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New Zealand's Routeburn Track
Trampling in Hillary's backyard. By Peter Potterfield

Photo: New Zealand's Routeburn Track
Not a half day into the Routeburn Track, at a place called Key Summit, the peaks of Mount Aspiring National Park surround an open meadow set high on a rare triple continental divide. From there, three epic valleys—the Hollyford, the Eglinton, and the Greenstone—drain west into the Tasman Sea, south into the Southern Ocean, and east into the Pacific. On the horizon stands the imposing Darran Range, where Sir Edmund Hillary prepped for Everest. It's a portentous spot, itself reason enough for a trip to the other side of the world.

The Routeburn, one of New Zealand's nine "Great Walks," is less crowded than its world-famous neighbor, the Milford Track, and the scenic payoffs along the Routeburn's alpine stretches far surpass those of the lower, often cloudier Milford. The Routeburn's easily traveled route connects two of New Zealand's conservation jewels, Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks, via a high alpine pass named the Harris Saddle.

To reach the saddle, you'll travel through valleys choked with rain forests reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, except that in New Zealand's Southern Alps the green gossamer in the trees is goblin moss instead of lobaria, and the forest is twisted silver beech and red beech, not Douglas fir. The flora here is hyperabundant: Hikers who set out in December and January will witness an explosion of wildflowers, including the kotukutuku, the world's largest variety of fuchsia, and the Mount Cook Lily, the biggest species of buttercup on Earth.

Map: New Zealand
INSIDER ADVICE: Start on the Milford side at The Divide trailhead and finish on the Queenstown side at the Dart River valley—one of New Zealand's most scenic valleys and the site of the breathtaking Rohan scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

WHEN TO GO: November to April

LOGISTICS: The hike is staged from Queenstown on the wild and sparsely populated South Island. Air New Zealand flies the two-hour trip between Auckland, the capital, and Queenstown several times each day (U.S. $188; www.airnz.co.nz). Transportation to The Divide trailhead is easily arranged from Queenstown, where hut fees (U.S. $80), hiking information, and guided options (U.S. $690 for three days; www.routeburn.co.nz) are also available. Because of the Routeburn's growing popularity, it's advisable to reserve your spot on the trail in advance through the New Zealand Department of Conservation Web site (www.doc.govt.nz).

Staging area: Queenstown, New Zealand

Distance: 28 miles (45 kilometers)

Trail time: 3-4 days

Total trip: Two weeks

Difficulty (scale of 1 to 5, 5 most difficult): 2.5

Do It Yourself cost: U.S. $2,500-$3,000

Adapted from Classic Hikes of the World, copyright 2005, by Peter Potterfield. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

For ten more unbeatable hikes—and all the how-to details to plan your trip—pick up the May issue.

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Photograph by Peter Potterfield

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, May 2005

The World's Best Hikes: Author Peter Potterfield's top trail picks
Point, Shoot, and Know When to Run: NG photographer Carsten Peter's incredible life
Pelton's World: A modern-day Easy Rider lays down the rules of the road
"Life's an Adventure" Reader Photo Album: See readers' photos and submit your own


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Related Web Sites

Classic Hikes of the World
Peter Potterfield's new book features stunning photographs of 23 unforgettable backcountry adventures to the world's most enchanting trails—and how to do them right.

Trails Illustrated
Explore every inch of iconic America with topographic maps from National Geographic. Check out the complete line of maps for national parks, forests, national monuments, BLM lands, mountain bike areas, and paddle spots.

Navigate the globe from your desktop. The National Geographic MapMachine allows users to zoom in on any part of the planet and customize their own printable map.

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*Trails Illustrated Map Catalog


May 2005

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