Kepler Track

My new favourite book…

untitled1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die. This book is going to become the Bible of my life, I can tell. It’s the size of a couple of heavy bricks, so I won’t actually be taking it on any of the walks, but I am in love nonetheless.

It’s gratifying to see that I’ve done a small amount already! I did the King Ludwig Way in Germany with a German friend some years ago (we went to a Star Trek convention and then went walking), and there’s a handful I’ve already done here in New Zealand. Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and Kepler, and Milford, which are three of NZ’s nine Great Walks. I’ve also done bits of Te Araroa, the long pathway running down the length of the country. It’ll probably take me years to finish, but finishing TA is on my bucket list.

Also in NZ, I’ve done part of the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, though I had to abandon it halfway through when I fell down a bank and broke my arm. I’ve also done the Tongariro Crossing (the finest walk I’ve ever been on) which isn’t in 1001 Walks but is a day in the Northern Crossing, which is. Similarly, I’ve done the Rakiura Track on Steward Island, which isn’t listed but is four days on North West Circuit of the island, which is.

And I’ve visited Petra, in Jordan, where I spent less than an hour on one of the trails, the one going in, and all of that time I was ignoring everything about me in a desperate attempt to get into Petra itself, so I’m not really counting that one. I really want to go back for the much longer day walk.

So I’ve got incentive for some return trips. Of course there’s 1001 walks in this book so the likelihood of my completing them all is very slim. And that’s alright, because on a flick through I saw a page about a Chinese plank walk, and Hell No. I am not shuffling along that ridiculously high, ridiculously thin trail even if they do strap me on with a harness. Also, the happy predictions on some of the American walks: “If you’re lucky you’ll see a bear!”

I don’t want to see a bear. Not when I’m walking. Those fuckers eat people. You know what I could do against a bear? NOTHING. No thank you.

So with these torpedoing any possibility of completion, I feel free to skim through and pick out the walks which I want to do most.

Even then there’s far too many.

Current Count: 997 Walks to Experience Before I Die.

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Rainbow Reach

The last day of Kepler Track, and I’m heading for Rainbow Reach, just a couple of hours away, in order to catch the shuttle bus back into Te Anau (where the hot showers are, and I can’t wait).

It’s more beech forest on the way out to Rainbow Reach – not that I’m complaining, mind you – and also some wetlands, with a boardwalk over 5 metres of moss, which was pretty cool. It was an interesting change of pace scenery-wise. Just over an hour later, I came to Rainbow Reach, and the big swing bridge there. I love those things – like suspension bridges, but when you jump on them (and I always do) they swing and bounce. They make some people quite nervous, but I’ve liked them ever since I was a kid – just what you’re used to, I guess.

A quick ride into town later, and I was done with Kepler. I enjoyed it, but parts were bloody hard work. I don’t remember Milford Track being this tough, though maybe I’m more unfit now than I was then. Either way, it was a little bit of a shock to look up at Mount Luxmore from Lake Te Anau (it’s that triangle peeking up from behind the hills) and realise that it looks a lot shorter from down here… it didn’t feel short climbing up it!

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Moturau and Manapouri

After a very long day yesterday (although I was surprised and pleased to find that there were two girls even slower than I was, hooray!) I had a nice long sleep-in at Iris Burn Hut this morning. Then, plastering my blisters, I set off on what would be a day of comparative ease – six hours of bushwalking through to Manapouri Lake and Moturau Hut.

For once, my legs agreed with DOC’s estimate. Going along the flat, through lovely beech forest, I’m fairly speedy; it’s only on the big hill stretches (and both up and down have their own special little tortures) that I go all tortoise-like.

I didn’t take many good photos today, though. The weather forecast had come in at 8.30am, and it was continuous showers that would turn to full-bore rain early-to-mid afternoon. So I threw on my pack (feeling lighter as the days go by, all the food being eaten as I go and I’m just not that hungry anymore anyway) and try and make Moturau before the storm hits.

Which I do, by about ten minutes. Good timing, eh? At least the rain put paid to the sandflies, bloodthirsty little buggers.

