Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland NZ

The route to Mt Burns (1645m) delivers beautiful Fiordland scenery the whole way, including unique plant life, tarns, lakes, peaks & valleys.

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland

Our first time in southern Fiordland, and it did not disappoint. We chose perhaps the easier of two walks to peaks that are accessible from Borland Road, climbing Mt Burns (1645m; the other is Mt Eldrig). It’s a very beautiful landscape packed full of lakes and tarns, and fabulous plants, but far fewer people than the touristy spots further north.

For sure, the area approaching Milford Sound is exceptionally grand. But I’d say this area is as picturesque as that area is spectacular. Even the very start in beech forest is extra beautiful. Then there are more tarns than I think I’ve seen on any walk before. Green Lake is the icing on the cake of the walk to point 1476m. And lastly Mt Burns gets you views of countless peaks, ridges and valleys in all directions.

This is a mostly moderate route, but with some route finding required along a rocky ridge to summit Mt Burns, the overall rating is hard. You could miss out Mt Burns and still be very satisfied with your day out however, or try ascending up our descent route. See my route notes at the end.

Mt Burns and Tarns: The Scenery

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
We started off in beech forest, dripping with lichen, with mist wafting in and out.

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
We were only in beech forest for 5-10 minutes before emerging above the treeline.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
There was an inversion when we arrived at the tops. The pylons carry out electricity from a hydroelectric scheme near Lake Manapouri.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Who needs the Pouakai Tarns! 😉
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
So many tarns on this walk, many of them arranged as though landscaped artificially.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Green Lake with Cuthbert Peak and Rocky Tops behind.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Green Lake panorama.

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland

Plant life interlude

…before we get to shots from Mt Burns…

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
There were all sorts of fascinating alpine plants.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
First time to see this attractive plant, that looked a bit speargrass-like, and is indeed related: aciphylla pinnatifida according to Google.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
These are also kinds of Aciphylla.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
That cushion almost looks alien, and have you ever seen curly grass??

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
This plant’s leave were generally green but sometimes red and yellow or orange. The flowers were purple.
Mt Burns
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Climbing up onto the summit ridge.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
I think I took this from point 1635m, which is near the summit, but the way forward required some route finding and a bit of scrambling. You couldn’t just keep to the crest of the ridge.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Views from the summit of Mt Burns (1645m)..
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
The Borland Burn South Branch and Borland Road, which is the road into the area. You can see what a spectacular drive that was.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Panorama of the Hunter Mountains from the summit. Mt Titiroa on the right at the back (I think).
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Extra wide angle panorama from the summit.
On our way back down
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
A couple of shots I decided to combine because they sort of looked similar. The ‘X’ photo is in order – it is a nice example of the marbly seams in the rocks. The other one was taken at the same spot as some of the Green Lake photos, where there were a couple of significant landslips.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
On the way down we went around the outside of that tarn, which was the biggest of those below Mt Burns.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
We got a good look at this unnamed lake on our return route past that tarn.

More tarns shots from west of Mt Burns. We took a slightly different route through the tarns providing quite different views and a chance to take lots more photographs.

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Mmm, that’s good tarn.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Loved the subdued green colour of this tarn, and the uneven matte finish.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
I was fascinated by how neatly these tarns were laid out.
Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
Sophia was stretching in the beech forest, waiting for me to catch up after taking too many photos, as usual.

The drive in and out was also spectacular.

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
The drive in and out was impressive too. Top = the Borland Road driving up to Mt Burns. Bottom = On the drive out: the Takitimu Mountains from Lake Monowai Road. (This bottom one is a poor quality phone pic with lots of digital zoom – so don’t look too closely. I was too lazy to get my camera back out.)


Route Notes

Mt Burns and Tarns, Fiordland
On a track through beech forest, then a marked route up to the tarns. After that it’s an unmarked / off-track route to Mt Burns. Navigating to the summit requires some route finding through rocky terrain. Returning via the tarns below the summit adds some nice variety.

From the saddle, where there is a toilet, set off into a short section of beech forest. Walk past the many tarns and begin the climb to point 1476m. The most direct route up involves a short but very steep section that you could go around.

From 1476m continue north-east then north and climb up onto the ridge to Mt Burns. The last few hundred metres is rocky with exposure on the northern side, so you have to drop off the ridge just a bit to the south, and climb back up to the not so prominent summit. There’s some easy scrambling required.

On the way back we descended through rocky but straightforward terrain to the tarns below the summit, and you could climb the mountain this way also. From those tarns we retraced our steps to get the excellent views of tarns and lakes all over again.

Roughly 5-6 hours for this walk plus breaks. There’s information on the DOC website on the route to the tarns. You might also consider the route to Mt Eldrig, which I hear is more challenging. Link to DOC info on that walk here.

Accommodation

There’s not a great deal of accommodation near this walk, especially not in season when Te Anau is likely full.  We ended up staying in Mossburn at the Mossburn Railway Hotel, which was less than 90 minute’s drive away. (An AWD / FWD will speed things up on the unsealed Borland Rd, otherwise it might take 90+ minutes).

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *