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The Rock-itt : June 2011
Our destination on Day 2 is the MacKenzie Hut the second DOC (Departm ent of Conservation) hut on the Routeburn Track. This facility is approximately 9 hours walk ahead of us, mostly through alpine beech woods, which resemble primordial forests that might have been hom e to dinosaurs, and over a high plateau that is called the McKellar Saddle, which sits above the tree line, about 1000 metres above sea level. As the morning wears on the thickness of the forest ensures that the sun does not permeate the track far below. Tangled tree roots and fast flowing streams accompany our walk as we gradually climb and clamber up and up. As the track struggled to distinguish itself, large boulders created a real challenge after 3 hours as the summit of the saddle was protected by its steepness. The saddle provided a welcome luncheon stop where a boardwalk ensured the swampy terrain was protected from the boots of hikers. The steep descent once again through tangled forest provided a significant challenge as signs of the track frequently faded. It was easy enough to lose the trail, searching for small orange plastic markers nailed at 50 metre intervals through the forest. Dropping in altitude on the moss covered rocks proved dicey with the risk of twisted ankles constant with every step. Using the saplings or tree trunks and roots to assist the descent was a necessity. Finally 90 minutes later we reached the valley floor having lost 300 metres in height. Here we found the end of the Greenstone track and the start of the Routeburn track. With an hour to go before we could take some rest at the Howden hut and mindful that the McKenzie Hut was still a further 3 hours walk we took advantage of the cookers to brew some soup which would refresh our tired bodies for the last leg. The track climbs steadily for an hour and views of the Hollyford Valley to the west are exceptional. As the trail traverses slopes and maintains height a spectacular sight greets the hiker; the Earland Falls, a drop of 174m. After this, an area dotted with ribbonwood trees is known as The Orchard on the higher slopes and is the last location for uninterrupted views of the valley before the track once again drops through forest towards Lake MacKenzie and the DOC hut, which is accessed across a small flat bypassing the Guided Walk Hut. We arrived, exhausted at 730pm, a day of nearly 11 hours walking. The MacKenzie Hut has bunk rooms above the cosy main kitchen area and a bunkhouse that is separate and caters for 53 people. A solid cooked meal from our stock of dried food was a critical source of energy. A centrally located pot belly stove provides the hut with welcome heat and the upstairs dormitory a guaranteed comfortable nights sleep. Dawn broke cold and overcast over Lake MacKenzie; with 5 hours of trekking ahead of us of which the climb to the Harris Saddle would take at least 3 1⁄2 hours, it was not going to be a hard day. The track climbed once again steadily through forest to a series of moderately graded zig- zags to round a rocky summit with breathtaking views of the Hollyford Valley. Here orange painted posts indicate the snow line and the extent of the trees. Views northwest to the Tasm an can be spectacular on a clear day and a sign to Deadman’s Track, a near vertical track down to the Hollyford road, focuses the mind to the fact that walkers have at tim es lost their lives in these mountains. However, this day the track was well populated with a variety of walkers from teenagers to 70 year olds in all types of clothing and footwear. It was very brisk and as Harris Saddle (1277m high) was reached the Shelter there was welcome respite from the bitter wind. Here trampers can leave their pack for a one hour circular walk up Conical Hill, the summit of this walk. The views are exceptional, although the track is very rocky and at tim es resemble a rock climb. The panoramic view of Lake Harris and the Southern Alps was well worth the additional effort. With the Routeburn Track now a downhill run to the Routeburn Falls Hut (DOC) the afternoon walk was one of appreciation; a rugged, high hanging valley, the Route Burn meanders from Lake Harris through boggy flats to a spectacular series of falls from which the Hut takes its nam e. This glacially scarred valley is covered in snow throughout winter and is a well m apped avalanche location. As the river cascades into the Routeburn valley the most outstanding view greets the weary traveller. The huts of the Routeburn Falls nestle into the m ountain and the landscape beyond is a classic scene and well worth the pain of the preceding days. I would say that tackling the track in this direction is the best way to appreciate the wonders of Fiordland’s National Park. Here we were greeted by Danielle, the DOC Hut warden for the evening greet and talk at 730pm. Their dedication to their job is quite remarkable as they spend the summer months improving the track and ensuring that the trampers have a safe and hygienic experience. The new hut (completed in 1997) caters for 48 trampers in two main bunk rooms and holds a magnificent position above the valley with a wonderful verandah that many home owners would be envious of. The facilities are outstanding for a wilderness hut. The final day was to be an easy downhill journey along a well worn trail to the Routeburn Shelter at the head of the valley and the junction of Lake Wakatipu. The Shelter was commissioned by DOC at a cost of NZD 900,000 at a tim e when tourism is feeling the pinch; currently DOC are considering a 10km single lane tunnel cut through the rock to Milford Sound from the Routeburn valley under the Hollyford valley, reducing the journey time from Queenstown by a half (10 hour reduction). Through ancient red beechwood trees the track follows a remote valley at the base of which the Routeburn Flats Hut rests next to the stream. This hut which sleeps 20 in two rooms is a DOC maintained group of buildings suitable for day travellers who want to experience an easy walk from the Shelter car park.