NZ: Greenstone Track and Routeburn Track

The Routeburn Track is another of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”. It is a roughly 40km loop that was used by both Maori and early European settlers as a trading route and means of crossing to the West coast. The Greenstone Track was used by the Maori to carry quantities of jade to the West coast and feeds into the Routeburn Track, making the total hike a little longer and the scenery more varied. 

I had provisioned for four days so, complete with clothes, sleeping bag, dehydrated food, gas burner, several litres of water and billy cans, I left my van in Glenorchy and caught a shuttle to the start of the Greenstone Track.

An early view of the river
There was a slightly magical feel about these woods. A bit Tolkien-esque

Only several kilometers into the walk other humans were already conspicuous in their absence. I walked along the well-marked route under shady beeches whose leaves were verdant with the first flushes of summer. 

What my Auckland friends had predicted would be a reasonable day of hiking became 2.5 hours due to a longer leg conversion rate so I arrived at the first Department of Conservation (DOC) hut where I was to stay the night by early afternoon having set off at midday. The friendly ranger appeared and suggested that I, and a fellow early arrival, go down to the river to swim in a quiet eddy in the direction of which he could point us. The hut being absent any showers, this sounded like an excellent idea and we splashed around for a bit until we could bear the sandfly clouds and icy water no longer.

Afternoon turned to evening and the dorm room of the hut was almost full when gloomy dusk gave way to nigrescent night. One of our number performed a Nessun Dorma in earsplitting and impressively resonant snores which ceased only briefly when they became so loud he woke himself up. In the morning, oblivious to his own transgressions, he had the nerve to tell his friend he had been snoring. Had we not all developed homicidal thoughts towards himduring the course of the night, this might have been amusing.

Greenstone DOC hut

Further into the wilderness I trekked. This time I saw not a living soul for several hours as the woods gave way to a sunlit walk along the river valley and birdsong and running water were the only sounds to break the stillness of the day. I couldn’t help but smile to myself. Alone but far from lonely, I thought to myself.

A “stilish” landscape. Buh-boom tsh!
The river meandered south, I meandered north

A nice spot for lunch

After 18ish kilometers, I arrived at Howden DOC hut where the warden suggested I use the “Howden swimming club facilities”, which happened to be the lake on whose shore the hut was built. “I must smell bad for both wardens to have immediately directed me to a bathing location”, I mused. To appease her I went for another swim.

Howden “swimming pool”

No snoring that night. I slept the sleep of the dead (probably snoring like a freight train myself, for all I know) then, after breakfast, headed out onto what had ceased to be Greenstone and had become Routeburn.

I shall let the pictures describe the rest of the track but will comment that, as I climbed to the Harris Saddle which crossed the range, the heavens opened and I was summarily drenched. It felt more like authentic NZ weather and, perversely, I quite enjoyed it.

First the rain moistened me, then the waterfall soaked me
There were brief moments of respite from the rain
Harris Saddle not looking overly welcoming

As I reached the end of the hike on the morning of day four, I realized my error in not booking return transport to my van in Glenorchy. I had no reception and there were no lifts to be hitched. At that moment, two girls headed up the path towards me and then past me towards their car. I had to be forward otherwise the sandflies would leave nothing but my skeleton as a cautionary tale to other bad planners. “I don’t suppose you are going in the direction of Glenorchy and have room for one slightly sweaty extra person….?”, I ventured. “Actually, we are, and we do.” my guardian angels responded.

As they dropped me in Glenorchy some minutes of pleasant chit-chat later, I promised to feature them in my blog in recognition of their kindness. Catherine, Anne-Marie, thank you so much!

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