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The Kepler Track 1

2010 July 26
by rob

February 27, 2009

It was time to begin my final, and longest, tramp in New Zealand: the Kepler Track. Like the Routeburn Track, this trek involved tramping above the tree line in the mountains. I knew that this trek was going to be good. Most people that I talked to spoke very highly of it.

I borrowed this map from the New Zealand Department of Conservation brochure for this tramp:

Kepler Track Map

Kepler Track Map (click to see full size)

The start of this tramp is located just across the lake from the town of Te Anau itself, and is only a few kilometers walk away. However, Bob (the owner of the backpackers hostel) offered to drive me to the start. After stuffing my extra stuff in the corner of his garage, he drove me down there. Since this track is one of the major tourist activities in this area, I’m sure that he does this kind of thing all the time.

The weather was perfect as Bob dropped me off near the gates for the little dam that controls the water level of Lake Te Anau. I walked through mossy forest on the shores of the lake while the occasional forest pigeon noisily flapped its way through the trees above.

After a couple hours I had my lunch on a picnic table near the beach at Brod Bay. The sandflies were out in force, however, and I didn’t linger there before beginning the biggest climb of the whole tramp. It took me a few hours to ascend the 883 meters to the Luxmore Hut at an altitude of 1085 meters. That’s a lot less than the altitude of Mount Ollivier and its famous Mueller Hut. The hut was still above the tree line, and the views were still astounding! When it comes to hiking in the mountains, this type of scenery is exactly what I’m looking for:

On the way to the Luxmore Hut

On the way to the Luxmore Hut

After a 13.8 km walk, I reached the hut. I threw my pack and stuff onto a bunk and took a quick walk in the nearby caves. I didn’t descend very far into the caves. The floor was wet and slippery and I didn’t feel confident walking in there, even with my awesome boots. Joe Clancy had told me stories of getting lost in these same caves, and I didn’t want to repeat the experience. I took some pretty good pictures, though!



Staircase to Heaven

Staircase to Heaven

Before dinner I played Uno with some Israeli and German trampers. There was a Japanese girl in the hut, Wakako, who had the same orange camera case that I had purchased in Tokyo three years before. She purchased hers in Osaka around the same time. Hers was in pristine condition whereas I had probably taken mine to twenty countries and was in really rough shape. Hehe.

The hut warden came by at 7:30 to give us a talk about fire safety, hut etiquette and the plight of the takahe birds in the nearby Murchison Mountains. The bird was long thought to be extinct. Its eggs were eaten by stoats, introduced from England. The warden used cute stuffed animals to help illustrate her story.

I went to bed early and read in my bunk for a while, using my headlamp to illuminate the pages. I was currently reading The Gate, by François Bizot, a true story of the only Westerner to have survived imprisonment by the nefarious Khmer Rouge during the 1970s in Cambodia. The hut was a large one (56 bunks) and it was noisy for a long time that night. Alas.

February 28, 2009

I woke up early enough to see the tail end of the sunrise, which was pretty. Hut gossip told me that some trampers had left at 5:30 AM to march to the summit of Mount Luxmore to have breakfast and observe the sunset from there. The sounds spectacular, but I had no desire to walk in the dark by myself. Instead, I let myself have a slow start in the hut and took time to take pictures of the sunrise from there before beginning my 14.6 km walk. Just like that morning at the Mount Ollivier, the valleys below Mount Luxmore were filled with mist and fog:

Hiking up to Mount Luxmore

Hiking up to Mount Luxmore

I was able to climb a side trail to reach the summit of Mount Luxmore itself, which was marked by a little graffiti-smeared trig. The views this morning were incredible: mountains in every direction, mist-shrouded Lake Te Anau to the north, and the trail winding across a series of ridges to the west. The sky was generally clear and I was able to see a great distance. It was much better than the day I spent on the alpine section of the Routeburn Track, which was marred with cloudy weather.

My stomach, or something, was hurting me today, though. I thought it might be the water from the hut? It was untreated. I always drank the hut water and never had problems, though. I was constipated. Maybe that’s why it hurt? I later decided that it must have been my abdominal muscles that were sore, probably from lifting my heavy pack, or from the tight hip belt.

Even though my stomach was bugging me, the views I was able to experience up in the mountains made it all worth it. Simply seeing mountains always impresses me. Walking up in them always blow me away. Walking above scenes like this always astound me:

The Hanging Valley

The Hanging Valley

That’s the source of a soon-to-be mighty river, cascading down the mountain valley in a series of waterfalls. Wow.

I ran across several friendly fellow trampers up on the ridges that afternoon. I spent some time taking pictures with Kira (from Holland), Frank (from Germany), and Wakako (from Japan – the same girl I talked to the night before). It’s possible to get pictures of yourself by putting your camera on a timer, but you definitely need help from another person to get pictures like this one!

Surveying the Scene

Surveying the Scene

I had lunch at the first shelter, the Forest Burn, and a snack at the second shelter, the Hanging Valley.

I couldn’t stay in such a privileged alpine location forever, and eventually I raced down about 90 switchbacks and found myself at the Iris Burn Hut (altitude about 600 meters). I went for a quick splash in the burn itself to try and wash some of the sweat off (since huts, of course, don’t have proper showers), but the water was ice cold and the sandflies were vicious and innumerable, so I didn’t stay long.

I tried to sit in the hut and talk with people for a while, but I was not feeling well. My stomach was still hurting and I was really out of it and tired. I went back to my bunk to lie down and rest my eyes for a bit, but relaxing was hard since people kept slamming the door and stomping around in boots. I was getting really tired of staying in these huts. The Great Walks are much too easy and attract way too many inconsiderate, ignorant, and noisy people. Sure, walking more than 60 km in four days with a heavy pack may seem like an accomplishment, but since more than 8000 people do this trek every year, what sort of accomplishment is it anyway. Argh. The Great Walks are a great gateway to a newbie hiker like me, but I decided to stay away from “easy” hikes in the future and seek out more challenging ones instead.

I got out of bed around 7 PM to make myself dinner, hear the warden’s talk, present my hut ticket, and went promptly back to bed. I read some more and was ready to pass out by 9 PM… which I did.

Rob Szumlakowski
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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