The first day was quite tough because it mostly uphill and our bags were quite heavy. We took it slowly and steadily though through gorgeous 'land before time’ type forest, and it was really rewarding when we broke through the tree line for amazing panoramic views across the Kepler mountain range and back over Te Anau
. We made it to the first overnight hut in good time and we were really proud of us for making it without any arguments or tears! The huts on the Great Walks and in other places around New Zealand are managed by DOC (Department of Conservation) and are really great. They have big bunk rooms, kitchen areas and if our trek was anything to go by they make an effort to put them in stunning locations – not that it’s hard to do that here! In the summer they even have flush toilets and cooking facilities. We however were walking in the winter season so there were no cooking facilities and had to use the compost loo! No bother, it saved us $35 per day each to do it in winter! When we arrived at Luxmore hut we dropped our bags and headed out again to do a little side walk to Luxmore Cave. We went in a little way until it was pitch black, but it got very cramped quite quickly and we both got a little claustrophobic so left. We did get to see some impressive stalactites though which were cool. Back at the hut and we joined all the other ‘trampers’ in the kitchen to cook on our hired gas stove. I say cook but we had bought freeze-dried meals from the camping shop so it was really just boiling water. The food was actually quite tasty. Can’t say the same about the squeezy coffee but at least we managed to get some caffeine! In true camping style we headed to bed at 7.30pm.
We woke up on day 2 at about 7am and realised we’d had about 11 hours of sleep
! Everyone else was already up and all but one group had already left! Didn’t bother us and we just had breakfast slowly and waited until the fog lifted before leaving. Almost all the second day is walking up mountains and across saddles with spectacular views so there was nothing to be gained in leaving early and missing it all because of fog. It was tough to start with as it was constant uphill grind and we could see the track weaving across the mountains and see the continuous uphill. It was totally worth the pain though because every step the views were a bit different and equally stunning. After about an hour we came to a little side trip to walk to the summit of Mount Luxmore so we ditched the bags and ran up! We were a little worried about Orcs running off with them but took the risk….. It was worth the side trip because we were rewarded with unobstructed views over all the mountain ranges and lakes. Obviously given the scenery and remoteness we couldn’t help but make the LOTR’s comparisons and we even walked along for a while humming the theme tune. Sad I know! The end of the day was an unrelenting descent which was quite unforgiving on the knees and the quads. It was a never-ending series of zigzags going down and down through beech forest. It was beautiful though and we started to see lots of pretty birds and the odd river view. We eventually reached our second hut, Iris Burn Hut. There was no running water here so we had to go to the river with our billy can and bottles and collect river water
! We’re hard core trampers now! The hut was in a lovely setting with the mountains looming over head; unfortunately it was ruined by hundreds of swarming sand flies, that give the itchiest bites ever as we found out. Needless to say we didn’t stay outside taking in the view for long! Again we had a freeze dried dinner and headed to bed by 8pm!
We were up a bit earlier on day 3 and after more squeezy coffee and bread with nutella we were back on the trail. We were back in the beech forests now which after the expansive vistas of the day before were a bit of a let-down. Still a really nice walk but the tree view did a get a bit samey. There was one incredible break from it when we passed through the area known as the ‘Big Slip’. A massive landslide in the 80’s swept across the valley floor and flattened a huge area of the forest. The path goes straight through this and the tree life still hasn’t recovered. The huge expanse of moss covered boulders and shrubs is really cool. The legs were hurting today after all the downhill the day before especially my (Kevin) knees. It was a pretty flat day but any up and down was a killer. We soldiered on though and made such good time we got to the next hut in time for lunch. The Moturau hut is on the banks of Lake Manapouri and after lunch we took a walk around the lake to Shallow Bay for some really cool views of the mountains over the lakes
. There was a small hut there with about 6 beds which would be really nice to stay in but we hadn’t brought our bags so we headed back to ours for a dinner of bread and cheese!
Day 4 was a little bit more of the same in terms of beech forest and birdsong. It is possible to do the track in 3 days and you just go another hour past the last hut on the 3rd day and exit there. A lot of people do this but we felt you haven’t really done the track if you don’t go all the way around. It’s probably not a bad idea to leave early though because the last day became more about getting to the end than enjoying the walk, and when the start point finally came into view we were happy enough to be done. We were pretty proud of ourselves having made it and were fairly surprised how easy we found it, even with the bags on our backs. Definitely up for more of the same in the future.
That night we cooked a big meal in the campsite, had very long hot showers and had a good night’s sleep. Back in the van actually felt like a bit of a downgrade though after the big bunks we had had on the track!
Following the high paced non-stop action of Queenstown we decided to slow things right down and do one of New Zealand's Great Walks. We were a little disorganised having arrived in Te Anu late the day before due to a couple of hangovers from our night out in Queenstown. So we had to get up when it was still dark and rush around packing bags, booking huts on the track and buying/hiring the necessary food and equipment. By 10.30am we were all sorted and at the control gates for the Kepler Track ready to go! The Kepler Track is a 4 day circular track through forest, over mountains and by the river, and we were a little apprehensive having never done a walk where we had to carry everything, including food and stove, before.