Adventure, Advice, Travel

How to hike the Routeburn Track without a guide

While in NewZealand, we had to spend a few days hiking at least one of the Great Walks. After some research, and realising that we couldn’t do all of them, we settled on the Routeburn. Here’s how we did it for under £114 each, including transport and a night in Milford sound beforehand.

We took our small 2 man tent and a camping stove to NZ with us which we found very useful, using the tent for a total of 11 nights over the 3 weeks we were on the south island. This also allowed us to pull up at beautiful places and relax with some hot soup or a cup of coffee. Especially along the west coast, where you can drive for hours without a place to stop, especially at night! We saved money on accommodation by using the DOC campsites which were often in beautiful and convenient locations and cost us around £12 per night! You can pick up a brochure at any of the DOC information points or check out their website.

A few of the shops in Queenstown allow you to leave bags for a fee. Having asked around, we settled on the Kiwi Discovery shop for $5 per bag per day. The staff in the shop were super helpful, gave some great advice and they also hire out camping equipment for the trek if you don’t have your own. This is also where we booked our transport to Milford Sound and back from the Routeburn shelter.

We took a tour bus from Queenstown the day before the hike which dropped us off in Milford Sound. They gave a full commentary about the different views we were seeing, a bit on glaciation and stopped at  a few scenic points along the way. We took the opportunity while there to head out on one of the 2 hour budget cruises along the Sound, a MUST if you’re in the area! We found the narrative very informative, learning that the sound was originally discovered by a welsh man from Milford Haven who stumbled into it accidently during a storm!

The Milford Sound Lodge hostel is located within walking distance of the ferry terminal making it an ideal place to spend the night before starting the hike. They have a bar and café/restaurant if you want a drink or don’t want to cook. the kitchen facilities were great though. In the morning we hitching a ride to the start of the trail with a very chatty local who gave us a 30 minute insight into the life of a remotely based Kiwi. Nothing helps you understand a place like getting to know the locals!

We began our Walk at ‘The Divide’. After researching a fair bit, this was the direction many people recommended, we’d recommend it too! It worked well as we arrived at the Routeburn shelter early morning giving us time to get back to Queenstown, shower at the local Hostel, collect our bags and grab a Fergburger before collecting our hire car around 2pm! Setting us up nicely to continue on up the west coast that day.

The track is easy to follow with no need for a map and compass, just your basic camping and hiking kit. It is remote so ensure you have a first aid kit and make yourself aware of all of the information given by the DOC before departing. There are wardens at the huts along the route should you need anything as well as up to date track and weather reports.

Highlights of the hike were:

  • A sunny stop at the Earland Falls for a dip and sunbath,
  • Feeling like a hobbit in Lord of the rings style temperate rainforest,
  • The Hollyford Face with its gently undulating trail and expansive views of the Darran Mountains.
  • The descent path to the flats campsite with it’s many waterfalls and swing bridges.

There wasn’t a moment of the that we didn’t enjoy, the 3 days as a whole were a highlight of the trip.


Campsites were around £10 each per night, they are well placed a few hundred meters away from the main track and both have basic toilets, clean running water and sheltered cooking/washing up shelters.

  • Lake Mackenzie Campsite is in a stunning setting, once you have pitched your tent head down to the lake for a sunbathe and a swim surrounded by rugged mountains.
  • Routeburn Flats Campsite is just as awe inspiring as the first. Coming away from the main track, through the woods before it opens out into a vast glaciated valley with a crystal clear stream; another beautiful spot for a wild bath!

Be sure to stop off at Fergburger for the most amazing post hike meal. The queues may be long but you will not be disappointed!! Plus, there’s a bakery and an ice cream shop along the way.

Here’s our breakdown of the costs (for 2 people):

Baggage storage: £15

Travel to Milford sound: £90

A night at Milford Sound Lodge hostel: £36

2 nights Camping: £40

Travel from The Routeburn Shelter: £47

Total: £228

Not bad for 3 nights accommodation and some of the most amazing scenery we’ve ever seen!

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