New Zealand – The Caples, Kepler and Routeburn

The Routeburn and the Kepler are two of the most popular tracks in NZ.  It is impossible to get a reservation for a campsite or a hut, so instead we decided to just bash them out in one day each instead of three.  And to avoid having to get a bus 300km from Glenorchy we decided to walk 40k over the mountains on the caples track instead…., cheaper and it seemed a more elegant way to join up the route

Lake Howden

Day 1 – easy stroll and a bivvy on the caples

We left the greenstone carpark about 3.30 after taking the shuttle from the Rees valley.  Papa scout was amazed that a shuttle even went to the carpark given how remote it was, and I was in love with Joanna our shuttle driver who stopped to let us get coffee and cake, charged my phone for me, and offered to take our rubbish to town for us (there were no bins in the carpark).

Papa scout trying to avoid sand flies
The paths on the caples are some of the easiest in NZ, as doc has used a mechanical digger to bulldoze a route through the forest.  While it doesn’t look great, it does make for very easy waking so we busted out a quick 20k in four hours.   Finding a camp site was a bit tricky, and for a while we contemplated pitching our tents on the trail, but we eventually found a spot which was vaguely flat and set up for the night.   After more dehydrated food which I didn’t want, it was off to bed with the earplugs as the birds were being pretty chatty.

Bivvy on the caples

Day 2 – 19k out to the divide

I was awake at 6.15 but there wasn’t much light so I made breakfast in bed and had a litre of coffee, and shouted out papa scouts wake up call at 6.45.  We broke camp at 7.15 and meandered up the saddle.  We had plenty of time to kill as our shuttle wasn’t until 13.30.   We stopped at the lovely Howden lake for an hour for a substantial second breakfast (I am a hobbit), and then wandered up to key summit.  After annoying the gizzillions of tourists who were up the hill by running back down from the summit, we made it to the divide carpark with two hours  to spare.  We contemplated hitching but I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in the driving ability of the tourists here, so we killed time by eating some more and doing yoga.    While we had planned to head straight out on the Kepler, the weather forecast was very dodgy so we decided to have a posh dinner out a redcliff instead…. venison and spätzle…. and then sleep on an actual bed (albeit in the backpackers dorm) after having a shower…. what luxury

After running up to key summit

Day 3 – up the Kepler – 42km, 1500m of up, 7 hours

The forecast was for gale force winds and it was a grey and gloomy day.  We decided to head out on the track and go as far as we could while the weather held.  Being purists, we walked to the start of the track from town and then the flat section to Brod Bay, about 10k.   Apparently no one does that, as shortly after Brod Bay we started overtaking hikers who had taken the boat over to the bay to skip some of the trail.

Lake te anau from the control gates
The climb up to luxmore hut is lovely, with nice easy switchbacks on a beautifully graded trail.   We were below the tree line for much of the climb enjoying the ferns and the luminous green of much of the kiwi bush.

Summit of Mt Luxmore in 90k winds
When we broke out above the trees, the winds started howling so we sped up and shortly after arrived at Luxmore Hut.  The weather was turning and there were 90k an hour winds on the tops, so my original plan to walk all the way along the ridge wasn’t a great idea, plus the views would have been rubbish.  Instead we climbed up to the summit of Mt Luxmore, trying not to get blown off the trail and then called it a day and headed back.

Near Luxmore hut
Papa scout was having an ‘off’ as he calls it, with ‘heavy legs’ but that didn’t stop him busting out a cracking walking pace of 7k an hour for the last ten k, my legs could barely keep up…. especially as his are quite a bit longer.  After seven hours of effort on just two muesli bars we did spend much of the last five k figuring out what we were going to eat and in what order….. for me it was rump steak, chips, fried egg, mushrooms, caramel slice, lolly cake and two coffees at 4pm, followed by half a chicken, half a loaf of bread, grain waves, pikelets and Nutella and half a Moro bar at 7.30.   And I was still hungry!!!!   Can’t wait to get home to eat some proper vegetables.

