We started the second part of our trip, two self-guided Great Walks, by heading to Te Anau. There, we saw glowworm caves before starting the Routeburn Track the next day. We did the Routeburn Track as a three-day, two-night hike, staying at Lake Mackenzie Hut and Routeburn Falls Hut.
On the Milford and Routeburn tracks, hikers can experience four seasons in a day. Though we hiked in New Zealand’s early fall and hoped for mild days, we also knew the passes could receive feet of snow at this time of year.
This made it difficult to strike the right balance. We wanted to pack light enough to be able to move quickly and have energy for side trips, but we also wanted to be comfortable regardless of weather. Fortunately, we’ve acquired a good set of layering gear over the years, which we could draw on to assemble our packs.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, I was on sabbatical. While I was still working, I had a lot more flexibility in when I could travel. New Zealand had been on our to-visit list for a while, but seasons and distance make it hard to visit during a normal year. We took advantage of my flexibility by planning a three-week trip to New Zealand for February and March — late summer / early fall.
Over the years of wanting to visit New Zealand, we had accumulated an extensive list of places we wanted to hike and explore. As we got into planning the details, we narrowed our trip to focus on hiking in the mountains of the South Island. Just that easily filled three weeks.