Kepler Track Day Three- Iris Burn Hut to Rainbow Reach Swing Bridge

Kepler Track Day Three-3

Success! It was the last day of my last tramp. All that stood between me and a bus ride to Queenstown was 22.2 kilometers of mostly easy walking. I spent the night at Iris Burn Hut, deep in the forest. During the middle of the night, I heard bird calls from both male and female kiwi birds outside, since they are nocturnal birds. That was pretty cool, because kiwis are adorable, fat, little birds and they are endangered in New Zealand.

Kepler Track Day Three-1

Kepler Track Day Three-2

Since I had about seven-eight hours of walking ahead of me, I started really early. I noticed the weather seemed to be much more pleasant today, with no rain or wind. After mentally shaking my fist at the weather gods and goddesses for giving other people a pleasant and beautiful alpine crossing (though you never know, since alpine weather is so protean), I set out on my journey.

Kepler Track Day Three-4

Kepler Track Day Three-5

I set off for my first stop at Motorua Hut, my planned lunch spot. The walk was fairly easy through beech forest, though there were some steep ascents and descents that weren’t mentioned in the brochure. I spotted some natural waterfalls, and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and hanging valleys.

Kepler Track Day Three-6

Kepler Track Day Three-7

Five hours later, my tired body found its way to the shores of Lake Manapouri and Motorua Hut. It was a beautiful and peaceful stop for my final track meal. I was able to enjoy a leisurely break, but I had to put on the pack for the last two hour push to the Rainbow Reach carpark, and sweet, wonderful transport.

Kepler Track Day Three-9

Kepler Track Day Three-10

The final leg of the walk was pretty much flat and easy through more forests. There were a couple brief stopovers at local wetlands (some of which represented the Dead Marshes in the Fellowship of the Ring movie), but for the most part, it was just straight tramping. Shockingly enough, I even passed a couple of persons hiking, which was a first for me on this tramp.

Kepler Track Day Three-11

Kepler Track Day Three-13

Kepler Track Day Three-12

Soon enough, I saw the Gates of Paradise, or in this case, the Rainbow Reach Swing Bridge spanning the Waiau River that lead to the carpark. I was done! My body was tired. My clothes from the previous day were still soaked, and I sort of smelled like a wild animal. But it was all worth it for the exercise and beautiful views.

Kepler Track Day Three-14

Kepler Track Day Three-15

Kepler Track Day Two- Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut

Kepler Track Day Two-1

There aren’t many pictures for this day of hiking, and it wasn’t an accident. The weather just did not cooperate enough for me to take many pictures after I left Luxmore Hut. And the few times the view would open up, I was too wet, cold and unmotivated to dig my camera from my bag.

For my second full day of hiking, I had hoped for sunny skies and minimal wind for this trek, since it was an alpine crossing. Alas, it was not to be. Instead of being treated with panoramic and gorgeous mountain vistas, I was treated to lashing wind, freezing rain and low clouds. I had envisioned my alpine crossing would be as majestic as the opening scenes of Lord of the Rings: Two Towers when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli were chasing the orcs. Instead my day looked more like the scene in Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring when the fellowship tried to cross the Pass of Caradhras and were beset by howling wind and stinging snow. Of course I had no big strong man like Boromir to shelter me from the storm, so I was on my own to deal with the weather.

Sometimes the clouds would clear enough to get a hint of the majesty they covered, but for the most part, all I could see much of was the trail in front of me (thankfully for that, because who wants to get lost and stranded in an alpine environment). Most of the hike sidled mountains and crawled along ridge lines. There were brief moments, I got a glimpse of the awe-inspiring view around me, obscured by the thick, low clouds, and could see what this hike is like in very good weather. Alas those moments didn’t come often enough or last long enough. I can honestly say that I have not been this wet and cold, for such a sustained period of time, ever. For a brief period, I envisioned succumbing to hypothermia, but thankfully it never got THAT bad. I had my thermal and rain gear on, though I should have worn my rain pants. But still, I got soaked. By the time I finished the day’s hike, my socks were drenched, my shirt was wet, and my pants were soaked through, and I was cold.

Kepler Track Day Two-2

Most of the alpine trek was not TOO difficult physically for most of the way. There were some significant ascents, but they were mirrored by descents and flat spots. However, by the time I hit Hanging Valley Shelter (over three hours into the hike), I was officially over it. By that point, I was really starting to feel the rain and cold, and the path got rockier, muddier, and more uneven (a recipe for me falling on my cold ass). I was never so happy to reach the bush line. Yes, it was still raining, but at least the water fell directly on my head, rather than lashing harshly against me.

The frigid wind died down, and the temperature went up a few degrees. So I was able to go from miserable to just uncomfortable. The trail dropped, seemingly endlessly through the bush. The beech tree forest was lovely to behold as were the natural waterfalls cascading down from all the recent rain, and the raging river.The walk seemed interminable and I was passed left and right by tall Middle Earth elves, and I trudged along on my short hobbit legs. At this point, I just wanted it to be over for the day and kept wondering when the hut would come into sight.

