The 6 hour hike to Green Lake Hut may be muddy, but it’s the ideal way to relish in Fiordland National Park during winter, without the need for technical alpine gear or skills.
The Perfect Winter Overnighter
One of the bigger challenges for the New Zealand adventurer during winter is finding overnight hikes that are accessible and safe, especially on the South Island. Unless you have serious mountaineer and avalanche search and rescue experience, most of the peaks and summits are basically off-limits during winter, and even sometimes into spring and autumn.
But if you still want to get your dose of mountain madness on an overnight mission, the Green Lake Track is the option for you. As long as you bring the right gear to stay warm, then this is a pretty safe hike for winter. Although it’s always important to call the Department of Conservation to get track updates before heading out.
Located in the lesser-travelled section of Fiordland National Park, this hike is one of the South Island’s best kept secrets. And for $5 a night to stay in the hut, I don’t think that you could find cheaper accommodation with better lake views!
There Will Be Mud
Before starting, I had a chat with the only person I knew to have done the hike before, to get an idea of what it’s like. He warned me to bring gaiters because the majority of the hike was muddy and squishy, and your feet become drenched. And he did the hike in summer!
We seriously underestimated just HOW muddy a track can be. For the first 45 minutes, we were tracking pretty slowly as we tried to spend time navigating around the mud and avoid getting wet feet so early on.
But the harsh truth is, your feet will become undeniably soaked, and in some places it’ll even come up to your knees. The sooner you accept this, the more fun you’ll have (it’s nice to feel like a kid again, hopping through the mud) and the more time you’ll save on your journey.
Early on there’s a junction to another hike, so make sure you follow the sign that directs to Green Lake Track.
The first 5 hours you’ll be trekking through forest. When you’re not squelching through the mud, you’ll likely be climbing over tree roots. The terrain of the whole track’s pretty rugged, and it has a combination of up and downhill, but with a gradual elevation gain overall.
At one point we basically had to climb down a tree trunk, and I ended up with a bruise the size of my fist. Sometimes you forget how much your overnight pack can throw you off balance…
Although the track’s only 11km long, when the sign says it takes 6 hours, it means it. Don’t expect that you’ll reach the hut in 2-3 hours, and don’t try to rush through the rough terrain as it can be a hazard.
Although the lake itself isn’t actually green, you see a lot of greenery on the trail. Most of the sides of the track are covered in green moss, and it felt like we were in a fairy wonderland as we wandered through the forest. After about 4-5 hours of fairy forest, the trail started to emerge and we were brought into alpine scrubland, which took us up to a saddle.
While most of this walk you’re following orange triangles pinned on trees to indicate the route, in this section, the navigation markers are orange poles, and can sometimes be hard to spot as the alpine grass is also an orange tone, so keep an eye out.
After the saddle, we had about 1-1.5hr until we reached Green Lake Hut. The break from the forest only lasted 20-30 minutes, until we descended back into the fairy land once more. We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but it seemed the muddy days were over!
We started getting sneak peaks of Green Lake itself as we walked along the lake’s shoreline, patiently waiting to reach Green Lake Hut and be blessed with full views of the lake.
Green Lake Hut
We made it! Time to change socks and claim our beds.
Green Lake Hut is a 12-bunk hut, and as it’s relatively unknown, in winter, you’ll likely have the place to yourself, just like we did.
It’s a basic facility hut, so you need to bring your own gas, cooking gear, and lighting. But the simple life is worth it when you have beautiful lake and mountain views to enjoy.
When we arrived, we were excited to see that the hut had a fireplace – real heat? Could it be?! We used our best cave-lady fire skills, but unfortunately couldn’t get the fire started as the wood was too wet.
So it’s best to not bank on there being a fire, but bring a couple firestarters, just in case. The hut’s very, very cold in winter, so make sure you rug up and stay warm.
But at least there’s hot chocolate right? We fired up our gas cooker, boiled up some hot choccie, and took in the stunning landscape as the sun set and the mountains went to sleep.
After dinner, we curled up into our sleeping bags. Make sure that before you go to bed, you do your dishes, fill up your water bottles, and prepare any other water you might need. It’s usually so cold during winter that the taps freeze overnight, so you can’t really get water in the morning, unless you get it from the lake.
Sleep In And Sunrise
After a cold, but serene night we woke up at about 7am, too crisp to bear leaving our sleeping bags. But what’s the best thing about a South Island winter? Late morning sunrises. Looking out the window and seeing pink skies as the lake’s backdrop, I found more than enough motivation to emerge from my sleeping bag.
Jumping into my warm outer layers, I ran out of the hut, through the frosty shrubs to embrace the chilly sunrise at the lake shore – and I did not regret it. The shore’s literally a minute from the hut, so it’d be a waste not to make the most of it for a couple minutes.
After watching a beautiful 8am sunrise and cooking a warm bowl of oats for brekkie, we headed back out the way we came, saying goodbye to the beautiful Green Lake Hut.
New Zealand’s weather is unpredictable and erratic, and you need to be prepared for a change in conditions. The Fiordland is wild and remote and gets 200+ days of rain a year, so be prepared for any and all weather types.
- First aid kit equipped with a survival blanket
- Drink bottle / hydration pack with 3 litres of water (there’s not a lot of easy access water on the walk)
- Personal locator beacon (there’s no reception in this area and no ranger nearby)
- Food for two days – Best to bring a spare meal, in case of emergencies.
- Sleeping bag – The warmer the sleeping bag you have, the better. It gets very cold and could snow, so if you don’t have a good quality sleeping bag, please make sure you have extra warm clothes to sleep in.
- Sleeping bag liner – Although these seem very thin, they can make a huge difference to your warmth levels.
- Hut passes – These can be purchased from any Department of Conservation building, and you leave your pass in the deposit box at the hut. Please make sure that you buy your ticket, as this money contributes to the maintenance and rehabilitation of all DOC huts.
- Toiletries – The hut should have toilet paper, but it’s always smart to bring some spare!
- Cooking gear – stove, gas, lighter, pots/pan, bowl, cup, fork/spoon. This is a self-service hut, so you have to be self-sustainable.
- Head torch and lamp, plus spare batteries.
- Camera to snap all the beautiful views
- Sleeping mat for extra warmth and insulation
- Waterproof and windproof raincoat
- A warm mid-layer (such as a fleece or wool top). A couple of these are probably needed for winter.
- Down jacket, or another warm outer layer
- Thermal tops and bottoms
- Beanie and gloves are essential
- Hiking boots with ankle support and grip
- Warm socks – I’d bring at least 3 pairs of socks, in addition to the ones you’re wearing plus a plastic bag to carry your wet socks.
- Dry pair of clothes that you aren’t wearing while hiking
- Gaiters if you have them
How To Get There
Although this hike is located in Fiordland National Park, remember that it does not stay on the same road that takes you to Milford Sound!
There’s a 3-hour walking option for the hike which can be accessed from Borland Road, but this road is often closed for winter, and in general, is not suitable for campervans as the road’s unsealed (you can get updates from DOC).
To access the hut along the 6-hour track, start at Lake Monowai Car Park.
Intermediate to advanced
You need a bit of navigation experience (can follow the orange triangles and poles), and perseverance for this one. 6 hours trekking through mud isn’t for the faint of heart.
Lake Monowai car park track
11km each way / 6hr to the hut
Borland Road track
6.8km each way / 3hr to the hut