I had finished tramping Kepler track just a day ago, my body had not even recovered completely and yet here I was on The Routeburn Track within 48hrs. The Routeburn track is another one of the 9 great walks and arguably the best. Routeburn has the unique distinction of traversing through 2 national parks, the Fiordland NP and Mt. Aspiring NP. Usually tramped in single direction from Routeburn shelter to the Divide over 3days, it can be combined with Greenstone-Caples track to form a 5 days loop return. Since I was staying in Te Anau after Kepler track, I was going to start The Routeburn track in a reverse direction from the Divide on Milford Highway and finish at Routeburn Shelter in Glenorchy before taking a bus to Queenstown. The Kepler track had already tested my strength and endurance, and I wasn't sure how my body would cope with routeburn so soon. Luckily Routeburn track was only 30kms long, half as long as Kepler track, and boasted of magnificent views over Hollyford valley, Darran mountains, Lake Harris and Routeburn valley.
I got up early morning and after packing my gear, headed to the YHA kitchen for breakfast. Simultaneously, I also prepared lunch boxes for today as well as tomorrow, boiled greens and potatoes with fruits would do. The weather since last night had deteriorated and it was drizzling since morning with dark clouds overcast. I took a bus from YHA Te anau and reached the Divide at around 11 a.m. The bus driver raised my hopes by informing me that the weather might get better from tomorrow. Let's hope so!
The first day of the track was a climb to Lake Mackenzie where I was going to camp overnight. The track was wet and slippery and although I feared my body would start giving up soon, on the contrary it started working as a well-oiled machine. The initial part of the track from the Divide was a steep ascent for 15-20 mins before the track leveled out to gently ascend up towards Howden hut. On the way I met a group of trampers from Routeburn guided walks with dedicated track guides accompanying them and assisting them during the tramp, quite fancy I think.
After about 40 mins, I reached the Key Summit side track. I had heard a lot about the beauty of Key summit and decided to hike the side track. 15 mins into the side track and I was quickly engulfed in thick fog with sheets of rain falling on me. I looked around trying to judge if the fog would clear but it didn't look like it. I immediately retraced my steps and returned to the main track. After about 20 more mins I reached Howden Hut.
Situated on the shores of Lake Howden, it was used by lot of trampers for rest and recuperation, especially those coming down from Lake Mackenzie. I stopped at the hut to escape a passing bout of heavy showers. Waiting on the porch at howden hut, I looked around the hut only to see Lake Howden covered in fog and eerily silent.
As soon as the rains dropped down, I was off again on the track hoping to take as much advantage of the dry spell as possible. Tramping in wet weather can be very annoying especially when the track is still 3 hours long, not to forget the risk of slipping and getting involved in an accident. But on the other hand, a different and a more beautiful side of nature is revealed amongst all the rains and winds. The lush green valleys covered in mesmerizing fog, little streams turning into gushing waterfalls, it is as if a new life is breathed into the world again and a whole new kingdom is revealed. From cursing the rain to gaping in awe at the array of waterfalls kept on display by the nature. Absolutely stunned!
My mood quickly elevated and for no reason I started naming every waterfall that I came across. There were the twins, the Scorpio, the green goblin, little piss, banshee, fallen one, etc. It was like a fun game that I was playing with mother nature, she showed me the waterfalls and I had to come up with a creative name. I guess when we truly immerse ourselves in nature, time disappears and we become one with it, lost in its beauty.
Soon I reached a point on the track whence I could hear a roaring waterfall. Up ahead was the spell binding Earland Falls. With a height of 174m, this beast of waterfall was falling down in its full strength. The part of track closer to it was flooded and an alternate flood detour route was now bring used to cross the falls. I was all alone at the falls and it felt surreal, to witness this beauty of nature in its full strength.
Trapped in a trance, I kept on staring at the waterfall when out of nowhere a sudden burst of cold wind stirred me up. Reluctantly, I left the waterfall, glancing back now and then still able to see those humongous falls from distant. I went back to my game of waterfalls and skipped and hopped around on the track now and then, somehow feeling more happy and energetic. After a while, I reached a clearing, an open space with open grassy tussocks and ribbon wood trees, named The Orchard by Department of Conservation(DOC). Past the orchard, the track became very rocky and unruly with frequent interruptions by streams.
Within no time, I reached a huge mansion like hut which was the accommodation for trampers who were doing the Routeburn guided walks. Past it was Lake Mackenzie and lying on its shore was Lake Mackenzie hut. Surrounded by mountains on all side which dropped to form u-shaped glacial valleys, lake Mackenzie was like a piece of heaven in the middle of mountain giants. Since I was camping, I walked further past the hut over wooden bridges clinging to rock faces bordering the lake to reach lake Mackenzie campsite.
Sheltered among tall trees, the campsite was well maintained and divided into blocks among the bushes. Each block was surrounded by bushes to maintain privacy and had one artificial green top to pitch the tent. It was perfect since the ground was wet and these mounted tops prevented water to flow inside the tent. There was also a common sheltered area with benches, platforms and a drinkable water tank.I was the first one to reach the campsite and took one of the spots closest to the track. After setting up my tent site and dumping all my gear in the tent, I walked back to lake Mackenzie.
The lake water was surprisingly not very cold and was comfortable to dip my feet into. The air around was quite pristine, with a mild pleasant breeze blowing around. Rain had stopped and the weather had cleared up to give beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Past the campsite was a side track to split rock. It took me a while to reach there since it was very unstable and I had to jump and hop over fallen branches and large tree roots jutting out at awkward angles. At the end of the track was a huge rock that was split right in the middle to create a very thin passage. I tried sliding into the passage, my slim figure might be an advantage but it was too thin for me as well. After clicking few pictures and exploring around a bit, I went back to the campsite for dinner.
It was nearly 7 pm and thankfully on my way back I ran into hut ranger who had come to collect my track ticket. The ranger informed that the weather was going to be a mixed one tomorrow and there are predictions of snowing higher up in the ranges tonight. Excited and nervous for tomorrow.After dinner, I retired inside the tent and went off to sleep tired. But nature had other plans. It kept on raining the whole night, and the constant pattering of raindrops on my tent roof kept me awake for most part, though I did manage to get some sleep now and then.
I woke up next morning at 7 am to check the weather. Rain had stopped few hours ago and the mountains around me stood with a fresh dusting of snow at higher altitudes. The air was chilled but was devoid of any wind. With a smile on my face and excitement in my body I got down to packing my gear. Can't wait to see what lies ahead!