Sunday, May 21, 2023

Hutbagging cleanup on the Greenstone Mavora

I'd walked the Greenstone Caples a few years prior, but hadn't actually bagged all the huts in the vicinity. I'd ended up very cold and miserable walking down the Greenstone Valley in the rain and hadn't enjoyed that day at all. In early May a lass named Linda walking Te Araroa posted on Facebook that she was looking for a lift from Queenstown to the start of the trail at the Greenstone carpark. I checked the forecast and discovered a decent weather window to clean up those huts I'd yet to bag. There was snow forecast for the days before, but a clearance on Thursday opened up a few good days ahead before the next front would descend. I contacted Linda and offered her a lift.

Greenstone carpark to Mid Greenstone Hut 12km, 5 hours

I left Wanaka at 7:45 am. It had snowed heavily overnight so I drove via Cromwell to avoid putting chains on to go over the Crown Range. I got to Frankton around 9:15 and went to Bivouac to buy some new waterproof socks, a strategy I use for keeping my feet toasty warm when the weather gets cold and the stream crossings get icy. 

I continued on into Queenstown, to Small Planet, where I paid for and picked up the key for the Mid Greenstone Hut. The hut is owned by the NZDA and has to be booked and paid for before staying there. There, I met up with Linda. We left town around about 10 and got to the car park a little bit after 11. I faffed around getting myself ready but Linda headed off fairly quickly.

A group of fellas turned up, also hiking into Greenstone Hut, but I left before them. I passed three trampers on their way out, but otherwise saw nobody the rest of the day. The track was not too muddy, much better than last time I had walked it. It was certainly muddy in places, but not as if a large herd of cattle had ploughed it up, my experience back in 2019. The river was running clear, but I suspect high after the recent rain and snow. It took me just over three hours to the Greenstone Hut turn off and that included a stop for lunch. I didn't go and visit Slip Flat Hut as I had decided to visit it on the way back out. 

Crossing Caples River

Looking down Caples to Greenstone confluence

Bridge across the Caples

Heading up the Greenstone

Autumn fungi

From the Greenstone Hut turn off, I continued along the Greenstone Track for another hour, past some curious cows, and then took the unmarked track through the trees over some windfall to Mid Greenstone Hut. 

Overnight snow further up the Greenstone valley

The hut is a beauty. It has a wood burner, lots of dry firewood, solar lighting, a gas cooker and all the crockery and pots and pans of a small kitchen. It's quite cold though, because the snow fell to almost valley floor at this level, perhaps 100 m off the valley floor, and the hut itself doesn't get much sun during the day. The fire had already been set by the previous occupants, so the first thing I did was light the fire to get the hut warmed up. Then I turned on the gas and made myself a hot cup of tea, enjoying the spectacular view up the Greenstone Valley. I had a lovely evening, warming the hut up nicely before heading to bed. The solar lights are such a great addition to these backcountry huts. Well worth the $25 per person per night.

Mid Greenstone Hut

Simply fill bucket and turn tap on to have a shower (there's a dedicated shower room on the lower level)

DAY 2 ☀️
Day trip return to Steele Creek Hut (4 hrs return) then back downriver to Greenstone Hut ( under 2 hrs)

I slept really well, not waking up until 8 am. After a cup of coffee, and packing up, I headed off with just my day pack along the trail to meet up with the Greenstone Track. There was a bit of windfall and a couple of rock slides to get over, but the trail joined the main track at the swing bridge over Steele Creek. Neither trail to Mid Greenstone Hut is marked, to discourage unwitting trampers taking the wrong track, and besides, the hut is locked.

a bit of windfall to climb through

More views up the Greenstone

Once over the swing bridge, the track up Steele Creek veered off to the right and climbed up a terrace with more great views up the Greenstone Valley. The track then entered the bush. There was quite a lot of windfall, but most had tracks around them as the windfall had been there for a while and the track obviously gets a fair bit of use. Once the track rejoined the river there were a number of open river terraces to walk along, weaving in and out of the bush. At the end of one of the terraces there was a difficult clamber around some treefall to rejoin the track. At first I climbed too high, so I came back down, clambered through some trees and then descended back to the track. That detour added about 15 minutes. From there, the track pretty well followed the river the whole way up until climbing a little away from the river and then back down to the hut. 

swingbridge over Steele Creek

Steele Creek Hut had real character. Somebody has done some work on it and it was really weather tight with a concrete floor and a fireplace, yet it's still a beech framed tin building. There were patches of snow on the ground outside the hut and the fire was prepped for lighting.

I had a quick lunch in the sun, then returned along the same track. When I got to the difficult tree fall, I stayed low and sidled very close to the river, even stepping into the river to get around. I still needed to climb through between 2 fallen logs but it was quicker and easier than the trip out. The rest of the track back was uneventful. 

