Backpack the Routeburn Track

Routeburn Shelter, Kinloch, New Zealand

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    12.5 Miles

Easy Parking

Hike through two national parks and get jaw-dropping alpine scenery on one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. Get hut accommodation to make this a great overnight.

If you're looking for the best the Routeburn Track has to offer but only have one night to spend - hike from the Glenorchy side Routeburn Shelter to Lake Mackenzie in 12.5 miles (approx. 3,500 feet of elevation gain) and stay at this stunning hut location before backtracking over Harris Saddle the following day. There are plenty of other hut options that allow shorter hiking days if you have the time to spare but either way Lake Mackenzie is not to be missed!

The trail from the Routeburn Shelter begins a gradual ascent through moss-covered beech forest to the Routeburn Flats Hut (6.5 km or 4 miles) before climbing more steeply to the Routeburn Falls Hut (2.3 km or 1.5 miles). Once the trail begins to climb you'll be rewarded with sweeping glacial valley views and waterfalls upon arrival at the Routeburn Falls Hut. The steepest section of the hike follows from Routeburn Falls to Harris Saddle and is above treeline the entire way providing some of the best views of the journey. You'll pass Lake Harris on your way and be treated to a look into the mystically named "Valley of the Trolls" in the background. The Harris Shelter makes a great lunch stop or shelter from the elements if the weather changes. From the shelter you can opt for a climb up Conical Hill to achieve even more stunning views.

The walk from Harris Saddle to Lake Mackenzie is a tour of alpine splendor that will afford many photo opportunities on a clear day. As you round Ocean Peak corner you'll see the lake from above before dropping into the valley. The best view of the lake is only minutes before arriving at the hut and can be seen from the trail. Depending on the lake level (which fluctuates substantially) it may be best to travel up the valley toward the campsites to attain an uninterrupted view of the lake and peaks. The large Lake Mackenzie Hut accommodates 50 and the nearby camp holds 9 tents. You'll find relative solitude if you visit in the shoulder season and snow on the peaks - both of which make for a superb experience.

Pack List

  • Sleeping bag
  • Cookware (although stoves are provided)
  • Warm layers for changing weather
  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Booking confirmation (pre-book in Great Walks Season October – April and grab a ticket from the local visitor center)
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Overall rating: 

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Great Walks are called Great Walks, for a reason. This was one of the most interesting, most beautiful backpacking trips I have done. The trails are fantastic, the climbs are perfect, the waterfalls, the mountains, everything. Even the huts are perfect. Each one has it's own personal feel and made the experience wonderful.

9 months ago
9 months ago

Best great walk in New Zealand, with so much helpful information here and on DOC websites!

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

This definitely is on top of my to-do list while in NZ! I couldn't find a decent guidebook but I am thankful you have so much great information posted!

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Crystal Brindle Explorer

I'm Crystal, a park ranger for the National Park Service in the United States and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand - you'll find me floating between hemispheres as the seasons change. I am an avid landscape photographer and wilderness explorer committed to capturing the scenes and moments that inspire me and require dedication to experience. Living in national parks throughout my life, I've developed a deep appreciation for the natural world. This appreciation drives my passion for protecting wild places today. My first job as a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park inspired me to spend my time exploring the depths of the park’s wilderness and instilled a sense of adventure that extends into all areas of my life. I now actively seek backcountry recreation that takes me into remote corners of mountainous regions all over the world. I have had the opportunity to live and work in some of the most intriguing places our world has to offer - from the high places of Colorado, to the South Island of New Zealand, to the rugged Alaska Peninsula, and many locations in between. I feel that the only way to truly get to know a place is to meet it on its own terms and to embrace its challenges through which its beauty is revealed. To me this is the definition of wilderness and the foundation of my photography. Since I began this journey of photography three years ago, I have honed my interests to focus on high-alpine mountain landscapes inaccessible to all except those who travel on foot. These are the landscapes that captivate me. I feel drawn to share their remarkable qualities through the visual narrative of photography and short stories of personal experience. This is a craft that I am refining daily and my photography is only a work-in-progress but I feel that this effort is worthwhile as I strive to let the landscape tell its own story and act as a vector for its message. What's next? After a summer of living with brown bears and climbing mountains under the midnight sun in Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, I'm heading back to New Zealand to further explore the wonders of the South Island and work as a Hut Warden on the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park.

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