Greenstone Track Days Three and Four – McKeller Hut to Howden Hut {Routeburn Track} (January 4th and 5th, 2018)

Phone notes regarding Day 3:

Day 3 January 4: We only had 7km to walk from McKeller hut to Howden hut on the Routeburn Great walk track. We got up a bit late since we didn’t have far to go. The walk took a couple of hours until we came to the open grassy valley area where we would be camping (free camping area) for a couple of nights. We reached the Howden hut a short time later as George wasnt ready to set up camp. I was pretty tired but followed on. We came to the hut, took off our packs, and laid down on the benches at the hut. I ended up taking a bit of a nap.

Note: the sand flies at Howden hut and our free campsite were terrible.

When I woke up from a nap, it was early evening, about 5:30 or 6pm I think. Hard to know as neither of us were wearing a watch and had to turn our phones on the get the time. George wanted to walk up to Key Summit. Initially I wasn’t completely a willing participant in the walk but that didn’t last long. The views from this small summit were absolutely stunning. We did the short nature walk loop and just absorbed the views for a bit. Of course we took some pictures. George loves taking panoramas.

Back down from Key summit, we made dinner then headed back to the free campsite as the hut warden thankfully told us we couldn’t camp at the Divide car park. It saved us a walk down to the divide, 3km away and mostly downhill (uphill coming back from the divide). I would have been so mad if we had gotten to the Divide only to find out there was no camping there and had to walk all the way back with all our gear.


Since we didn’t have far to go, I knew there was seriously no rush to get up and go in the morning. So it was a relaxed morning, got up a bit later than usual, and had breakfast. Most of the other campers got up and were packing up and leaving pretty early. While hanging out in the hut common/kitchen area, I chatted with the hut warden for a few minutes, looked at the weather report, and talked to a middle-aged couple that were taking a rest day there. I think they were from Australia. We talked to them about our plans to hike Routeburn one direction and then back again so we could do Milford Sound and they said that we were young and fit and could totally do it. I wasn’t completely convinced because while I’m hiking with this monkey on my back, the last thing I feel is physically fit. 😀 But thanks for the vote of confidence! It definitely helps. The thing I love most about meeting these random amazing people is the knowledge you gain from them. Peoples’ previous experience is a gold mine of information! And they are generally really willing to share their experience and pass on information… all you have to do is ask and usually you can strike up a pretty great conversation. You just have to not be afraid to ask the question!

We were packed and were hiking around noon. It only took about two and half hours to get to the field where we knew there was free camping. It was free because there was almost nothing there. Just a meadow with tall, soft grass, and a composting toilet with no toilet paper. :-/

Distances sign before leaving McKeller Hut.  We were headed to Howden Hut.

This sign was right on the trail shortly after we left McKeller Hut.

But it was a beautiful spot. We sat in the woods near this spot to eat lunch. I was a bit worn out and would have set up camp but it was only about 3:00pm and so was a bit to early to do so. The sand flies in this meadow were absolutely terrible; you can’t still or they will find and attack you, suck your blood, and leave a bite not much different from a mosquito bite. But with the sand fly bite, it takes longer to go away and is so itchy that you usually end up scratching it until you draw blood which leaves ugly, unattractive scabs. Thankfully, if you’re hiking, they don’t bother you. You have to be stationary for them to find you. It wasn’t a spot where you could set up and be outside your tent holding still comfortably. So we continued walking to Howden Hut (where the Greenstone Track connects to the Routeburn Track) where we hung out for a couple of hours. I laid down on one of the benches at the hut and fell asleep for a little while.

At about 5 or 5:30pm I woke up, still pretty groggy and not fully conscious. George was urging me to wake up to full consciousness so we could go hike up to Key Summit; only about an hour and half walk from the Hut but while groggy this sounded like a long way. We didn’t even have to carry our packs but initially I wasn’t inclined to go. I knew I should though since it was a “summit” and the views from there would probably be incredible. I also knew that I would probably kick myself if I didn’t go and wind up seeing pictures that George would inevitably take. So, I followed along up the trail. My unwillingness melted away as we gained elevation yielding spectacular views together. The hike up the hill definitely got my blood flowing and woke me up fully from my nap.

Up at Key Summit.

There was a short nature walk loop trail at the top that we did and wow… such beautiful views of the surrounding mountain ranges. We spent a little bit of time up there just taking it in before returning down to Howden Hut.

Pictures don’t do it justice… but I still keep trying to capture it for you.

360-degree view from the highpoint of the Key Summit Nature Walk.

Another Pano.

I’m awake!!

Just a few more mountains.

