are called here) has ever revealed. Here's our recap...