Routeburn Track

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Monday, February 25, 2008

A large part of the South Island is a hikers or trampers paradise as the Kiwi's call it with many world famous walking trails through some of the best scenery in the world. We had originally decided to walk the Milford track which is a 5 day walk we saw featured on the Travel Channel. When the time eventually came to pay for the walk the US dollar had weakened by almost 20% to the Kiwi Dollar making the Milford too expensive for our trip so we opted for the slightly cheaper Routeburn Track which was apparently just as good as the Milford. As South Africans travelling with Rands was always expensive especially when having to pay in US dollars and now that we have US dollars the currency is at its weakest levels in many years. Go figure!?!
The Routeburn Track is best known for the spectacular views you get of the surrounding mountain ranges. The walk is over three days and covers a distance 38km and climbs from 500m to 1500m above sea level and includes rainforests, sub-alpine scrub and spectacular views.
The day before the walk we met at the Ultimate Hikes office for a briefing of the walk and to collect our backpacks, maps and rain coats. Next morning was an early start and we all had to meet in town at 7:30am.
We were not quite sure what to expect on the hike but we did know that food and beds would be provided but other than that it was all going to be a surprise. On route to the starting point of the hike we stopped off at a hotel in little town called Te Anau for tea and some delicious scones with strawberry jam and cream. Yummy, I was beginning to like the way this was going.
When we arrived at the start of the walk it was completely overcast, cold and had begun raining. We weren't quite sure what to wear so put on just about all the clothes we had to keep warm and dry and then not long after the walk begun removing many of the layers. Getting into the right gear was going to take some getting used to. The weather didn't improve and it pretty much drizzled all day long and we were really thankful that we chose to use the thick raincoats we were given for the walk.
Each days walk was broken into four sessions with a chocolate break mid morning and then again during the afternoon walk as well as a hearty lunch at one of the rest huts along the way. What we discovered very quickly was that there are two ways to do these types of walks, the hard way or independent walk and then the luxurious way called a guided walk, of course the later being more expensive, but you get what you pay for. At the start of the walk we were asked by another walker (independent) which of the two we were doing? She then told us that it didn't matter as everyone uses the same facilities and that we'd obviously paid too much. She couldn't have been more wrong.
When we arrived at our first overnight stop, called Mackenzie Lodge we realised what we'd paid for. We were greeted with piping hot tea and  coffee and yummy biscuits and relaxed in comfy couches while our 3 course dinner was being prepared. The best thing after a days walk in the rain is a hot shower and it didn't take long for us to unpack and warm up in the showers. Apparently the Independent walkers didn't even have cold showers let alone warm water, don't think our friend did her research. The lodges also all have drying rooms which mean you can wash your clothes and have them dry overnight which means you don't need to pack clothes for every day or climb into damp clothes the next day.
The lodge also had a good selection of  beer and wine which where a great way to reward ourselves after a long days walking. At dinner we were all seated at a long table and served a fabulous 3 course meal which any restaurant would have been proud of. Even the wine was pretty good and accompanied the dinner perfectly. The evening was loads of fun and we had a great time chatting to the other members of our group and hearing about their travels and adventures. Sleeting quarters consisted of comfortable bunk beds and warm duvets and we had a good nights rest even though there was a symphony of snoring all around us. Nothing earplugs could not solve.
Day 2 was a steep climb that seemed to last forever and took us to the highest point of the walk. The weather which started out warm and sunny quickly turned to rain and low hanging clouds as we reached the mid morning chocolate break. The lunch break was warmly welcomed and we were very reluctant to leave the warm comfy rest hut. The walk to the overnight stop was steep descent and it was often very slippery over the wet rocks and there were some moments where I came close ending up on my backside. Unfortunately one of the walkers in our party wasn't was fortunate and ended up spraining her ankle badly and had to be evacuated by helicopter. Many of us thought that in a way she was quite lucky as she got a helicopter ride and probably saw more of the famous views from the  air than we'd seen all day.
Once again when we arrived at our lodge for the night we were greeted with hot drinks, beers, wine, and hot showers. The dinner was fabulous with perfectly cooked steak and then finished off with a traditional pancake catching for dessert.
The last day almost came too quickly and as luck would have it was an almost sunny day. We thoroughly enjoyed the 3 days and even though it rained quite a bit the waterfalls as you might see from the photos were really spectacular. We also met some great friends and had some wonderful conversations each evening and will hopefully meet up with some of them in the future. The guides were all great fun and were constantly cheerful regardless of the weather which made it so much more enjoyable. I especially liked all the great photo opportunities and took almost 400 photographs to Inge-Marie's delight.
Before our arrival back in Queenstown we stopped off for a celebratory beer and group photo. Later that evening we all joined at one of the hotels in town for a final dinner and drinks. Each walker was given a copy of the group photograph and a DVD of the walk.
We were very glad we spent the extra money on the guided walk option as it made an experience which could easily have been miserable end up being thoroughly enjoyable. With a little more experience and the right equipment and clothing this walk can easily be done independently. On our next visit we would love to walk the Milford track and if time allowing the Routeburn again.
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