Beginning March 12, walkers will have the option to hike the Routeburn Return – a four-day three-night return experience replacing the Routeburn Great Walk, which was closed for the rest of the season due to storm damage.
The Routeburn Great Walk is traditionally a three-day trans-alpine trek between Glenorchy and the Divide/Milford Sound.
DOC Southern South Island Operations Director Aaron Fleming says since the 3 February storms, DOC staff have worked exceptionally hard, drawing on expert geotechnical advice to get tracks reopened as soon as possible.
“We know people are really keen to get back into nature as quickly as possible, but for us, safety has to come first. We knew really early on that the track as a traditional cross-alpine Great Walk adventure could not be safely reopened in its entirety this season.”
“Now we’ve completed assessments, made some necessary repairs, and are pleased to announce access from the Glenorchy end, through to Lake Mackenzie hut is now safe for people to return. Repairs have included flying in a replacement temporary bridge, fixing damaged bridges and track clearance.”
There is still no access from the Divide/Milford Road end of the track for the foreseeable future and the track will not reopen as a full walkthrough experience this season.
“The Milford side of the Routeburn track, between the Divide and Howden Hut has sustained significant damage, Lake Howden Hut in particular has been damaged beyond repair, and there are significant landslides that have made the track unsafe.”
The Routeburn Return experience is longer and more challenging than the traditional Great Walk, as walkers will now trek about two-thirds of the original track before turning back to head out the same way, staying at either Routeburn Falls or Routeburn Flats each way, Fleming says.
“They’ll also get to tackle Harris Saddle twice, which is a harder climb but the panoramic views between valleys make it all worth it.”
With access restored along the Glenorchy side of the track, this also opens up the Routeburn North Branch, Sugarloaf – excluding Lake Sylvan track – and Rockburn Valleys to backcountry adventurers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
“This is a really special part of the country, popular with experienced hikers, hunters, climbers and campers and we hope people enjoy being able to get back out there, safely. Access to these areas is available now.”
Refunds for people booked on the full Routeburn Track are still being processed. Customers who were booked to walk the Routeburn Great Walk from 4 February to 30 April have been contacted by email and offered the chance to self-cancel and book the Routeburn Return walk.
“We hope to see people taking up the Routeburn Return as an alternative to the traditional Great Walk. Between this and the Southern Milford-Mackinnon Experience, which replaces the Milford Great Walk for the remainder of this season, we expect to see plenty of people out there enjoying this unique part of the country once more.”
“Of the 79 tracks that were closed following the February flood, the fantastic work of our rangers has seen 51 of these tracks reopen. Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks are most definitely open for business.”.