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Routeburn Falls to Lake Mackenzie: Routeburn Track Day 2

Routeburn Falls to Lake Mackenzie: Routeburn Track Day 2

The Routeburn Track, typically walked in 3 days, is one of the best ways to see the spectacular mountain scenery of New Zealand’s South Island. Day 2 of the Routeburn Track takes you above the Routeburn Valley, over Harris Saddle and then down to Lake Mackenzie. Keep reading to find out more, and if you haven’t already check out our post about day 1 of the Routeburn Track.

NOTE: The Routeburn Track can be walked in either direction. We started at the Glenorchy side, so this series of posts follow that route, but it seems like just it’s a pretty even split between people starting at either end.

Routeburn Falls to Harris Saddle

Our first day on the Routeburn Track was pretty easy, but day 2 promised to be the toughest by far. First, the track climbs by Routeburn Falls and then takes you through a pristine valley full of tarns and surrounded by jagged peaks. The track here is uphill but not too steep – a nice relaxing start to the day!

Soon enough you’ll get your first view of Lake Harris. We were there on a perfect sunny morning and the lake looked stunning – such pretty colours! From there it’s a short walk to the Harris Saddle Shelter, which is the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat. The views in this area are great, and it’s also the start of the side trip up Conical Hill.

Conical Hill

It’ll take you 1-2 hours to walk up Conical Hill and back. I reckon maybe a third of the people we saw around Harris Saddle did it, so it’s not exactly a must-do. What’s it like though? It’s steep and scrambly, but up the top you’ll get a 360-degree view which is hard to rival on the Routeburn Track. You can see right down the Hollyford Valley all the way to the West Coast!

It’s a similar view though (you’re pretty much seeing the same scenery, just from a different angle), so whether you do it or not depends on how much energy you have and how desperate you are to see this area from a more elevated perspective. For us, it was well worth it. It’s worth noting that you can leave your big bags in the shelter – definitely wouldn’t have wanted to haul them all the way up there!

Harris Saddle to Lake Mackenzie

From Harris Saddle the track meanders down, and then steadily up, a ridge above the Hollyford Valley. The views are stunning along this whole stretch and it’s pretty easy walking.

And then Lake Mackenzie comes into view. You’ll see a small section of it at first, and then soon the views open up to include the whole lake as well as the surrounding mountains. The track winds its way down the hill towards Lake Mackenzie for ages, but you can’t complain when the views are this good.

Eventually you’ll descend into the forest and soon reach the shores of Lake Mackenzie. The downhill walk to Lake Mackenzie was one of the harder parts of the Routeburn Track – the track is full of rocks and roots and is a little annoying after a long day of hiking.

Lake Mackenzie

It took us 7 hours to reach Lake Mackenzie, and we arrived just in time to see it at it’s best. There were people swimming (for very short durations – it was freezing) and relaxing on the rocks / beach – such an idyllic scene. Everyone was in awe of how beautiful this place is!

There’s a track which takes you to the camping area (5-10 minutes) or a longer one which said it takes around an hour. The highlight though was just being there. The hut itself is comfortable enough, and Evan, the hut warden, gave a great talk about native bird conservation. And that’s it for day 2 of the Routeburn Track. Stay tuned for day 3, which runs from Lake Mackenzie down to the Divide car park.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.