The Routeburn, is a 32km 'tramp' (translation: walk) - one of New Zealand's Great Walks, and rated by someone, somewhere as number 10 in the Top 10 walks in the world. Fame indeed! I had also seen some photos of the amazing scenery the walk passes through so was keen to get in on the action. Most people take 2-3 days to complete the tramp, getting a bus to and from the trail ends and staying in the excellent huts en-route. I had a day, and had to start and end from the same point, so some prioritisation was called for.
Heading up from the Routeburn Shelter, on the Glenorchy side of the trail, I figured I should be able to get up to the Routeburn Falls viewpoint, and possibly up to the Harris Saddle, the high point of the route. Fortunately, speed when walking was trained into me from a young age. My Dad has a rather insane competitive instinct when it comes to hiking - if there is someone ahead, then we have to catch up and overtake them. This involved some serious ice cream and sweet related bribery when my sister and I were kids, and a genetic trait to have to try and beat guidebook time. So despite being very out of practice on the hill walking front (London doesn't have many hills, and my 'hill training' in Greenwich Park never really got off the ground), determination to get to the top of the hill saw me set out at a pretty good pace from the start of the track.
The first section of the track winds up through beech forest, gentle at first, then a bit steeper, following the Burn river up the valley. The track was excellent - a guy in the information centre described it as an 'autobahn', and he wasn't far wrong. Some fun, and very bouncy, swing bridges were in place for river crossings and even a solitary toilet half way up!
The track levels out as you get up the Routeburn flats - an area of lush meadow with the river running through, and surrounded by steep, forrested slopes. I carried on up the track to the Routeburn Falls - a steeper climb, passing a few great viewpoints where a landslide had created a gap in the forest canopy. I reached the hut at the falls about 2hrs after setting out, and ahead of time, so stopped to admire the fantastic view from the DOC hut.
Above the hut, you leave the forest behind and enter a more alpine, mountain environment. The track climbs steadily until you reach Harris lake, a beautiful blue mountain lake, and then up to the Harris saddle - the high point of the track - and beautiful views to snow-capped mountains. After a bit of lunch, I decided to do the extra hike up to Conical Hill - this was much steeper than the rest of the track and felt hard work but the breathtaking panoramic views from the top were worth it.
After many photos I decided it was time to head back down and begin the long walk home. My legs were definitely feeling more tired on the way down and feet were hurting by the time I hobbled into the car park, 8 hrs and 27.5km after setting out. A really great day out!