The Routeburn Track on New Zealand’s South Island is a classic walk with one of the best alpine crossings in this spectacular country. Over the course of three days the…
The Routeburn Track on New Zealand’s South Island is a classic walk with one of the best alpine crossings in this spectacular country. Over the course of three days the route connects Mt. Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park with jaw dropping scenery throughout. A network of Department of Conservation huts and campsites provide accommodation along the tramp and the walk is well served with plentiful transportation options at both ends. This post will give you an introduction to the incredible Routeburn Track by providing in-depth maps, navigational resources, and much more!
In this post
- Where is the Routeburn Track?
- Interactive Routeburn map
- How long is the Routeburn?
- Routeburn Track Elevation Profile
- Which maps should I carry on the Routeburn Track?
- Stage-by-stage maps for the Routeburn Track
- Routeburn Track GPS/GPX
- Apps and offline mapping
Where is the Routeburn Track?
The Routeburn Track is located in the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island. The route is accessed from the Routeburn Shelter on the eastern end and The Divide on the west. The Routeburn is typically walked from east to west, beginning at the Routeburn Shelter and finishing at the Divide, although it is possible to walk in the opposite direction as well. In between these two points the track crosses the Harris Saddle, with spectacular views of the surrounding high mountains and verdant valleys.
The nearest town to the traditional starting point of the Routeburn Shelter is Glenorchy, located on the far shores of Lake Wakatipu. Glenorchy is a beautiful place to spend a night before your trek and has a much quieter vibe than nearby Queenstown. You’ll find plenty of transport options to the Routeburn Shelter from either Glenorchy or Queenstown, so deciding between the two is a matter of personal preference.
The Routeburn finishes on its western end at what is known as The Divide, which is little more than a car park with a few restrooms. From here most walkers book onward transportation to Te Anau, just south of the Divide, back to the Queenstown area, or north to Milford Sound for a bit of sightseeing. There are plenty transportation providers who will pick you up at the Divide, but be sure you’ve arranged it ahead of time as buses can be full during peak season.
Between the start and finish points, the Routeburn Track provides some of the best walking in New Zealand. The highlight is the crossing of the Harris Saddle, with its stunning views of the Hollyford Valley, Lake Harris, and the rugged mountains beyond. However, you’ll also experience beautiful beech forest, high-alpine meadows, and a spectacularly situated trail.
There are four Department of Conservation Huts along the route as well as three campsites, giving you plenty of options for accommodation. Given that the Routeburn Track is one of the most popular Great Walks advance bookings for the the huts and campsites is required.
The route is typically completed in three days with overnight stops at the Routeburn Falls Hut and Lake Mackenzie Hut, both located in spectacular settings. For those interested in camping your best bet for a three day itinerary is to camp at the Routeburn Flats campsite and Lake Mackenzie campsite. Below is the standard itinerary for the Routeburn Track:
- Stage 1: Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut
- Stage 2: Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
- Stage 3: Lake Mackenzie Hut to The Divide
In addition to completing the main trail, trampers will have the option to complete a few worthwhile side trips along their trek. The first is the climbing of Conical Hill from the Harris Saddle. If the weather is clear, we highly recommend it as the views are truly outstanding. However, if there is bad weather it is best avoided as conditions at the top can be quite severe.
You’ll also have the opportunity to hike to the top of Key Summit on what will most likely be your last day. This is a shorter hike than Conical Hill, but still boasts stand out views. You can view the trails to the top of Conical Hill and the Key Summit on the maps below.
Interactive Routeburn map
The interactive Routeburn Track map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route.
How long is the Routeburn?
The Department of Conservation website lists the Routeburn track as 33 kilometers long. While certainly a very accurate estimate, we measure (via GPS) the Routeburn to be 31.45 kilometers (19.5 miles) from the Routeburn Shelter to The Divide.
Of course, measuring the exact distance of the walk has very little practical value as you’ll certainly end up walking a bit further than any exact distance we provide. Most walkers will at a minimum want to take a side trip to the top of Conical Hill, weather permitting, which adds an additional 2 kilometers. Add in the 1.7 kilometer round-trip hike to the top of Key Summit and you’ve already walked over 35 kilometers total. In addition, evening explorations to stretch the legs, countless opportunities to take in view points, and short side trips to trail side lakes will make the distance actually walked vary from person to person.
