Routeburn Track Day 1: 50 shades of green…


My back hurts, my legs hurt, I can’t feel my feet, but I am now warm and dry- just 30 minutes ago I wasn’t…

That’s how I opened my Day 1 Routeburn Track journal entry.

I then went on to write:

Where I sit in Lake Mackenzie Lodge, sipping at a much needed beer, the mist is rolling through the trees, across the mountains, obscuring the mountains, displaying the mountains. It feels like we’re in the clouds- and it’s fantastic.

Today has been hard, seriously hard- on both a physical and a mental level.

For a start, it’s been cold and it’s been wet.

The paths have been like no other paths I’ve known before, like nothing I could have expected.

There were times today when I stood frozen on a rock, with no idea where to put my feet, no idea how to move my feet. The temptation to curl up into a cry baby mess and give into the panic was strong.

Coming into camp this afternoon, the eternal, infernally steep downhill tumble of rocks seemed never ending. But end it would- sometimes briefly, sometimes for a few metres more. Each time the path levelled out a little or a lot, there’d be a waterfall in view, or a primeval forest, or something else that looked like it probably looked before time began- or soon after.


When that happened, all of a sudden my spirits would lift and I’d be reminded exactly why I was doing this today, why I’m doing this now.

They say that the first day can be really tough.

You’re up early, with check in at 6.30am. Then you have two hours on the bus watching the sky lighten and the mountains and countryside out the bus window.

somewhere on the road to Te Anau

Then there’s the morning tea and the get to know you introduction stop at Te Anau. It’s cold. We’re cold.

somewhere near The Divide...
somewhere near The Divide…

From Te Anau it’s another hour to reach our starting point at the Divide. It’s cold, it’s misty, it’s doing that soft drizzle raining thing that it does (more often than not) in this part of the world. We hit the start of the track cold.

From the very beginning is a steep climb through the trees for an hour. And when I say steep, I mean tell me when this is going to end steep…surely we’ve been going for an hour steep.


By the time we arrived at the Key Summit turn-off, the clouds had come down to meet us. I decided at that point that there was no way I was climbing another hill in order to see…f$%^&ing nothing.

Key Summit. The view on a good day is amazing. Photo by John
Key Summit. The view on a good day is amazing. Photo by John

So I didn’t, and tramped down to the lunch hut instead. Lunch is good, plentiful and rich in carbs- exactly what we need to keep going.

Lake Howden Hut (Department of Conservation). Photo by John.
Lake Howden Hut (Department of Conservation). Photo by John.

After lunch there was more climbing- another 90 minutes (at my pace) of it on increasingly rough tracks.


The rain was now heavy, so it wasn’t long before we were soaked through. Then the creeks came up, so it wasn’t long before boots and socks were also soaked.

Then there was mud. Oh the mud.


And still we climbed.

yes, this is a path too...
yes, this is a path too…

Just when I thought I couldn’t climb another foot, around the corner was the first OMFG moment. Earland Falls. Yes, I dropped the f bomb- it really was that unexpectedly spectacular- and all from a mountain that I couldn’t even see just a few minutes before.

Earland Falls
Earland Falls

The Falls marked the halfway point for this afternoons walk- in distance, anyway. It’s here that the climb got calf tearingly scary.


The trees were also scary, “talking” to us as they rubbed together in the wind.

More rain, more water, more mud, more rocks, more green.


I need to talk about the green. There’s so much of it.


Millions of shades of green. The trees drip green, it’s in soft pillows growing on logs and rocks, on the side of the track, up the falls.


It’s beautiful- and the rain, softening the light, only makes it more so.


We’re using words like primitive, and primordial, and elemental, and fecund, and verdant, and…you get the idea.


Just when I thought that I could not physical reach for another rock, the direction changes- we go downhill. And that’s when my real panic starts.

There were more than a few occasions where I stood frozen, not knowing where to place my feet next, not knowing how to trust my balance, but knowing that somehow I had to.


I wasn’t prepared for today. I wasn’t physically prepared- no amount of gym work or walking the suburban streets will do that. I wasn’t prepared for how much it would hurt, for how elementally, primitively beautiful the scenery was- especially in the rain.

photo by John

And the Lodge? Lush, warm, comforting and a hot shower to die for.


Day 1 is done- it can’t get harder than this…it can’t be more amazing than this.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

4 thoughts

  1. I am cheering you on from California. Go get your ‘it’ Jo. Thrilled for you and inspired as usual.

  2. Wow! So impressive and worth it from the sound of it. I have to admit I thought the hike was much longer (like a week of hiking) but I can see that it’s more treacherous and climby (can’t think of better word!) than I imagined.

    Well done you!

    1. I’m blogging day 2 & 3 now. On day 2 I hiked for 8 hours for just 15kms. Day 3, on the other hand, was a breeze! Just 3 or so hours of walking for 10kms.

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