Nov 20, 2015
At 6 am we heard the rain pouring down outside. This wasn’t a good omen for our hike to Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track. However by 7 am we could see some blue sky in the distance, so we hoped the weather forecasters were wrong.
At 8:40 am we checked out of the hostel and walked out into a beautiful sunny day. After much discussion we had finally decided not to take the water taxi across Lake Te Anau, but instead to walk around the end of the lake. According to Neil and Christine we are purists, so the idea of taking the water taxi went against the grain. If we had taken the water taxi we would have skipped 5.6 kilometers of the track, between the Control Gates and Brod Bay, but on the other hand we had to walk more than six kilometers to get to the Control Gates.
The lakeside walk was very pleasant, but it was nice to get to the Control Gates, the official start of the Kepler Track. The first section of the trail went through a lovely beech forest with lots of mosses and lichens on the forest floor. We also walked through a glade of ferns, some called “crown ferns” which really looked like crowns. With the sun shining through the trees and the trail covered with beech leaves it made for a lovely walk.
We reached Brod Bay earlier than we had expected, so rather than having an early lunch we opted for a snack of scroggin and banana chips. But this was the last of the flat walking, as the next section of the trail climbed steadily upwards, zigzagging along to gain elevation. It was an easy trail to walk on, with tomtits singing all around, and we were surprised when we reached the overhanging limestone bluffs earlier than expected. We didn’t have lunch under the bluffs (for safety reasons) but as soon as the steps climbed above them we stopped at a good lunch spot.
By now it was raining a bit, so we put on some rain gear before eating our lunch. As we sat there several day walkers came by, each group asking how far it was to the hut. We had no idea so we told them something around three hours. In reality it turned out that the hut was only about an hour and a half from where we were sitting!
After about an hour the trees started to be smaller and then we could see tussock grass just ahead. We had reached the bush line. It was raining harder now so we put on our rain pants just before leaving the trees. The combination of strong gusts of wind and heavy rain made us walk quickly to the hut, which turned out to be only half an hour farther.
The Luxmore Hut was in a beautiful location, a sheltered valley but still in the alpine zone, and it had views looking down over Lake Te Anau. But unfortunately today we could barely make out the shoreline. In the hallway we took off our wet gear and hung it on the hooks, and then we went up to the dorms to pick out our bunks. There were several to choose from so we picked two and set up our sleeping bags. We both noticed that the bottoms of our packs were wet, probably because the wind had blown rain in behind the rain covers. It wasn’t serious, though.
The hut kitchen was very spacious, with plenty of gas rings. After getting a cranky gas ring started we made up some soup—potato and bacon crouton flavour. That warmed us up quite nicely. There wasn’t much to do for the rest of the afternoon because of the rain, so we wrote up our journals and watched people straggling in and trying to dry their wet clothing over the very small wood stove.
Today was Paul’s birthday so besides our regular dinner (mashed potatoes and leftover chicken) we had dessert, which was freeze-dried apricot crumble substituting for birthday cake. It was not bad at all.
Nov 21, 2015
We woke up listening to the rain pouring down, so we were not in any hurry to leave. After breakfast we packed up and headed along the trail. No views were to be seen for most of the morning as we climbed up the hill, but we did take the side trip to the top of Mount Luxmore just to say that we had done it. Coming down from the top was a bit nerve-racking as periodically there were strong gusts of wind which threatened to blow us over. But back at the main trail we met a trail runner from the Philippines, who was training for the upcoming marathon race which does the whole Kepler Track in one day!
From here we followed a ridge which made a large horseshoe with peekaboo views over Lake Manapouri. It went up and down and was sometimes very exposed, but weather aside it was really a great ridge walk. It’s possible for the trail to be closed because of dangerous high winds, but today’s winds were not a serious threat. About noon we reached the first shelter, so we stopped and had some tea and scroggin, then carried on to have lunch at the second shelter at about 1 pm.
Eventually the trail came to the absolute end of the ridge, and then it started switch-backing down to the Iris Burn hut. It didn’t take long to get down into the forest, which was lovely to walk through with mosses and lichens covering the branches and the forest floor. After half an hour we heard our first bellbird and then other bird songs started to be heard. By now we were out of the wind and the rain had stopped, so walking was good.
The drawback to this section was the steepness, which led to sore knees. After a while we came to a building in the forest—hooray!—but there was a helpful sign posted next to it telling us that the Iris Burn hut was another 30 minutes away, after stoat trap number 24. Which it was. There was a lot of sandflies outside the hut so we went in quickly and found ourselves two bunks. Then we went over to the rather small kitchen area and made ourselves some soup. It had been rather a hard walk today.
The rain had started up again, so the idea of walking to the waterfall was not too enticing and we stayed in the hut. Unfortunately the toilet in the hut wasn’t working, so going to the bathroom required going out to use the winter toilet, which is about 30 meters away across a field. That could be inconvenient at night, or in the rain.
