The Routeburn 2-3 day walk is one of New Zealand’s most famous Great Walks, and the whole area is truly spectacular. I’d done day walks on this route as far as Harris Saddle and Conical Hill in the past, but had never considered the Routeburn North Branch because valley walks aren’t really my thing. To anticipate a longer than average introduction, I’m now a convert, or at least for the very best valley walks like this one.
I came to do it when my wife Sophia decided to finally walk the whole Routeburn, but could only get bookings for the night I was due to start back at work. I could work remotely that week, so I joined her as far as Routeburn Flats, and then continued up the Routeburn North Branch for a long but flattish day walk.
The weather was cloudy and wet, but the walk ended up being so good that I took Sophia back the next week in clear blue skies, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time. There’s varied and attractive vegetation the whole way, and of course the river, but the highlights were the towering Humboldt and Serpentine Ranges lining both sides of the valley: a highly recommended walk. Track notes at the end.
Routeburn North Branch Track: The Scenery
Shots from both occasions intermixed here…
A couple of shots on our way back…
Follow the Routeburn Track as far as Routeburn Flats Hut. From there you cross the grassy flats, picking up a sporadically marked route on the ‘true right’ of the Routeburn North Branch where the valley narrows a bit. The route markings are sometimes hard to find, and the track disappears sometimes, (it’s been washed out in places), but essentially you keep heading up the valley, so you can’t get that lost.
I continued right up until where the valley narrows considerably, but that requires some route finding and a river crossing (just a stream by this stage though). On my second visit we stopped in the last grassy flats a few hundred metres before this, which is where the best views are anyway.
The Routeburn Track to the flats is well graded. From there it’s more rugged but mostly flat and gaiters will be handy to keep dry feet on stream crossings. I’ve rated it moderate but it is quite long and some parts require a bit of scrambling. It will take maybe 8-9 hours. Obviously staying at Routeburn Flats Hut is an option, as is camping in the valley itself.