The Kepler track is one of the Great Walks in New Zealand. It’s a total of 60km in a loop near Te Anau, which can me hiked in 3-4 days. Since it’s highly popular, I booked the huts three months ago, where they already were about to be sold out. Each hut is 130 dollars, which is quite expensive – combined with the length of the track I have planned to make it in 3 days.
I drive to the Kepler car park, and the start is with rainy weather – I have prepared for such, but not ideal to start in rain. The first hour is through forest along the lake Te Anau, where I then come to a shelter. I continue, and from here the trek starts to ascent for the next couple of hours. I meet the Ranger for Luxmore Hut (where I’m going) and we follow a part of the trek together. She is going for 8 days at the hut, and then has 6 days off. On the tour we get very close to the parrots, Kea, and can see that one of them is tagged with a ‘+/-‘ sign. After 3 hours I reach the bush line, and the rain reduces but still cloudy and grey.
The Luxmore Hut is larger than I expected and laying surrounded by this mountain landscape with a view to lake Te Anau and Te Anau on the other side. I’m considering paying the Luxmore caves a visit, which are very close to the hut, but first I would like to get rid of the backpack and check-in in the hut. There are two rooms with bunks in two levels, I pick the top. There are already many people in the hut, and lots of cookers heating water for warm drinks and food. I speak with two friends from Checz Republic. They have recently arrived to New Zealand and already done the Routeburn trek – in two days. They have quite some experience from hiking e.g. Mount Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro and one of them has also been to Patagonia. The ranger explains about rules and awareness in the huts, animals, weather forecast, and we end up singing a song she has written.
It’s raining from the morning and views are to different tones of grey. We get an updated weather forecast at 8:30am, and it only states 5mm of rain for the day and 60km/h wind – does not sound too bad. I skip the Luxmore caves to get started – in rain, wind, and hail the interest for small detours is not high. Especially day two (today) should be the best in the Kepler track, so unfortunate with this weather. I don’t get a single photo taken but can see why this day is the most popular since we walk on the mountain ridges with grey views to surrounding mountains, small waterfalls, and gulfs and valleys below us. I’m happy for my sun hat with large shadow, which can bend to protect the face from the incoming hail and rain at high speed. We all arrive completely soaked – not a dry spot left, and hiking shoes full of water. No performance shells, Goretex or other equipment can handle this much rain. I’m happy for the sturdy plastic bag I used inside my backpack and for the different separate drybacks. We have for sure got much more than the predicted 5mm rain.
I walked together with Peter from Germany, but we do not speak much in this weather – can not hear each other. We did the hike to Irishburn Hut in 3h:45m. Peter is from Germany and I met him yesterday in the Luxmore Hut, where we together with Ann from US tried to stitch a puzzle of 500 pieces – but too much light-blue sky and dark-blue water, so we did not complete it. Peter plays the French horn in an orchestra – he has 25 years experience! He has taken a half year off to experience New Zealand, where he both travels and helps friends at a farm. Peter is very interested in farming and has recently bought a 250 years old thatched house with hens and geese. He also makes honey, so he has been to such a farm in New Zealand to see how it’s done here – apparently with much more chemicals than we are allowed to use in Europe. After New Zealand, Peter is thinking of going to Switzerland to learn how to make goat cheese in a monastery.
In the evening we play cards with a kiwi couple – Dutch is the name of the game, which is quite fun. Most of us plan to do the Kepler track in 3 days, but some will also do it in 4 days. However, Keiton from Canada who is also part of the card game is doing the 60km in two days. Each year there is a one-day Kepler track run where the record is impressive 4h:33m.
The day starts in rain (again), so on with the shell layers and boots again, which have not dried up from yesterday. It’s however not too big of a problem, when one can stay warm – which was also not a problem yesterday. Todays weather forecast is “Periods with rain” but with no further details – hey, I could also become a meteorologist. After roughly 1 hour it starts to clear up. The rest of the hike is through forest with few streams to pass. There is especially one which is tricky due to all the rain and flooding from yesterday. There is first a 5m long bridge which is fine, but then different logs are thrown into the water to pass the last 5m. I hear from others that several persons have fall-in today, because the logs are not supported and one looses the balance. I get advice in how to pass the logs, and I also help a couple over. Later up the hike I speak with the ranger from Moturau Hut and explains about the problem – which he apparently is aware of, but he can do nothing, not even report it further. After the hike I go to the DOC tourist information in Te Anau to make a written complaint about this unsafe crossing.
For another time, I would not book such a several days Great Walk in such a rainy place. Instead, one could wait for decent weather and then do a day hike. One could easily get to Luxmore Hut and the ridge towards Irishburns Hut and back in one day – this is anyways the most spectacular views.
I drive to Invercargill which is down south. The terrain becomes very flat (almost like Denmark) in the last part of the drive. The city is also on a very flat plateau with wide 2 lane (in each direction) roads – seems to be carved out of a chess board. I do not see an obvious city center in my walk, but the Queens Park is a nice 81ha large park with golf course. Besides in the park and golf course, I do not see people walking around in the city – seems like transport is only by car, which there are also rather few of.