The Greenstone Track has been majorly “upgraded” in recent years: the Greenstone Hut rebuilt, the Mid-Greenstone Hut decommissioned, the Lake McKellar Hut renovated. It’s part of the effort DOC is making to find an overflow for the crowds that can’t be accommodated on the overwhelmingly popular Routeburn Track the north. The track itself might be in for some additional work if what has happened to the adjacent Caples, ie, a bulldozer driven through, is anything to go by.
The low level nature, the highest point, Greenstone Saddle, 698m, is barely noticeable and the lack of significant avalanche danger make this a year round possibility. You walk among the mountains but not over them so it’s popular with novices and school parties, who mostly get to camp out, so they won’t necessarily flood the huts.
There’s some more immediate features: the two gorgeous lakes up the top of the valley, the small Lake Howden and the bigger Lake McKellar; the lower river is spectacular; and, the spectacular chasm the river squeezes into, near Greenstone Hut, is almost jumpable, actually, don’t try that out.
There’s also plenty of walking on valley flats, cattle in view, a few boggy sections to test waterproof-ness of boots and a whole lot of relatively undistinguished, ie, lacking much in the way of undergrowth, forest.
For newcomers to tramping this is a mighty fine introduction, you get better than average DOC accommodation, at a lower cost than the Great Walks nearby, but it isn’t the most physically challenging track around.
The options | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
There are two ways to experience the Greenstone Track.
The cheaper option is as an independent, “freedom walker”. You do not need to book your place in the huts, it’s first come, first served, and carry your own gear, including food, stove and cooking equipment, sleeping bag, etc, and look after yourself. Sounds good, although while you usually have flush toilets, at least in summer, there are no showers.
The cost: $15 a night for the serviced huts, $5 to camp outside.
The other summer option is with the 5 night, 24 person maximum, guided walk with Ultimate Hikes that includes the Routeburn Track. You stay in different, more upmarket huts with a higher level of servicing, ie, showers, sheets, food is prepared, wine is available, there are hand washing facilities and drying rooms for wet clothes, etc, and you only need to carry your clothes and camera. You walk at your own pace but the trip is organised for you.
The downside is that this option is expensive. The cheapest option in a 4 to 6 person bulk room and sharing a bathroom is around $1865 for most of the season. If you want a single room with ensuite it clocks in at $2350.
where | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
You can walk this track from either direction, ie, from the east starting at the Greenstone Shelter, at the end of the road from Kinloch at the head of Lake Wakatipu, 86 km from Queenstown, or from the west at The Divide, on the Milford Road, 85 km north of Te Anau.
distance | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
40 km from the Greenstone carpark near Kinloch, to The Divide on the Milford Road
61 km as part of the Greenstone Caples Track loop from the Greenstone carpark
time | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
3 days, Greenstone carpark near Kinloch, to The Divide on the Milford Road, or,
4 days, Greenstone – Caples Track loop from the Greenstone carpark near Kinloch
when | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
Anytime. Yup, indeedy.
Winter is surprisingly the time of least rain, June, July and August, although the duration of sunlight ain’t the best. February is the driest month on average but, then again, March is the wettest. You just take your chances, you can get floods at any time of year.
One thing, the track is not generally affected by avalanches due to the low altitude. The Caples River, Steele Creek and the upper Greenstone River near McKellar Hut all have suspension, or, swing bridges. The track to the Greenstone Hut also has a bridge over the Greenstone River chasm. The smaller creeks are generally bridged although you can expect to get your feet wet, particularly if it is raining.
maps and GPS | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
On the extremely well marked and signposted track there’s little real requirement for anything more than the map in the free DOC brochure.
It is possible to buy a real map, ie, on old fashioned paper. The Newtopo “Routeburn-Greenstone-Caples Map”, newtopo.co.nz/routeburn-greenstone-map.html at a scale of 1:40,000, $20, is available from major DoC offices and some outdoor stores, Macpac keep them, or consult their comprehensive list of retail outlets at newtopo.co.nz/where-to-buy.html.
Need a custom map for your GPS device, download a more compact .klm format file from topomap.co.nz for free, although if you download a few maps consider a small donation, there’s considerable work gone into getting that info onto the internet and we should support these useful resources.
route description | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
From the Queenstown side the track follows up the Greenstone River, towards the bottom it is narrower but it widens further up. The track deteriorates as well, once in the open flats there’s boggy bits and later towards McKellar Hut it’s less manicured than you might expect. The best bits are to the north of McKellar Hut, ie, zipping around the two lakes, Lake McKellar and Lake Howden.
huts | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
The Greenstone Track huts are comfortable enough, the mattresses are okay, the fireboxes work, the roof keeps the water out, what’s to complain about?
