Family Trekking : Routeburn Trek
Whilst family outings these days tend to be to a movie, the beach or heaven forbid a fast food restaurant here’s a novel alternative to consider. The Routeburn Track is a 32km tramp through
some of the South Islands most majestic scenery. Generally it is completed over the course of 3 days and 2 nights however their does exist a family friendly option that provides almost as much bang for your buck for a fraction of the time and at a much reduced distance.
The Routeburn Track is popular with both trampers and day walkers alike during the walking season (November – April) and with limited accommodation available at the huts along the way it is imperative that you book well in advance for a bed through your local Department of Conservation office. Whilst we had day walked the year before in from the Glenorchy end, had a picnic lunch at the flats then walked out this year we decided to overnight and encouraged the kids to walk that little bit further.
We enlisted the company of another family and made bookings to overnight at the Routeburn Flats hut. Although we had originally tried to book beds at the Falls hut but couldn’t due to it being booked out this actually proved to be a blessing in disguise and the making of what turned out to be an unforgettable adventure.
The trailhead is approx 20 minutes drive out of Glenorchy which is around 45 minutes from home in Queenstown. The DOC huts have basic amenities such as a toilet, running water (ok to drink), gas and a mattress but everything else needs to be carried in….that is sleeping bags, cooking & eating utensils, food and any other luxuries you may need. Sorry did I mention there’s no power so no fridge or lights. That’s right you carry everything in and there’s also no rubbish bins so you carry your rubbish out as well. The kids had their 30ltr backpacks carrying their clothes, cameras and snack bags whilst Mum carted the food and Dad carted the sleeping bags, cooking & eating utensils, headlamps and Beer in his pack.
Whilst we were only overnighting our food selection had to be nutritious, lightweight and enjoyable. Our picnic lunch on both days consisted of fruit, breadrolls, avocado, homemade scroggin and rice crackers. The dinner menu consisted of Back Country cuisine dehydrated meals which were surprisingly good and breakfast was Yum NZ Granola and fresh wild Raspberries growing out the front of the hut. Emergency rations consisted of One Square Meal cranberry bites.
The walk into the Flats hut is undulating through native Beech forest with the trail sidling the river and crossing it and it’s tributaries (over bridges so no wet feet) multiple times.
With some hilly bits it is an easy walk even for those of limited fitness. There are multiple stops to be had along the way to drink in the scenery, watch the native birds and allow the kids time to have fun, explore and get wet at the same time.
Once at the Falls hut we all stripped and went for a swim at the waterhole that the falls run into. Being an alpine environment the water is very cold yet refreshing and cleansing.
We then lay on the rocks in the sun to dry before heading back down the trail to the falls hut.As the adults prepared dinner the kids had large flat open spaces to run around and explore within a reasonably safe environment. From the kitchen you can look out over the area and watch them whilst cooking (and enjoying your post walk wine or beer).
There is also a swimming hole in the river and in the evening you can see trout swimming lazily around feeding. As it was mid-summer we had daylight until around 10pm. The kids went for another swim whilst the adults sat back on the outside picnic table and took in the scenery, serenity and remaining drinks.
By 10pm all the other occupants were in bed ready for another long day ahead walking but for us it was time to go bat hunting. Once the darkness came head torches came out and a quick bush walk saw us in the vicinity of a bat colony.
With torches off except one to attract moths the bats swooped in feeding off the moths. After annoying a few campers in tents with our exuberance we retired for the night. The flats hut has 20 bunks across 2 communal rooms so privacy and silence are not available. After a reasonably comfortable night we arose around 7.30am to find most of the hut had already cleared out so we had a quiet and relaxing time with breakfast and a cup of tea by the river (and more wild Raspberries).
After packing and clearing out of the bunk-room to allow the hut warden a chance to clean we set off again heading out around 10am. We stopped an hour later off the main track beside a smaller tributary we found and had an early lunch whilst the kids played around the water. We set off again a while later with an easy pace taking us back to the vehicles at the trail-head but making stops along the way to take in things you would not normally pay attention to proving it really is more about the journey than the destination.
By this time it was mid-afternoon and the kids were showing some signs of tiredness (probably from the late night). On the trip back to Glenorchy we stopped and waded into the ice cold Rees River to refresh tired legs then headed back toward home. Although we originally planned to overnight at the Falls hut we found the Flats hut with it’s open expanse of land suited the kids (9 & 11 years old), was safer and provided more scope for them to express themselves (the Falls hut is on a hillside in trees). Further we didn’t have the roar of the waterfall next to our hut …….we had the gentle trickle of the river and a few paradise ducks, not to mention the awesome 360 degree views. Magical! This trip (like many others in the area) requires some forward planning but is well within reach of most families with only a moderate level of fitness required. It is an enjoyable way to experience some of what the thousands of visitors who travel from around the world to our shores do every year. Life is a journey – Make the most of it!