What do you do when you’ve felt exhausted for weeks, struggling to get through each day. Going for a 61km walk by yourself in winter though the backcountry seemed the obvious answer. I chose an easy track, the Greenstone Caples, and did it over four days, a novelty compared to my usual approach of speeding along, skipping every other hut.
Day one was a pleasant 12km warm up through the mist, past some nice waterfalls.
Had a brief moment when I came across some cows. Played it super cautious after my recent experience, removing my bright orange jacket, and skirting around off the track to avoid any issues.
The sun came out as I approached Greenstone Hut, a modern build nicely situated with views over the Ailsa Mountains.
Had the place to myself, had only seen two groups of people on the track, and I was the first person they’d seen in three days. Settled in with one of the bunk rooms to myself, with effectively a double bed.
Went forging for firewood to replace what I was going to burn, and then spent an hour failing to convert wet wood into a raging fire, nearly passing out in the process from being a human bellow. With my breath visible inside the hut I resigned myself to wearing every item of clothing I had with me – six layers of merino, a fleece, my jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, two pairs of thick socks, long johns, and two pairs of trousers!
Just as I was settling in for a cold night in the darkness a flash of light outside caught my eye. A pair of hunters from Timaru who provided some unexpectively welcome company to help pass the evening. They also managed to get the fire going, though with the aid of firelighters they’d brought with them. One of them had a bizarre theory about the UK EU referendum result being predicted by a passage in the Old Testament!
Woke in the morning in darkness, surprised that it was nearly 8am! Only a week after the shortest day and close to the bottom of New Zealand.
Spent the day walking 18km along the Greenstone Valley, out in the open for much of it. None of the forecast rain or snow but little sunshine either.
Wasn’t too happy to see this sign, but thankfully only saw the one cow (who I gave a wide berth to) though plenty of evidence of them.
Had a quick nose around the locked Steele Creek Lodge, a privately owned guided walk hut. The kitchen area reminded me of a hospital waiting room.
Soon after made my way over a somewhat precarious feeling wire bridge. Had another three hours to give, enlivened by a dash of sunshine.
Finally made it to McKellar Hut by half two for a much needed late lunch. Attempted another fire but even with firelighters in this hut I failed, and was unconvinced that the small stove would provide much warmth anyway. So layered up all my clothing again and passed away the long dark evening writing and reading.
Second time I’ve been the only person in a hut overnight. Quite a surreal and at times spooky experience. I was hours walk away from anyone else, with only the sound of the nearby river in the background for company. Before the moon comes up or if overcast the darkness is absolute, you literally lose your sense of sight. If it’s a clear night though you get the most amazing view of the stars. These were trickier to photograph though than spooky torch lit photos of the hut and surroundings…
I slept for over ten hours again, waking to unexpected daylight. As hoped this walk was curing rather than adding to the exhaustion that had been hanging over me. Got going and soon passed the rather nice Lake McKellar before heading up to the 945m McKellar Pass.
All rather cloudy at the pass but was a suitable time for lunch. I sat under lichen encrusted trees, on which three alpine parrots perched, with views of distant snow covered mountains.
After lunch the skies cleared nicely and I headed over the pass from the Greenstone Valley into the Caples Valley.
The Caples Valley was mostly forest but it did open out toward the end as I approached the Mid Caples Hut, home to the best hut views of the trip, and four companions for the night, a ridiculously well travelled Australian tramper called Peter, and three Kiwi hunters from Invercargill and Gore.
Everyone turned in at 8.15pm so despite being up for less than 12 hours so did I. Easy enough after having walked 22km with a pack over the saddle.
No lie in the next day as the hunters were up at 6am. Chatted to Peter about his many adventures over the years, he made me feel like a slouch, until it was finally light enough to walk just before 9am. Passed over an impressive canyon near the hut, before continuing along the low cloud filled Caples Valley, home to a few more cows, back to Greenstone Road after a couple of hours easy walking.
As is often the case, had the had the best weather on the final afternoon, as I got transport back into Queenstown along by Lake Wakatipu, before spending the afternoon enjoying non-dehydrated food at various cafes in town.