Here’s the DOC huts you will encounter. Note: the Mid Greenstone Hut and Upper Caples Hut are no longer available for use by trampers.
The Howden Hut is on the Routeburn Track, a Great Walk, and therefore needs to be pre-booked and costs $54 per person during the main summer season.
The Mid Caples Hut is on the Caples Track
There is also an official campsites available, although you can also camp around the huts, except Lake Howden.
There’s two shelters at either end of the track.
There’s also a couple of basic huts in the vicinity:
You will also walk past the guided walkers huts:
Steele Creek Lodge
tramping times | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
Here’s the DOC stated tramping times between huts, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks. DOC bases its estimation on times for an “average” tramper which means that it’s possible to walk faster.
Unfortunately this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, experience the thundering waterfalls, watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to minimise the time racing through this memorable landscape.
Greenstone shelter and road end to Greenstone Hut
Time: 3 – 5 hours
Distance: 12 km
Greenstone Hut to McKellar Hut
Time: 4 hour 30 minutes – 6 hour 30 minutes
Distance: 18 km
then either, via McKellar Saddle and the Caples Track to Mid Caples Hut
McKellar Hut to Mid Caples Hut
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Distance: 22 km
or, via the Routeburn Track to The Divide
McKellar Hut to Howden Hut
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes – 2 hour 30 minutes
Distance: 7 km
Howden Hut to The Divide shelter
Time: 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minutes
Distance: 3.4 km
Side trip – Key Summit
Time: 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minuteshttp://buckleytransport.co.nz/index.html
getting there | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
Track and Info provides a service to the Greenstone shelter and carpark, past Kinloch, leaving Queenstown at 8 am, Glenorchy 9 15 am, arriving 10 am. Departs Greenstone shelter at 12 noon for return to Queenstown. Cost: Queenstown, $60 adult, $47 child. Glenorchy, $37 adult, $27 child. They also service The Divide, $81 adult, $60 child, leaving Queenstown 6 55 am and 10 45 am, and The Divide at 10 10 am and 3 15 pm. Confused? Contact on 03 442 8215.
Tracknet have scheduled services to The Divide on seven days a week during the summer season, leaving from Queenstown, $78 adult, $58 child, at 6 55 am and 10 45 am, or Te Anau, $39 adult, $28 child, at 7 15 am, 9 45 am, 12 15 pm and 1 30 pm, and getting to The Divide 75 minutes later, plenty of time to get to McKellar Hut and see the features along the way, ie, Key Summit and Lake Howden.
Tracknet picks up from The Divide on the way back from Milford to Te Anau at 10 10 am, 1 30 pm, 3 15 pm and 5 45 pm, seven days a week. The 10 10 am and 3 15 pm continue on to Queenstown. Prices as above. They also go to Milford Sound, why not, as it’s close, $35 adult, $26 child, at 8 30 am, 11 00 am and 2 45 pm.
Trips and Tramps do a scheduled run from Te Anau to The Divide six days a week, all year around, except when the Milford Road is officially closed in winter, and will drop you off for $40. Book early to confirm place.
The system is different during the Winter Season, when services only proceed if there are bookings.
Hitching is possible from Te Anau to The Divide, straight forward, there’s plenty of people each day travelling to Milford Sound further down the road, whether they want anyone else in their car on their holiday is another thing. Not so straight forward from The Divide, there’s no shoulder on the busy road, 70 full tourist buses zip along here in the busy season. Probably best just to ask people directly in the big carpark. Yeah, put them on the spot.
There’s reasonable day tripper traffic up to the Greenstone carpark, but don’t be surprised if it takes a few rides to hitch hike to, or from, Queenstown.
supplies | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
Queenstown has two major supermarkets: Freshchoice, open 7am to midnight seven days; Wakatipu New World, open 8am to 9pm, also seven days.
There are many shops in Queenstown selling Shellite or Fuelite and gas canisters for your stove: Alpine Sports, Outside Sports, H & J’s Outdoor World, Kathmandu and Macpac. There is also a big Mitre 10 which might be the cheapest option.
Te Anau has one major supermarket, Freshchoice, open 7am to 9pm seven days. There is also a small 4 Square with similar, but marginally truncated opening hours.
Shellite or Fuelite and gas canisters for your stove can be obtained at Outdoor Sports, Fiordland Frontier Supplies, both open Monday – Friday 9.00 am–5.30 pm and Saturday 9 am-1 pm, or Mitre 10, Monday – Friday 8 am-5.30 pm, Saturday 9 am-4 pm, Sunday 11 am-3 pm, if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it. All these shops are in the main shopping area of Te Anau.
warnings | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
other websites | Greenstone Track, Greenstone Conservation Area
DOC has a track guide on the tramp.