The day began with a 7:15am pick-up at my hostel in Te Anau. Another shuttle from Tracknet: this time to The Divide, one of the ends of the Routeburn Track just about a one hour drive west on the Te Anau-Milford Highway. My bag would be significantly heavier this trip compared to my trek on the Kepler Track which I had come off just one and a half days ago.
Unlike the Kepler, which is a loop, the Routeburn is a one way (or out and back for the more ambitious). I would end my trek in three days closer to Queenstown than Te Anau and would be shuttled from the end to the adventure capitol of Queenstown to finish my New Zealand adventures before flying back to Auckland and onward to Hong Kong. I had to have ALL of my belongings that I brought to New Zealand with me on my back this trip. There was no locker I could return to for any unnecessary gear.
Our van full of hikers arrived at The Divide at 8:30am. Many of its passengers would become my hiking companions over the next three days. We all hopped out of the van, stretched our legs, and readied ourselves for the day of hiking ahead.
The track began to ascend immediately and continued ascending for about 2 miles; at that point, you arrive at the junction with Key Summit. Knowing the day was relatively low mileage (7.5 miles), the two mile round trip up and back to Key Summit would be quite achievable that day. I took the turn off for Key Summit and ascended further towards the summit and spectacular views of the surrounding ranges and Lake Marian (see photo below).
The summit had nearly 360 degree views, well worth my additional effort in getting there.
After descending back to the main track, now the track descended slightly towards Lake Howden, a pretty little lake, and Howden Hut.
I stopped for a brief snack, but didn’t linger too long because, as with other lower elevation lakes I have encountered in New Zealand, mosquitos were still a force to reckon with. From Lake Howden, the trail ascends again for about 2 miles before leveling off and then descending slightly towards Lake MacKenzie, my destination for the night. On the ascent, I passed the magnificent Earland Falls, a nice photo stop.
You remain in tree-line all the way to Lake MacKenzie, an additional 3 miles past Earland Falls. When you arrive in the valley in which Lake MacKenzie lies, you think the hut you first come upon is the NZ DOC hut, but then you spy Lazy Boy loungers and floor to ceiling windows and realize that this is one of the “guided hikes” huts (see photo below); the hikes costs 1500 NZD, you get fed steak dinners that someone else cooks for you, and you only need to carry your clothing.
I quickly realized my error and continued on to the hut the rest of the 99% of the world might be to afford (although at 65 NZD a night, certainly not affordable still to a large segment of the world). I arrived around 1 pm, found a bunk in the bunkhouse above the great room, and started a pot of water boiling for tea with my lunch.
Photos above: Lake MacKenzie and the NZ DOC hut.
The Lake MacKenzie hut sleeps 50 people. According to the hut ranger, the hut has been fully booked every night since the opening day of the season and is fully booked until the last night of the season on April 30th.
At the hut I met many interesting people including a Polish man about my age, who had to take 25 hours of flights to reach Queenstown, New Zealand, and regaled me with stories of all the hikes he has undertaken in the past few years. He said that he tries to summit a new peak three to four times a year, and next his sights were on the Alborz Mountains near Tehran.
Again, like all the other large huts on the Great Walks, as the night moved from 6pm to 7pm to 8pm, the conversations got louder, and an energy filled the huts. However, once hiker’s midnight hit (9pm), there was a shared recognition of the necessity for quiet. I retired to my bunk, excited by talk of snow overnight and throughout the next day.