We cooked dinner when we got back to the hut. Then, when the warden came around and asked us where we were going to stay. We talked about camping down at the Divide and she said there was no camping down there and that we could be fined if we did. That saved us the walk downhill there and then the walk back uphill when we would inevitably find no camping area. So, we packed up our stuff, used the restroom facilities at the Hut, and then hiked back to the free camping area to set up.

A view of the lake adjacent to Howden Hut.

We set up as quickly as possible in order to escape the sand flies. I found the sand flies extremely aggravating and so generally stayed in the tent while we weren’t moving around. We did a little bit of stretching while fighting the sandflies which probably looked a little bit comical. George showed me his stretching routine that he uses to warm up people before they go scuba diving (he’s a scuba instructor). The sandflies were infuriating though because they would go for my eyes and my mouth and would bite my hands and gahhhh!!!! I was so sick of them. I went to bed shortly after.

Basically the view from the campsite.

Phone notes from Day Four – Rest day:

Day 4 January 5: rest day

We got up late, walked to Howden hut for breakfast for something to do, washed up a bit, then headed back to the tent. As noted, the sand flies were terrible so I spent most of the time in the meadow in the tent. I took a nap for I don’t know how long. It worked out as there was some rain that afternoon. After napping, we had to sort through our food, clothing, and gear in an effort to lighten our packs even more for the long hike that would be our Routeburn track great walk. We had bought food for 6 days but ended up being able to stretch it to 7 days.

We walked to Howden hut around dinner time with the tent bag containing the previous days’ of rubbish (carry in, carry out), dinner for the day we would get back to the hut, and extra clothing we didn’t need go carry for just two days and one night.

Day Four was a rest day that we had built into our trek. It was over today and the previous day that we had seriously been assessing our ability and desire to do our open-ended “option” to the end of our trek: hiking the Routeburn Track back from Routeburn Flats hut to the Divide so that we could end our trek with a stay at Gunns Camp and go to Milford Sound together. Our food supplies were getting low (not critical, but more than halfway through), but I was becoming more and more convinced that we could do it. We decided to go through our backpacks again and comb out even more stuff that would be unnecessary to carry for two days and one night of hiking. We had asked the Howden Hut warden if we could store a bag of stuff with her and she said yes.

I’m a little ahead of myself. Anyway, being a rest day, we didn’t do much. We walked to Howden Hut to have breakfast and just for something to do and to “keep the engines running” as George put it. We hung out there for a little while, used the restroom facilities, and then late morning went back to the tent. I laid down and took a nap. It worked out as a little bit of rain came through which was a good excuse to not do anything and just rest.

Later in the afternoon, we went through our food supplies to assess that situation, combed through our backpacks to take out more unnecessary stuff (as previously mentioned), and basically decided and resolved to hike the Routeburn track back from Routeburn Flats hut. I knew it would be challenging, but after our rest day, I knew we would be feeling really strong. I was surprised at how well my body was handling the intense physical exercise. So it was a go! The excess stuff we packed into the tent bag and packed the tent pieces in George’s backpack.

Once the assessment and lightening of our bags was done, it was about time for dinner and so we collected our dinner stuff, the extra stuff in the tent bag, and walked back to Howden Hut for dinner. George gave the bag to the warden and then we made dinner.

Dinner done and packed, proper restroom facilities at the Hut utilized, we headed back to camp. We put dinner stuff in the tent and then went for just a little walk down the trail back towards McKeller hut for something to do and also to escape the terrible sand flies. We found a nice open spot with a view on the trail and did George’s stretching routine again to help prepare our muscles for the workout they would get tomorrow. There we were, in the forest, right on the trail, stretching. Now, I usually like to think that I don’t mind or care what people think of me, but for some reason, all that was going through my mind was “What is someone going to think of these two people in the middle of nowhere on the trail with no backpacks/gear!?” I was trying to ignore that thought but it was just blaring in my head. Anyway, I just went with it and was ready to explain to anyone that happened upon us what we were doing and that we were preparing for the Routeburn track tomorrow. Thankfully, no one crossed our path while stretching. 😀 It was really nice though; there weren’t many sandflies in the forest at all and the peaceful stillness of the forest and mountains was incredible.

After stretching, we headed back to camp, set our alarms for about 6:15am the next day as we needed to get an early start on the Routeburn. We had heard from other people hanging out at Howden Hut that it would easily be an 8 hour hike to Routeburn Flats. I have to continually remind myself though that it doesn’t get dark here until at least 9 or 9:30pm and so even if we did get a little bit of a later start, we wouldn’t necessarily end up walking in the dark (unless walking at a snail’s pace which I definitely do not do). But we agreed that we should aim to be on the trail hiking by 8:00am; 8:30am at the latest.

Bed time.

3 thoughts on “Greenstone Track Days Three and Four – McKeller Hut to Howden Hut {Routeburn Track} (January 4th and 5th, 2018)

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