The Greenstone-Caples was pretty much a last minute decision, and boy was it brilliant.
I’d just arrived back in Queenstown after the Mt Alfred day walk which had left me with a taste for NZ hills and adventures. I had initially been considering spending a few days around Queenstown visiting wineries and such with my friends, but at around 5pm I got a message from my friend Tol saying she’d just down this walk and it was brilliant. I just had to do it. So actions stations it was. Somehow in 3hrs I managed to book a bus from Queenstown to Glenorchy, another out to the trial head, shop for a four day walk and shower and wash all my clothes. To make everything easier I had the luxury of packing my bag and loading all my gear and then crashing in my friends tent for the night which was very convenient.
Day 1 – Greenstone Rd to Mid-Caples
By 7am I was up and at the bus pickup point in Queenstown ready for the ride out to Glenorchy. 8am-ish I was in Glenorchy sitting in the cafe ordering bacon and eggs and coffees while reading the guidebook entries for the hike I was about to head out on. Luckily the Greenstone-Caples doesn’t require booking and the huts are big enough that I had no issues getting a bed, although talking to the guides it can be an issue sometimes. Anyway at 10am the bus picked me up and dropped me at the trail head at noon.
The first days walk is splendidly cruisy, 4 hrs of gentle incline up through a wide river valley gives you a good taste of what is install, without giving away any of the spectacular scenery. I chose to start from Greenstone Rd because it was a lot easier to get to from Queenstown, and then all the advice I got was to go to Mid-Caples hut first as it meant you could enjoy the saddle on the second day.
Mid Caples Hut is pretty spectacular with great views up the valley but watch out for the sandflies – they are bigger and faster than anywhere else in NZ and give you no chance to put your shoes even before they start eating you.
Day 2 – Mid Caples Hut to McKellar Hut
This is the main day of walking, and the only one that provides any real challenge on the trip. It starts by walking up the valley before climbing up a spectacularly well made track of gentle gradient to McKellar Saddle (945m) before an incredibly steep decent down to Lake McKellar. The track passes through beech forest and open grazing land meaning you get a really nice mix of views and closed forest so there is always something interesting, while the gradient up to the saddle from this size means that you can just wind slowly up the hill.
Up on the saddle the weather closed in a little (only a tiny bit actually) and went from shorts and shirt through the low lands to full rain gear conditions up the top – mostly it was to stay warm, but also because there was mist blowing in somewhat horizontally. I imagine it wouldn’t be that fun in actual bad weather. I’d also strongly recommend considering lunch before you leave the tree line because there were a lot of people who walked to the top without taking many breaks only to be surprised by how little they wanted to stop for lunch up in the rain and wind. I have to give a lot of credit though to the pair who were huddled behind a tiny bush with their tent fly over their legs to eat lunch – that showed some determination to eat! I made it over the saddle and part way down the track before finding a nice rock to eat lunch on which seems like a bit of a luxury.
After you descent rapidly to the valley floor again you’re into the Greenstone Valley and the rest of the days walk is a deceptively long but rather flat stroll down to the hut.
That night at the hut I met a group of awesome people from England and the Netherlands. They had all come from different locations around the world to hike in NZ and as with all good hikers they were happy to make new friends. We spent the evening hanging out and teaching each other card games. I by some fluke new the best game (Diabolical) so we played a few rounds while chatting and getting to know each other. Have I mentioned ever that NZ huts are awesome?
Day 3: McKellar Hut to Greenstone Hut
Day 3 was described a relatively flat day but the undulations as the track passed around rockfalls and over the ends of ridges that pushed into the Greenstone Valley. It generally just passed along the river flats in between and made for a simply spectacular day. As an additional advantage there were far fewer sandflies.
An hour or two into the day I joined a couple from the group I’d been playing cards with the night before. As we walked along we talked and walked and I heard all about their previous adventures mapping rivers in the Amazon and camping on ice sheets in Norway.
At some point after lunch I strolled off ahead and ended up a fair way ahead, but as luck would have it I spent a little while exploring and detouring and found a lovely spot for an afternoon cuppa just as they were arriving. So, with a stash off coffee and stove in hand we found a great spot, stripped off and swam out to an island in the stream were we splashed around in the rather fresh water, and then stood in the sun enjoying the amazingly sandfly free location.
The afternoon continued relatively uneventfully with a small interlude of watching horses cross a river.
Eventually I arrived at Greenstone Hut to enjoy the company of my new friends again.
Day 4: McKellar Hut to Greenstone Road End
I had a really early start to head out to the road end as I had arranged for a shuttle bus back to Queenstown at 12pm. I was also really keen to do the detour out to Lake Rere. The day was a fairly solid walk with no breaks which was a shame. Next time I will make sure I have more time!