The third and final day of the Routeburn Track features some nice views of the Hollyford Valley as well as an impressive waterfall and finishes with a rewarding side-trip up to Key Summit. Key Summit is also an excellent day walk option – keep reading for the all information you’ll need above this section of the Routeburn Track!
Lake Mackenzie to Earland Falls
From Lake Mackenzie it’s a steady climb through the forest for the first hour or so. It’s steep in places and there aren’t many views – one of the few sections of the Routeburn Track where there isn’t much to see!
Once at the top of the hill you’ll see some views of the Hollyford Valley below as well as the rugged mountains surrounding Earland Falls. Once at the top the track gets pretty flat – this is a nice relaxing section of the Routeburn Track and before long you’ll be face to face with a massive waterfall.
Earland Falls crashes 174 metres down a rockface into an idyllic pond. It’s a beautiful sight, and you can get very close to the waterfall if you want (apparently people swim, looks cold though!). Earland Falls is a good place to stop for lunch – from there it’s around two hours to the Divide car park (more if you’re also doing Key Summit).
From Earland Falls it’s an easy downhill stroll to Lake Howden. There used to be a hut here, but a landslide in early 2020 destroyed it. Now it’s a picnic area with tables and a big grass. It’s a good spot to rest for a little while before tackling the last section of the Routeburn Track.
After leaving behind Lake Howden you’ll have a steep 15-minute walk to the Key Summit turnoff. From there it’s a steep walk to the summit where you’ll get amazing views of the surrounding mountains. You can see Lake Marian as well, which is one of the best day walk options in the area.
We hiked up to Key Summit a couple of years before we did the whole Routeburn Track. We didn’t feel like carrying our bags all the way up there, but we would have if we hadn’t have done it already. It is kind of a similar view to other parts of the track though, so it’s tough to know whether to recommend it or not. If you’re a bit tired you could always leave it and do it another day – it only takes 2-3 hours to walk there and back from the Divide car park and it makes for an excellent day walk option.
From the Key Summit turnoff it’s a short, downhill walk to the Divide car park. You can organise a bus to take you from there back to Queenstown (like we did) or Te Anau. All up the walk took us 4.5 hours on day 3, with plenty of breaks. It was a nice way to end a perfect 3 days of hiking! Stay tuned for a full post about the Routeburn Track, where I’ll take you through all the details you’ll need to plan your own Routeburn Track adventure.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!