Routeburn Track – Lake Marian vs Key Summit

24 May 2022

Along the Milford Road, approximately halfway between Te Anau and Milford Sound, is the stunning mountain divide.  Here, we are lucky to have access to two amazing day walks, Key Summit, and Lake Marian. Both tracks offer unrivalled alpine scenery and an incredible hiking opportunity, that should be on everyone’s Fiordland’s must-do list.

This leads to the pressing question… should you choose the Lake Marian track or the Routeburn Key Summit hike? 

While drastically different, both trails offer a unique and exciting journey – here’s what makes each one special, so you can choose the adventure, that is just right for you!

 

Key Summit - Experience a taste of the Routeburn

The Routeburn Track is a multi-day, NZ Great Walk, linking the Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks. This trail provides the ultimate wow factor with plenty of 360° views, from towering mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, and an abundance of glistening lakes and lush valleys. The Routeburn never leaves you disappointed.

You can still enjoy the many gems along this famous hike from the shorter Key Summit track, with a half-day adventure. The Key Summit is 918m high – not as big as you’d expect in the vast South Island ranges, however, it still holds outstanding views. The walk begins under a canopy of trees and ferns at The Divide which is 85 kilometres along Milford Road from Te Anau. Key Summit is the perfect chance to experience a glimpse of what the Routeburn has to offer, with awe-inspiring panoramic views of Hollyford Valley and Greenstone Valleys, and the surrounding mountains of the Humbolt and Darran ranges. This walk is truly epic! 

 

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Photo Credit: @zitounolivette

The best of both worlds 

While you get to experience the magical Routeburn’s constant jaw-dropping scenery, you are also treating yourself to a view of Lake Marian from the top of the summit. It may not be close enough to touch, but Lake Marian's turquoise water shines from miles away. 

 

Short, intermediate walk

The Key Summit is a recommended 3-hour round journey and is considered intermediate level. The hike is not too steep and has zig-zag pathways to help ease the hike uphill (and down on your return), especially nearing the end of the track. The Key Summit is regarded as an easier walk in comparison to other alpine based walks, so it’s a fantastic introduction into Fiordland’s tramping scene.  

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Lake Marian - It’s all about the destination, as well as the journey

Lake Marian is a 2.4km, 3-hour return walk into the heart of the mountains, offering spectacular alpine views. However, this hike provides very different scenery than the Key Summit, with the natural wonder awaiting at the end of the track, Lake Marian! The lake is a luminous turquoise green in colour and surrounded by towering mountains, which are often reflected in a stunning, glacial-carved lake. 

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Dive in!

What is better than immersing yourself into the scenery by jumping in for a refreshing swim? If you’re brave enough that is, as the water is mostly snow melt, so extremely cold! Wake yourself up by jumping into nature  -. it’s one thing seeing it but it’s another thing being able to feel it.

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Prepare for a steep and rocky track 

It’s important to know that you are signing yourself up for an advanced-level hike if you choose the Lake Marian track. The trail is rocky and steep in places, which adds a challenge for a beginner hiker, however, it is manageable for most who are steady on their feet. Ensure the weather is good and you allow enough time though and don’t be in a rush! Be prepared for all weather elements by wearing appropriate clothing and hiking gear.  Tell someone where you are going, and don’t go alone. 

 

Get the most out of your walks – Why not choose a guided walk?

A local guide is available on both these trails with Trips & Tramps.  So, if you are unsure of your skill level in the outdoors, don’t hesitate to reach out.  A guide will keep you safe, so you can truly enjoy this incredible scenery, which also learning a thing or two along the way!

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