Tramping (bushwalking, trekking, hiking for non-NZanders) the Routeburn Track recently showed me how variable the weather in the South Island can be….sunny one moment, foggy and raining the next, with snow falling a few hundred metres above the tree line. What fantastic scenery!
I’ve just come back (mid-November) from tramping the Routeburn Track over three days starting from the Routeburn Shelter and finishing at The Divide, with overnight stops at Routeburn Falls Hut and Lake Mackenzie Hut.
While not a difficult walk, full wet weather gear and winter clothing is essential for safety reasons, even in summer. Waterproof boots make the days much more comfortable.
This was a most enjoyable walk despite the fact that it rained for most of the time, as the alpine scenery was awe-inspiring with the mists swirling into the valleys, the snow capped mountains towering hundred of metres above and thousands of waterfalls, which are often non-existent in drier months. Sometimes the sun would break through the clouds revealing the majestic scenery and the glacial valleys with their braided rivers. It’s no wonder that the South Island is the location for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies.
I did not regret having booked a bed in the huts through DOC, as enjoying the camaraderie of fellow walkers, often from distant parts of the world, along with the evening talks by the hut wardens were highlights. In wet weather, there is nothing like a warm fire to dry out your clothes, and a comfortable mattress at night, without the sound of roaring winds and pelting rain. Of course, there are disadvantages, such as a lack of privacy and the disruption to sleep by snorers and those getting up in the night to go outside.
The DOC huts (pdf brochure download) offer a touch of convenience and comfort not available to those who pitch a tent.
November is at the beginning of the walking season and as such the risk of avalanche is often present to the extent that the track is either closed or helicopter transfers necessary to avoid the danger. This proved to be true in our case, with a heli-shuttle operating past the overhanging snow cliffs from Lake Harris to the Harris Saddle shelter, ……at our cost of course!
I never cease to be amazed by those who attempt such walks without even a waterproof jacket and sand shoes, which offer no protection against the freezing cold rivulets crossing the track. No wonder people have died from hypothermia on this track before!
Some more closely related posts: Routeburn Track (8)
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