Moturau is on the edge of Lake Manapouri, which is apparently quite nice to swim in, though I was too lazy and comfortable inside to go and get all wet.

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Climbing Mount Luxmore

The second day doing Kepler Track, and this was the day I was most looking forward to – the alpine ridge section between Mount Luxmore and Iris Burn Huts. Luckily it was a very nice day, as the track can be hell in high winds and rain (people having to crawl along ridgelines with sheer drops either side).

But first, it was more uphill, as I wound along the hillside getting closer to the top of Mount Luxmore. More hills – you can imagine how pleased I was. Still, at least it was in the open so I could see where I was going, unlike yesterday’s forest hike. The track lay clear ahead, and the views down towards one of the arms of Te Anau lake were stunning.

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Eventually I reached the point where you get to turn off the track and take a quick side trip up to Mount Luxmore’s top. I scrambled to the top, and was quite impressed with myself – I’m really not very good with heights, and there was a strong wind near the summit that didn’t help matters. I stayed long enough to take a photo and then got down as quickly as I could.

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From here, it was mostly sidling along hillsides for a couple of hours, trying to walk daintily in clumping great boots through an avalanche zone. There were a couple of avalanche shelters along the way, where I stopped to have some chocolate and laugh at the keas (trying desperately to steal another tramper’s socks).

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Once I hit the ridgeline, it was a fairly easy walk, with fantastic views, until I hit the zig-zag from hell – a steep, endless, rocky downhill track that turned my knees and ankles to jelly. I was very, very glad to get my sunburnt self to Iris Burn Hut.

Though it could have been worse. Robbie, the Hut Ranger, had some stories to tell about the alpine section that were a little hair-raising. Not too long ago he’d been helping a school group over it in absolutely awful weather – one poor girl was so terrified she was huddled in a foetal position on the track and refusing to move. At least those of us sharing the hut had had good weather – Robbie had heard from Jeff over the radio, and the people walking a day behind us were not so lucky – it was so wet and windy at Luxmore that the entire hut was shaking.

I’m so very glad I missed that.

Tackling the Kepler

Off today to do the Kepler Track. This is the second of the Great Walks I’ve tried – I walked Milford Track several years back, and coincidentally they both start in the small Fiordland town of Te Anau.

After picking up my hut tickets from DOC (the Department of Conservation, who run the huts, and who sensibly insist that you book for the Great Walks) I headed off with my pack, which was stuffed with dehydrated meals and as light as I could make it (not nearly light enough).

It’s a 45 minute walk round Lake Te Anau to the Control Gates, where the Kepler starts. The Gates are part of a hydroelectric power scheme and help regulate the water heading down to Lake Manapouri.

The Kepler starts off easy enough – a one and a half hour walk along the lake, through lowland beech and podocarp forests, along to Brod Bay. I really enjoyed this, as beech forests (I’m talking Nothofagus, the southern beech, here, rather than the Fagus genus found in the northern hemisphere) are my very favourite type of forest. This was mostly red and mountain beech, with a few ferns and lots of moss.

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And lots of sandflies, but they can’t keep up with you enough to bite as long as you’re moving, so I left Brod Bay fairly quickly and came to what I was to later hear described as the Luxmore Grunt.

Three hours uphill, or so DOC describes it. That bloody slog took me five. Alright, so I’m not very fit, and alright, so elderly people were passing me every other minute (I swear they’re not just getting hip replacements; there’s some serious bionics going on in there somewhere). A long hard hike up to the bushline – light rain, but at least it kept me from getting too hot. Ten minutes prior to stumbling out of the forest and into the light, I came across Ranger Jeff from Luxmore Hut, out doing track maintenance with his shovel. He told me that it was only a few minutes further up to the bushline, and luckily for him he was telling the truth or I would have gone back and visited hell on him and the next seven generations of his family. Bloody hills.

After breaking out into tussockland, it was another (and comparatively easy) 45 minutes until my first night’s stop at Luxmore Hut. And was I ever pleased to see it.

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