The Kepler Track was on my ‘Do Not Miss’ list from the moment we bought tickets to come to NZ. A 60km Great Walk (which means that everyone flocks to them and they are equipped with really nice huts that cost far more than the standard issue DoC hut), I figured that I’d end up running it in a day which Scott went off to ride something else.
But Scott has shown a large interest in tramping, and I’m more than happy to spend nights out at the huts, doing the tracks in more days if Scott wants to come along. Beauty and adventure is best when shared…most of the time.
We were pretty excited when we found the empty spots in two of the three Kepler Huts, scheduling us for a 15km day with a good bit of uphill to the Luxmore Hut, another 15km day of ridge walking and a big descent to the Iris Burn hut, and then a 30km flat walk back along the river back to the control gates.
We loaded packs with our hut tramping gear and three days worth of food, stashed the bikes in the bush, marked way point for the spot in the bush, and started walking along Lake Te Anau.
We’ve found that with light packs, we can greatly undercut estimated times between points, especially when there’s climbing involved.
This was no exception, and we found ourselves at the hut before 2pm, even with a leisurely morning start.
With not a whole lot else to do (besides work on a puzzle) and the sun trying to shine, we decided to drop packs and head further up the trail to tag the Mt Luxmore summit. The weather forecast for the next day looked dire, so we figured this was our one chance.
With the south arm of Lake Te Anau below us, we got amazing views of the Merchison mountains and the greater Fiordlands areas.
The wind was definitely gale force, but we were undeterred.
Undeterred enough to take a different ridge route back down to the hut that kept us higher for longer and required a little bit of brain use to pick our way through the rocks.
By the time we got back, more trampers had arrived and it was time for a Nature Walk led by the hut ranger, Peter. He was hilarious and knew an amazing amount about the flora and fauna of the area. I guess after 8 years of being a hut ranger up there, you learn a thing or two.
Then it was time to settle in for the night, alongside a school group from Dunedin and one from Wanaka for a whopping total of 34 kids. I love the fact that kids get to come out and experience the outdoors like that.
It was raining in the morning and we couldn’t see shit.
Just as expected.
The weather forecast was offering the slightly optimistic ‘fewer showers in the afternoon’, so we spent some quality time dawdling in the hut. Part of that dawdling involved making the 10 minute trek over to Luxmore cave.
We made it a solid ways in, crawling through low parts, squeezing through narrow parts, and losing the battle of trying to keep our feet dry.
It was a moot point, that last one, it was still raining when we emerged, and eventually, it was very simply time to walk…in the rain.
The mist and clouds were magic. While many were grumpy that we were missing out on the big views that the track is famous for, I quite enjoyed the fog and clouds and drizzle. Mysterious.
There were two shelters to stop at, but any prolonged stops definitely led to rapidly plunging body temperatures.
When we ran into the hut ranger for the next hut working on the track, I told him that we’d seen unicorns up there. He told me that only very intelligent people get to see the unicorns and that he was glad we were able to find beauty in the clouds. Based on the fact that he felt he had to give a little ‘the forest comes alive in the rain, enjoy it’ talk during the evening track briefing, I’m going to guess that he has to deal with sad hikers frequently.
The following days forecast predicted ‘morning showers becoming fine’, and Robbie the Ranger told us that if we could see the mountains up valley when we woke up, that people should consider backtracking to bush line for the view before heading on to the next hut.
We decided that we’d backtrack all the way back to the carpark if the weather looked promising. Distance wise, it would be less than our originally planned itinerary, but there’d be that small obstacle of a 3,000+ foot climb and descent.
Morning problems. But first, we had to go find glow worms which were rumored to be near the hut.
We found them under the edges of a pit, glowing away, luring insects into their little fishing line nests. And this time I could take pictures for Alexis!
We also heard a male and female Kiwi bird calling to each other. We may not get to see a wild Kiwi this trip (amazingly shy and nocturnal birds), but listening to them talk was amazing.
When the 5:30am Kea alarm clock went off, it was raining. I’m pretty sure the flock of 5 Kea, which are some of the most intelligent birds around, were just bored and had figured out that if they stand outside the hut and scream, people come out and provide entertainment for them.
We managed to get back to sleep for a few hours, but the extra time hadn’t helped the raining situation. So we walked over to the nearby Iris Burns waterfall to kill some time and wait for the new morning forecast, which came out at 8:30am.
It was still raining. Do we go up or take the forested way out?
90% of life is showing up, or something like that. If you don’t play, you can’t win?
We spent the entirety of the climb in the clouds with less visibility than the day before. Was this a bad idea?
Even out of bush line, the clouds persisted.
Then slowly, ever so slowly, it got brighter and brighter. Sun! Shadows.
It was some of the most dramatic mountain scenery I’ve had the chance to witness.
We watch the moisture get caught in updrafts, head towards the sky, and evaporate within minutes.
We felt extremely, extremely lucky to have had the faith that the weatherman was right. There wasn’t even a hint of wind.
This time through, we got to stop at the shelters for snacks. This lunch spot was shared with a Kea and a Brit who was on a 1-year work visa tutoring math in Christchurch.
We ran back into Peter the Hut Ranger working on the track above the Luxmore hut. We spent a few minutes together enjoying the sun and the beautiful day. He seemed to be as much of a sun worshiper as we were…I think that when you live in the Fiordlands, you learn to appreciate every sunny moment.
From there, it was a just a matter of stopping for a cup of coffee at the hut and plunging down to lakeside and back to the bikes, sun shining the whole day.
We felt so, so lucky.