So after relaxing for a full day in Queenstown it was time to begin the hike that was the whole point of coming to NZ in the first place! I had decided on the Routeburn Track as it sounded like the perfect alpine hike with incredible views of mountains, lakes and forests – the type of scenery that is as far removed as my life in Perth that you can get!
Now if you had read the previous posts, you would know that my planned hike back in September of the Cape To Cape Track had fallen through. When it came time to make a decision on another hike I had left it quite late… so late in fact that I could not get a spot on the DOC (Dept of Conservation) website for a hut on either the Milford or the Routeburn tracks. These spots need to be reserved months in advance (especially the Milford). I was very despondant, thinking that it just wasn’t going to happen for me… but then I discovered a company called Ultimate Hikes.
Now Ultimate Hikes is luxury hiking at its finest. At the end of the day they have their own private lodge usually situated quite close to the DOC huts. They have hot showers and toileteries to use! Rooms were cozy and comfortable, with mattresses and bedding. Dinner was a three course meal, and alcoholic drinks could be purchased at the bar. All of this comes at a very expensive price…. and I really wasn’t sure if I should spend such a large amount of money for 3 days, if I would even like hiking in a group setting, or if my experience of hiking in the wild would be somewhat tainted by such luxury. Time would tell and I will share my experiences in the final post at the end of my day 3 write up!
The days hike began at ‘The Divide”, a carpark on the Te Anau-Milford Road. It was a cloudy but quite warm and humid muggy day… weather that I hate! I do not cope in humidity very well, and within 10 minutes I was sweating like a pig and cursing the gradual uphill trail. After about an hour the trail smoothed out a bit, and we got to a sign that showed the way to a sidetrip to Key Summit. The fact we could leave our packs at the base of the walk determined that I would do it, and I was glad to be rid of the pack as it was a zigzag steep up hill to the top. It was actually cold up there! We were amongst the clouds, and there was even a few sprinkles and a strong wind. The views were not the greatest as they could be, but it was still worth the hour side trip up, and it was great to watch the clouds come and go, with the mountains peaking from behind.
From Key Summit a short walk got us to Lake Howden Hut, where we sat and had a packed lunch from Ferg Baker back in Queenstown. Talk about luxury! It was a lovely spot for lunch, but I could see the sandflies around and I felt good so I continued on ahead from others in the group. From here it was a good stretch of heavy forest, which resulted in humidity once again. Luckily there are so many streams around with glacial water that does not even need to be treated, so I could drink heaps and not worry. The forested section really was amazing, I just loved all the moss and undergrowth, and how dark it sometimes was when totally encased in trees. For a trail that is so busy I didnt see anyone in this section for ages… I was totally alone in a creepy looking forest and I loved it!
At the 7km mark you come to Earland Falls, a beautiful waterfall that cascades into a very inviting crystal clear pool. Some of the brave opted for a quick shower under the falls, but there was no way you would see me do that, I’m such a wimp with cold water! It was a nice place to sit for a bit, but once again, the weather can be deceptive up here. 5 minutes earlier I was sweating it up in what felt like tropical jungle conditions. 10 minutes later sitting on a rock watching the falls and I was cold from a cool breeze blowing through. Time to start moving…
The next couple of kilometres saw us walking gently upwards, into more alpine like conditions. The views to the left were of the magnificent Hollyford Valley, while on trail we passed over small footbridges over gushing streams and waterfalls. It was truly magnificent, and there were often times I said to myself “what a day to be alive!”.
At the end of the day we got to Lake Mackenzie Lodge, approximately 12km in from our start at the Divide. It had been a great day – this trail offered up so much in only 12km! While we didn’t have the most perfect of weather at least it didn’t rain on us. It was a mild pleasant enough day, and it was wonderful to be out and finally walking one of the great walks. I couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow would bring…. although with the dark clouds in the distance I knew that we might not be so lucky weatherwise tomorrow….