Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Great Walk

Tramping in New Zealand is a religious experience. Home to some of the world’s best walks, thousands of people pilgrimage to New Zealand every year to walk among Nature’s gifts.

We chose to walk the Routeburn Track, a three-day, 33-kilometer feast for the eyes. Starting in Mount Aspiring National Park, the track traverses through New Zealand’s most stunning wilderness, past crystal clear trout streams, dazzling alpine meadows, impenetrable rainforest, and bottomless mountain lakes, ending in Fjordland National Park near Milford Sound.

We start the walk near Glenorchy, New Zealand, famous for its Lord of The Rings vistas. The track starts on the bank of the Routeburn River, where trout can be spotted in the gin-clear depths even from the trail hundreds of feet away. After catching a few of these New Zealand beauties on a flyrod, we follow the track west through a rainforest carpeted in silver ferns. The river and trail play tag, with rustic swing bridges periodically spanning the chasm. Before long we find ourselves in the picture-perfect Routeburn Valley, with only a steep climb and a handful of waterfalls separating us from the Routeburn Falls hut - our destination for the evening.

Day two starts with a glorious sunrise ricocheting off the waterfalls and tarns of the high alpine. Hiking up to the Harris Saddle, we are treated with mind-blowing vistas, thundering water, and even a rare alpine skink. Cresting the saddle our jaws drop, as the grandeur of the Hollyford Valley reveals itself. Jagged glacier-clad peaks thrust to the heavens, while in the distance waves pound a secluded ocean beach. It is a dichotomy unlike any we have ever seen.

We finally tear ourselves away, and hike along an exposed ridge, constantly buffeted by some of the best views in the world. A myriad of crystal-clear streams fall down the steep slopes beneath our feet, while far below, the trout-choked Hollyford River tumbles north to the sea. Eventually, we drop through a mystical rainforest to picturesque Lake McKenzie to the McKenzie Hut.

We wake on day three to a light drizzle, and set out towards Lake Howden. The fog and mist gives a surreal light to the intense New Zealand fauna. Moss and lichen literally drip from the trees, and every turn reveals a new waterfall plunging down the step green slopes. Soon, the sun burns away the gray, revealing rugged snow-clad peaks above the forest canopy. As we drop down towards Fjordland, sunlight streams through the trees, illuminating the moss-draped trunks with an ethereal green glow. We smile as we reach the end, knowing we have just completed one of the greatest walks in the world.

Enjoy the Routeburn Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Routeburn videos:
Conical Hill Panorama.
Falling Water.

PostScript – Although the Routeburn Track is only 33 kilometers, a drive from the trailhead in Glenorchy to the end point near Milford is more than 350 kilometers. Southwest New Zealand is real wilderness, and roads are rare. It is truly nature at its unspoiled best. That explains why National Geographic just listed it as one of the 10 best hikes in the world.

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