Greenstone-Caples: The best Packrafting Trip in NZ
The Greenstone-Caples has been long admired by Packrafters. The stunning and varied twin valleys have been explored in either direction but to walk the Greenstone and paddle the Caples is perhaps one of the greatest packrafting adventures in the country. The ease of logistics, the balance of hiking and paddle, the ease of the Caples and the option to make it more adventurous give this trip all it needs to become a kiwi classic.
The vistas are dominated by the Humbolt and Ailsa Mountain ranges the river snakes its way with pristine water through open grasslands and through sublime beech lined gorges.
Typically, groups will arrive at the trailhead from Queenstown (1.5hrs drive) and begin the hike up the Greenstone hut. About 25 mins out from the car park, the trail crosses the river via a bridge where the Greenstone and Caples rivers merge. This bridge will, for many groups, mark the end of their journey in a few days time so take note of what it looks like from the river (and the grade 2-3 rapids below!).
After 3-5hrs (12km) groups arrive at the Greenstone hut. The Greenstone river is a far more challenging paddle as groups will find out as they walk along it's banks and deep gorges making their approach to the hut.
The next day the trail takes groups 18km up to Mckellar Hut (4.5-6.5hrs). Day three marks a tougher day as groups climb out of the Greenstone valley and cross the mountain to the North into the Caples valley. The day marks a transition from hiker to paddler though as the river approaches. After 14km of hiking (4-5 hours)groups will make it to the Caples Hut and may chose to overnight here, however the idea of inflating the boat and allowing gravity to undertake some more of the work is too tempting for many. a short 8km paddle will find groups approach the Mid Caples hut. How high on the river you are able to paddle will vary according to flow but it's not unreasonable to aim for a 1km or so downstream of the Caples Hut.
On the approach to the Mid Caples hut, the river enters a tree lined gorge that will need portaging or at least some very extensive scouting to see if the route is clear. Often the gorge is choked with trees and unavoidable strainers and should be treated as dangerous. The gorges are tree lined and therefore obviously set apart from the open grazing land of the majority of the valley.
From the Mid Caples hut, the easiest put in is river left at the opening of the gorge. It's well worth spending some time exploring up into the gorge is flows allow. When the sun hits the water inside the lower gorge it's hard to imagine a more beautiful river. There is no major time pressure as the paddle back to the confluence is only around 9km which makes for a an incredible rewarding end to the trip. There are no major rapids however there are a few bolders mid stream and some gentle meanders to the river will require some navigation but nothing that should beyond a first time paddler.