Saturday, May 11, 2019

An all weather circuit, with some detours

There are so many multi-day tramps to do around Glenorchy, including the Rees Dart and the Routeburn, but I decided to do the Greenstone Caples. Firstly, it was a true loop track that started and ended at the same carpark, secondly, it could be walked all year round. It was now late Autumn when the weather gets quite unpredictable. It could snow any time, making exposed alpine tramps treacherous. Thirdly, there was the opportunity to visit a few little huts up some side creeks and to tick them off my increasing tally on the Hutbaggers website.

Hutbaggers is a bit of fun. The website provides a list, with photos and maps, of all the huts in NZ, including old huts that have since been removed. There are thousands of huts, some private, but the majority publicly accessible, all over New Zealand. They are the product of past ventures in the wild spots of NZ, from deer culling and forestry huts, to mountaineering and tramping, and even for glacial research. Most are now managed and/or maintained by either DOC, various alpine or tramping clubs, hunting groups, individuals or community groups like Permolat and Permolat Southland. New huts are also being built as new tracks are developed, or old huts require replacement. I'd managed to visit 87 so far, and was keen to get to 100 before returning to Wanaka for the winter ski season.

The walk begins at the end of the road where the Greenstone River enters Lake Wakatipu. It's a lovely drive down the western side of the Lake from Kinloch and through a few remnant woodlands to Greenstone carpark. After a quick lunch I hauled on the backpack and headed off up the river, past the swing bridge and continued up the Caples River. It was an easy amble, mostly along the river flats checking out the river for packrafting opportunities, and meeting a few hunters carrying their beasts out on their backs.

It was a pretty cruisy 3 hours to Mid Caples Hut, situated on a terrace above the river, just after crossing a bridge over a spectacular small gorge. I was joined that evening by a chap on an angling trip, but otherwise the quite spacious hut was empty.

The next morning I continued further up river, to just above Upper Caples Hut, a former DOC hut now owned by the Deerstalker Association. There I crossed a swing bridge and headed up Kay Creek to a hut just below the treeline. Getting to the hut involved crossing a fairly substantial stream, but although knee deep it wasn't at all dangerous. The waterfalls coming off the bluffs higher up were nothing short of spectacular.

Kay Creek Hut is pretty basic, with a rather damp earth floor and simple beech branches used to keep the structure standing. But it had a fireplace, and bunkbeds with mattresses, so it wasn't hard to make it warm and comfortable.

The next morning I headed back down the Creek to the Caples, stopping in at Upper Caples Hut just so I could tick it off the list, then continued up river.

The route takes you up onto McKellar Saddle, a lovely tussock and tarn filled basin with views over Lake McKellar to the Livingstone Ranges. The track down to the lake is quite steep, and then it's a bit of a muddy scramble along the lake shore to McKellar Hut.

It's a beautiful clear night and the hut is one of those where the firebox is in the communal area, so the bunk rooms are unheated. But it's not too cold overnight, and in the morning it begins to rain.

It rains all day. The track follows the Greenstone River, which is a much wider valley than the Caples, and there are lots of cattle grazing, making some of the going rather muddy. By lunchtime, despite wearing my wet weather gear, I am rather damp and rather cold, so I take shelter on the verandah of the private Steele Creek Lodge for lunch, and decide not to head up Steele Creek to the hut, but continue downstream to Greenstone Hut. Whilst the more heavily used tracks often have bridges over the bigger waterways, smaller tracks often require stream crossings, and when it's raining you can expect the streams to be much higher than usual. So best to keep to the main track...

At Greenstone Hut there are already numerous others, who have already got the fire going so I am able to strip off my wet gear and get warm pretty quickly. It's quite surprising how quickly one can get cold, even on the valley floor. And I was even wearing my polypro gloves!!

The next morning it's a 3.5 hour stroll down the valley back to the car. The rain from yesterday has cleared, but the track is a quagmire caused by cattle also using the track. There are a number of gorges in the lower Greenstone, but they aren't visible from the track, so I'm unsure whether they are suitable for paddling. I have lunch at the shelter, and then drive back up the road to Kinloch Lodge, and enjoy a welcome soak in that hot tub.


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