Since we returned last month from an absolutely incredible time in New Zealand hiking (or should I say, tramping), a little trail running and a paddle on the Milford Sound, I’ve been promising I’d share our itinerary for those of you looking to do similar. So, here it is!
Day One – Arrive & Queenstown Hill.
Arrive early afternoon. We flew in from Brisbane, QLD, directly to Queenstown and picked up a hire car at the airport. After checking into accommodation in town, we headed to Queenstown Hill. This is a great little hill walk, with absolutely beautiful views over the valley and the town below. We walked from the centre of town; definitely didn’t power up; took loads of photos, and all in all took just over 2 hours. If you want to run it, this would be a great steady climb up and a really fun downhill back into town. Strava gave me 495m of ascent on this one. A mixture of tarmac initially and then well formed trail. I wish this was my local hill! Easily accessible and stunning views.
Day Two – Queenstown, Routeburn Track Prep & Moke Lake Circuit.
This wasn’t our first trip to Queenstown, so we just spent the morning grabbing coffee, wandering around & getting our bearings again. We used this day primarily for sorting out our kit for the Routeburn Track; including collecting our camping ticket from the Department of Conservation (DOC) office in town. If you’re planning to take on a Great Walk you really, really need to book in advance (often months in advance).
Desperate to do some exploring, but with my gammy knee not feeling amazing, we headed on a short trip out of town to Moke Lake and walked the 7km loop around the lake. This is a pretty flat, absolutely stunning loop and would be totally doable as a quick, easy trail run. It’s an accessible track for all levels of fitness and for kiddies. We took our time (2 hours in total), including a quick swim in the freezing cold lake and did manage to end up slightly off course on a sheep track, where we should probably have just followed the road towards the end of the loop! There’s a campsite at the start of the walk and toilet facilities.
Day Three – Routeburn Track Day One. Routeburn Shelter to Lake Mackenzie Campsite.
I plan to write a separate article on “fastpacking” the Routeburn Track (one of NZ’s Great Walks) as an overnighter but for now….
We had an early start to get to the trailhead at Routeburn Shelter (70kms from Queenstown) before sunrise and collect the key safe from Trackhopper at Glenorchy on the way. Trackhopper is a great service who relocated our car from one end of the track to other (…although it was a strange experience sneaking around a stranger’s garden in the pouring rain and pitch black, hoping you have the right house, trying to find the key safes – more on that in another article!).
The Routeburn track is typically walked in 3 days, but we were keen to try a mini “fast packing” adventure, taking it on as an overnighter and testing out our new lightweight tent beyond the living room on a rainy day. The entire track is only 32km between Routeburn Shelter and The Divide, but with quite a bit of elevation and some technical sections, not to mention unpredictable weather conditions which could really slow you down, you want to be in good shape if you’re running it in one day. It’s totally doable though if you’re a seasoned trail runner and I’ll certainly be back to hit it in one day another time. You do however need to take into account that from one end of the track to the other is over 300kms by road, so transport is potentially a bigger challenge than the 32km on foot!
Unfortunately, we hit some pretty dire (dreich) cloudy, torrential rain, windy weather, so missed out on the main side trip on our first day as it was blowing a gale when we reached Harris Saddle shelter and you couldn’t even see the track to the peak, never mind the summit itself. The trail was pretty much a waterfall once we passed Routeburn Falls Hut and the day took us 7 hours in total, including photo and snack stops. This was predominantly hiking with a tiny bit of running here and there. I’d have loved to have run more but my knee wasn’t up to it and the final descent down into Lake Mackenzie took me forever over uneven, wet ground.
We camped at Lake Mackenzie overnight, as per our DOC booking. With all of our stuff absolutely drenched, and no means to dry it out at the campsite (this is where huts are awesome – with their log burners, but campers aren’t allowed into the huts) we did consider just finishing the track that day, but it was a good choice not to as the weather cleared up for Day Two and we enjoyed better views! Not to mention it’s always fun to meet some fellow trampers at the campsite and to give the camp stove a whirl.
My GPS went a little crazy and credited me with 28kms for this day – which just isn’t right. I think it’s nearer 22km. 1200m of ascent. The Strava file is here, for what it’s worth!
Day Four – Routeburn Track Day Two. Lake Mackenzie to The Divide, including Key Summit side trip.
We had a cruisey start this morning, taking our time to make brekkie, pack up the tent and see if our fly sheet might dry a little before we stuffed it into my pack! Knowing that we only had 12kms to the car at The Divide, we were in no rush and were hoping the weather might clear a little to allow for a Key Summit sidetrip. A beautiful hike through beech forest takes you down to Lake Howden Hut, where we stopped for lunch before heading up out of the valley and enjoying sunshine on the trail up to Key Summit. It’s well worth doing this extra stretch on a clear day and, judging by the number of children and people wearing jeans and poor footwear, it’s a very popular day hike from The Divide.
Day Five – Milford Sound Kayak and Marian Lake Hike
We stayed overnight after Routeburn Track at accommodation at Knobs Flat, only a 20 minute drive from The Divide Shelter. If you are looking to visit Milford Sound, and are not camping, between Te Anau and Milford (a 1.5 hour drive in summer on winding road) you are pretty much limited to Knobs Flat and the Milford Sound Lodge. We purchased our groceries for this part of the trip in Queenstown before we left, as there is NOWHERE to buy supplies between Milford and Te Anau.
