One of the best Fiordland day walks is the Key Summit, Routeburn Track

20 Aug 2019

Key Summit on the Routeburn Track, a New Zealand Great Walk, is arguably the best day walk in Fiordland. Having hiked extensively around Fiordland over the years, and in a range of weather conditions, it would have to be one of the best trails I could recommend to visitors traveling to Fiordland.

The scenery on Key Summit is breathtaking, in all senses of the word! Key Summit is located at the southern end of the Routeburn Track in the heart of the Fiordland mountains. It is an amazing day walk, combining stunning rainforest, alpine scenery and panoramic mountain views. Accessed from the Milford Road (State Highway 94), on route to Milford Sound, it is suitable for all ages and abilities, and is a must do if you like walking and nature!

two hikers on the Routeburn trail walking uphill

Ascend 400 metres through native forest and listen to the bird song

During the climb, break the journey to take an opportunity to have a closer look at the fauna and flora beside the trail. If you are on a guided option, your local, knowledgeable Trips & Tramps guide has lots of natural and human heritage stories to share, so you can get a deeper appreciation and understanding of the area. The steady climb gains an elevation of 400 metres, and near the top after a series of zig zags, walkers emerge from the forest into the alpine environment. Greeted by panoramic views of high snowy peaks, alpine lakes, and deep bush clad valleys, the sight is simply spectacular!

Words fail to describe the natural beauty and panoramic views from the summit as you make your way around the nature trail. Take time to enjoy the majestic views and breathe the pure air. It truly is hard to imagine such places exist, and it’s such a contrast to the busy towns and urban lives we leave. When your camera space is full and senses exhausted, it is time to retrace your steps back to the Divide Shelter, and the end of the walk.

people walking on a hiking above the bush line with snow on the trail

In the cooler months snow can be encountered on Key Summit

Allow a minimum of 2.5 hours walking time for Key Summit from the car park, or enjoy a full day, including transport from Te Anau, to really explore and discover Fiordland at its best.

If your fitness is low, or you have younger children in the group, ensure you allow extra time and if the weather conditions are poor, give it a miss, or plan the walk for another day. Otherwise you can absolutely do it! Remember safety first, you are hiking into the alpine area so it can be quite exposed, and help is not readily available. Be prepared, ensure you have warm clothing, and a good jacket is essential. Don’t forget the warm hat and gloves at any time of the year and tell someone where you are going.

Young girls hiking on a nature trail

Children can also make the hike to Key Summit, just allow extra time for them for them to explore

The Key Summit track is well graded, mostly wide, with no drop offs. So even when there is a bit of snow, such as in the winter months, it is still an option for hiking. If you decide to walk to Key Summit independently, we do recommend you visit the Department of Conservation before setting out to ensure you have the necessary information.

Trips & Tramps offers a scheduled and private guided day walk option, or you can combine it with a trip to Milford Sound, including a boat cruise, on our Milford Sound Coach, Cruise and Walk small group tour in the summer months.

So, what are you waiting for? Check out Key Summit on the Routeburn Track for yourself … you won’t be disappointed.

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