The Routeburn walk was the first of the 'great walks' in NZ we had booked. Even in the first week of January it was fully booked two months ahead. Situated in the South West World Heritage Area the Routeburn is listed in the top ten of the best treks in the world. We were informed that we would be inspired by the stunning scenery as we crossed the Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks. Unfortunately it rained constantly, heavily and we couldn't see a thing!
We started late afternoon on 28th February in the west at The Divide (532m) on the Milford Highway and climbed up through silver beech forests. These trees are evergreen and not related to European beech trees. Our first night was at Lake Howden Hut. The next day we had a short 9km trek with a gradual ascent to the Earland Falls (174m). The falls were not disappointing in the sodden conditions. The trees were draped in moss and it rained, and was misty or perhaps cloudy for the day. At times it was quite trippy as all we could see were trees looming out of the mist with their moss shawls. The moss overpowered the trees and they looked like they were rotting on their roots. With no views we could have been walking in circles. What added to the surealness of the journey was the lack of bird call - a ghostly, silent forest.
Lake Howden by the Howden hut is very low despite the constant rain - up to 9 metres a year on average
The Howden Hut where we spent our first night
A brief dry spell during the second day
The clouds lift to give us a brief glimpse of the landscape we were travelling through above Lake McKenzie
Earland Falls spilling out over the track resulting in a damp dash past the base
The 2nd March was very wet. It rained hard all night and didn't cease. Leaving the hut the rain reduced enough to see down into the valley, and we took a short video. After two hours we were soaked to the skin. The rain lashed down hard and we couldn't see far ahead. We pulled our hoods down and viewed the path through a visor slot like a Medieval soldier. We climbed onto the Harris Saddle being buffeted by gales. It was disappointing not to see the splendid scenery which makes the trail so famous. For those readers at home this is what we missed! ......
"Panoramic mountain view from the Routeburn Track" by Zoharby - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
We found a day shelter at the top (1255m) and stopped for lunch. We were so glad to have found the shelter and chomped into our biltong, crackers and Brazil nuts. We couldn't stop long as not moving and being sodden meant we soon felt the cold. Having that rest and refuel made the afternoon downpour far more enjoyable.
Enjoying lunch in the shelter at the top of the Harris Saddle
More rain leads to more waterfalls
Onward we skirted high on the hills around the edges of Lake Harris before descending down a moraine into the Routeburn Valley. We were less exposed on this side, but the path had now turned into fast flowing creeks and the rain continued to belt down. It had been a week since we had had an alcoholic drink and a hip flask of rum would have been a god-send! Coming down from the sub-alpine area we crossed into the tree line of the beech forest. We traversed two suspension bridges, which provided good birds-eye views of ravines and we sidled into the Routeburn Flats Hut in the early afternoon. 14km done we got the hut log burner going and spent the afternoon trying to dry ourselves and our kit. In the early evening the onslaught stopped and we could finally see across the valley floor and noticed the snow covered peaks in the distance.
Drying out in the Routeburn Flats Hut after a very wet 6 hours
The clouds begin to clear at last
The final morning was a two hour walk through the forest (I was obviously feeling hopeful as I said one hour on my video). It was a relief to be walking on a clear day and we saw two Robins and a Fantail dart amongst the trees. The good weather meant we could take some photos, and we felt slightly envious of those we passed on their way to the top as they would see some fabulous scenery.
A clear morning with a touch of morning mist over the river
Back into the tree line following the moss laden, narrow valley out of the high country
Water water everywhere
We met a couple of these little characters the New Zealand Robin. if you scratched the ground with your feet and waited patiently they would come over and search for food in the scratch marks and then inspect your boots giving a cursory peck to laces and lace holes.
Finished in time for the 10am bus back to Queenstown