Once back at Mid Greenstone Hut I replaced the wood, reset the fire for the next occupants, had a cup of tea, turned off the gas, did a quick final sweep, locked up and headed on my way. It was a magnificent sunny day and a considerably different experience to the last time I had walked down the Greenstone Valley in the rain and wind, feeling very cold and miserable. The track was nowhere near as muddy, even though there was evidence that cows were using the track as well. 

I got to Greenstone Hut a little after four and was surprised to see nobody there. I tried to get the fire going, but unfortunately was unsuccessful. There is coal supplied, but very little dry wood around to get the fire going with. The hut is quite warm anyway, because it is double glazed and well insulated. I had dinner and then headed to bed.

Greenstone Hut to Taipo Hut along Mavora Walkway including Passburn Hut detour and looking for Pondburn Hut 14 km, 6.5 hours 

I got up a bit earlier, managing to get away just before 9 am. I joined the Mavora Walkway, which sidles up through forest until reaching a saddle above the Pass Burn. I left my pack there and walked down to the Pass Burn Hut, following a very old four-wheel-drive track which doesn't look like it gets any vehicles on it any more. At the bottom of the hill I needed to cross the river to get to the hut, so I took my shoes and socks off and walked across in bare feet. The hut, being private, is locked, but there was a back room with bunks in it which wasn't locked. Neither of the two huts had windows, though there is a fireplace in the main hut that was locked. I re-crossed the river, put my shoes and socks back on and returned to my pack. 

Sunrise at Greenstone Hut

Passburn Hut

I set off again on the Mavora track at 10:30. The first mission was a descent to the Pass Burn and the need to cross it again, this time with my boots on!!

This section of the Mavora Walkway is pretty diabolical. It's muddy and it has a lot of windfall. The windfall doesn't have great tracks around it so most of the time you are climbing over logs or clambering through it. Someone had kindly used blue tape to mark the way through some of the more difficult windfall, which made it a bit easier but it was still an exhausting undertaking. I now understand why 10 km takes 4 to 5 hours!!

Really old track markers on the Mavora Walkway

Follow the blue tape....

The track at last came out into an alpine clearing with a lovely spot in the sun and out of the wind, with a dry stone for me to sit on. A perfect spot for lunch and to set out the solar panel to charge my phone. After waiting half an hour for the phone to charge I continued on. 

The track reentered forest and then re-emerged in a larger, very boggy clearing with views down to a large tarn. I spent a bit of time trying to find Pondburn Hut, but was unable to locate it. 

From there, I descended to the main valley and followed the orange poles to Taipo Hut. The poles stayed high at first but then lead across very swampy ground before climbing to the terrace where the hut sits. 

Heading down valley towards Taipo Hut

Taipo Hut

Despite the swamp, it was absolutely beautiful, especially with the snow on the hills. By the time I got to Taipo Hut at 3:20 I was very glad to be finished for the day. It amazes me how much mileage TA walkers manage. Linda and the boys I had met at the carpark had simply kept going. Admittedly they hadn't wasted time hutbagging!

Taipo Hut is situated on a terrace above the river and there is a swing bridge across the Mararoa just south of the hut. The hut itself was quite warm inside although there is no fireplace. There is a fire pit outside and even some scavenged firewood from the river. 

Mararoa River, looking up valley

Down valley

cattle deterrent??

My shoes and socks were sopping wet after the mud and swamp, but the waterproof socks did an amazing job keeping my feet dry and warm, even though my shoes were soaked through.

As I arrived at the hut I could see that some bad weather was coming in so I messaged Karen to let her know that I might be staying an extra day before returning to the Greenstone. I had enough food to stay an extra day, and I would prefer not to tramp in rain at this time of year!! The hut looks straight up the Mararoa through the large windows, which looks lovely with snow on all the peaks. 

Later in the evening I noticed what I think was a helicopter up the valley for some time, perhaps extracting people before the weather came in. Another early night.

Zero day at Taipo Hut.

I had sent off a weather forecast last night, and Karen also confirmed in a message that the day would be rainy and unpleasant, whereas Monday and Tuesday were forecast to be great days. It rained overnight, although not a lot, and in the morning there was low cloud up the valley though it looked clear in the other directions. I sent off another forecast and it confirmed that there would be rain on and off all day so I sent a message to Karen to let her know that I would be staying at Taipo for the day. It's good to have the flexibility to be able to change plans when the weather doesn't cooperate. 

The sun came out around 11:30, so I put the solar panel out to charge the InReach and a bench outside in the sun to enjoy a cup of tea. The wet shoes and socks also got a dose of sun, but within half an hour the clouds had regathered and it was back to hunkering down in the hut whilst the rain squalls hammered away. There's a lot to be thankful for out here in the backcountry, not least these wonderful shelters from the fickle weather. A fire would've been nice, but clad head to toe in down apparel makes for a good substitute!

I had lots of reading material: a few books on my phone, the usual hunting magazines and a 1979 issue of National Geographic featuring the recent discovery of the first hominid tracks by Mary Leakie! 

