The planning for this trip went remarkably smoothly. We got the dates we wanted, despite booking well after bookings opened. Flights were inexpensive, the Queenstown accommodation booking was simple. The only hiccup was that the shuttle company changed their email address between booking and confirming, causing a brief moment of panic.
Our route planning was fairly straightforward, we had 4 huts to select from, the information on the DoC website was nice and clear, and so the planning was simple – the hardest part was selecting dates, which still went pretty well, especially considering how long the season had been open for booking by the time we made our decisions!
Our route included one unavoidable harder day – Routeburn Falls Hut to Mackenzie Hut had to be done in a day, so our plans revolved around that. All three days wound up being a similar distance, each with their own unique features – day one the climb from the valley to the falls (and the VIEW from the deck when you arrive at Falls hut is breathtaking), day two the ever-more impressive views of the Harris Basin, and then the sheer scale of the views when you emerge on the saddle, overlooking the Hollyford Face. Day three the huge Earland falls, which make you feel completely insignificant.
The weather we got was PERFECT. Seriously, we could not have asked for better. A storm passed through the day before we flew down, and dumped some fresh snow for us to play in through Harris Basin, but we got three days of sunshine and warm weather – not too hot either.
Our accommodations were of high standard, as expected on a great walk. The huts had gas and electric lighting for the evening, the bunkrooms were clean, although tightly filled. The fire at Routeburn Falls hut was definitely needed, as the hut sits in shade from very early afternoon.
Group dynamics showed the advantages of a larger group. We wound up regularly splitting into smaller groups to move at a suitable pace together, and when I got a heat-induced migraine on the Hollyford Face, Laurie and I were able to power off ahead and get me to the hut and cooled off before it became blinding, while the others plodded along with Claire’s sore feet.
All the days took longer than expected. I’m not at all sure why, exactly, but we struggled to make DoC time, which is unusual for me. That said, all days we HAD the time, except the last one when we had a van to catch, which saw Marion and I race off to ensure we met it in time.
Along the track we met some awesome people – a family from Australia, and a group of girls from Melbourne who were being picked up to go and do the Hollyford immediately after they finished the Routeburn (before going back to Te Anau for a night before starting the Milford!). I can totally see how through-trail walkers (like those on Te Araroa, or the Appalachian) can make friends so easily that become an important part of the trail for them.
The best part of the trip was a combination of the views and the company. In looking back at my photos, the overwhelming feeling is “THIS is why we tramp”.
To get to and from the track, we used Buckley Track Transport. They were efficient, friendly, super easy to deal with, and cost effective. Would definitely recommend them.
The total cost for me to do this walk was in the range of $800. This includes flights between Wellington and Queenstown, a nights accommodation either side of the track, return transfers, two nights hut passes and all food (on the track and in Queenstown). Doing a Great Walk as a domestic tourist is not a light undertaking if you don’t live within easy drive of the area, and with so many not being loops, the extra transfers cost can really add up!