Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Kepler Track

I've just returned from Spring Break, and I have quite a lot to share with you! I rented a car with my friends Emma, Sammy and Matt, and we set off early on the morning of August 25th toward Te Anau. Te Anau is a beautiful, small Fiordland town situated around a lake, and is home to the Kepler New Zealand Great Walk. These Great Walks are incredibly well-maintained trails around the country that are wildly popular with kiwis and tourists alike in season; in the winter, though, we were pretty much the only ones crazy enough to be out on the trail! We were almost deterred by the weather (it was pouring on Saturday), but we awoke to a fine day on Sunday and decided to set out anyway. This turned out to be a wonderful decision - we saw three rainbows on Sunday and had great weather all four days (with one small exception, but I'll talk about that later!).

Our first day began with a quiet walk through a forest along the lake, and turned into a gradual path up the mountain. Honestly, tramping uphill is not my favorite, and I struggled with it (especially with my heavy pack), but I was able to take small rest breaks, and we eventually made it up above the brushline. Our efforts were rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains! We soon made it to Luxmore Hut (which we had to ourselves for the night), where we quickly dropped off our packs and then went to check out the Luxmore Caves nearby. That night, we made a delicious meal of pasta and lentils, and pulled mattresses into the main room to sleep by the fire. It was quite cozy.

the forest trail
view from the trail above the brushline
Luxmore Hut - our home for the first night
Luxmore Caves - it was pitch black inside, and we had to climb over and around the stream and many rock formations inside!
We awoke the next morning to a surprise - a fine coating of snow on the mountain around us! As we were packing up, three runners passed through the hut. They were on a "casual training run" up to Mt. Luxmore peak, according to their entry in the hut logbook. What exactly were the training for?! (Because running up a mountain seems like a hard enough task in itself!)

We soon set off on the trail, which continued uphill into deeper snow. We decided to climb up to Mt. Luxmore summit, which was only a small detour off the track. Around that time it began to snow again, and when combined with the mountain wind, it was quite chilly up there, to say the least! We wanted to keep moving in order to stay warm, so we headed to the first emergency shelter along the path to eat lunch. By the time we were done, the weather had cleared up a bit, and we were able to continue on the path to the second hut. There we met another group of Otago students, who were hiking the trail in the opposite direction (I must say, I'm glad we had our hard uphill day at the beginning and got it over with!). Once again, we spent a cozy night in the hut. I slept very well - tramping is incredibly tiring!

Mt Luxmore summit (1472 m)
our snowy trail through the clouds

our descent back down into the snowy forest
We began the third day by checking out the waterfall near Iris Burn Hut, and then tramped to the next hut along the trail, which was right on the edge of the lake. Emma, Matt and Sammy took a refreshing dip while I soaked my sore feet in the cold water. We had that hut to ourselves, and once again slept in the main room next to the fire. The third and fourth days were both mostly forest scenery, with a bit of wetlands.

the waterfall by Iris Burn Hut

our buddy Oscar, a friendly bird who helped us eat lunch on the trail one day
the lakefront by Moturau Hut
wetlands scenery
The track was incredible, and offered spectacular views of many different kinds of scenery. My only complaint for the trip is about my interactions with the sandflies. They are the worst. They are small, fast black flies that come in huge swarms, and their bites draw blood and turn into itchy scabs. If you think mosquitoes are bad, then you do not want to encounter sandflies. My hands, ankles and neck are still covered in bites even a week later! I guess a place this stunningly beautiful can't be perfect, or else everyone would live there!

So this concludes the first half of my Spring Break. I still have a lot to tell, but I'll save that for a later post!

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