Known for its diverse landscape and beautiful mountains, the Kepler Track was our 2nd Great Walk adventure to tackle. A 60km loop and 1450m at its peak, we started our 4 day trek on a beautiful sunny morning. Our friend Ryan (who we met on the Abel Tasman) met us in Te Anau and started the trek with us as well.
The first day was a mild, flat path that took us along a fast flowing river, through the rainforest of moss covered trees and ferns. The forest floor was covered in a bright green moss that spread as far as the eye could see
|Excited to start the track lined with a beautiful green moss carpet|
Making good time, we made it to the Moturau Hut in 4 hours with plenty of sunlight left in the day. A cozy 2 story hut on the edge of a beautiful lake, we stashed our bags and headed towards the beach. Despite not packing suits, Jordan still made the plunge in his boxers, allowing the freezing lake water to sooth his tired muscles.
As we settled in to make some dinner, a number of other groups arrived at the hut, on the same journey as us for the next 4 days. We met a group from Tasmania – Max, Michelle, Grant and Stacy – here for a couple weeks to do some treks and experience Queenstown. A sweet family from Dunedin, with two young girls on their first overnight stay at a hut, were the entertainment for the evening with their witty sibling banter and cute Kiwi accents.
|Playing Uno with Mila & J the sweet Dunedin girls|
Jordan and I usually bring meals like pasta, soup and rice to cook on our Trangia stove, but since we’ve been having trouble finding a clean burning fuel that doesn’t leave black soot all over the pots, we opted for the freeze dried BackPackers meals that are popular in New Zealand.
|Delicious freeze dried camping meals|
Surprisingly really delicious, we enjoyed a Thai Curry Chicken meal by just boiling water and sealing it in the ziplock bag for 10 mins (which also turned into a bowl to eat out of). After seeing a number of people with a ‘Jet Boil’ – a compact stove, extremely efficient at boiling water within 2 mins, we decided that would be our first purchase when we got back.
Into the evening, Jordan, Ryan and I played Pig – a version of Hearts with a few more rules and the looser has to find the Queen of Spades with their nose. As we curled up around the fire, we chatted more with the family from Dunedin and the group from Tasmania.
|Ryan loosing PIG against – nosing through the deck to find the Queen of Spades|
Up early to get on the track, we set out for the Iris Burn hut. The track was fairly even and passed over dried up rivers and through mountain valleys. A section of the track – Big Slip – was formed in 1984 when a significant amount of rain fell, creating a massive landslide, taking out the valley below. Creating a beautiful valley terrain, we saw waterfalls that fell from the mountains and evaporated into the air, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
|Walking through Big Slip|
As we arrived at the Iris Burn Hut (just 4.5hrs later) we were greeted by a large Sambar deer (which looks like a shaggy deer with antlers). He was a beautiful creature, but looked like he had been punched in the face, as his jaw was a bit skewed to one side.
Another large 2-story hut, we settled in and enjoyed the beautiful mountain view. As the rest of the groups arrived, we shared stories of our day and got to know one another a bit better. Despite still in the winter season, the hut got quite busy with trampers coming down the mountain from the night before, and those choosing the 3-day option coming directly from the furthest carpark. We met a sweet couple, Olivia and Simon, she from Auckland and he from Manchester. They were on a holiday as well, enjoying the trek and heading up the mountain with us the next day.
|Iris Burn Hut nestled in the mountain valley|
We made a quick hike through the forest to a beautiful rushing waterfall where we filled up our waterbottles with the freshest tasting water around. In New Zealand, since they don’t have the number of mammals, or the amount of parasites we do in North America, you can drink the water from most flowing river in New Zealand (but don’t blame me if you get sick :P). Another evening of cards was played around the fire as we swapped travel and adventure stories with the group.
|Jordan & I at the rushing waterfalls near the Iris Burn Hut|
With a big day ahead, we started off early up the mountain with a steep ascent, zigzagging back and forth as we climbed higher and higher. Two hours later we reached the summit with a spectacular 360 view of the mountains around us
|Ryan, Jordan and I at top the mountain ridgeline|
As we made our way along the mountain ridge, we were lucky to have a perfect blue sky day. At times it can get so windy up there people are blown over or are unable to pass, having to take shelter in the emergency huts up along the ridge. We were lucky to have such a perfect day with a view of mountains from all angles.
|Treking along the ridgeline stairs|
|Jordan and I enjoying the beautiful view|
An amazing walk along the ridge, we passed through avalanche areas that had just recently been cleared. With just a bit of snow left, the boys had some fun trekking through it and even sliding down a patch at the top (Jordan managed a bit better than Ryan hehe)
|Ryan and I excited to trek through some snow at the top|
Making a quick detour, we dropped our packs and hiked up to the top of Mount Luxmore to get an eagle eye view of the snow-capped mountains and valley below.
|At top the Mount Luxmore summit with a view of Lake Te Anu|
|Had to do the jumping shot|
After a long 6.5hrs we were extremely happy to see the Luxmore Hut nestled a top the mountain with a view of the lake below. With snow in the forecast, we were happy to get in to the comfort of the warm hut.
|Luxmore Hut overlooking Lake Te Anu|
The Luxmore Caves were just a short hike over the hill and at first appeared to be quite simple and uneventful, so most of us (sore and tired) turned back to the Hut to get dinner started. The explorers, Ryan and Jordan, decided to squeeze their way down the cave, through tight passages almost a kilometer underground, exploring the caves filled with stalagmites and stalactites.
We enjoyed our last night with our Tasmaia group and NZ/Manchester couple, sharing our favorite New Zealand experiences as they planned out the rest of their stay. As we enjoyed our dinner, the snow began to fall, creating a light dusting along the fields and a sharp chill in the air.
|Dusting of snow before sunset at Luxmore Hut|
After a chilly night sleep, we were all up early, eager to reach the carpark and get a real meal in us, so we set off in the early morning sun along the frost tipped fields.
|Beautiful frosty sunrise at Luxmore Hut|
|The crew all set to finish the track together|
With a steep decent ahead of us, I decided to start running down the path as it seemed to be easier on the knees. As I passed Max and Michelle (from Tasmania) they decided to follow along, and before I knew it everyone was running down the path hoping to make it down in record timing.
|Stacy, Michelle, me, Ryan and Max taking a quick break from our sprint down at the limestone rocks|
Luckily the last leg of the hike went by quite quickly, making it to the bottom in only 2hr 45min. As we crossed the finished, we all cheered and celebrated happy to be back. Since we had started the hike at the farthest carpark (not knowing there was one right at the entrance), the Tasmania group offered to give us and the NZ/Manchester couple a lift to our cars.
|The crew happy to be back at the track entrance ready for a real meal|
After saying our good-byes we headed towards to local ‘Dairy’ (convenience store here) that had a small take-out place attached and devoured a greasy fish n chips and litre of milk. Great way to end another Great Walk!
Read Jordan’s perspective to see more photos inside the Luxmore Cave.
Check out Episode 17 – Kepler Track