Greenstone – Routeburn tracks

Owing to having had high winds and snow scuppering our plans on Tongariro on North Island and only doing day walks in Abel Tasman, it turned out that Greenstone-Routeburn would be the first multiday walk under their own steam for Sarah (10) and Michael (almost 8). They carried their own rucksacks with sleeping bags and clothes for the day, though mum and dad carried more clothes, food, water and camping gear (unfortunately, just one hut was fully booked, so we had to carry a lot of extra kit for one night). We’d arrived at Glenorchy the previous night, and on New Year’s day 2005, we packed up and dumped all our spare kit in the hire car.

The four of us headed for the bus to the Greenstone – Michael was upset as he’d wanted to go by boat. But the bus took us about 1 km – to the boat! Happy faces as we shot across the lake at 40 knots. Then another 1 km of bus and here we are at the Greenstone track.

Gosh – these packs are heavy – still, it’s not very far on the first day and not much uphill is it ? Wrong ! Lots of up and down away from river in beech forest. Pleasant sunny day eventually got very hot and humid, so very pleased to reach junction to the all new Greenstone Hut. But a steep path down to a bridge high above an impressive gorge, then a long slog uphill to the hut – all to reverse tomorrow. But we were first to arrive, so guaranteed beds 🙂

As it cooled down, we played out a bit. Flowers to photograph and no less than three possum skeletons. Michael managed to throw one of his cuddly shoes onto the hut roof, so that provided some entertainment to retrieve.

January 2nd – an early start to beat the heat. Sunny and cloud clearing from tops. Back down and over the river then steep up to the main path, on river left. A mix of open grassland and brief forays into the forest and occasionally across lumpy scree slopes.

Fortunately less up and down and we were at the Steele Creek junction (there’s a less travelled route here which crosses over to the Caples track) in about the expected time. This side-stream is crossed by a good swing bridge – very high and quite long.

Continuing valley got very samey and very long. Just when expecting to be near the hut, a steep up and down, very strenuous over tree roots, then a long section first across the open then in forest, but eventually we hit the river again and a swing bridge to the McKellar Hut. Phew! Still in good time, so we got beds again.

Lots of flowers to photograph around here and some nice bits of green stone in the river. But is it Greenstone? Lots of Beech Strawberry on the ground, but no photogenic ones.

January 3rd – the longest day today – with a lot of up. But started off pretty level and quite boggy in places after passing a sign welcoming us to Fiordland National Park. Very humid – I couldn’t see because my glasses kept steaming up. Got into a very negative mood, but eventually put contact lenses in and could see again – mood improved into an aggressive and positive bad mood 🙁

Caught up at the Lake Howden Hut where the warden had been mipmopped. She eventually broke free and resumed wheelbarrowing rocks from the stream to behind the hut.

Over a boardwalk to protect the stream outflow, then starts the serious up. Very hot and humid and I really struggled, very slow. All in trees, so not much view and most of the mountains across the Hollyford valley were in cloud. Eventually reached Earland Falls – very impressive and out of the cloud, but hard to photograph – Sarah made the best job. At least the path now levelled off and was somewhat out of the bush and quite a lot cooler.

A few views over Hollyford and lots of interesting vegetation, so quite a few photos. Then a long and unexpectedly steep descent to Lake MacKenzie. Really quite tired.

The campsite consisted of small platforms carved out of the forest, very much orientated to people with small one- or two-man tents. With four people, we’d been allocated two spaces, but only had the one tent, and this monolith didn’t really fit. The smaller inner was not going to be remotely usable in its proper place but proved adequate hung from just one place and across the tent.

Without a heavy sack and as the evening cooled down it was a pleasant place for a walkabout and photos. Later, I tried the ‘Split Rock’ trail which was briefly an epic of steep up and down over rocks and tree roots before levelling out over an alluvial fan. Some slightly different views and photos.

Rained heavily after we went to bed.

January 4th, fine in the morning, but tent very wet to pack up. Today to be shorter – but more uphill. Much later start because of extra packing of camping stuff, but still fairly cool. Up through zig-zags in forest OK. Mary’s camera dead again and my lens steamed up inside – not looking good 🙁 But soon out of bush onto open fellside and a few minutes sat on a rock in the breeze unfogged the Canon. Vast numbers of big Celmisias all over the hillside, along with a few other flowers.

Much cooler up here and soon reached the top where it wasn’t clear if we were stalking the Kea with cameras or it was stalking us…

Then a long, mostly traversing path along the Hollyford Face. All above the bush and the views would have been stunning – but for all the cloud. We weren’t often in mist ourselves, but the summits of the Darrens came and went – mostly hidden. This section was interesting, but went on a long time. Some big patches of Ranunculus lyalli in the wetter areas. Lots of people coming the other way, but few if any actually overtook us.

Eventually, we could see a path high above us and we started the ascent. Not too steep, mostly, and cool enough. One steep section had a staircase and then we could see the steep path above us again – but this proved to be the route up Conical Peak and we didn’t need to do it.

Soon we were in the crowds at the Harris Saddle shelter. Nipped inside with a stove etc. and made hot chocolate. Probably occupied the best part of an hour here.

Then the path continued to ascend for quite a way above the pass to avoid a cliff. Nice views over the high tarn to a rocky waterfall. Then a steep descent exposed to rockfall before easing in scenery which seemed rather dull in the very flat lighting under heavy overcast skies – waterfalls not as photogenic as you’d hope without the sparkle of sunlight.

Sarah banged her knee and there was howl, but we kept going and, soon enough, came to the head of the Routeburn Falls above the Hut. Difficult to photograph (there’s really nowhere to stand where you can see it all), but I did take a lot… Steep down to the hut then a long weary descent in the bush down to Routeburn Flats – though there were some good views through gaps in the bush.

Michael was very peeved to find that the flush toilets were closed and the “winter” toilets were pretty smelly. Even more pissed off later on when the warden re-opened the toilets – too late 🙁 Final freeze-dried. Now a serious excess of food and lots of spare gas.

January 5th and a very short day in prospect today – for which we are all grateful! Still a fairly good start to avoid the heat, and not a vast amount of photogenic scenery in the bush, so quick progress. Enough views, however, to see that the sun was shining and the tops were finally coming clear of the clouds, while the waterfalls everywhere were still full of the recent rain.

Started meeting people coming up from the morning shuttle, and a few folk coming down a bit quicker than us (carrying less). Over the final swing bridge and out to the Routeburn Shelter with loads of time to spare before the 2 pm. shuttle, but very little desire to do other short walks nearby.

Back to Glenorchy by bus, had showers, etc., then on to Queenstown…