Tackling the Routeburn Track

Queenstown, New Zealand

Breakfast wasn’t included in our room rate and although the coconut French toast sounded tempting, the $25 price tag was ridiculous. We opted instead for flat whites and muffins at Mediterranean Market, an organic, fake Whole Foods market just down the street.

Driving 45-minutes north from Queenstown, we arrived in Glenorchy, a small settlement nestled between Mount Aspiring National Park and the Dart River. The town is the self-proclaimed “Gateway to Paradise” but is probably best known to international audiences as the setting for several scenes in the first “Lord of the Rings.”

We’ve not seen the movie and there wasn’t much happening but the setting was tremendous.

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We continued further north, passing dried river beds and, unsurprisingly, more g(r)azing sheep at the base of these awe-inspiring mountains. In the process, we lost count of the “Wows” and “How amazing?” continually being sighed.

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Our destination was the Routeburn Track, one of the world’s greatest hikes, according to National Geographic. The track runs from outside of Glenorchy for 45-kilometers to Milford Sound, passing the alpine peaks of Mount Aspiring and rain forest choked valleys.

The track is not yet fully open for summer and there remains an avalanche threat. We opted to spend a low altitude day on the trail, starting with a long ascent, over suspension bridges and across bubbling rivers, along a remarkably well-maintained and sign-posted path.

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A few kilometers in we came upon what appeared to be a brand-new outhouse. The fact that this was placed in the middle of the wilderness just goes to show how serious Kiwis are about making outdoor activity and environmental protection a national priority.

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After seven kilometers, we emerged from the forest, the skies cleared and we entered the Routeburn Flat. We came upon the first shelter, open but abandoned.

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On a picnic table, we set out a delicious lunch (also courtesy of Mediterranean Market), which we peacefully enjoyed in the sun without another soul around.

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Then, suddenly, in the distance we heard a motor. Looking into the sky, we saw a rapidly approaching helicopter hauling a huge cargo net. As it touched down in front of us, we held our food containers. A woman, wearing ear protection and a bright yellow vest jumped out. She began racing toward us and promptly lost her footing in a ditch — causing her to face plant just feet from where we sat with surprised looks.

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Trying to maintain a semblance of dignity, she said that we had to leave. “Landing, shelter, safe,” she blurted out before grabbing our olives and moving us inside the hut. We looked at each other confused and complied. We would later learn that this chopper was resupplying the Routeburn huts in advance of the track’s official opening at month’s end. Enjoying our lunch had clearly conflicted with these plans. We had a laugh and made our way back to the car park.

A friend of mine who had visited New Zealand last year told me that while here in Queenstown, a visit to FERBURGER, a revered local institution, was a must. “The best burger EVER,” he wrote me. That type of claim would have to be validated.

On the main street, we found the joint bustling. After debating the lengthy menu, my mind was set on the Southern Swine — prime New Zealand beef, American streaky bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, aioli & tomato relish. And just because that didn’t seem indulgent enough, edam cheese was added. The gigantic beast of a burger was served up a few minutes later in a brown bag, along with a side of fries, garlic aioli and a Mac’s Gold poured from the tap.

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Verdict on the best burger claim? After 15 kilometers on the Routeburn — a clear yes.

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