The sun made another appearance around 2pm, again short lived, so it was back to more cups of tea and a jigsaw puzzle on the phone. Planes went by overhead, being on the flight path to Queenstown, and the recent snow on the hills became sparser after each downpour. The hut didn't warm up as much, due to the limited appearance of the sun, but it was still a cosy shelter from the elements. No one came by, there being only a few lone stragglers left of the 2022/23 TA crew. The most recent hut book records only 2 people not walking TA, and I'm one of them!

The clouds started to clear around 5pm, allowing for a little colour to the sunset. It was time for another hot drink, this time a cup of soup, to rehydrate my dinner, and enjoy another night in my little hut in the hills.

DAY 5 ☀️
Taipo Hut to Greenstone Hut via stock track, including detour to Pondburn Hut 10km, 4 hours

I got away at 9, and stayed high rather than walking through the swamp. Since there was a frost, and no track through the tussock and hebes, my legs and feet probably got just as wet. 

The sun was shining and it was glorious weather walking back up the valley. When I got to the 4WD track crossing the Pond Burn I noticed a second 4WD track on the Taipo side of the burn heading uphill. Could that be the way to the hut? I dropped the pack and followed it up onto a terrace, and just inside the trees was Pondburn Hut. Completely not where it's marked on the map or hutbagger site. Cute hut, with horseshoes laid into the concrete floor.

Pondburn Hut

Back at the pack I continued down towards the tarn and picked up the stock track which follows the other side of the valley ( right hand side if heading north). It stays out of the forest almost the whole way, but is muddy and boggy in places, with lots of rock hopping required. I really enjoyed the walk as it was sunny with great views, unlike the forest walk on the Mavora walkway on the left hand side. Unfortunately I had a slip trying to avoid one swampy hole, and fell in! Wet from the waist down!! Lucky the temperature was mild with little wind. 

Mavora walkway goes through the forest over on the left. This side is much nicer...

The track crossed a secondary branch of the Passburn (with some nice spots for camping) and then climbed up to follow above the Passburn as it began its descent towards the Greenstone. I got to the intersection with the Mavora track at 12, which meant it took considerably less time going that way. I was back at Greenstone Hut by 1pm.

The hut was drenched in sunshine so I had lunch and changed out of my wet clothes, placing them out in the sun to dry. I also put out the solar panel to charge my phone, Inreach and Fitbit, and went searching for dry firewood. I decided not to push on to Slip Flat, and just enjoy the sun.

By 2:30 the sun had gone behind the hill to the north so I made another warm cuppa after packing away the panel  (everything was well charged by then anyway) and was surprised to meet Falco, a Czech wire haired pointer, and his owner/handler. They had been doing a whio survey down the Greenstone and were waiting for their chopper back out. I chatted to them and got lots of cuddles from Falco, but it was getting chilly so I got the fire going. With a bit of persistence I managed to get enough wood alight to get the coal burning and put the now only damp clothes up on the ceiling rack above the burner. All going well they should be dry by the morning.

unexpected visitors at Greenstone Hut, flying back out

The chopper came in about 3:45 to pick up dog and handler, and I was by myself again. But 45 minutes later an Australian couple turned up, after finding Slip Flat Hut already occupied so walking on. There's only 3 bunks at Slip Flat. Here they could have their own bunk room!!

It was a pleasant evening in the warm hut, but I still went to bed early.

Greenstone Hut to Slip Flat Hut
Slip Flat Hut to carpark

I got up before 8 and headed off a bit after 9, the Aussie couple still in their bunk room when I left. The walk to Slip Flat was uneventful, though the track up to the emergency swing bridge could do with some work. Once over the bridge there's a faint track heading uphill, which leads to Slip Flat Hut in a small clearing well above the river. 

A different Greenstone sunrise

Greenstone gorge from bridge, looking upstream

and downstream

Slip Flat Hut

I met Sam and Charlotte, Arrowtown locals who work at Coronet Peak Ski Patrol in winter, who had enjoyed a night at Slip Flat knocking off most of a gifted bottle of Cardrona Distillery Whisky. We had a wee chat about the route via Lake Rere, which they had come in on, and which I was thinking of taking back out. In the end I decided to walk out along the faster main trail as the clouds were gathering again and the temperature dropping. And there's no huts to bag on that route, so I'll leave it for another day.

I was back at the carpark by 1 pm, where I met a Brisbane lady just off the Caples, who needed a lift back to Kinloch where she'd left her hire car. She was super chatty, after no doubt spending a lot of time by herself, but I did chastise her for not writing in the hut books. She had a hut pass and a PLB, but hadn't understood the importance of writing one's intentions in each book along the way.

I dropped her off at Kinloch then drove to Glenorchy for a late lunch at Mrs Woolleys, before heading to Queenstown to drop off the hut key, then over Crown Range and home.

Huts bagged: 8 including the two Greenstone Huts which I'd bagged before. Not a bad haul.

Well that's my final tramp for the season, it's now time to get ready for the ski season....

That's next!

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