Kepler Track 45:24.84S, 167:42.58E
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks it is a 60km circular walk in Fiordland starting close to Te Anau. It can be walked in either direction, we chose anticlockwise, this way most of the height gain is spread over two days. Clockwise you get it in one day which also includes the Alpine Section. We started from the Control Gates at the outlet from Lake Te Anau with a gentle walking through beech forest to Brod Bay shelter and a short rest, made even shorter than intended as we were immediately attacked by sand flies. The track now climbs for about 800 metres over the next 6km, before it clears the bush line and you have the final 2km to Mount Luxmore Hut (1085m) with views down to Lake Te Anau and across to the Murchison Mountains
Through Beech Forest to Brod Bay
Once clear of the bushline the views open up, looking down on Lake Te Anau
Mount Luxmore Hut and a view across to the Murchison Mountains
The huts on the Great Walks have a resident warden, gas cookers and flush toilets, quite luxurious compared to some mountain huts and shelters. The warden is in phone or radio contact with the local DOC (Department of Conservation) office and is able to provide fairly up to date weather forecasts and information on conditions to be expected.
This was the early forecast for our second day of walking, but by Saturday morning it had changed to less severe winds 60-80kph changing to SW and decreasing about midday, with snow to 1000m.
The Kea is an Alpine Parrot found only in New Zealand, very inquisitive and intelligent, they will steal anything that they can fly off with it even opening rucksack pockets to find what is inside. One group left their rucksacks while they walked up Mt Luxmore and a Kea opened a pocket and stole an Ipod, it was seen flying off with it!
Close to the Mt Luxmore are some caves which are easily accessed and provide an excuse for an evening walk to stretch your legs, a single passage winds into the hillside for about 1km with some good calcite formations. We only went in about 100m.
Calcite formations in Mt Luxmore Caves
The warden gives a talk in the evening along with checking that she has the expected people in the hut who have all booked and paid, explains the hut rules and updates the weather forecast. The first nights talk was about stoat trapping. New Zealand was a predator free island which enabled birds to develop which had no means to escape ie. the flightless Kiwi and Weka. Stoats are one of the main predators in this area and will not only eat eggs but kill off chicks in the nest. There are stoat traps all of the way along the Kepler Track.
With 40 people sleeping in bunk accommodation the huts could be noisy but by 9 or 10 pm everyone is in bed and silent, the provision of solar lights in the main room/ kitchen area which go out at 10 encourages this.
On Saturday we set out at 10.00, it was about 2hrs walk to the more open areas of the ridge and hopefully the wind would die down before we were too far into that section.
Ready to go
Out on the ridge
The way ahead
Forest Burn emergency shelter, about 1/3 of the way along todays walk
The wind was strong and gusty at first and we were frequently blown sideways across the track. It peaked just as we got in sight of the Forest Burn shelter and we were happy to make use of it to get out of the wind and have a snack. Then as forecast at 12.00 midday the wind dropped and the weather changed completely for a while.
Loo with a view at Forest Burn.
The ridge continues toward the next shelter
We had views down to Lake Te Anau most of the day. It is the second largest lake in New Zealand – this arm is called South Fjord
The afternoon weather was an improvement but still with strong winds and by the time we reached Hanging Valley emergency shelter (at 1390m, close to our highest point) we had the promised white stuff, a bit of gentle sleet. Then at the hut we saw our second Kea, the first had been flying and moving fast but the second was happy to be more inquisitive and pose for photos.
Hanging valley shelter in a light sleet shower
and an inquisitive Kea. When they open their wings they are a brilliant orange underneath. This one refused to cooperate.
The route from here is down all the way to the Iris Burn hut, a descent of around 1,000m, first along a ridge and then zig zagging down through the bush and forest. By this stage we were both using walking poles to save our knees and backs. We are usually faster than the predicted time on these tracks but this section took us the full 2hrs.
Leaving Hanging Valley the path stretches out ahead.
Arriving at Iris Burn we were mobbed by sand flies again and hurried to get inside, this is a low level hut and near water so not surprising the flies are there. 20 minutes up the valley from Iris Burn hut is a waterfall and the pool below it is a good place to see Whio ducks an endangered species and also along this track at dusk Kiwi’s are seen, unfortunately neither were seen by us.
Sunday’s walk looked on the map to be quite simple a descent of the Iris Burn valley to Lake Manapouri what wasn’t obvious were the few steep ascents and descents along the way. I think we could have enjoyed it if we hadn’t already been tired from the last days descent. It was partly alongside the river through Beech forest but climbs a low saddle and then around a gorge to finally come out on the lake shore in total 20 km according to GPS not the 16km in the description. Again the hut was clean and comfortable but we were plagued outside by sand flies which seem to be only around the hut itself, down on the beach there were very few.
Some people miss out this hut and continue on for another 6km to Rainbow Reach where you can exit the trail and get transport back to Te Anau. To complete the walk means following the river which joins the two lakes, Te Anau and Manapouri, back to the Control gate where we started. This is what we intended to do. We had a pick up arranged for 3.00pm so Monday was a leisurely start for the final 16km day and compared to the last three was a really enjoyable stroll along an undulating forest track. We phoned and rearranged the pick up for an hour earlier as we made such good time.
Forest track to Lake Te Anau
All in all a challenging but enjoyable few days. Back at the campsite we were able to relax in a Hot Tub for just an extra $30!
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