This is our Routeburn experience walking from The Divide to Harris Saddle and back
The Routeburn Track on New Zealand’s south island has to be one of the most beautiful trekking experiences of our lives. There is just so much to love about this trek, from the spectacular views of the dramatic mountain ranges to the gorgeous forests, lakes and waterfalls. Each and every step along the way we were charmed by it’s beauty, the beauty of a truly magical walk which we will be talking about for a very long time to come.
Covering a distance of 32km and taking somewhere between 2 and 4 days to complete, trekkers on the Routeburn track are permitted to walk it in both directions starting from either ‘Routeburn Shelter’ or ‘The Divide’. As well as offering bunk accommodation across 4 huts (Routeburn Flats, Routeburn Falls, Lake Mackenzie and Lake Howden), the Routeburn track also provides trekkers with the option to camp at 2 non-powered campsites (Routeburn Flats and Lake Mackenzie).
Originally, we had planned to start our track from Routeburn Shelter finishing off at The Divide having booked our camp sites at Routeburn Flats and Lake Mackenzie. This trek was arranged online via New Zealand Department of Conservation site. When we arrived at the Queenstown office to collect our dockets, unfortunately, we were advised that some section of the track weren’t safe enough to cross. There were severe weather issued few days prior resulted in avalanches spilled over the track around Harris Saddle. Harris Saddle is the mid and the highest section of the track at approx. 1300m. The officer gave us a couple of options. We were able to either cancel our booking and receive a full refund or to pursue our original itinerary and pay an additional fee to hire a private helicopter to take us over the avalanche area.
After receiving all necessary important information and advises at the office, we established that we could start our walk from one side reaching as far as Harris Saddle then returning the same way we came from. Opinions from previous trekkers suggested that walking in the direction from The Divide to Routeburn Shelter was the most preferred option. Although we did not have any clue the track conditions we trusted our instinct and chose the third option. That was to walk from The Divide to Harris Saddle and back. Yes, we were disappointed that we weren’t able to experience Routeburn Track in full. Although we were only ever reached the halfway mark, this magnificent walk did not let us down in anyway. The route we have chosen were right choice in this circumstances as many reviewers suggested.
The highlight for us was the walk from Lake Mackenzie to Harris Saddle on day 2. The 6 hours track one way were mostly facing the Hollyford Face with expansive views of Daran Mountains. We love this way as we were able to face into the panoramic views at all times during our trek. There were mostly windy narrow path on mountains shoulders and rocky grounds. That day we did 22.6km in total hike with steep climbs especially as we got closer to Harris Saddle. We reached Harris Saddle mid afternoon and stopped for lunch.
We continued a little further away from Harris Saddle to visit Lake Harris. It was a beautiful reward. We were captivated by the mysterious black coloured lake of Lake Harris. This alpine lake was a perfect little hideaway spot to take a short break and just to admire New Zealand’s nature. Lake Harris was our last stop before we had to head down back to our camping ground at Lake Mackenzie. Then back to The Divide the next day.
Our Routeburn Track Highlights:
Day 1: The Divide (at 530m) to Lake Mackenzie (at 890m). 12km. 5 1/2 to 6 hours. The main sight was Earland Falls (174m). Lunch stop was at Lake Howden hut.
Day 2: Lake Mackenzie to Harris Saddle (at 1255m) and back. 11.3km one way. Took us 7 1/2 hours not including lunch stop. Main sights are Hollyford Face, Lake Harris, and Daran Mountains. Lunch stop was at Harris Saddle hut.
Day 3: Lake Mackenzie to The Divide. 12km – descending. 4 hours to complete. Apart from a steep climb to the Key-Summit turn-off the rest of the track were flat and easy to do.
- Lake Mackenzie camping site was non powered. First in first served. There were a ranger who comes around to collect our tickets.
- The campsite floor was an artificial grass on hard rock ground. Some site not always on a level ground.
- No kitchen. One outdoor sitting area under a gazebo with a couple of trough and taps. No lighting provided.
- Drop-down toilets only.
What did we bring with us:
- 40L back pack plus waterproof cover
- Hiking tent
- Sleeping bag
- Walking poles
- Gore-Tex trekking shoes with spare shoe laces
- Indoor slippers/walking sandals
- Woolen socks for night time
- 2 pairs of thick socks and 1 pair of thin socks for trekking
- Rain and windproof jacket and pants
- Hat and beanie
- Warm gloves, 1 thick scarf
- 1 duck down jacket
- 1 soft shell insulated jacket
- 2 pairs of thermal tops
- 1 thermal pants to wear at night
- -8 degree sleeping bags
- A set of comfy clothes to sleep in
- 2 quick dry long sleeve tops
- 2 quick dry short sleeve tops
- 2 quick dry long pants
- 1 fleece jacket
- 1 fleece pants
- Small quick dry towel
- Small foldable backpack
- 1L bottle water with water purifications tablets (1 tablet per litre) – we drank fresh river and stream water along the way
- Insect repellant, sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, antibacterial wipes, antibacterial hand sanitiser and pocket tissues
- Walking poles
- Solar phone charger
- Cameras, spare batteries, spare SD cards, lens cleaner, tripod.
- 2 plastic bags (1 for dirty clothes, 1 for rubbish)
- Foldable day back pack
- Head torch
- Cooking Gear: pot, small pans, cups, bowls (we used collapsible ones), plates, cutleries (fork, spoon, knife 1 each), small knife with cover, matches, tea towels, hiking stove and small gas canister,
- Food: Breakfast; quick oats, bananas, dried fruits & nuts. Snacks; dried fruits, mix trail but bars, small chocolate bars (snickers or bounty), lollies. Lunch; quick noodles with boiled egg (previously boiled), tea and coffee, apples, cheese, crackers & salami sticks. Dinner: Packs of instant rice with tuna, hiking ready made food (chicken and rice, beef stew, lamb and potato mash etc), cookies & a cup of tea
- Toiletries: Body & face wipes, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, face wash, moisturiser, hair ties
- First aid kit: Panadol, Iburprofen, motion sickness tablets, diarrhoea tablets, bandaids, antiseptic cream, ankle & knee straps (scissors etc from the first aid kit)