Kepler Track WITH 67 PHOTOS

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UNBELIEVABLE – So unbelievable in fact, that no less than 67 photos are necessary to describe last weekend’s tramp with the boys. Below is the story of the weekend, along with 67 photos. If you’re on dial-up, abandon all hope now. Here goes:

Last Friday, I woke up at 5am (an hour later than I was supposed to) and within 45 minutes was in a car bound for Te Anau with Tom, Andrew, and Erik. 3.5 hours later, we were in the Dept of Conservation office, buying hut passes for our 3 day tramp.

I had 3.5 hours sleep that night, so I was quite tired. Erik had less, and Andrew hadn’t slept properly the previous night.

Tom was the most well rested and even he was quite tired. We began our tramp around 10am out of Te Anau. The weather was nice and cool, and the first couple hours were flat. We stopped for 40 minutes on the beach for lunch, which consisted of honey and chocolate sandwiches while sandflies swarmed around our heads.

Having eaten, we continued on our tramp, which soon began to climb skyward. Since the Kepler Track is a Great Walk (designed for inexperienced trampers, the first day is supposedly wheelchair accessible, though I wouldn’t fully agree), the climb up a mountain is not a straight line from bottom to top as we often encountered on Stewart Island. Instead, they built switchback trails which zigzagged back and forth dozens of times on the way up.

As we climbed, the forest air around us became more and more foggy. We were walking in the clouds.

Andrew and I trailed about 5 minutes behind Tom and Erik, and this is what we found as we neared the top of the cloud layer.

Now out of the clouds, the sun shone down on us warmly. Despite our exhaustion from lack of sleep and improper eating, the sunlight gave us all energy and we couldn’t help but smile.

We stopped just above the tree line for about an hour to relax and enjoy our surroundings, pulling out cigars from the corner store and Andrew’s pipe.

Andrew also took a few minutes to call his parents in Minnesota.

Now that we had reached the top of the mountain, we began walking along the gently rolling mountain tops.

Easy walking to end the day, we arrived at the beautifully situated Luxmoore Hut just before 4pm.

After eating some nuts and dried fruit, we set off for the caves located 10 minutes away. I brought along my tripod (being a Great Walk, I decided some extra weight wouldn’t be a hindrance) and camera, and we all had our headlamps. I also brought a hand flashlight.

It turned out the caves were not the big cavernous type – they were the long tunnelly claustrophic type. Luckily I’m not claustrophobic :-) I did, however, find it very difficult much of the time, as my height is a handicap with stalagtites hanging down. It doesn’t help my crawling abilities either, and there were plenty of crawling opportunities.

Altogether, we spent roughly 2 hours in the caves (according to the times of photos I took), and by the end we were thoroughly exhausted, dirty and somewhat wet.

After a solid meal of instant noodles and mashed potato, we slept. The hut, being a Great Walk hut, had 55 bunks. Being off-season, there were roughly 10 people staying that night, so we got an entire area to ourselves which was great.

We had a lazy morning, ate breakfast and sat around making jokes on the deck until 1130am.

We finally set out, but Erik and I decided we should stop about 10 minutes later to try and get some cool reflection photos.

20 minutes later, we were done taking these photos.

5 minutes later, already trailing Andrew and Tom by about 5 minutes, we stopped to take some photos from a nice spot.

This habit would characterize the rest of the day for Erik and me. We began climbing again, and soon caught sight of Mt Luxmoore. Tom and Andrew were, by this time, 15 minutes ahead of us, only visible in the distance. When Erik did this tramp a month earlier, he had considered climbing Mt Luxmoore from the near side rather than follow the track, but had not done it in the end. We decided that we should be adventurous.

We climbed and climbed, slipping on rocks that clearly were remnants of a previous rockslide. Nearly falling down the mountainside several times, we reached a safe point near the peak.

We took a wackload of photos up there.

Eventually we continued to the peak, where Andrew and Tom had been waiting for some time for us,
having taken the easy route.

At the peak, we met an Aussie named Aylsa (sp?) who sat with us for an hour and held our videocam for a while.

We sat at the top of Mt Luxmoore smoking cigars and drinking port, having conquered the mountain.

After 2 hours of sitting at the top, we decided to continue on our way, stopping several more times for photos.

As the sun was getting low, the moon popped up behind us. It was huuuge.

We continued hiking along the peaks of mountains until we finally reached the treeline. At this point, the trail turned into switchbacks again, and descended for nearly 2 hours from a height of roughly 1500 metres to Iris Burn Hut, elevation ~450 metres.

Most of this was completed in the dark, and we were happy to have spent so much time fooling around during the daylight hours on the mountain tops, as the walk down was nothing special and doing it in daylight would have meant less time on the mountain tops.

We walked to the river from the hut and got river water for drinking and cooking. We decided not to boil it for drinking, and it must have been fine as none of us got sick. Iris Burn is a 50 bunk hut, and again only about 10 people were there, so we got the entire upstairs to ourselves.

We woke up at 5 or 6 am and made breakfast. Tom and I went and got water from the river while Andrew and Erik built a fire in the woodstove. I spent about 10 minutes, using up the last of my camera’s battery taking night photos as the clear sky was full of stars.

We ate, packed our stuff up, and right before leaving found a Frenchman had woken up and found a Kea outside the hut. Keas are the world’s only mountain parrot, and are only found in New Zealand.

They love playing with boots and car tires with their powerful hooked beaks, and this one tore about an inch long slit in the top of Tom’s boot, which had been left outside overnight. We spent half an hour photographing the kea, a very social bird, then set out on our last day of tramping.

This day was mostly flat walking, but there was a bit of uphill. My legs had seized up in severe cramps during the night, taking 20 minutes of digging my elbows into the muscles to massage the cramps out before I could sleep. Poor eating habits and inadequate excercise in Dunedin had left me prone to cramping. This last day my muscles were a bit sore so I tended to straggle a bit.

We walked quite fast and completed the first suggested 3 hours in 1.5 hours. We stopped for a few minutes for honey sandwiches, then set off again. Walking through a valley, we took just over 2 hours for the next 3 hour section.

We stopped at Moturau Hut for about an hour, where we took our boots off and ate salami sandwiches.

After eating, we set off once more, and by 130pm we had reached the Rainbow Reach Swingbridge. Arriving there 5 minutes behind the others, I found them chatting with two guys in their upper 20s, an American and South African. Tom asked for a ride back to the car, and he and Andrew left several minutes later. Without the car ride, we would have had another 2 hours of tramping left – we were ecstatic.

Erik and I decided to make tea on the swingbridge – I set up the gas stove and put a pot of water on.

Not long after, Erik and I were drinking Spiced Apple and Chamomile tea on a bridge. Andrew and Tom returned with the car and, after they smoked a pipe for about an hour, we all climbed into the car for the drive home.

Several hours of iPod music later, we arrived safely back at Toroa and made straight for our respective showers to clean off several layers of dirt and sweat.

What an amazing weekend. I couldn’t have asked for better company, and once again we were amazingly lucky to get absolutely no rain on a track where rain is the norm.

Absolutely unbelievable.