Did you know that it’s possible to complete a Routeburn Track day hike from Glenorchy? Read this guide on how to a large section of one of New Zealand’s best hikes in a day.
The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s Great walks and one of the most popular on the South Island. If you don’t have time to complete the entire 32 KM hike, then it’s possible to still get through a good section of it on a full-day in-and-out hike.
Following this guide, it’s also possible to summit Conical Hill and check out one of the most scenic alpine huts in New Zealand before descending back down to Glenorchy.
How to get to the Routeburn Track
Depending on which side you are looking to start the track, you could either head to Glenorchy, which is about an hour’s drive from Queenstown, or head to the Divide Shelter, on Milford Road, 85KM from Te Anau.
In this quick guide, I’ll detail my experience hiking a large section of the Routeburn track in one day from Glenorchy. If you’re interested in reading a detailed guide for the entire journey, you can find out more information at the DOC website or at Bucketlistly.blog.
Routeburn Track Day Hike Start Point: Glenorchy
The starting point is the Routeburn Shelter, located near Glenorchy, a small farming town 65KM from Queenstown and deserves a visit in itself.
Once you reach the town, you’ll need to follow Glenorchy-Paradise Road, before turning left onto Glenorchy-Routeburn Road and finally turning right onto Routeburn Road, a well-maintained and accessible gravel road. For convenience, I’ve pinned the exact location of the Routeburn day hike start point on the map below.
Once you reach the shelter, you can park your car, fill up your water bottle and begin the hike.
Routeburn Track Map and Resources
Below I’ve included a map of the entire Routeburn track.
Routeburn Day Hike Route
For this day-trip hike, I’ve suggested starting at Routeburn Shelter, passing Routeburn Flats Hut and the Routeburn Falls Hut, Lake Harris and summiting Conical Hill before turning back to Routeburn Shelter.
This is a fairly long day hike that took me about 8 hours in total for the return trip including some brief stops.
What to Expect
As with all of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Routeburn Track is very well-maintained and absolutely stunning. I’d recommend anybody visiting New Zealand to at least attempt one if they have the time.
Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Flats Hut
Total time: 1.5 hours
The first stretch of the trail enters thick rainforest and crosses several picturesque suspension bridges. This track winds through some spectacular landscapes along the crystal-clear Routeburn river.
After a few kilometer’s, we broke out beside a wide tussock valley known as Routeburn Flats. There is both a hut and a campsite here, with running water and a toilet if you need it.
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Routeburn Flats Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut
Total time: 1 hour
Soon after, the path diverts back into the treeline where the long 1-hour ascent begins up to the Routeburn Falls hut. From here, we were blessed with incredible views over the Routeburn river and the tussock flats below.
When at Routeburn Falls, we were also lucky enough to witness a helicopter landing beside the hutments and onto a rocky outcrop just by the waterfall.
Routeburn Falls Hut to Harris Saddle Hut
Total time: 1 hour
After a quick Muesli bar, we were back on the trail and the ascent up to the highest point on the Routeburn Track; Harris Saddle.
This section of the track was my favourite. The trail gently ascends a rocky tussock and sections of wetland with surrounding jagged peaks before reaching the incredible Lake Harris.
From here, you’ll also have great views of Conical Hill.
After taking in the views of the turquoise alpine lake, we continued up the bluff to Harris Saddle. Here, we found what I believe to be the most picturesque alpine hut in New Zealand. This was also the end-point on our in-and-out day hike of the Routeburn Track. But first, a quick summit of Conical Hill was in order.
Conical Hill Summit
Total time: 1 hour
The final push of the Routeburn track day hike – Conical Hill. The summit push took us about one hour. This involved a bit of rock scrambling and the slopey sections were very icy and slippery. If you’re attempting this off peak-season like we did, I’d recommend crampons and alpine experience.
The summit offered excellent views of the hut above the clouds, Lake Harris, the Fjordlands and the Darran Mountains.
Returning to Glenorchy
Total Time: 3.5- 4 hours
By now, we were already pretty tired. Nevertheless, we still had to return back to Glenorchy. To get back, we followed the same trail, which was much easier on the legs since it was mostly down hill.
Looking for a day hike closer to Queenstown? Check out the full post for Ben Lomond.
Great Walks Hiking Season
The main Great walks Hiking season runs from November to April. During these months, the weather is warmer and the risk of avalanche is lower.
Although the Routeburn Track day hike is technically possible year-round, it’s important to check weather conditions and avalanche risk, especially form May to September.
If you’re attempting the Conical HIll summit, you’ll need to assess conditions and not attempt it in snowy conditions.
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I hope you found this guide. to hiking the Routeburn Track on a day trip. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below. For now, why not check out some more epic New Zealand day-hikes in the list below.