We made our dinner at 5:30 pm and managed to squeeze out a space at one of the tables to eat it. We were lucky—people who arrived later had to sit on the floor to eat! At 7:30 pm the warden arrived to do her presentation. It started out with the usual talk about hut safety but then went on to tell us about the Iris Burn area. The area was special because it had nesting Blue Ducks and Fiordland Brown Kiwis. She said if we were lucky we would hear the kiwis at night, but likely not see them.
We all went to bed around 9:30 pm, but we were woken up about 11:30 pm by the call of a female kiwi! It was followed shortly by a male kiwi’s call. Several times in the night we could hear kiwis calling, but none of them were very close by.
Nov 22, 2015
It was still overcast and raining slightly when we finally got up, and we could see fresh snow extending quite low on the mountains around us. But it didn’t feel cold outside. After breakfast we walked up to the waterfall, hoping to see the Blue Ducks and their chicks. The walk took about half an hour, return, through a beech forest along a somewhat muddy trail. We carefully scanned the river as we walked but alas, no Blue Ducks were to be found.
Back at the hut we put on our packs and headed out. The trip to Moturau Hut was supposed to take six hours, but after looking at the map and seeing that the distance was about 16 kilometers we hoped to get there sooner. The first part of the trail had us climbing a bit, but generally the trail was flat or downhill and we were setting a blistering pace. Soon we passed the “Big Slip”, the site of a very big rockslide 30 years ago. We passed through an area with only small trees, then an open area with no trees, then another area with only small trees.
We arrived at Rocky Point shelter after only a couple of hours. It wasn’t an emergency shelter like the alpine shelters, just a picnic table with a roof over it. And a few sandflies. We stopped for lunch here and several other groups joined us shortly afterward. Nearby we found a striking purple mushroom (a purple pouch fungus), which was interesting to see. Neither of us had ever seen a purple mushroom before. And then a South Island Robin came down to pose very nicely for his photograph.
After lunch we carried on through the same beech forest, which was getting tedious as the trail stretched on and on before us. After a couple of hours we finally reached Lake Manapouri, and then like all the other huts, Moturau Hut all of a sudden appeared in a large grassy opening. The total time for today’s walk was four and a half hours, including lunch stop and photo stops.
At the hut we had lots of bunks to choose from because we were among the first to arrive. Although since there’s a car park only another 6 kilometers along the trail, probably a lot of people carried on so as to get home tonight. We chose two lower bunks in a small room and then made some soup before whiling away the afternoon.
Dinner tonight was roast chicken with mashed potatoes, which we hoped would taste as good as the roast lamb dinner. It wasn’t bad but didn’t quite measure up, and it included chunks of stuffing which hadn’t rehydrated properly. Tomorrow we would be back in Te Anau, so there would be no more freeze-dried food for a while. We were sitting at a table with a French couple and a single German guy, although we still hadn’t learned their names.
Nov 23, 2015
We woke up earlier than we wanted to, because others in the hut decided to get up at 6 am. Our roommates got up at 7 am, so we finally got up too. Today was our last day on the trail, so after we had breakfast and packed up we were on our way by 8:30 am. It wasn’t raining and it wasn’t cold, so for the first time we didn’t need to worry about rain gear.
The trail was fairly level, although our destination, the Control Gates, was a few dozen meters higher. During the morning there were brief showers but because we were in the forest, the rain gear was unnecessary. We passed by a little wetland and at 10 am we arrived at Paradise Reach, one of the access points to the trail. We were in time to catch the shuttle bus back to Te Anau, but being the purists that we are, we continued along the trail. Walking through the forest was lovely, especially when the sun shone through the trees, but for some reason the bush wasn’t full of bird song like on our first day.
We motored our way along and finally arrived at the Control Gates by lunch time, completing the loop. We found our tablemates from last night just leaving, and the Frenchman took a group photo with his selfie stick. Then we sat in the information shelter to eat our lunch, feeling very pleased with ourselves.
On the way back to Te Anau we stopped by the bird sanctuary. We said hi to the takahe and checked out the kakas. They were supposed to have four chicks, but we couldn’t locate the nest. Carrying on, we dropped in at the DOC visitor centre and bought a chocolate bar. That gave us energy for the last kilometer along the lake—seriously; we had being doing some hard walking!
Back at the hostel we had showers and did laundry. That felt much better. Once that was all done we walked over to the Ranch Bar and Grill for dinner. We hadn’t made a reservation so we had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. When one finally became ready we noticed that the “German guy” from the trail was also waiting, so we invited him to jump the queue and sit at our table. Rosemary had a plain burger and Paul had the rather unusual combination of bacon, eggs, and beetroot on his burger. They were very good, as we had been told in advance. For dessert we shared a sticky date pudding, but it wasn’t up to the Grasmere YHA standard.
Next: Stewart Island