Wednesday January 8 to Sunday January 12
We are in Queenstown after a wonderful hike on the Kepler Track. This is a summary of the last few days plus a few photos. When we get home to Vancouver we’ll put more photos from the track on the website.
Background: the Kepler Track is one of nine New Zealand “Great Walks.” The Great Walks are in parks administered by the Department of Conservation (the doc as most people call it) and are considered to be some of the best hiking trails in NZ. The trails have huts with bunks, cooking facilities, water (cold only) and toilets, and each hut is supervised by a park ranger. There is information about the Great Walks on the DOC website and there is a route map and elevation profile for the Kepler Track.
Wednesday Jan 8, to Luxmore Hut
It poured rain on Tuesday night in Te Anau, but Wednesday morning the rain eased and the wind dropped a little. We had breakfast in town and caught the 8:30 water taxi across Lake Te Anau.
When you climb off the boat you enter a rain forest, a world of green carpeted by ferns and moss. The trail is a treat, built and maintained to a standard better than any trail I have walked. It is a steady climb to the hut, about 850m elevation gain, but the grade is not hard. No rain but misty and the wind became stronger as we climbed and the vegetation changed from lush rainforest to smaller trees and scrubby undergrowth. About half way up the trail parallels a large rock face, then becomes less sheltered and the wind became strong. Two or three kms from the hut the trail leaves the forest and enters alpine tussock (grass) where the cold wind roared and mist swirled about us. It took only three hours to reach the hut, leaving us the afternoon to chat with other hikers and walk to a nearby cave.
It was cold at the hut, just above freezing. The common area with kitchen and tables has a wood stove but the bunk rooms are unheated, cold and drafty. We were snug in our sleeping bags and slept well despite the wind and overnight rain.
Thursday Jan 9, to Iris Burn Hut
This day of the walk is the spectacular one. The trail climbs to about 1400m elevation then follows a long ridge for several hours before descending steeply to the Iris Burn Hut at about 500m elevation. It was misty and very cold when we set off in the morning but fortunately the wind had died. The ridge is safe to walk but can be dangerous in high wind. There was fresh snow in spots and ice on the vegetation from the night before. As the day went by the mist and cloud burned off and by afternoon it was sunny and warm. The views and the ridge were stunning, the best alpine walk we have done. The ridge is what remains of the mountain after glaceirs scoured out bowls and valleys on either side. It ends abruptly and the trail descends in forest to the hut on the valley floor. A longer day; we reached the hut about 4:00.
Friday January 10, to Moturau Hut
This day is a forest walk gradually descending the valley to Lake Manapouri. I thought it might be boring, but it was pleasant. Early in the day the valley becomes wide and open in an area where a landslide flattened everything in 1984. (The area is named the Big Slip which the ranger at Iris Burn noted is in the NZ tradition of colourful names such as North Island and South Island.) It was sunny and we could see the mountains all around us. Next, into the forest and a climb around a deep gorge the river passes through. Then beside the river again to Lake Manapouri and finally along the shore. A day filled with the sound of water, mostly the roar of the fast river, and for the last hour the waves breaking on the lake shore. A few hardy hikers took a dip in the lake, but the water was very cold and we did not. Warm weather and a great sunset.
Saturday January 11, end of the walk and a bus to Te Anau
A short day of walking, only 1:30 to the parking lot to meet the bus for a quick ride into town. We enjoyed a hot shower, real coffee, a lazy afternoon in warm sunshine and a good dinner.
Sunday January 12, bus to Queenstown
Heavy rain and wind overnight and in the morning. Our luck with the weather on the hike was amazing. We will stay in Queenstown until Wednesday when we leave early morning to start the Routeburn Track. The weather forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is awful: heavy rain and gale-force winds in the alpine. We hope it improves!