Experience one of New Zealand's most incredible Great Walks, usually a 3-4 day hike, in one (long) unforgettable day!

New Zealand's incredible Routeburn Track is popular for a reason, and to this day it is still one of the most beautiful hikes I've done. Usually backpacked in 3-4 days, this 20 mile hike is possible to do in one! 

During Great Walks season (October through April), huts and campsites along the track are booked through the local DOC site. These book up very quickly and if you're planning a last-minute trip like we were, you will likely not be able to find any availability that fits your schedule and party size. Instead of turning away from an incredibly memorable hike, assess your fitness level and consider a day trip. 

Be prepared for weather changes. We went in mid-November and got snowed on, rained on, hailed on, experienced some crazy wind, and had a touch of gorgeous blue sky. Pack accordingly.

Stop to take pictures and enjoy the view. You'll pass through places you've only seen in movies (Lord of the Rings) and even if the weather is pounding, pause for a moment to take it all in. 

Some tips and logistics:

  • Because you're only carrying a daypack, you can move at a pretty quick pace. The trail is also very well maintained and marked which helps with speed and route-finding. At one point we walked into one warming hut and I was sweating, dressed in shorts, a tank top, and a light rain shell. Everyone else in the hut was huddled over a small stove, wearing full down attire. Be prepared to receive funny looks and to pass everyone you encounter.
  • Car relocation. The Routeburn Track is a point-to-point hike starting at either The Divide or just outside of Glenorchy (about an hour from Queenstown). The drive from the starting point to the finish is about 5 hours. Most people who make it a 3-4 day trip take shuttle buses back to their cars, but timing doesn't work out well to do that when you're pulling a day trip. There are a few car relocation services who will move your car for you while you're hiking. These companies are often operated by ultra-marathon runners who you may encounter running the route back after dropping off your car. We used TrackHopper and found them flexible and friendly. Though expensive, having your car with water, snacks, and a change of clothes waiting for you after your long day is completely worth it. You will have to coordinate getting a lock box for your car key, but both Te Anau and Queenstown had a few places with flexible hours who had these. 
  • Book your ending point accommodation ahead of time. We did the track from Glenorchy to The Divide so we could easily visit Milford Sound the following day. We stayed at the Milford Sound Lodge, a lovely eco-friendly place with comfortable beds, great showers, and peaceful views. Note: Time your arrival according to the restaurant's serving hours, otherwise you'll be eating freeze-dried meals out of your camp stove after a day where you'll want calories cooked by someone else. 
  • Bring snacks that don't require you to need to use a stove. Many huts don't allow non-guests inside of them. Think pre-made sandwiches, bars, gels, and most importantly, water.
  • We had about 3L of water each and that was about right for us. If it's a hot day you may want more, so bringing along a water filtration device is recommended. There are several streams you can grab water from on either side down off the main pass. 
  • Fitness/timing reference: We were both very fit (trail run 20-30 miles/week) and had awful weather and it took us about 8 hours to finish. Our friends who were slightly less fit than us did it a year earlier on a nicer day (more stops for photos) and it took them about 11 hours. 

If you want to make this an overnight backpacking trip, check out Backpack the Routeburn Track.

Pack List

  • 10-20L daypack
  • 2-3L water per person
  • Water filtration
  • Camera
  • Energy food
  • Hiking boots
  • Light rain coat
  • Warm layer
  • Light gloves
  • Sunblock
  • Lock box code (or key)
  • Hat (warm and sun)
  • Sunglasses 
Show More
RT Distance 20.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 4100 Feet
Activities Hiking
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Point-to-Point
Features
Lake
River
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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