The fame of the Routeburn Track (32km; 2–3 days) is eclipsed only by that of the Milford Track, yet arguably it is superior, with better-spaced huts, more varied scenery and a route mostly above the bushline, away from sandflies. The Routeburn is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and one of the finest of them, straddling the spine of the Humboldt Mountains and providing access to many of the southwestern wilderness’s most archetypal features: forested valleys rich with birdlife (including the rare yellow-headed mohua) and plunging waterfalls are combined with river flats, lakes and spectacular mountain scenery. The nature of the terrain means that the Routeburn is usually promoted as a moderate tramp and the short distance between huts eases the strain. Anyone of moderate fitness who can carry a backpack for five or six hours a day should be fine. That said, the track passes through subalpine country and snowfall and flooding can sometimes close it, even in summer. Fit hikers might consider doing it in two long days, though that doesn’t leave much time for soaking up the scenery.
Most people walk the Routeburn Track westwards from Glenorchy to The Divide. To return to Queenstown from here is a journey approaching 300km, so to avoid backtracking anyone with a day or two to spare should consider a Routeburn combo with the Greenstone Track or Caples Track to make a three- to five-day loop. In winter the Routeburn takes on a different character and becomes a much more serious undertaking. The track is often snowbound and extremely slippery, the risk of avalanche is high and the huts are unheated. Return day-trips from Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut and from The Divide to the Lake Mackenzie Hut are much better bets.