February 22nd
Routeburn Shelter Car Park-Fraser Creek & Caples River Intersection
Mileage: ~41km

*Elevation chart for the Routeburn from the DOC. Doesn’t include the Caples Track.

We were up early for our 7am, 30min shuttle ride to the beginning of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks. It is 18mi/30km long, and the huts and campsites require paid booking well in advance online. Since it is short, many TA hikers are able to do this one in a day after taking a shuttle from Glenorchy. Then thru-hikers can get on the Caples Track for about 15.5mi/25km to connect back to the TA. It connects right where hikers need to take a ferry or car shuttle to get around the water hazard zone of Wakatipu Lake from Queenstown. This is our final side trip before returning to the TA to finish the last week and a half down to Bluff.

Today will have less for me to write and more photos. TONS of photos were taken today. It was just a great day with spectacular scenery, and we are really glad we made the effort to do it. I don’t use that word often, but it earned it today! It started off raining for the first hour in the woods. Once again, our timing was great. We made the right choice to zero yesterday as we heard that it did rain all the afternoon, evening, and this morning on the Routeburn.

The benefit of that for us, is that we got to see all the waterfalls and rivers much bigger and we got some great cloudy scenery around the mountains. The first hour of light rain was in the woods as we hiked up out of tree line.

The huts here are huge since it’s a Great Walk. This walk in particular has a ton of guided walkers, so for each hut or shelter, right next to it is an even nicer private one for solely guided walkers. We heard people pay something like $2,000 to walk this with a guide and not have to carry much of anything. There were a lot of people with name tags in guided groups as well, but some seemed to have personal guides too. We heard this existed, but this is the one track we’ve seen this so prevalently.

Routeburn Valley that we hiked up.

We hit Routeburn Falls Hut and the private lodge, which is next to the impressive Routeburn Falls. The flow was great!

Routeburn Falls

View from the top of Routeburn Falls.

Hiking up to Harris Saddle.

Looking back at where we came from.

Then it was a climb up to the high point of Harris Saddle. An awesome exposed walk up went along Harris Lake that had the dreamlike scenery of what you imagine New Zealand to be like. A lake, waterfall, and mountains. Many helicopters were flying over giving tours of this enchanting area and photos just didn’t do today justice, but we tried.

Harris Lake

When we got to Harris Saddle, the view was covered in clouds, but lifting. We had tons of extra time, so we waited for awhile in a shelter and did the ~30min side hike up Conical Hill to see the view. The clouds were blocking much of it, but we could see mountains in bits and even the Tasman Sea for a moment. It was awesome with the clouds! Griggs got a good time lapse heading up as well!

View atop Conical Hill.

The Tasman Sea was there just a minute ago!

We took a relaxed lunch back at the shelter continuing to wait for the clouds to lift, and then hiked on traversing gradually downhill and overlooking the valley with great views most of the day. This 18mi/30km hike really is the most scenery per mile of anything we’ve been on. The driver this morning thought it was the best hike in this area and I agree that it was the great balance of scenery with not too much exertion. Just great!

We turned down into the valley going down to Lake Mackenzie and Lake Mackenzie Hut. After that, it was mostly wooded and downhill for the end of the day.

Our plan was to stop at a camping area between the Routeburn and Caples Track, but it was only 4:30pm when we got there, so we hiked on in the great weather over McKellar Saddle on the Caples Track.

McKellar Saddle

The Caples Track will connect us back to the Te Araroa tomorrow right where we left off after the hazard zone of Wakatipu Lake at Queenstone. We totally cruised the Caples Track as it has a brand new track that is super cruisey.

Newly maintained Caples Track.

We decided to stop at 6:45pm in some great woods near a stream. Man, what an awesome day and a great finale to all our side trips. Tomorrow, back on the Te Araroa for the final stretch to Bluff in a week and a half!

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