Day 4 – back to the routeburn – 5k hike plus 15k bonus running miles

Unfortunately we are having to stretch our three days of walking to five, given the camping restrictions and the vagaries of track transport, so we didn’t head off to the start of the Routeburn until 13.30 from te anau.  We did rouse ourselves by eight though to go for a run along the lake shore, and then went to town for coffee and yet more food.  French toasted banana bread, bacon, strawberry muffin, ginger kisses and coffee.  Honestly am getting tired of eating but I am also starving most of the time!   It will be nice to eat normally again!

Tents on the greenstone saddle
We were lucky with the weather today and arrived up the divide to stunning sun.  We got to the greenstone saddle campsite in under an hour and set up our tents.  It was only four so we went for a gentle 10k run through the forest down the greenstone track to Mckellar hut and back.  For once I went faster than papa scout who was really having an ‘off’.   Had a lovely, albeit too brief chat to Chelsea from Paeroa who is wisely taking some time out and enjoying a wonderful haerenga around our beautiful country including getting out into the bush.

Chelsea at the mckellar hut
Back to the campsite for dinner and then early to bed as it is pretty damp and cold. It took me about ten minutes to kill the c.50 sandflies who had managed to join me in the tent and am now well wrapped up and ready to sleep and it is only 19.30.

A group of four turned up at 19.45 and were about to pitch about 3metres away from my tent when I asked them what they were doing!!!  I never understand why people think it is ok to go out into the bush and then pitch their tent on top of you.  They were friendly enough kids and when I warned them I was getting up at five the were happy to shift further along.

Day 5 – out to the Routeburn road end – 32km, 1300m ascent

I awoke to a very wet tent in the damp greenstone saddle and was too cold and lazy to change out of my pajamas, so I made some coffee and got ready to go, only to find papa scout also preparing to leave in his pajamas!  We warmed up about half an hour in and got changed on the trail!   The morning was mostly quiet, no one was moving in Howden hut when we passed just after 7.

The lovely lake mckenzie
We made it to the lovely lake McKenzie by nine and knew we were close as we started meeting folks on the trail.  From the lake we were at Harris saddle by 11 and it was an irresistible day to head up conical peak.  I have been over this way many times and I couldn’t help but tell everyone on the summit how lucky they were to get the view from the peak!  To see the Hollyford reach the sea at the end of Lake Mckerrow and to marvel at the lovely Lake Harris from above –  these are rare gifts from the weather gods in these parts.

Alongside lake Harris
From the saddle we wandered down to Routeburn Falls hut, where we bumped into the hut ranger on the trail – the same one we had met on the Gillespie pass last week – small world!    He was heading up the saddle to work on the trail.  Our doc wardens are national treasures!

Lake Harris from conical peak
After a royal lunch of brie, Nutella, pancakes and flatbread sitting on the rocks above the falls we meandered down the valley where I bumped into another lady I had met at the Oturere hut in Tongariro three weeks ago.  Papa scout reckons I talk too much and this is why I meet so many people.

We arrived at the road end at 3 having made cracking time in spite of the leisurely pace, long lunch, and the side trip up the hill.  8 hours from start to finish including all the stops – not bad given we were carrying all our gear!

Routeburn flats
I had a swim, cleaned and dried my tent, and kept busy killing sandflies until the shuttle arrived at four.   Papa scout is flying home tomorrow and reckons his legs are done,  I reckon we both have enough juice left for one more run up the summit of Ben lomond at dawn tomorrow.    We will see!


– the Kepler – on a good day it is an easy day walk to Mt Luxmore or further onto one of the shelters before the descent to Iris Burn.  For my money the section from Luxmore Hut to the hanging rock shelter is the best section on the Kepler, so if you don’t have time for the full hike or can’t get a reservation for a hut, you can see all of the great views in a long day walk (shorter if you take the boat)

– the Caples – is easily walked end to end in 6-7 hours, and would make a nice overnight loop with the Routeburn if you camped one night at greenstone saddle.  This is also a great hike for new trampers as the trail is easy and well graded with no exposed sections

– the Routeburn – my favourite day hike!!!! But definitely too crowded to do as a traditional tramp.  Huts are impossible to book and full of people who don’t understand tramping culture.  If you do want to take a bit longer you can camp legally and for free at greenstone saddle and on the north branch of the routeburn behind routeburn flats hut

