The Routeburn Track
Eastern Trailhead to Routeburn Flats Hut
Thursday, February 25
We roused ourselves from our cramped Glenorchy Hotel accommodations at a not-particularly early hour. The first day of our outing on the Routeburn Track was short and undemanding, and there was no requirement to rush.
The drive from Glenorchy to the end of the Routeburn Road was short - less than thirty minutes. Our only delay was stop to allow a flock of sheep to be herded along the road from one pasture to another. Boy, border collies are sure impressive when they do herding work!
We didn't get to enjoy the scenery along the drive as much as we would have liked - low clouds and a smattering of rain kept the higher elevations out of view. It was still a pretty drive, though, especially the area around the crossing of the Dart River. As a side note, this area formed the backdrop for Isengard in Lord of the Rings.
We arrived at the Routeburn's eastern trailhead shortly before 11 a.m. The rain was now coming down steadily, despite the occasional ray of sunshine every so often. The forecast wasn't encouraging. In general, it predicted heavy, rainy conditions for the next couple of days. Since we were hard up against the end of our trip, we had no flexibility in our schedule to work around the weather, so a hike along the Routeburn in the wet it would be. At least we had berths at a nice, dry hut booked!
(side note: Pu and I had originally chosen to stay at the Routeburn Flats campsite. Upon realizing that it would probably be a wet, miserable experience, we called the DOC and they graciously allowed us to re-book into the Routeburn Flats hut).
Decked out in full raingear, we began our walk along the Routeburn. The Track immediately crossed the major watercourse of the area (the Routeburn River) on a large footbridge. The river's water was a strange olive-green, a color we had not yet seen in a New Zealand stream.
The wide, gravelled track undulated through a thick beech forest with a clear understory of small ferns. The forest was lush and green, qualities that were both accentuated by all of the rain. Every side stream we encountered flowed vigorously.
The Track climbed up a moderate slope and started a course above and parallel to the Routeburn River, in a constricted section of the valley known as the Routeburn Gorge. Apparently the Track here followed the tread of an old historic bridle path.
Normally dry cliff faces and small gullies across the track were today beautiful waterfalls and rushing creeks (as we would later learn). Upon crossing the Routeburn River again, which the Track does before arriving at Routeburn Flats, we gazed down upon the roiling, frothing current, and were thankful for all of these high-quality, sturdy bridges. Without them this route would be basically impassible on a day like today, and difficult even in the best of conditions.
Our group was quite fast today, and in a short two hours, we had covered seven kilometres and seven hundred feet to the vicinity of Routeburn Flats, which we could now partially see through the trees on our right. Another few minutes of flat walking brought us to the short side trail leading to the Routeburn Flats Hut - our destination for the day.
Routeburn Flats Hut
The first order of business was to decide what to do, and we were somewhat split on this, at least initially. Our original plan had been to hike to here - the flats hut - and then stay the night. Early the next morning, we would do a much longer hike - up the Routeburn as far as Harris Saddle, roughly the halfway point of the Track, and then turn back. Since we had arrived quite early today, it was theoretically possible to do this longer hike today. Andy especially seemed keen to do this.
I was a bit skeptical of this alternative. First and foremost was the weather. It was terrible outside, and up above treeline, it would surely be wind and lashing rain - not to mention no views at all. I explained that when you looked at the forecast closely, hour-by-hour, there was a small window early the next morning that had a decent chance of being dry - or at least less wet.
We debated these two proposals for a bit, me being the proponent for the latter choice. Jenn, Caroline, and Brian stated no preference. Andrea and Lori declined to do the hike no matter which choice was made. So, in the end, it was down to myself and Andy.
Andy eventually decided to stand down - no more hiking today. What that decision out of the way, the second order of business was to get out of our wet stuff and hang it up to dry. Despite all of our raingear, we were still pretty damp. Jenn got the coal(?)-fired stove running to help speed up the process.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Routeburn day 1 - click map to view
Routeburn Track Day 1 - Eastern TH to Routeburn Flats Hut
* : +/- 75 feet