Speaking in local New Zealand lingo, we went tramping at Greenstone and Caples back in September 2015, which was in early Spring. Greenstone and Caples track was not our first choice, and in fact, we didn’t hear of it until someone at the Department of Conservation (DOC) recommended it as an alternative to Routeburn, which was what we wanted to do at first until we learnt of a few places on the trail which have been washed out.

Where to stay

The closest town to the track is Glenorchy but we stayed at Wanaka before hitting the trail. Wanaka is just beautiful and it was also where we stayed after our hike. It is a small town close to Queenstown which can be quite touristy and crowded. You’ll find some beautiful places to stay on Airbnb around Wanaka.

We had a late start, again, on the day of the hike and checked out of the Airbnb apartment only about midday for brunch at a cafe called Kai Whakapai, on the corner of the street along Ardmore and Helwick St, which later became our favourite cafe to dine at on our return to Wanaka. I highly recommend that cafe should you be in Wanaka. Hopefully they are still there.

Wanaka to Kinloch

The drive from Wanaka to Kinloch, close to the trail, was beautiful. We arrived at Kinloch close to sunset and our intention was to set up camp at Kinloch Campgrounds, but the winds were too strong and chilly when we arrived and it was close to Kinloch Lodge which looked really inviting. We ended up staying at the lodge in the ‘master bedroom’ and had a fabulous homestyle dinner at the lodge. http://www.kinlochlodge.co.nz/

Drive from Wanaka to Greenstone and Caples
The drive from Wanaka…
Lake near Kinloch Campgrounds and Kinloch Lodge, en route to Greenstone and Caples
The lake near Kinloch Campgrounds/Kinloch Lodge

Getting to Greenstone and Caples from Kinloch

We set out right away in the morning and drove towards the carpark of Greenstone and Caples from the lodge. Do note that there may be some flooding on the road during early Spring. Parts of the road was flooded due to both rain and melting snow when we were there.

Beginning our hike: Taking a wrong turn

Our hike first went wrong just at the beginning of the hike – we took a wrong turn after the carpark. We followed a runner up the road into a farm instead of heading straight to Greenstone.

That took us on a detour around Lake Rere, which is estimated to take about 4 to 6 hours for a loop. As a result, it set us back about 1.5 days on the hike. We were ready for the hike to be over by day 4.

The total distance for the hike is about 60km and the trail can be attempted from either Greenstone or the Caples side. However, do check the conditions and alerts before heading there as there may be changes. We did come across a few hikers who looked like they were hiking ultralight from the other side on Caples. After going around the track, we found that the Greenstone route towards Caples may be easier as you start gradually and gently and end off climbing and descending down Caples towards the end.

At the beginning of the hike.

We camped at a good spot by the river on our first night on the trail (photo below). That was probably one of the best camping spots throughout our hike. There weren’t too many sandflies on that first night at that spot somehow, but the sandflies were bad throughout the trip as the weather warmed up. We were informed by someone at the DOC that insect repellent won’t be required for early Spring weather. Note: No matter who tells you about not needing insect repellent, JUST BRING IT! We learnt it the hard way.

The view from our camping spot, on day 1.
I could camp out there or somewhere which looks like that any day!
This is why it is called ‘Greenstone’…. You’ll feel like you’re walking through some elven territory in Lord of the Rings.
The inanimate guide.

We had to double back on a particular stretch as we did not know how much longer before the next campsite or hut. Trail markings or lack of thereof was a pain. However, we’ve already crossed a very rickety suspension bridge and to double back, it means losing some ground and also crossing that bridge, again. I’m glad the bridge took our weight with the packs multiple times. We camped near to a hut that evening and the taps there didn’t work as it was pre-hiking season and also because it was a private lodge, not managed by the DOC. If I recall, it was near to Rats Nest Hut. Water was not very accessible and we had to trek down the hill from the hut to get water.

Speaking of water, I need to talk about showers or more particularly, OUR shower experience

Mini showers are very important for us on hikes and we have our showers after each hike every day, after setting up our tent. I do have a love-hate relationship with these showers. The showers make a huge difference to helping you feel a little more relaxed after each day. We bring a portable shower bag with us on hikes, which just looks like a dry bag with a round shower head you twist to open at the end. You fill it up with water and secure the bag around a tree branch or something where you can have a refreshing, and cold, shower. Showering with sand flies sticking to your body at every chance was not pleasant and to add on, the sun is usually down or setting by then and the water is freezing.

