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Caples-Greenstone Track: More birds galore

Published
January 3, 2021
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The Caples / Greenstone Track loops around the Ailsa Mountains, the clearly defined massif west of Lake Wakatipu in this view. Source: Google Maps Terrain View, Map Data ©2017. North at top.

A MODERATELY demanding tramp windsits way through the beautiful Caples and Greenstone Valleys, which come together by the shore of Lake Wakatipu and are also joined, in the hills, by the subalpine pass of McKellar Saddle, which offers incredible views of the surrounding landscape.

There is plenty of native wildlife on the track, and when I first did it a few years ago, we were lucky enough to see falcons, kea, mōhua, and plenty of other birds.

The tracks, which form a loop in the same way that the Rees and the Dart do, can be hiked from either the Lake Wakatipu end near Kinloch and Glenorchy, or from The Divide on the road to Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. The Divide also is one of the end points for the nearby Routeburn Track and many exhausted Routeburn trampers are picked up there, although some choose to extend their hike and carry on through the Caples/Greenstone for a longer tramp.

Even without an extension onto the Routeburn, the Caples/Greenstone is still a significant four-day journey.

On the other hand, tramping.net.nz ranks the Caples/Greenstone as an easier option than the otherwise similar Rees-Dart Track.

When I did this track one time a few years back, we started out from the Greenstone Carpark near Lake Wakatipu, up the Caples Valley. After spending the night in the Mid Caples Hut we carried on to the McKellar Hut, tramping around twenty-two kilometres between the huts through beech forests to reach Lake McKellar, near which the hut of the same name stands. Coming off McKellar Saddle, there was a beautiful view of Mount Christina just before we went down towards the lake.

(Note: the Upper Caples Hut is now closed to the general public)

We made good time to McKellar Hut and checked in at three p.m. After a good night’s sleep in McKellar Hut, we had a reasonably uneventful eighteen-kilometre tramp to the Greenstone Hut where we next stopped. After that, it was another twelve-kilometre hike through the rest of the valley before we crossed the Caples River on a swing bridge. From there it was another thirty minutes back to the Greenstone Carpark where we had started.

I visited the Caples/Greenstone again more recently, at the start of 2020. There is now only one hut available for public use on the Caples Track, the large Mid Caples Hut, which was erected in 2014 and is only two hours in. The Upper Caples hut is a club hut and is no longer available for public use. When I visited in 2020 (this was before Covid and the tourism shut-down), the Mid-Caples Hut was so overcrowded that I went back and drove down to the more remote Lake Hauroko instead, where you can climb the Lake Hauroko lookout or head along the lake, by water taxi, to the Dusky Track.

If you liked the post above, check out my new book about the South Island! It's available for purchase from this website.

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