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How to Hike the Routeburn Track In One Day from Glenorchy

How to Hike the Routeburn Track In One Day from Glenorchy

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Did you know that it’s possible to complete a Routeburn Track day hike from Glenorchy?

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.

However, as I found out, it’s also possible to do one of the most scenic sections of the trail, summit Conical Hill and check out one of the most scenic alpine huts in New Zealand before descending back down to Glenorchy on the same day. Here’s how.

Overview & Things to Know

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.

Route Summary: Routeburn Shelter > Routeburn Flats Hut > Harris Saddle Hut > Conical Hill Summit > Return

  • Location: The Routeburn Track is located on the South Island of New Zealand. The day hike itinerary starts from Glenorchy, approximately 65 km (40 miles) from Queenstown.
  • Booking & Fees: There is no booking or fee required as you'll be doing this in an out-and-back trip from Glenorchy.
  • Hike Length and Duration: 28 km return; 8-10 hours
  • Difficulty: Long with steep sections. Easy track to follow.
  • Total Elevation Gain: 750 m
  • Highest Point: Conical HIll 1,515 m
  • Best Time to Visit: The Great Walks hiking season runs from November to April, when you'll gen warmer weather and lower avalanche risk. It’s possible to hike year-round, but be cautious of weather and avalanche conditions from May to September.
  • Facilities: Huts and campsites along the trail provide running water and toilets. Make sure to check the DOC website for up-to-date information on track conditions and hut availability.
Peter's lookout drive we seek travel

Tip: How to Get Around in New Zealand

Rent a car! New Zealand is very safe for motorists & driving is the best way to explore the country.

I always DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, I've had good experiences in NZ with Spaceships & Travellers Autobarn.

How to get to the Routeburn Track Trailhead

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, 85 km from Te Anau. 

  • For the purpose of this itinerary, the starting point is the Routeburn Shelter, located near Glenorchy, a small farming town 65 km from Queenstown that 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.
  • Once you reach the shelter, you can park your car, fill up your water bottle and begin the hike.

For convenience, I've pinned the exact location of the Routeburn day hike start point on the map below.

Trailhead: Routeburn Shelter

Routeburn track trailhead map

My Experience Hiking the Routeburn in One Day

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 entered a 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.

Suspension bridges on the routeburn track in new zealand

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.

Mountain lakes on the routeburn track with a view of the valley.

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.

Lake harris routeburn day hike

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.

Harris saddle hut on the routeburn track

Conical Hill Summit

  • Total time: 1 hour

The final push for this big day hike was the summit of 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 as we did, I'd recommend crampons and an 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 downhill.

Img 3240

Routeburn Track Map and Resources

For up-to-date information on track closures, hut prices and more, you can visit the DOC website. I'd also recommend downloading this brochure to help with more information.

Below I've included a map of the entire Routeburn track.

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, otherwise, check out more of my adventure guides to the South Island here:

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

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