A Walk on New Zealand’s Wild Side: Hiking the Routeburn Track

New Zealand takes hiking—or “tramping,” as the Kiwis call it—very seriously. The country has nine designated “Great Walks,” ranging from 20 to 48 miles, which pass through some of its most scenic areas and are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The DOC also maintains more than 8,700 miles of trails and a network of more than 950 basic accommodations for trampers to spend the night.

The Routeburn Track, which passes through both Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks in the country’s Southern Alps, offers a little bit of everything: glacier-carved valleys; beech forests; still, glacial lakes; rushing streams and waterfalls; and craggy slopes that get an occasional dusting of snow.

A number of endemic bird species, including the endangered bush canary and the kea, an alpine parrot said to eat an occasional sheep, are also found in the area. An added bonus for hiking newbies: The trail is about 13 miles shorter than the popular Milford Track, and about 17 miles shorter than the Kepler Track, another local option.

The Routeburn Track can be hiked in either direction and takes between two and four days to complete—depending on your pace and how many detours you take. Weather is best from November to late April.

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