The next bout of activity I'd planned was the Routeburn Track, which starts just north of Glenorchy (itself to the northwest of Queenstown) and takes you to over the mountains to a point called the Divide on the Milford Road. There I planned to pick up the Greenstone Track, taking me back towards Glenorchy, but ending some 25km of dusty road and a good day's walk from the start of the Routeburn (and my car). 'Never mind, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it,' I thought, and jumped in the car for Glenorchy.
The Routeburn is interesting; before I did it I had doubts about whether it was going to be worth the effort. After the Hollyford-Pyke it looked like plain sailing, with only one extra challenge; with the huts being NZ$28 a night – it's one of the most popular Great Walks and is priced accordingly – I opted to camp for only NZ$9 a night, but that meant adding over 2kg of tent to my already back-straining pack. The problem with the Routeburn is that it's a bit of a surrogate for the Milford, which means it very touristy; some 10,000 people a year tramp the Routeburn, and most of them (like me) aren't locals. I figured I'd just have to bite the bullet and put up with the crowds, though in the end the fact that I was camping meant I never had any real problems, even though there were plenty of people on the track. Sure, there were some busy spots, such as the Harris Saddle Shelter, but no self-respecting tourist is going to worry about saving NZ$19 a night for the privilege of lugging a tent around, so the campsites were pretty empty, and actually I rather enjoyed the tourist-watching.
So in the end the Routeburn turned out to be a real highlight, with less crowding than on the Kepler. The track itself is incredible; from east to west you climb steadily up until you reach the Harris Saddle, before winding your way down to the Divide, and almost all of the walk is above the bush-line, so you get some incredible views. It's a more immediate walk than the Kepler; with the Kepler you're above the mountains, which gives great vistas, but on the Routeburn you're really inside the mountain range, with huge peaks rising right beside the track, making you feel very small indeed. I loved it, and it turned out to be the most spectacular walk I've yet done (apart from the Mueller Hut, but that's a special case).