Nearest town: Te Anau
Type of track: there and back
Official distance: About 14km return
Official time: 5-6 hours, no stopping
Jenny’s time: about 6-7 hours including lunch and time relaxing at Key Summit
Toilets: at The Divide Carpark and at Lake Howden Hut
Tips: Key Summit is the perfect picnic spot!
Want a nice day hike? How about panoramic views of jagged mountain peaks and surrounding valleys, mirror-like tarns (lakes), stunning beech forests, high alpine vegetation, and a 174m high waterfall? Sound ok? Yeah, I thought so. So try this one!
For orientation’s sake, the Routeburn Track goes all the way from The Divide across some mountains to its other end, just outside Glenorchy. The whole track normally takes 3-4 days to complete. The Key Summit track is a side trail off the main Routeburn Track between The Divide and Lake Howden Hut.
This hike has a few options. All start at The Divide carpark on the Te Anau – Milford Sound road, about 83km from Te Anau. (Note that there are other day walks accessible from the other end of the Routeburn Track just outside of Glenorchy.)
The return hike to Key Summit is about 3 hours, of course more if you stop for lunch at the top, which I highly recommend. And there’s a loop nature trail at the top that is entirely worth it for the views and the learning!
If you just want to go to Earland Falls it’s 12km return and while there are a couple of steep uphill stretches, it’s mostly fairly mild. It should take you about 4-5 hours, and you can stop at Lake Howden Hut after an hour and a half for a pretty view and a bathroom break!
If you only want to go to Lake Howden and back it’s also 3 hours return, or you could combine it with Key Summit for a 4-5 hour hike.
Confused yet? Yeah, me too. Here’s a map.
So I know I said you could just go to Lake Howden Hut or just to Earland Falls, but it would really be a shame to come here and not get up to Key Summit! You’d be missing the best part!
And come on, a 6-7 hour day including lunch is totally doable! My friend and I didn’t even get started until around noon after driving up from Te Anau and finding and setting up the perfect campsite. We finished around maybe 6:30-7ish, although I think she probably could have gone a lot faster without slow old me.
So there you have it. I could get all poetic about the majesty of the mountains and the exquisiteness of the lakes and the views, but haven’t the photos done that for me already? Go, and enjoy!