There are hundreds of hikes on New Zealand’s South Island, and naturally some fall through the cracks in terms of popularity. The Sugarloaf Pass Track is a great example. It’s an awesome walk and it’s only around an hour’s drive from Queenstown, yet it’s one of the quietest tracks we’ve been on in New Zealand. What’s it like..? Keep reading to find out!
Where is it?
The Sugarloaf Pass Track branches off the Routeburn Track (the Mount Aspiring National Park end of the track). The turnoff is around a 10-minute walk from the Routeburn Track car park (Routeburn Shelter Parking in Google Maps). It’s located around 25 minutes from Glenorchy or 70 minutes from Queenstown.
The Sugarloaf Pass Track
For the first 10 minutes or so you’ll be walking on the Routeburn Track. It starts off spectacularly – the bridge at the start of the track provides a view of a crystal-clear river surrounded trees and mountains. From there it’s an easy walk through the bush to the turnoff (there’s an obvious sign).
Once passed the turnoff you’ll be heading straight up through the forest for an hour or so. It’s steep, full of roots and rocks, and there’s not much to see, but keep pushing and you’ll eventually get to the views!
You’ll soon come to a small river crossing – we ended up taking our shoes off but on the way back we walked a few metres towards the waterfall and managed to cross without getting our feet wet.
After a good two hours of uphill bush walking we made it to the bush line. The views back towards Lake Wakatipu were great, and the higher up the pass we got the better the views became. From the bush line you’ll head up and over the pass following a series of orange poles. There’s no real track, and it’s extremely marshy up there, so definitely take care on this section. There are quite a few “holes” that you could easily stumble into if you aren’t paying attention.
There are some tarns on the other side of the pass, and from there the track heads down towards Rockburn Shelter. You can also turn this into a much longer day walk, or spend the night at Rockburn Shelter (camping only), by continuing on to Lake Sylvan and then back to the Routeburn Track car park.
We spend about an hour on Sugarloaf Pass – there are many of photo opportunities up there and there are heaps of big rocks if you’re looking for a comfortable place to sit. You can also hike up the hill that you’ll see on your right – a few other bloggers have done it and the views look amazing up there, but we didn’t really know where to go and decided to skip it. There’s no marked route up there so if you decide to do it it’s obviously at your own risk. The return journey takes you steeply back the same hill you climbed up earlier – it’s hard on the knees but all up it’s not too difficult.
- How does it take? It should take between 5 and 7 hours to hike the Sugarloaf Pass Track.
- How hard is it? It’s basically directly uphill, so not the easiest day hike in New Zealand by any means. It’s also one of those tracks that is full of tree roots etc., so you have to focus on every step. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids, or inexperienced hikers, but anyone who has done a few day hikes in New Zealand already shouldn’t have any trouble.
- Is it a good add-on to the Routeburn Track? It could be, I guess it depends on how tired you are! If you’re finishing the Routeburn Track at the Glenorchy end it could be worth a look, but it’s probably the last thing you’d feel like doing.
- How does it compare to the other walks near Queenstown? I think it’s as good as a lot of them, and it’s way quieter (we only saw 3 other people). The views aren’t quite as spectacular as places like Ben Lomond (pictured below) or Queenstown Hill, but I reckon the scenery holds up well – this should be a more popular walk!
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Queenstown Hikes
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