Eventually the forest opened up, the birds and the angels started singing, and a halo of light shone down on the hut. At last! I had warmth and dryness and semi-comfort. It was practically heaven-sent. I actually wasn’t in a lot of physical pain from the trek, because it wasn’t that difficult (except for a few, steep, rocky ascents), but mentally I was done and just wanted to snuggle up something (or preferably someone) warm, soft and dry.

Kepler Track Day One- Te Anau to Luxmore Hut

Kepler Track Day One-7

Once again, I was up early. Not at dawn, because that was shortly after 0500 this time of year, but early enough. Today was my first day of hiking the Kepler Track, the last of my multi-day tramps in New Zealand. This hikes starts and ends in the town of Te Anau, a small town on the edge of Lake Te Anau and Fiordland National Park. The park is the largest national park in New Zealand that takes up a decent chunk of the South Island. I knew I wanted to do a Fiordland-based hike, and was drawn to the Kepler Track for a variety of reasons. First, it is not as popular, nor as regulated as the Milford Track, which is both (and apparently part of the Milford Track was closed during this period due to heavy rains, so extra bonus). I did want to do a hike that involved some alpine hiking, and the Kepler Track is well-setup as a loop track, and came highly recommended for its scenic beauty.

Kepler Track Day One-1

Kepler Track is designed to be a 61 kilometer, four day hike. However, you can combine the third day of the hike and half of the fourth day’s hike (like I did) and leave the track at Rainbow Swing Bridge. This track, unlike the other two I did, has about a day’s worth of walking in an alpine environment, and the first night’s stay at Luxmore Hut is well above the bush line with panoramic views of Lake Te Anau, the Te Anau basin, and the surrounding mountains.

Kepler Track Day One-2

I started the trek at the Department of Conservation Visitor’s Center right on the shores of Lake Te Anau. The first four kilometers of the walk was right along the lake, and in fact, you can get transport to the Kepler carpark where the trail officially starts. But since I was cutting out the last 9.5 kilometers of the fourth day of the track, I figured I would make up a little of that distance by walking to the track start point.

Kepler Track Day One-3

The first two and a half hours of the day’s hike to Brod Bay campsite is flat and well-benched through a beech and fern-laden forest. The walk was easy, gentle and peaceful, since I pretty much had the trail to myself. From Brod Bay, the track started to ascend. What I liked about the track is that most of the ascent was not super steep, but gradual. Make no mistake though, it was not a stroll in the park, because I gained 800 meters of altitude in around three hours of walking time.

Kepler Track Day One-4

All the tall, thin and fit trampers (think of them as the Elves of Middle Earth) passed me early and I was left to myself and the quiet of the forest. In my head, I looked like a fat little Hobbit waddling up the track with my big pack on my back and two walking sticks. At least I did go faster than the suggested journey time, so that felt good. For this part of the journey, the trail was mostly well-maintained, though there were some definite muddy spots.

Kepler Track Day One-5

After about two hours of hiking slowly, but steadily uphill, I hit the limestone bluffs, which are ancient remnants when this part of the track was under the sea millions of years ago.

Kepler Track Day One-6

Less than an hour after passing the bluffs, I hit the bush line and was rewarded with spectacular views of the Te Anau basin, Lake Manapouri and surrounding mountains. Since I was ahead of schedule, and had less than 45 minutes of walking left, I figured this was a great spot for a lunch break.

Kepler Track Day One-8

Kepler Track Day One-12

The rest of the hike was along a windswept ridge line out in the open. Here, the wind gusts were rather rough and chilly at times. Taking in all the scenery, I occasionally felt like I was in Lord of the Rings, hiking to Mordor with the Fellowship. Overall, the hike was a bit easier than I thought it would be, considering the altitude gain was the greatest of the hikes I’ve done in New Zealand. Maybe I was a bit fitter after a couple weeks in country. Maybe it was the steady but generally not TOO steep track. In either case, I made it, and I had all afternoon to relax, read a book, take in the gorgeous view and listen to the wind rattling outside.

Kepler Track Day One-9

Kepler Track Day One-13

I could feel the alpine chill and had to put on my thermals. The hut was buzzing with activity of the 50 people staying there that night. All around me, I saw groups of people making food to enjoy, talking, playing cards. I either watched them from a dispassionate distance or listened in to select conversations for the hell of it, when I wasn’t engrossed in my book. When the only activity planned for the day was a walk, that left hours and hours of daylight to contemplate. There was no beach like at Abel Tasman, and the sharp alpine wind and occasional rain discouraged wandering about outside. It was just too much of a production to put all my clothes and boots on, only to be harassed by the cold, rain and wind, when I had a perfectly fine view from the large windows in the common area. I already finished one book and decided to save the next book for the next day’s afternoon at the hut. There was no Internet, and not much else to do after dark, but take a well-earned deep sleep. I had hoped for clear skies to enjoy the stars in that isolated environment, but it was not to be. I just hoped that the weather held out for the next day’s hike during the exposed alpine crossing.

Kepler Track Day One-10