Routeburn Track Day 2: One Perfect Day

Sunrise from the Lodge (taken from iPhone)
Sunrise from the Lodge (taken from iPhone)

The following is straight from my personal diary…I’ve just deleted most references to people…and the really personal bits 😉

So, yesterday was hard.

Today was harder…but the scenery was more expansive, more magnificent, more spectacular, more…insert your own superlative.

There were also parts that were quite simply unendurable- but endure and persist I did. I had to- it was worth it…on so many more levels than I can say.

The morning started fresh and cold. Where yesterday was clouds and rain, today was sunshine and clear skies. What a difference a day makes.

After preparing our lunches, and filling our tummies with a cooked breakfast (eggs bennie), it was back on with shoes and packs and a walk down to Lake Mackenzie where we froze for a group photo.

Lake Mackenzie. Photo by John.
Lake Mackenzie. Photo by John.

Then we started climbing.

Photo by John
Photo by John

This wasn’t any ordinary climb. In this climb we clambered up and over rocks through a forest that surely fairy folk (or something mythical) lived in.


The sun floating through the forest canopy provided sufficient excuses for photo stops.


Once above the treeline, the almost fantasy-land of the forest floor was left behind. The path smoothed a little, criss-crossing the side of the mountain, the clamber replaced by zig-zags and switch backs. Way below us were glimpses of Lake Mackenzie



and the lodge.

Photo by John
Photo by John

At one point, Charlotte (the guide keeping me company at the back of the pack) pointed to a far off red jacket about ¾ up the side and said, ‘from here it isn’t too far.’

The front of the pack climbing much more gracefully than I did. Photo by John.
The front of the pack climbing much more gracefully than I did. Photo by John.

It was at that point that I doubted my ability to keep going…and by doubting my ability, I mean that I found it all completely overwhelming. The idea that I had to climb that far was almost too much for me. For a second or two my smile dropped, and I felt that tell-tale panic in my chest- the one that you feel when an easy way out seems so much, well, easier. But then I looked around…and I kept going…stopping regularly to take photos of pineapple shrubs and the view.



What awaited me at the top, made the last two hours climbing, with all the sweat and blood (my nose had been intermittently dripping blood for at least the last hour- I think it was something to do with the altitude and the air quality) completely and totally worth it. (By the way, no one else had the blood nose thing, so don’t let that put you off.)


From up there, at Ocean Peak Corner, you can see forever- well at least if forever is all up and down the Hollyford Valley and beyond.


Charlotte said it’s the best conditions they’ve had in weeks. I had Imagine Dragon’s song On Top of the World floating through my head for ages after…it’s there now as I write. Don’t know the song? Here’s the link. Have a listen- it’s appropriate.

From here we traversed the Hollyford Face.


In some places the track is even, in others, we cling to guide rails.


There are mountain daisies, so I have a Julie Andrews moment…


There are streams, so we top up our water.


There are also switch-backs, yes more of them, so we climb them…


and finally, there are stairs.


Charlotte told me later that they call this stretch heartbreak hill.

Finally we reach the lunch hut at Harris Saddle. It’s 2.30pm and I’ve been on the track for nearly five hours. Some of the faster walkers are already on their way down towards the Lodge.


From here there is the option of a climb to Conical Hill. It’s steep, and is estimated at around 90minutes round trip- some of the faster, more experienced walkers choose to do this. Luckily for me, my friend John is one of them. More luckily, he lugged his telephoto lens up there. Check out the views from the top.

Photo by John
Photo by John
Photo by John
Photo by John. If you look closely towards the top, you can see waves breaking on the West Coast.

It was after leaving the hut that my mind played serious tricks on me. The track was narrow, and skirted around a ledge no wider than the track…and all the while we’re climbing…

Looking down at Lake Harris
Looking down at Lake Harris



At one point the rock looked too big and the track too narrow, so I crawled over the top. It seemed safer.


Normally this would be a don’t look down moment, but honestly, I couldn’t help it. Not looking down would mean missing out on this.

Lake Harris
Lake Harris

Besides, once I’d rounded the ledge, I could see where I was heading. Way in the distance is Routeburn Flats…where we’re headed tomorrow.


And, where I’d been…


Soon after this, the descent began, so did the incredible views across the valley.


It was a whole different type of hell, a hell of rocks and slips and crevasses and waterfalls and mud and sliding down on my bum sometimes and picking the way through at other times.

Looking back up the "path"
Looking back up the “path”

It was also a sort of heaven.

For much of this (by choice) I was walking alone, and it was a freedom and a beauty the like of which I had been searching for.

Eventually the descent came to an end- as all things do, and the path evened out some more.


… the views settled down a little in scale too, but the wow factor remained.


Soon we were in sight of tonights accommodation at Routeburn Falls Lodge. We could also see tomorrows route in the distance.


We’d been warned at the briefing last night not to get too excited- more rocky descents and a waterfall


stood between us and a cold beer.


Tonights dinner was a pumpkin (or was it sweet potato?) soup, and a choice of steak or salmon- I had the salmon…and it was seriously good. Dessert was pancakes you had to catch. And there was lots of wine.

Photo by John
Photo by John

I hurt all over, but it’s a pain that I welcome. It’s a pain that was earned through hard work, persistence and focused will…and my reward for it was spectacular scenery, freedom and a courage and confidence that having left some demons on the mountain, I can do anything.

Would I do it again? Hell yeah!

Me coming in at the back of the pack with Charlotte
Me coming in at the back of the pack with Charlotte

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

4 thoughts

  1. Some lovely pics there but the first (sunrise one) is amazing. I can’t believe how steep the climb is in points – you did an amazing job! I love that you’re laughing (or smiling) in that last picture! (And the accommodation looks fabulous!)

    1. Deb, the accommodation was fabulous. I can’t praise Ultimate Hikes enough. Despite the pain, it was easy to stay smiling (and laughing)…the whole thing was too incredible not to.

    1. They’re essentially zig zags- they go up to the right, then across & up to the left, then across & up to the right etc…

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