25-11 until 28-11
The Kepler track is a 60 km circular track near Te Anau. It goes over a wide variety of landscapes; from mountains to marshes. Not having learned my lesson from Stewart Island, I pretty much believed the walking times that were stated by the DOC (Department Of Conservation) and so booked a night in each of the three available huts. So I was going to do the track in 4 days. Maybe the Kepler Challenge where people do it in one day should have told me something about how much time it would actually take to do each day though.
First of all, it was a great walk. An easy walk, but great. I also was very lucky with regard to the weather as I had three days of sunshine and only on the last day did it actually rain. This all led to some amazing views on the mountain tops.
Anyway, let’s start at the beginning of the track. The Kepler track goes through a national park so there’s all the usual warnings about dogs, poison, and traps to catch all the unwanted animals. Once you’re past this though, you start by walking through the trees for about an hour until you reach Brod Bay.
As I started quite late, I left the hostel at about 9:30 and had to walk about an hour to the track, this was the point where I first passed some people. That sounds worse than it is, as they started at another point on the track which made it a lot easier to do it in three days. I probably should’ve done some more research before deciding to walk it…
Anyway, the next couple of hours were a steady climb to the treeline, and when I finally reached that I really noticed the way the wind had picked up. Later I would hear that there were gusts of about 90 km/h, and I can tell you that didn’t fill me with confidence about walking along the mountain ridges the next day.
Luckily from the treeline it was only about half an hour to get to Luxmore Hut where I would staying the night. After several hours of hearing the hut creaking the wind calmed down, and I went out to visit the cave that was close by. This was a lot of fun to visit, as it didn’t have a path or anything. I actually had to climb and wind my way through everything in there. That also made the warnings pretty obvious (you had to bring at least two sources of light and tell someone you were going). Lots of fun, but not very good for photos.
The next day was the day I got to walk along the mountain ridges. There were several sidetrips here as well, leading to either the summit of Mount Luxmore (1472 meters) or an observation point. Most interesting though was the snow that was still in places on the track. Normally I don’t mind snow so much, but I have to admit that when it’s on a 30 cm wide path with a steep slope down on one side I wasn’t happy about having to cross it. Still, the views from up there were incredible. It isn’t even all that high but the shape of the mountains around you gives the impression it’s a lot higher than it seems.
So, after walking over and along the mountains for a couple of hours it was time to start descending again. This was probably the hardest part of the whole track, and the only time I (and everybody else I talked to) needed the estimated time. It was a two hour climb down, and that was pretty hard on the knees. And after the first hour, at which point I was under the treeline again, I started looking for the hut behind every corner. So, when I finally did reach Iris Burn hut I was pretty happy. And as there was a nice river nearby, I went for a short swim. The water wasn’t all that cold, but unfortunately there were once again a lot of sandflies around so after the swim I had to get dressed pretty quickly or end up being eaten alive.
As I hadn’t done so the day before, the next day I started with a visit to Iris Burn Fall, a nice waterfall about 20 minutes from the hut. As the day’s walk was going to be pretty easy anyway, there was no rush. Once on the track I quickly caught up with trampers who left earlier and about halfway through I continued walking in a slower pace with some of them. Naturally, after walking for some hours and ending up at a lake, it was a good idea to swim again, so I did.
The last day was pretty much the same though. Except that this time there were some other views. The Big Slip for example is a big area that was washed away in 1984, so there are no big trees there or anything. And of course, walking through the marshes was a fun experience. While these weren’t the actual ones used for filming the Dead Marshes scenes in Lord of the Rings, they are exactly the same and located not far from them. Still, while I could probably have walked the whole track in two days, it was also fun to take the time and just relax on those sunny days.