– transport.  From glenorchy to the caples or routeburn, I highly recommend the lovely folks at glenorchy journeys.  On the divide side you can use tracknet or buckleys to get to and from te anau

Optimising Nutrition in the Back Country

WARNING Strictly for hiking geeks only – So yup, I am a freak!  I really care about what I eat even when in the bush for days on end (even if I don’t care how I smell).  I am always amazed/impressed/jealous at the young guys I see doing long distance hikes surviving on snickers, oatmeal, cheap ramen noodles, peanut butter and not much else.     I can’t do that, not only do I like food too much, but a diet with too many carbs makes me grumpy, gives me terrible sugar lows and normally means I eat too much.

the optimisation conditions

So, for those of you who are interested in getting the best nutritional options you can when you are in the bush, here is my view on what works for me.  Broadly I aim for 2500-3000 calories a day spread out over breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks and a good dessert.  This means I run a c. 500 cal deficit every day (as I typically hike 40-50k), which I make up for when I hit a town and then I make sure to eat a lot (burgers and icecream as well as lots of vegetables and fruit).

I need a lot of protein to keep my muscles recovered and in good shape, so I generally aim for a minimum 30 grams of protein and about 15 grams of fat in each meal (these are the ratios which optimise fullness and muscle recovery apparently – for more info see Georgie Fear’s Lean Habits).  I also try to keep the junk sugars to a minimum.    It is a myth that you need tonnes of carbs, when I am hiking 80% of the calories I burn are from my ample fat stores not from my glycogen stores, so you don’t need to ‘carb load like crazy’.  Worse, for me, highly refined carbs don’t make me full so I end up having too carry too much food if I over rely on carbs.

Finally, obviously weight of the food is a priority and I try to optimise the calories per gram.  I cap my food weight at 600 grams per day maximum.  Andrew Skurka has a good website outlining optimal foods based on ounces per calorie which will be interesting for camping nerds (I loved it)

So, my meal staples based on the above constraints and my food preferences…


I like a bit of savoury, some variety, and also to make sure there is protein, so my standard breakfast options are:

  • Instant porridge or cream of wheat with coconut or normal milk powder and some dried fruit or nuts (I like goji berries).  To balance this out and add some protein, either add protein powder or also have a protein bar at breakfast (I eat a double chocolate chunk quest bar as well as the porridge).  497 calories, 13g fat, 29g protein (including the protein bar)
  • Instant savoury grits (cheese polenta) with powdered eggs and pork jerky or dried ham.   Alternatively if you don’t like grits, then you can use instant mash potato.   462 calories, 17g fat, 37g protein grits-variety-detail-sflb083355418cb46e438643ff2300547e50
  • If I am feeling flush, I will buy a few Mountain House scrambled egg, ham and potato breakfasts.  These are quite high in sodium and have more fat than I need but are actually very nice 508 calories, 31g fat, 29g protein

If I am in NZ I will buy vitawheats, dried venison salami (very lean and yummy) and some hard cheese.  I struggle to find equivalents for these in the UK.  I am also going to experiment with a slightly different walking style on my next trip and take lunch breaks during the heat of the day.  So my food options for lunch will be hot meals –  these can also work for dinner, but are slightly lower in calories and don’t sit too heavy on the stomach when you have another 25km to go

  • Mug shot instant pasta (single serve), supplemented with either an epic bar (dried chicken protein – sounds gross but is pretty good) or a pouch of tuna 393 calories, 9 fat, 23 protein82495011_0_640x640
  • Instant couscous (I like Ainsley Harriot), supplemented with either beef or ostrich biltong from Raging Bull.  Note you should avoid buying Jerky which has loads of sugar in it, like Jacks. Also you can make your own instant couscous easily by adding herbs, salt a bit of oil, and some dried onions, but I quite like the premade ones 494 calories, 6g fat, 38g protein 51tkspvvY7L._AC_UL320_SR240,320_
  • A weird one, but one I like, dehydrated refried beans, a Sriracha  epic chicken bar and half a tube of primula instant cheese.  If you really want to make it like nachos, add some doritos which aren’t that heavy 464 calories, 16g fat, 36g proteinEBR-00265-351KxO3C8SgL._AC_UL320_SR222,320_