It was an early start today to drive to Milford Sound to start our tour with Rosco Milford Kayaks. Driving through the Homer Tunnel in the dark was a pretty cool experience, having not known anything about it before. Be aware, this was our third day of no phone signal or wifi… Knobs Flat kindly let me call from their landline to confirm the kayaking trip was going ahead. We opted for an easy 4 hour sunrise paddle on Milford Sound – a dream come true for me! I would definitely recommend Rosco if you’re looking for a kayaking experience on Milford. They are a friendly bunch of experienced paddlers and were super organised providing thermals, spray decks, splash jackets and of course, PFDs.
Taking the morning tour left us time to have lunch at the Milford Sound Lodge before deciding to do the Lake Marian hike as the weather conditions were looking favourable. Ironically, it’s only now that I have internet access and have googled a link to share for this hike, that I notice it is listed as an “advanced” tramping track. There were a lot of underprepared people taking on this seemingly short walk, which was steep, extremely muddy and required us to use all fours to climb small sections. I had hoped to run this, but with the mud & roots underfoot that was not an option on much of the track beyond the falls…. plus, we did manage to get lost as I hadn’t realised Morgan was a little confused about the orange triangles being markers for us trampers, and not DOC people setting traps! (Yes, I blindly followed). This was around a 3 hour return hike (460m elevation over about 8kms) to the absolutely stunning Lake Marian, past some beautiful waterfalls.
Day Six – Knobs Flat to Te Anau.
We chose to stay two nights total at Knobs Flat, before heading back towards “civilisation”. This was a rest/travel day, just stopping en route at tourist hot spots like the beautiful Mirror Lakes and a very short walk at the impressive Chasm.
Arriving at our super friendly accommodation in Te Anau, we spontaneously booked a boat trip to the Glowworms caves for the afternoon and sussed out the Kepler Water Taxi for the following day. We had stunning weather for our boat trip across Lake Te Anau to the caves. I wouldn’t necessarily repeat the caves trip, but it was certainly interesting if you haven’t ever seen glow worms (or maggots!) before. Not for those who are scared of the dark or confined spaces though…
We happened to coincide our trip with the GodZone (incredible adventure race!) finish line, so spent the evening in the sun on the beach at the yacht club, cheering on finishers & eating baos from the Habit food truck (don’t miss this food truck if you’re in Te Anau!). The long evenings in NZ at this time of year are awesome compared to the early sunsets in QLD.
Day Seven – Kepler Water Taxi to Kepler Track. Mt Luxmore Summit.
One of my faaaaavourite day hikes ever. We hopped on the water taxi across the lake to Brod Bay, which essentially cut out about 10kms of flat walk on the Kepler Track to the bottom of the ascent (part of the trail race – the Luxmore Grunt) up towards Luxmore Hut. A constant climb up through beautiful forest leads you out to flats before the Hut. Continue on past the Hut to the summit of Mount Luxmore and – assuming the weather is in your favour, you’ll enjoy stunning 360 views. We were mainly hiking, with a little bit of running and our moving time for this day was just over 5 hours. Add another hour for photos, snacking, chatting to people at the Hut and generally faffing about soaking up the scenery and the sunshine!
Strava tells me this was a 27km day, with 1367m of ascent. Bear in mind that pretty much all of that ascent is in the first half. The second half is all downhill… If you don’t like hiking uphill and have a few dollars to spend, a helicopter dropped off some pretty obnoxious (sorry – American) tourists at the hut’s helipad while we were there! But no, don’t be those people 😉
Day Eight – Drive back to Queenstown. Ben Lomond saddle hike.
It’s around 2.5 hours drive from Te Anau back to Queenstown, so we had a lazy start again with brekkie at the Sandfly Cafe in Te Anau, before heading up the road.
Arriving in Queenstown, with our accommodation looking up to the Skyline gondola, we decided to head up the gondola to walk a little bit of the Ben Lomond track. Like the water taxi the day before, we essentially cut off the beginning of the hike here, giving us quick access to the mountain track, without the initial slog to get up there 😉 Clearly, a longer, but also free option, is to start from the bottom of the track! Queenstown is pretty incredible for how easy it is to access beautiful mountains right from the town centre and we enjoyed an easy going hike up to Ben Lomond saddle before heading back to the gondola for a glass of wine with the best views! I’ll definitely be back to summit Ben Lomond another time. With the easy access via the gondola, this is definitely a busier track than some of the others we tramped during the trip, but it’s absolutely stunning and well worth it if you’re in town, with lots of options to extend elsewhere onto the Shotover Track and further afield. We started late afternoon so it wasn’t too packed, but I imagine if you head up in the morning, there will be a lot of tourists for company.
Even though we hopped on the gondola, we still clocked up over 600m of ascent in the first half of our 8km outing. *Wine tokens cha ching.*
Day Nine – Hometime!
Every time departure day has come in NZ, I always feel so sad! I climbed out of bed at sunrise to do a short run along the lake track through the gardens towards Franktown. I had hoped this would be more trail, but it was primarily bitumen, albeit with gorgeous views across the lake. Then it was just a case of packing, and of course, eating a giant Fergburger to sustain us for the plane journey home…..
Queenstown, we will of course be back! If you have any questions about our trip, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Likewise, if you want to let me know about any other amazing trails around Queenstown and Fiordland, please do share! Sarahx