Is New Zealand the most beautiful country to explore on foot?

Ready to walk 40km in just three days? The Routeburn Track in New Zealand is a stunning hike you’ll never forget!

Wind buffets my body and raindrops patter against my backpack as I trudge along the Routeburn Track in New Zealand’s South Island. All around me are the towering grey peaks of the Southern Alps, including the distinctive wedged shape of Mount Emily.

Although this is midsummer, the mountains are flecked with snow and I’m wearing thermals to keep out the chill. In a valley below, a pair of keas (parrots that inhabit the high country) flick by giving shrill, piping cries.

My wife and I are into the second day of a three-day trek into the wild and wonderful alpine country of Fiordland National Park. On day one, in fine weather, we’d traversed mossy native beech forests before stopping for the night at a lodge at pristine Lake Mackenzie.

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Lake Mackenzie will leave you breathless (Photo courtesy of Ultimate Hikes)

Today the weather has closed in, but it’s no surprise. This is one of the wettest regions of New Zealand. It’s no hardship as it happens; it all adds to the exhilarating experience. Moreover Ultimate Hikes in Queenstown has kitted us out with most of the gear we need before we left, from back packs to raincoats and sleepsheets.

While some of the ascents have undeniably been hard work, none of the tramping on the well-graded tracks has been too taxing. And we’ve been thoroughly looked after. One of our guides, Ryan Kelly, has stayed at the back of the party to make sure no one gets lost and to keep stragglers company. “No hurry,” he assures us. “We can take as long as we like.”

The Routeburn track is 32 kilometres long, though the walk spans 40 kilometres, including optional detours off the main path to peaks known as Key Summit and Conical Hill. It starts with a two-hour bus trip from Queenstown to the Great Divide, near the town of Te Anau. From here the first day’s walk includes an optional stop and climb to Key Summit, where we look down into three valleys from which water flows west, south and east.

On day two we tramp 15 kilometres along the Hollyford Face, skirting Lake Harris, a glacial tarn surrounded by an enchanting native garden of mountain daisies and edelweiss.

Day three is a relatively easy ten-kilometre descent through dense forests along the Routeburn river. The bus picks us up at a pre-arranged spot and ferries us back to Queenstown, stopping at the pub in Glenorchy on the way.

An especially appealing feature of the Routeburn walk is its accommodation. Each of the two lodges – at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls – sleeps 40 guests in a combination of private ensuite bedrooms and comfortable bunk rooms, four-to-a-room. Like ski lodges, they each have a common room where guests can buy beer and wine and where the staff miraculously whip up a first-rate meal with supplies mostly supplied by helicopter.

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Enjoy a stunning view at the RT Falls Lodge (Picture courtesy of Ultimate Hikes)

Like the other members of our group, we ended our journey leg-weary but well-fed and happy – and with our appetite for more high-country tramping well whetted.

About the walk
Since the 1880's, the Routeburn Track has proved to be one of the most accessible and popular journeys into New Zealand's forests and mountains. The Routeburn Track passes through two national parks, Fiordland and Mount Aspiring, and is part of Te Wahipounamu, South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

The area is a haven for native birdlife: the Robin; Fantail; Parakeet; Bellbird; Yellowhead and watch out for the resident Kea at Routeburn Falls! The variety of landscapes will astound you: mountainous peaks; sheer rock faces; alpine basins; pristine lakes; cascading waterfalls; luxuriant forest; turquoise rivers and million dollar views around every corner.

The Routeburn Track Guided Walk is a 3 day/2 night Queenstown to Queenstown all-inclusive guided walk exploring New Zealand's Southern Alps. The package includes all transport, accommodation, meals, snacks, backpacks and rain jackets. Accommodation is in our comfortable lodges and you will be led by our expert guides.

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A spectacular view of Hollyford Valley (Picture courtesy of Ultimate Hikes)

Difficulty level: moderate (ensure your fitness level is suitable for this walk by speaking to your GP or health professional).
Cost: from NZD$1,325
Trek: The 40km (24.4miles) trek takes three days
Departs: every day of the week except for Thursdays and Saturdays, from November to April.
Contact: Call +64 3 450 1940 visit their website or email info@ultimatehikes.co.nz.

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