We left Glenorchy in the early morning hours to catch a shuttle to the start of the Routeburn Track. New Zealand has nine “Great Walks” through diverse scenery, including the 32 kilometer Routeburn Track. We decided to combine the Routeburn with the Caples Track to make a 60 kilometer five day circuit through Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks in the the Southern Alps.
The beginning of the track followed the crystal clear waters of the Route Burn (small streams are called “burns” in NZ) and offered clear views of the Humboldt Mountains. Past Routeburn Flats, the trail climbed steeply to the Routeburn Falls Hut where we stayed for the night. The hut was situated next to the Routeburn Falls (video below) and offered stunning views of the valley below us.
The next day we started the climb to Harris Saddle. The track guided us through wetlands and grasslands and past Lake Harris on onto the saddle. Harris Saddle is the highest point on the track at 1255 meters.
At the saddle, Dan decided to climb Conical Hill, a steep climb with views of the Hollyford Valley, Darren Mountains, Martins Bay, and the Tasman Sea.
From the saddle, the track traverses along the exposed Hollyford Face, with views of the Darran Mountains and even the Tasman Sea.
At the end of the second day, we descended to Lake Mackenzie and camped by the lake for the night.
The third day, we climbed from the lake and past Earland Falls that cascaded 174 meters from the cliff above us. We camped near Lake Howden for the night. The snow level had dropped that day which provided a frigid night’s sleep.
Day four, we split from the Routeburn Track towards the Caples/Greenstone tracks. The Caples track climbed steeply towards McKellar Saddle, but the difficult ascent rewarded us with a rainbow spanning the valley below us. Mckellar Saddle crossed fragile subalpine vegetation and bogs. Dan was super excited to see sundews, a small carnivorous plant.
As we descended from the saddle into the beech forest, the temperature heated up and the forest teemed with fungi and native birds.
We stayed in the Upper Caples Hut which is no longer part of the parks system and has been transferred to the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association. Most people don’t know that this hut can still be booked, so we ended up with the whole hut to ourselves! The hut came with a wood stove that kept us nice and toasty which was very welcomed since our previous night camping had been freezing.
We left our cozy hut behind the next day and started our last day of hiking. The track followed the Caples River and followed the valley all the way down to the carpark. After five days we were tired and hungry, so we caught the shuttle back to Glenorchy and rewarded ourselves with a shower, burger, and beer. What an incredible 5 days in the Southern Alps!