Note that when I am doing tougher long days and aiming to hit a refuge in time for dinner I am quite comfortable skipping lunch all together and just eating more snacks as I walk, and I pack accordingly


I love a big dinner followed by dessert with lots of tea.   I quite like to splash out on dinner, and some of my favourites are

  • Mountain House – potato salmon and dill – its good 609 calories, 40g fat, 18g protein1460465588-96367900
  • Mountain House – Macaroni cheese with some parma ham added in – also good 632 calories, 28g fat, 38g protein
  • More couscous with dehydrated ground beef from Back Country Cuisine or dehydrated chicken.  I have struggled to get good plain dehydrated protein made in the UK, so if you have a source let me know. 672 calories, 21g fat, 45g protein

Dinner isn’t complete without dessert!  I change what i eat quite often, but my current favourites are

  • Homemade rice pudding – using rice flakes, cinnamon, coconut milk powder, and sultanas – just add hot water 253 calories, 0g fat, 6g protein.  (normally served with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate or an ombarPACKS_0002_Porridge-Edit.psd_
  • Homemade chia, coconut and berry pudding – made with chia seeds, coconut milk powder and freeze dried berries, just add cold water 30 minutes before eating – 236 calories, 16g fat, 6g protein  (normally served with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate)
  • Chocolate covered salted almonds (a real treat) served with some dried figs – these ones are the best

Everyone recommends versions of nuts and dried fruit as trail mix to eat when hiking.  I think I must be a total weirdo as I don’t find nuts at all satiating, and they dry my mouth out.  Also, while I love dried fruit, the more I eat, the more I want to eat.  So trail mix doesn’t work for me at all.

Also, lots of people eat candy bars! Snickers, Mars, Moro, Milky Way.   These don’t work for me either as they only keep me full for about a nano second, and I have a big sugar crash afterwards.

So, I tend to eat the following snacks in combinations which mean I am getting some carbs and some protein.  Note that I am aware these aren’t the best nutritional options as the protein bars have artificial sweeteners in them and the clif bars have a bit too much sugar, but combined they do a good job keeping me full

  • Mornings I will typically eat an Oats/Whey bars from Myprotein –  316 calories, 8g fat, 22g protein
  • Afternoons I will eat a Clif bar (chocolate chip or white chocolate macadamia are two favourites) 240 calories, 5g fat, 10g protein combined with either a Quest double chunk bars  180 calories, 8g fat, 20g protein or some biltong – 138 calories, 3g fat, 25g protein

I can survive on water for cold drinks, though sometimes take some Nuun or High5 zero calorie electrolyte tabs on shorter trips.  However, I drink a lot of coffee, decaf coffee (after lunch), herbal tea and cacao, so I make sure I have plenty of powder.


The one thing I would recommend is that you repack everything before you go into lighter ziplock bags, making sure to note how much water you need in everything.  The original packaging on most of these things is actually pretty heavy, so you will save a lot of weight repacking everything in ziplock bags.  Also the ziplock are easier to pack out as waste.

Also, for people like me who will eat anything in front of them, I always recommend portioning food out for individuals days and meals.  If I have a bag of something which is supposed to last over 2-3 meals or days, I always eat more than my fair share on the first day – I just can’t help it.

I tend to do a few big shops on line and then spend a day at the dining table with scales, a marker and ziplock bags.  Good stockists are


Note, to keep weight down I only carry a cup and my jet boil, and also just a spoon and a small knife.  I often just add water to the bag and eat out of the bag so I don’t have to wash the dishes.  If you want to put it in a bowl go ahead but then you have to clean it.



Any other ideas gratefully received!  It is much easier in the US where there are more dehydrated options available.  Note, that if you start ordering a lot of dehydrated food online you do start getting lots of weird advertising on your YouTube feed targeted at survivalists who are building bunkers (actually pretty amusing)

So, thats it.  There are plenty of hikers who swear by not cooking at all and just take bars.  I met one guy who only had oatmeal and sugar for a ten day hike.  I have met other people who are dedicated enough to dehydrate their own meals (I worry I would poison myself with poor food prep).   And I have met some people who carry bottles of wine (or decant wine into their camelbacks). Whatever works for you, you should embrace it.

Happy hiking!