Stunned by Spectacularness (Part One). Caples / Greenstone Camp

“On a Mish” #78 Stunned by Spectacularness (Part One). Caples / Greenstone Loop. Lake Wakatipu / Greenstone Conservation Area & Fiordland National Park. 23.1.2011. It is no surprise that the Greenstone/Caples Loop is getting more popular with both Kiwis and visitors alike. Once the place informed locals would go to escape the masses, both valleys are no longer the quiet cousins of the neighbouring world-famous Routeburn Track. After years of wandering the Greenstone Valley I decided it was finally time to check out both the saddle and also McKellar’s mighty mountains…

With more and more people hiking the ‘Great Walks’ these days, the Routeburn Track is usually booked out for most of the summer. Luckily for the unlucky souls who miss out on a chance to walk one of New Zealand’s best hikes, just down the way are two valleys that make a loop track to rivals the famous Routeburn.

Both valleys are visually spectacular in their own way as they are very different from each other. One valley is very open and still operating as a farm, the other forest-clad with rocky giants lining either side. Each has huts to help make the journey easy, and now a booking system is used to make sure the days of the huts being jam packed with people are over.

On this mish I planned to hike up to the McKellar Saddle area and camp by a small lake northeast of the Saddle. The next day I would hike to McKellar Lodge to prepare it for a hiking party heading there later in the day. Work and play sometimes blur together when working in such an epic place.

I made my way along the always impressive Queenstown / Glenorchy Road, and at Bennetts Bluff I was greeted by the well known view at the top of Lake Wakatipu. In the daze of being stunned by spectacularness I continued around the lake to the entrance of the Greenstone Valley.

The wander from the Greenstone car park to Mid-Caples Hut is a very easy walk that can be enjoyed by hikers of all abilities, so would be a great track and hut for beginners to experience their first overnight adventure.

On the way up the valley I bumped into the DOC Ranger who oversees both the Greenstone and Caples Tracks. Due to the very small walking working world around Wakatipu I knew the ranger well and as it was early in the day I stopped in for a cup of tea. Hearing about the escapades of some of the independent walkers made for good listening, and then I exchanged my own tales from the guided side of life. The yarn went on for slightly longer than anticipated so I had to wrap things and get back on the track.

After the hut the track enters the bush and passes the Steel Creek Track turn-off near the now private Upper Caples Hut. The Steel Creek Track cuts through the Ailsa Mountains to Steel Creek Lodge, a place I would be in a couple of days’ time.

Just after the turnoff I spotted a young deer and managed to get very close before it saw me and bolted towards higher ground. In a land of very few animals any encounter is interesting, even if the animal is a non-native one.

My pace slowed slightly on the climb up to McKellar Saddle(945m), however the ever increasing epicness kept the left-foot-right-foot motion going. The climb is steady with only a few minor grunts, and once up above the treeline the reward is impressive to say the least.

Alpine boardways line the upper reaches of the saddle and I had to pause to take in the alpine atmosphere. I quickly realised I should have come here many years earlier! A light breeze was drifting across the saddle, and the afternoon sun was making its way towards where it would disappear behind the jagged peaks in the west. I turned off the track and dropped down to a suitable spot by the small alpine lake on the saddle and settled in for a night in a place I dream about when at home….

Jean Batten Peak from McKellar Saddle

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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