Routeburn track alpine foliage on the Hollyford face, Fiordland Trips and Tramps

Routeburn Track in different seasons: What to Expect

1 Aug 2023

The Routeburn Track is a favourite hike and world renowned for its spectacular alpine scenery.  Characterised by snow-capped mountain peaks, picturesque valleys and glacier-carved lakes, the landscape is truly magnificent.  At 33 km in length, it is rated as an intermediate Great Walk/Easier Tramping Track.  The trail traverses through New Zealand’s Southern Alps and offers a great wilderness adventure for all who seek.  Linking Fiordland National Park with Mt Aspiring National Park it is a popular multi-day hike (usually completed in 2-3 days), or for the fit and fast the entire track can be completed in just a day. Alternatively, options exist at either end of the Routeburn Track for awesome day walks. So there really is something for everyone!

Despite the popularity, completing the Routeburn Track, should not be underestimated. Conditions on the trail can be unpredictable and wild at times due to the weather and geography, with limited communication and facilities available.

Most calendars divide the year into 4 seasons, however in New Zealand’s Great Walk speak we have just the two.  The Great Walk Season and outside the Great Walk season, so here is what you should expect when planning for the Routeburn Track.  You will notice no temperatures are given for any season.  This is purely because they fluctuate so wildly on any given day!

couple of people hiking on the Routeburn Track surrounded by mountains with a snowy tops in Fiordland

Recent snowfall makes for a stunning backdrop on the Routeburn Track.


Simply, this is the best time to walk the track! 

At a glance:

  • The Great Walk Season runs from 01 November to 30 April
  • During this time more facilities are available, e.g. at the huts and camping sites, Department of Conservation Rangers are on the trail, plus all bridges are functional and transport options are regular.
  • Bookings are required for huts and campsites, so space is limited.
  • Generally fewer hazards exist.

Spring in New Zealand falls from September to the end of November.  The Great Walks open in the latter end of this season.  Typically, this is when the snow has melted sufficiently to eliminate avalanche danger, allowing a safe path for trampers through the track. November can see unsettled weather, and temperatures are cooler (with wind and rain chill an important factor, but this is any time of the year really), however the sunlight is beginning to enter the valleys and facilities along the trail open.  The snow-capped peaks at this time of the year are the most picturesque.

Summer season in New Zealand runs from December to end of February and this is the height of the hiking season. Though we can still experience unsettled weather and high rainfall, or even snow flurries on occasions, generally the average temperatures are warmer, and we can get the most day light hours with long twilight evenings. In summer we also see alpine flowers and plants thriving along the Routeburn Track.  This is a highlight, adding a touch of colour to the dramatic landscape.

Girl in bright javket in rain above valley on the Routeburn Track, Trips and Tramps

Me, Kate in the rain on the Routeburn Track, Key Summit enjoying the elements of summer time!

Autumn, or fall, is from March to May.  The Great Walk season runs until the 30 April and can offer settled weather patterns, though temperatures and daylight hours decrease again.  It is one of the best times of the year to walk on the Routeburn Track and in Fiordland in general.  We don’t get the foliage colour changes in our National Parks, but the berries on the trees flourish, attracting the birds.  My favourite is the kererū or native wood pigeon.  They have a behaviour of sunning themselves after eating, which can lead to the fruit fermenting causing the bird to become quite intoxicated!


Only walk if you are fit, experienced and well equipped.

At a glance:

  • This season is 01 May to 31 October
  • Bookings are not required for huts, but space is on a first in, first served basis.
  • Additional hazards exist, and facilities are limited.
  • You should check with the local Department of Conservation office or online for the most up to date conditions.

If you are looking at walking the Routeburn Track out of season, generally May is going to be the most reliable month, with the least hazards.  However, space at the huts can be at a premium if the weather is good, as numbers are not limited.

alpine tarns and mountains of the Mt Aspiring National Park, Routeburn Track

The Harris Saddle is an exposed site, suitable for hiking in summer but a very harsh environment during the winter months.

 Winter in Fiordland can be harsh and unforgiving, even more so on the remote Routeburn Track.  Generally, the daylight hours are limited, and the towering mountains let little sunlight into the valleys, so it is extremely cold and wet.  The alpine areas are covered in snow and avalanches are a real threat.  Ice and snow, particularly around the Harris Saddle and on the Hollyford face can be extremely dangerous and make for challenging walking conditions. My advice is to avoid the area at this time of the year unless you have the necessary skills to navigate alpine terrain and equipment to keep you safe. For more information about the Routeburn Track in winter see the Department of Conservation information sheet.

During this time, it is still possible to enjoy either end of the Routeburn Track.  Key Summit from the Fiordland side makes for an incredible day walk year-round.  With few people in the area, the potential for snow, and cool, clear skies brought with the dominant southerly weather, this 7 km return trail is a wonderful option.  If you are unsure what to expect, join a guided trip with the local Trips & Tramps team, we offer emergency backup and support on tap, with professional guides making all the important calls along the trail.

guide and couple on mountain top beside alpine lake at Key Summit, Routeburn track in Fiordland.

Enjoy the mountain views and alpine tarns along the tops at Key Summit with your local guide any time of the year!


In summary, the Routeburn Track comes with challenges and highlights year-round.  Come prepared, and enjoy the adventure, this is truly one of the most magnificent Great Walks New Zealand has on offer!

Read More Tales