A waterfall’s spray, an alpine breeze, the secrets of a rainforest. Be immersed in beauty on a three-day hike from Glenorchy, near Queenstown, and Te Anau, near Milford Sound, as you trek the Routeburn Track in New Zealand.
Rainforest that envelops you in every shade of green imaginable. Carpets of moss that muffle your footfalls. Icy waters that seem to glow in an almost iridescent blue. And waterfalls that cascade over 170-metre-tall rock faces.
The Routeburn Track may be a short hike – just three days compared to some of the country’s five- or six-day offerings – but it’s big on dramatic scenery. Connecting two of the South Island’s most stunning landscapes – Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park – this 33-kilometre trail runs from near Glenorchy (about a 40-minute drive from Queenstown) to Te Anau near Milford Sound and can be tackled in either direction. Whichever way you choose, you’ll need a good level of fitness to take on the steep climbs and sometimes rocky terrain.
And while the warmer months are the best pick for when to go, don’t fret should the weather take a turn. “When heavy rains or a big storm sweeps in, the waterfalls come to life – it’s a sight to see,” says Shaun Liddy, who hosts walks for Ultimate Hikes, guided experiences that include lodges with private and shared rooms as well as hot showers.
One of Liddy’s favourite spots on the track? Earland Falls. “It’s such a beautiful place. We sit at the base of the waterfall to eat lunch and sometimes take a swim in the pool. It’s very cold but refreshing.” The true treasure of the Routeburn Track lies not only in the sights you pass along the way. It’s the chance to breathe deeply, taking in the crisp scent of beech or the soft snowy note on a breeze that’s blown over an alpine peak – a full-body immersion in a wilder world.
An insider’s guide to Glenorchy
Glenorchy residents know they live in one of New Zealand’s most beautiful towns. “Even the view out of my office window is amazing,” says Sonya Porteous of Heli Glenorchy, which offers scenic flights. Here’s her guide to the town.
The best cafe
Porteous loves the Glenorchy Café (25 Mull Street; +64 3 442 9978), known as The GYC. “It’s in the old post office building so you get some history along with a really good lunch. It has lots of outdoor seating and great sandwiches and salads.”
The best pub
Image credit: Julian Eales
“The Glenorchy Hotel (42/50 Mull Street; +64 3 442 9902) has a rustic pub feel and they do an excellent lamb shank,” says Porteous. It’s also a top spot to find a strong selection of New Zealand wines – including more than 80 drops from the Otago region – and beers.
The best accommodation
Even in a town with a view at every turn, Blanket Bay Lodge stands out. “It’s down by the lake looking across to the Humboldt Range,” says Porteous. It’s not just the location that’s special. This retreat has an elegant huntinglodge aesthetic with plenty of cosy corners to settle into. If you’re with friends, book into the Villa: with four king suites, it’s set away from the lodge on the edge of Lake Wakatipu.
Top image credit: Emily Peak reflected in Lake Mackenzie on the Routeburn Track. Craig Lovell