Planning the shower is a big operation - finding a secluded spot away from people, getting water, getting the bag secured, having your thermal clothes or camp wear close on hand while having them remain dry from the splashing water, and then getting them on quickly in the cold and while your skin is still damp (if you've tried putting on thermal tights while your skin is damp, you'll know what I mean). Oh, and while looking out for other hikers. That sums up our shower experiences while hiking. Still, the benefits of having that shower, outweighs the obstacles. The only times when we haven't had a shower were when the campsite or huts are filled with too many other campers.

Stay at the huts on the route

One tip to reduce your pack size and weight is to stay at the huts instead of pitching your tent. The huts are well-maintained although you would need to share the space with many other hikers. If you are there in the shoulder seasons, there should be fewer hikers. However, it may be the hunting season like it was when we were there.

We stayed at a couple of huts on the trail and one of them was McKellar Hut. This is a big and well-maintained hut. As it wasn’t peak season, we had only one room mate in the same hut. There are bunks in these huts and mattresses you can use as a base for your sleeping bag.

Another thing which is important for hikes are eye covers and ear plugs. They just help you sleep better and ear plugs came in especially handy since our room mate was a big snorer.

The McKellar Hut

The hike from McKellar takes you up to the McKellar Saddle which has a boardwalk to protect the fragile vegetation. I wish they had more of the boardwalks around the trail where they were the muddiest….

Through the Saddle and onto Caples

We picked up pace after passing through the Saddle and went through the Caples section of the track within the day to Mid Caples Hut. It was Day 5 by then and we were motivated by our resolve that we will finish the hike by Day 6, after staying overnight at the Hut.

Again with the trick eye distance. We saw the hut from a distance away and it seemed so close. We walked and we walked some more before we got there. I’m sure someone moved the hut while we were walking.

We came across some animal traps on the way and some hunters. We did not know that it was at the end of the hunting season then. It would have been good to know that earlier just to avoid being prey. In fact, we ended our hike the same day as the last day of hunting season.

The sight of the bloody deer antlers when we arrived at Mid Caples Hut was quite the welcome. It was also the busiest hut for the entire hike. The Mid Caples Hut was quite full that night with hikers and mostly hunters.

We got drawn into a conversation with a guy who doesn’t have a home, no assets and liabilities and just lives in huts, while growing his ‘sprouts’ in his bag and consuming food left behind by hikes at the huts. We shared the room with some other men that night and by morning, we were eager to start our hike early, for the first time, and finish the last leg of the hike.

Except, it was pouring the next morning. We waited for a few minutes and decided to go for it as we’ve had enough of hiking and wanted to get back to the car.

I don’t know what is worse – having raincoats or not having raincoats. We got really drenched outside and inside our raincoats due to perspiration and heat on the inside and it was just wet on the outside. The hike back to the car park was a blur. We didn’t stop for meals and just stopped briefly to rest while we munched on our trail mix, and reached the car park by about 1pm. Getting out of the wet clothes was heavenly. We were tired, smelly (but dry) and hungry.

The Wanaka Tree
The famous Wanaka Tree

So, day 1 on the track was good. The days after, not so much. Why?

  • Sand flies: Do bring insect repellent. We were advised that it was probably too early in the season for flies…boy, were we wrong. They come in swarms the moment you stop for a rest.
  • Mud: You’ll find that a large part of the hike would be along river flats and there large sections of marshlands which you’ll need to cross. Be prepared for mud covered shoes and wet shoes for days. Daily change of socks is important.
  • Distance: The distance on the map and signages don’t match up to distance when you’re walking. They are definitely longer in real life. You would think that you’re approaching the hut but it takes a lot longer to get there. We had to double back on a section as we had to set up camp before it gets too dark and we didn’t know how much farther before the next place when we are able to set up camp. There weren’t many good places to camp on the way in between campsites and huts as the trails were too narrow or just had too much bush around the sides, near the river flats.
  • Trail markings: We thought that the markings on this trail wasn’t as good as the ones at Berg Lake in Canada. We conditioned our eyes to look out for the ‘orange sticks’ around the trail which would let us know that we’re still on the correct path.

3 Responses to “Greenstone and Caples tracks in New Zealand”