The Routeburn Track - The Must Do Day Walk

Routeburn Flats on a Day Hike
 The Routeburn Track - The Must Do Day Walk

Routeburn Track: The Flats and up to the Routeburn Falls

Last month, accompanied by Andrew Wells, aka 'The Hiking Guy", and I took the opportunity to hike the eastern end (the Glenorchy side) of the Routeburn Track. Hiking along the Flats and up to the spectacular Routeburn Falls. Considering the day had started out with torrential rain with no real chance of it getting any better,  the day turned out to be memorable, regardless - but that's Mount Aspiring National Park for you, awe-inspiring in all conditions.

Roureburn Day Walk Map

Just after leaving the Routeburn Shelter and car park, there is a great introduction into crossing your typical New Zealand swing-bridge. These are common on most of our walking tracks and provide a cost-effective way to cross potentially hazardous waterways,  thus making the hiker's experience a lot safer and easier. This beauty is suspended over the Sugarloaf Stream, that marks the entrance to the Routeburn track and offers great views of the river in both directions.

Routeburn Track Day Walk Bridge

Firstly we followed a well-formed track through an impressive beech forest.  About half an hour into the walk we decided to veer away from the main track (signposted) and instead, follow an older path that runs closer to the river giving us the opportunity to view a much older part of the forest with larger examples of the giant beech trees. You may have heard people comment that they have never seen so many shades of green as when they visited New Zealand.  Well, this is one of those places… and as we continued the gradual climb, the trail starts to move through large blanketed areas of waist-high fern,  the trunks of the trees sporting lichen and forest moss of every conceivable description. The photograph below is typical of the lush vegetation we move through for a good one and a half hours.

Andrew Wells Hiking Routeburn

The roar of the Bridal Veil Stream soon interrupts the tranquility of our solitude; used infrequently by folk attempting to canyon down the stream, Bridal Veil certainly is a sight to behold.  Water races down a relatively thin section of what can only be described as a natural water slide. If someone turned off the sound and you weren’t following the track, you could easily fall in and there wouldn’t be any stopping as you hurtled down the incredibly well-polished rock surface that snakes down to the river a long way below.

Routeburn Track Hiking Profile

The Routeburn River Gorge: One of the surprising and unexpected highlights of the track was sidling above the Routeburn Gorge on the way up to the flats above, as here the river reveals her true might. This magnificent canyon has been hammered out of hard rock with millennia of roaring white water surging down around colossal boulders, sculpting them into many unlikely looking formations. The sheer power can be truly understood when looking down and discovering remnants of giant trees, stacked like matchsticks on sheer rocky banks at least 20 meters clear of the present river level. Then, as if by magic, the river disappears completely, without a trace into hidden ‘Sump’ - the wonders of ‘Mother Nature’!

Brent Hiking Routeburn Track

Toilets on New Zealand Great Hikes: One thing that has always impressed me with New Zealand’s walking tracks, is the positioning of the toilets, not only are they in the most unlikely of places (remote and at altitude) but they seem to appear just about the time one is required. The Department of Conservation (DOC) spends a small fortune building, installing and maintaining these conveniences and they can be found on all of our great walks like the Milford TrackHollyford TrackHeaphy and Kepler - in fact, they can be found on nearly all our walking tracks throughout the country and the Routeburn is no exception.

Routebuen Track Toilet

Below: This particular piece of ingenious engineering has a rail track allowing for the storage tank to be slid along to an area easily accessed by helicopter.

Routeburn track daywalk toilet

Routeburn Flats: Just two hours into our walk we move out of the woodland and into the alpine pastures known as the Routeburn Flats. This is a peaceful place and the river is wide and relatively quiet as it slowly flows through the rich grassland. There is a fabulous view up the Routeburn valley and we are totally surrounded by very large mountains – the view is spectacular - and what a sudden and unexpected transition. What is also evident is the increase in birdsong; the flats and close by forest have come alive with the noise and flutter of our native bird-life and it really adds a pleasant dimension to our hiking experience.

Roteburn flats

Up to the Routeburn Falls: At the end of the Flats is the Routeburn Falls Department of Conversation Huts. There are a couple of options for the daywalker. Firstly its an ideal spot for lunch, offering shelter from rain, fantastic views and an educational centre with information on local flora and fauna before heading back the way you came. Secondly, and as Andrew and myself decided upon, it is the point where you start the climb to the Routeburn Falls.

Routeburn Falls Walk

Those who decide to climb to the Falls are rewarded with spectacular views of the Routeburn waterfalls and also stunning views of the lower Routeburn valley. This part of the walk is certainly a little more challenging but the experience is well worth it. The return walk is to the start and car park back tracking the way we came.

Routeburn Falls

Conclusion: This is a fantastic walk for those limited by time, but who want to get out into iconic New Zealand wilderness and experience the beautiful Mount Aspiring National Park.  It will truly know what all the fuss is about. For those a litter fitter I strongly recommend taking the extra time to climb to the Routeburn Falls Hut. The views of the waterfall and Routeburn Valley are stunning and well worthwhile.


Drive-times (one-way): Queenstown to Glenorchy (great for a breakfast stop) 45 minutes Glenorchy to Routeburn Shelter (Start of the Track) 30 minutes (unsealed road)

Walking Time (one-way): Routeburn Shelter and car park to Routeburn Flats Hut 6.5 Kilometers (4 Miles) 2 - 3hrs walk Routeburn Flat Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut 2.3 Kilometers (1.4miles) 1 - 1.5hrs walk

For further information or guidance on Walking in New Zealand

Would like to add the Routeburn Track day walk to your dream New Zealand holiday? To receive a free, no obligation, personalised itinerary - just follow the link and answer a few brief questions. 

For Further Reading & Information

Great Walks in New Zealand
Best Day Hikes in the South Island
Best New Zealand Day Hikes – North Island
New Zealand National Parks – South Island
New Zealand National Parks – North Island

Tours You May Be Interested In

6 Days - 50 Shades of Green - Fiordlands Great Walks
9 Days - The South Islands Ultimate Day Hikes
12 Days - Milford Track & World Heritage Westland
13 Days The Routeburn Track and Other Iconic Walks

Last updated on the 18th of January 2019 by Brent 

First Light Travel's Hiking Tours


Brent Narbey
Brent Narbey
: 27 May 2019 (Last updated: 12 Mar 2020)

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