The Kepler track is one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’ and it is a beast. We picked up the leaflet for the track on our first day in New Zealand and like all bad ideas, it festered in my brain until I blurted out that we would do it and proceeded to plan it into our itinerary. Only I didn’t go so far as to book huts, with HelpX and a general ambivalence to commiting to anything we are never really sure what dates we will be anywhere. I watched slowly as the availability of the huts decreased, panic didn’t set in, instead an even worse idea was concocted from the depths of my brain and I decided that we would camp the Kepler. And so that is what we did, Pinion should really learn to kill off my ‘great ideas’ early on. Especially ones where I think walking 70km will be fun.
Day One: Te Anau to Brod Bay (11.3km)
Already tired, drenched in sweat and complaining I looked briefly at my watch. We had been walking for 20 minutes. At this point I should probably have made us return to our car and drive far away from Te Anau and any notion of walking 40 odd miles. We persevered and actually made it to the start of the track without crying. Being on a budget, and much more willing to buy wine than anything sensible, I had made us walk to the start of the track thinking it would only take 20 minutes. It took an hour, turns out it was close to 6km away from town. By the time we reached the control gates we already looked like we had completed the track. We contemplated taking photos and then just hiding in our car for 3 days but instead we set off on the track.
Full of enthusiasm during the early stages:
The journey to Brod Bay is pretty short and didn’t have any of the uphills or switchbacks we would become accustom to over the following three days. The bay itself is beautiful and after quickly setting up our tent we sat and enjoyed the beach for a couple of hours. It was a good start to the trek but our nerves were high as tomorrow was the day of doom. We decided that in a bid to lighten our load we should drink some of our wine, a most sensible decision I am sure you’ll agree!
Day Two: Brod Bay to Iris Burn (22.8km)
This is a day that is normally split in two by those more organised, they sensibly stay in Luxmore Hut which is situated about 4 hours away from Brod Bay and is close to the highest point of the whole track. The morning was spent walking uphill, the many switchbacks bought on much pain which was not eased when people of the sporty variety kept running past us on their weekend runs. The highlight of this time was a group of lads playing Kung Fu Fighting on their march down the hill. Other than that is was mainly sweat and swear words. The relief we felt as we broke out of the forest and into the open was immense. This was probably a little too early to be excited but was still a great moment of the trek.
We marched on the to the Luxmore hut, arriving around 11am but still having 14.6km to go. There was time for a sandwich and a quick chat with some other people also not organised enough to book the hut. At this point we started to notice the frequent helicopter landings close to the hut, we worried that someone was ill or had taken a fall. Our worry was pointless, these flights are in fact tourists who come in and march up the to the summit of Mount Luxmore and stay the night at the hut, they don’t endure the rest of the trek and I enjoyed frowning at them a lot especially when one commented on me going a bit slow (Surely if the DOC can build a helipad at the hut they could also build a slightly sheltered campsite?).
When we set off there were many protests from my legs, but we wanted to reach the summit of Mount Luxmore before heading off along the ridges that the Kepler track is so famous for.
Mount Luxmore peaks at the not so staggering 1472m, it was the first proper mountain either of us had climbed and is 100m higher than Ben Nevis. It was a bit of a scramble to reach the top, made worse by me losing the route and taking an invented one. Still it was a worthwhile detour and we got this lovely photo of us taken:
Just before Mt Luxmore and on the ridges between the 2 emergencies shelters was pretty blustery. I lost yet another pair of sunglasses by having them blow off my head and we cursed the weights of our bags when the wind picked up. Still it was a great day to make this section of the walk, there were few clouds in the sky and you could see all the lakes and mountains around.
Signs of doom:
From Hanging Valley down to Iris Burn the Kepler track nearly broke me. We ended up walking with a few other people, who had a pace much slower than us on the downhill. We are by no means fast walkers but these guys took it to a new level. By this point my toe was killing me (I think it is going to fall off – I promise not to ever share photos), my usually comfortable boots were causing unbearable pain with each step and I just wanted to be in our tent. The endless switchbacks were killing everyone’s knees and feet. We were all a little grumpy. Eventually we made it, stumbling upon the hut at first and then wandering in through to the campsite. Pretty much everyone was camping out in the open and so we found a spot in the forest. We became even more grateful for this spot when we met a lovely Israeli couple who lit a fire and joined us on the bench for a chat. The wine kicked in quickly and an early night called. At some point during the night the rain started. The rain that did not go away.
Day Three: Iris Burn to Shallow Bay (17.2km)
This day was not our favourite. The epic views from the previous day were not recreated and this is probably the one section that I really felt dragged on and on. Most of our time was spent under forests, dampening the views but saving us slightly from the rain. There was an awesome land slip that set us out into the open but the rain stopped us from stopping for many photo breaks. The last official hut ($54 a night) on the track is Motorau Hut and this like all the others was fully booked in advance, we were not in the best moods as we trudged on past it. By the end of the day we were sodden and were grateful for the fire in the Shallow Bay Hut.
Loving the rain:
Shallow Bay? Where is it and why is it not on the Kepler track map? It is situated about 35 minutes away from Motorau Hut and is on lake Manapouri. I’m not quite sure why it isn’t marked as an official campground, maybe because it is a bit of a detour away from the main track (15 minutes or so). You can camp here for free or pay $5 per night to stay in the hut where there is a fire and the most ferocious mosquitoes I have ever met (your tent is a better option).
Day Four: Shallow Bay to Te Anau (19.2km)
The mosquitoes prevented us from getting more than an hours sleep so we were up at the break of dawn, stuffing our still damp backpacks with our still damp clothes and grumbling a fair bit. Once we were on the move things brightened up. This last bit of the track looks very flat on the elevation profile but it still had a couple of switchbacks both up and down that made sure we new we were still on one of the ‘Great Walks’. The forest turned a bit boggy, which was nice and soft to walk along.
Leaving Shallow Bay Hut:
Seeing the control gates was probably the best we felt in days. We limped on through to them and I dumped my bag and Pinion at the car park (sometimes I feel bad for being so frugal so went alone for those last 5.7km).
Showers, pizza and cider followed in what was a great but very sleepy evening.