However, it is still helpful to have an idea of the distances of each stage of the Routeburn Track. The map below shows just that, with the approximate distances of each stage provided. The distances are calculated based on the classic itinerary outlined above.
Routeburn Track Elevation Profile
At its heart the Routeburn Track is an alpine crossing as walkers make their way over the Harris Saddle. As discussed above, this takes approximately 31.5 kilometers and gains 2,130 meters. Averaged over the traditional three stages this equates to an average of 710 meters of elevation gain each day. The majority of this elevation gain occurs on the first stage as walkers begin the long ascent towards the Harris Saddle.
Harris Saddle is near the high point of the Routeburn Track and sits at 1,254 meters above sea level. For those who trek to the top of Concial Hill you’ll reach an elevation of 1,515 meters. Since The Divide sits at a slightly higher elevation than the Routeburn Shelter, those walking in the traditional direction will gain a bit more elevation than they lose.
The elevation profile shown below will give you an overview of what each stage of the Routeburn Track in like in terms of total elevation change as well as distance covered. Elevation is shown on the left side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents one of the Department of Conservation Huts/Campsites along the route.
The steepness of the line between any two points reflects the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the the stage. For instance, you can see that the stage from the Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut has a lot of elevation gain, while the stage from Lake Mackenzie Hut to The Divide covers quite a bit of distance.
You can use the elevation profile below to help plan your own itinerary for the Routeburn Track, taking into account distance and elevation between any two stopping points.
Which maps should I carry on the Routeburn Track?
As with all the Great Walks, the Routeburn Track is a well marked and easy to follow trail. Given the number of hikers, clear path, and good signage there will be little opportunity to take a wrong turn. However, we always recommend carrying a physical map with you on any backcountry trip.
The best physical map to bring on the Routeburn is the NewTopo Routeburn/Greenstone-Caples Track map. This map covers the tramp at a 1:40,000 scale and also includes the nearby Greenstone-Caples Track. Given that you are more likely than not to experience at least some rain on your walk, we also recommend bringing a waterproof carrying case like this one.
Beyond just a physical map, we highly recommend all hikers along the Routeburn have some type of GPS navigation on their walk. The Routeburn is notorious for thick fog/cloud cover that can set in on the track, making navigation difficult. A GPS app on your phone can greatly help with this issue, as the signal can typically penetrate the cloud cover to show you where you are on the trail at any given point. Since there is limited to no cell phone service on the Routeburn Track, it is very important to have a good offline mapping app, such as Gaia GPS, to ensure you’ll be able to access your location along the walk.
These apps combined with our Routeburn Track GPS digital download should give you a solid foundation to navigate from while on the tramp.
Stage-by-stage maps for the Routeburn Track
The Routeburn is typically walked over three days, with each stage finishing at a Department of Conservation Hut/Campsite. Maps for the traditional three day Routeburn itinerary are shown below.
Stage 1: Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut
Distance: 9.1 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +800 m / -304 m
Stage 2: Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
Distance: 10.85 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +702 m / -787 m
Stage 3: Lake Mackenzie Hut to The Divide
Distance: 11.49 km
Elevation Gain/Loss: +629 m / -996 m
Routeburn Track GPS/GPX
If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our Routeburn Track GPX file for only $4.99. When you download the GPX file, you’ll get route data for each stage of the Routeburn Track, way-points for each of the Department of Conservation huts and campsites along the route, and route data for the Conical Hill and Key Summit side trips.
You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!
Apps and offline mapping
As mentioned above we utilized offline downloadable GPS maps on our smartphones to navigate while walking the Routeburn Track. This is a great way to navigate on the trail as it allows you to see your progress for the day and also doesn’t require a cell phone signal (which you likely won’t have) to display the map. Our How to Navigate on the Tour du Mont Blanc post has all the information you need to get set up using an app for your map. Although written for a different hike, this step-by-step article will teach you how to quickly and easily turn your phone into a GPS device for the Routeburn.
Have a great Routeburn Adventure!
We hope this post has given you all the information you need to get a basic overview of the Routeburn Track. Let us know your questions or comments below. Happy trails!