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March 2011 Issue
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As good as the Milford

Explosives, drills and a half-ton digger have been used for the upgrade

Trampers walking the Greenstone/Caples circuit near Otago’s Lake Wakatipu can look forward to a quicker and easier walk as difficult sections are upgraded over the next three years.

In February DOC’s area manager for Wakatipu, Greg Lind, walked the upgraded first section which runs from the Greenstone Valley and ascends to McKellar Saddle in a mere 20 minutes when previously it took more than twice that time.

“I was in there last month and it’s a superb track and it’s as good as the Milford or the Routeburn, in terms of the gradient and the width of the trail,” said Lind.

“We think at the end of the upgrades, the Greenstone/Caples circuit will be quite appealing for family groups. We get them now, but they often have difficulties on the McKellar Saddle.”

The Caples Track drops steeply from the McKellar Saddle over rocks and exposed tree roots down to the Greenstone Valley.

Lind says the upgrades, which began last November, will happen in three stages over the next three years.

The first section, the often slippery walk from the McKellar Saddle, is now being upgraded and is due to finish in April.

“That’s a 2.5km upgrade, budgeted to cost around $600,000,” said Lind. “It’s contracted out to Wilson Contractors and they’ve completed about one kilometre of the trail.”

The Caples Track, running from McKellar Saddle down the Caples Valley will be upgraded in stages two and three of the project. McKellar Hut will also be increased from 12 bunks to 20.

“We’re getting quite a lot of overcrowding through the peak season,” Lind said. “We expect that the hut will be upgraded by next summer.”

Lind said the upgrades and track realignments also create a network of tracks in very close proximity to one another: “The McKellar Hut is only two hours from the Routeburn so quite a few people will come down off the Routeburn and go down the Greenstone or over the Caples to make what would be a three day trip into a week-long tramping trip.”