Routeburn-Caples Circuit

We left Glenorchy in the early morning hours to catch a shuttle to the start of the Routeburn Track. New Zealand has nine “Great Walks” through diverse scenery, including the 32 kilometer Routeburn Track.  We decided to combine the Routeburn with the Caples Track to make a 60 kilometer five day circuit through Mount Aspiring and Fiordland National Parks in the the Southern Alps.

The beginning of the track followed the crystal clear waters of the Route Burn (small streams are called “burns” in NZ) and offered clear views of the Humboldt Mountains.  Past Routeburn Flats, the trail climbed steeply to the Routeburn Falls Hut where we stayed for the night. The hut was situated next to the Routeburn Falls (video below) and offered stunning views of the valley below us.

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Humboldt Mountains

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Clear blue waters of the Route Burn

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Falls along the Routeburn Track

The next day we started the climb to Harris Saddle.  The track guided us through wetlands and grasslands and past Lake Harris on onto the saddle.  Harris Saddle is the highest point on the track at 1255 meters.

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Expansive views along the Routeburn Track.

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A tarn along the Routeburn Track

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Lake Harris

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Lake Harris panorama

At the saddle, Dan decided to climb Conical Hill, a steep climb with views of the Hollyford Valley, Darren Mountains, Martins Bay, and the Tasman Sea.

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One of the many glaciers in the Hollyford Valley from the top of Conical Hill

From the saddle, the track traverses along the exposed Hollyford Face, with views of the Darran Mountains and even the Tasman Sea.

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Kate at Harris Saddle

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The Tasman Sea from the Conical Hill

At the end of the second day, we descended to Lake Mackenzie and camped by the lake for the night.

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Mountain Daisy after flowering

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Mossy temperate rainforest surrounding Lake Mackenzie

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View of Lake Mackenzie

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Lichen and moss-covered trees along the bushline.

The third day, we climbed from the lake and past Earland Falls that cascaded 174 meters from the cliff above us. We camped near Lake Howden for the night.  The snow level had dropped that day which provided a frigid night’s sleep.

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Base of Earland Falls

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The clear pools around Earland Falls

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Pools and cascading water along the Routeburn Track

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At times, the moss along the track was a meter thick!

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A small milkcap, possibly a Candy Cap

Day four, we split from the Routeburn Track towards the Caples/Greenstone tracks.  The Caples track climbed steeply towards McKellar Saddle, but the difficult ascent rewarded us with a rainbow spanning the valley below us.  Mckellar Saddle crossed fragile subalpine vegetation and bogs.  Dan was super excited to see sundews, a small carnivorous plant.

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Rainbow at McKellar Saddle

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Close up view of sundews. Notice the small bug it has captured!

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Bog at McKellar Saddle

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It was a bit cold at the top!

As we descended from the saddle into the beech forest, the temperature heated up and the forest teemed with fungi and native birds.

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Coral fungi

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Amanita emerging

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Karearea, New Zealand’s native falcon.

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A native South Island Tomtit

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A Rifleman, New Zealand’s smallest native bird (about the size of a golf ball)

We stayed in the Upper Caples Hut which is no longer part of the parks system and has been transferred to the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association.  Most people don’t know that this hut can still be booked, so we ended up with the whole hut to ourselves!  The hut came with a wood stove that kept us nice and toasty which was very welcomed since our previous night camping had been freezing.

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A hut to ourselves! Upper Caples Hut

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A swing bridge near the hut

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Plum chalkcaps, native russulas, in the beech forest along the Caples Track

We left our cozy hut behind the next day and started our last day of hiking.  The track followed the Caples River and followed the valley all the way down to the carpark. After five days we were tired and hungry, so we caught the shuttle back to Glenorchy and rewarded ourselves with a shower, burger, and beer.  What an incredible 5 days in the Southern Alps!

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Red Beech trees on the Caples Track

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The Caples River

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Looking into the gorge near the Mid-Caples Hut.

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Fly fishing on the Greenstone River.

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View at the end of the Caples Track.

One thought on “Routeburn-Caples Circuit

  1. Dan, The Photography is amazing. I am so inspired. This leg of your journey must have been worth it! My favorite of course is the two of you. Great smiles….

    Like

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