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Earland Falls and Key Summit Trail, Routeburn Track, South Island, New Zealand

The Nitty Gritty

Location: Routeburn Track, South Island, New Zealand
Distance: 7.5 km (from The Divide carpark to Earland Falls); 3.4 km (The Divide carpark to Key Summit)
Trail style: Return
Grade: Medium

Highlights of this trail:

  • Earland Falls – a 174 m horsetail waterfall
  • Magnificient views of glacial mountains – even in the warmer months
  • Foilage and greenery that would not be out of place on a LOTR set

These two trails on the multi-day Routeburn Track are great day walks for those who want the spectacular views without doing the entire track. The two trails are fairly flat and the inclination to Key Summit is easy, well paved and only a 30 minute climb from the start of the side-trail. Like many of the walks on the South Island, you really can’t go wrong by visiting.

Getting there

Parking the campervan under the stars at Knobs flat

The start of the walk is right off the Te-Anau-Milford Highway at a section called The Divide (see map above). Arrive early at this popular trail for a limited parking spot. The location is campervan friendly for parking. The closest place to stay is at Milford Sound Lodge. For no-frills accommodation, try Knobs Flat. You cannot freedom camp in the car park.

If you need to go to the bathroom, wait until you reach the toilets near Lake Mackenzie huts on the way to Earland Falls, as the car park ones aren’t well ventilated and come with a strong stench. You’ve been warned.

In the car park, you’ll also find plenty of disinfectant to clean the soles of your boots pre-hike if you haven’t done so already.

The trail

Beginning at the car park, walk about 45-50 minutes until you reach a fork in the path – one path leads up to Key Summit, the other towards Earland Falls. I preferred to visit Earland Falls, as this is the longer leg and the Falls is a more enjoyable place to sit, relax and enjoy lunch.

The trail is mostly gravel and easy to walk on. At times, it can get rocky and there may be some climbing to do, but it is mostly like this:

Gravel trail

This doesn’t make it boring though, as there are many small unnamed waterfalls to see along the way:

Waterfall on the side of the track

Plenty of mini waterfalls along the way to Earland Falls

And at times you come around the bend, and look back at this magnificent view of Mount Christina:

Mount Christina as seen on the trail

An earlier landslide (?) that we came across:

What appears to be an earlier landslide

More magnificent views as you approach Earland Falls:

View of the mountains on the way to Earland Falls

And you’ll know that you’re at Earland Falls when you reach this sign (and the Falls are loud too, so you’ll be able to hear it from this point):

The sign to let you know you're close to Earland Falls

The falls will be right around the corner:

Also a great spot to take the boots off to dip your feet

A massive 174 m of falls!

174 m of waterfall - the magnificent Earland Falls The very tall Earland Falls

It was autumn when we came past, so the water was quite chilly – but I would imagine that this is a lovely place to have a dip in in the summer months. Nevertheless, it was great to take the boots off to dip my feet into the crisp water.

After lunch, we backtracked and made our way back to the fork in the road – then climbed up to key summit. The climb itself is fairly short – approx. 30 – 45 min to reach the top. The climb is flat and steady, but very enjoyable all the way up.

Once you have reached the summit, there is an optional one-way nature trail that you can take which delivers great views of Lake Marion and Mount Christina.

Views on the Key Summit Views from the Key Summit Views from the Key Summit Views from the Key Summit Well maintained nature trail at Key Summit Views from the Key Summit Lake Marion from Key Summit

From the Key Summit, it is all downhill back down to the car park, which takes approximately 30 minutes. There is a cleaning station in the car park where you can scrub and disinfect your boots again to stop the spread of foreign materials on your next adventure.

Disclaimer: Be smart and prepare for the conditions of the day. This site accepts no responsibility for any misfortunes. 

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