First Great Walks : four days hike on the Kepler Track

Back from Queenstown, I spend the weekend in my dairy farm, enjoying my last moments in the company of cows. Evening barbecue (first Kiwi BBQ) to celebrate my departure. Chloe, the 7 months old is about to start crawling! Shee still has a few hours before my departure to succeed! Monday, September 26, Julie takes me, accompanied by the monsters, the three children I mean, in Te Anau, in the home of his parents, Alan and Jill, where I will spend the night before leaving for a several days hike on the Kepler Track. We go do some walking equipment purchases (stove and gas bottle, pot and cutlery and rental of a ski pole in case I encounter snowy parts on the way). I’m raiding the only supermarket in the village to equip me with food for 4 days. My clothes are also ready. It remains to make everything fit in my backpack. Two hours will be needed to fit everything in my bag. Corned beef and canned beans will stay at home for being too heavy.

Day 1. September 2016 | 13.8 kilometers

Here I am going on a late morning for a four-day hike. Julie’s mother, Jill, accompanied by Isla, Carter and Chloe drops me by car at the trailhead, just outside the village at the end of Lake Te Anau. I say goodbye to the children and I go, pretty loaded. I have at least 10 kg on the shoulders.

The Kepler Track is part of the Great Walks. These are the most famous great hiking of several days of the country. They are nine distributed in the various national parks of the Kiwi island. The Kepler Track is the most accessible hiking of all because the start of the track is only a few minutes away from the village of Te Anau.

The first part of the hike is a leisurely stroll along the shores of Lake Te Anau through a New Zealand beech forest. The floor is covered with moss and ferns. It’s more like a rainforest than a French beech forests. It’s a little cloudy, but this is not bad for a first day. Like that it’s not too hot. That does not stop the atmosphere to be damn moisty. An hour later I arrived at Brod Bay, an area around the shores where it’s allowed to camp. Toilets, sinks and barbecues are available. I have lunch on the beach enjoying the scenery. The lake shimmers and the sun appeared among the clouds warming the atmosphere. Not many people in the area, it is very quiet. Small birds land very quickly next to me trying to catch crumbs of my meal.

Kepler Track - Te Anau lake - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

I continue for the second stage of the day, a climb of about 800 m to the top of the forest to reach the mountain meadows where the first hut of track is. It’s hot and I suffer a little. Three hours of climbing through the forest without seeing many people. I enjoy the calm and the melody of the birds accompanying my steps. My mind wanders to the rhythm of my footsteps. The landscape changes slowly. From a forest filled with Silver Beech, I go to a forest filled of Mountain Beech with impressive green moss (yes it rains a lot in this part of the country), and finally during the last thirty minutes of the climb, I go through a forest of trees covered with lichens. Very impressive.

After three hours of climbing, I finally reach the top of the climb. The forest gives way to the yellow grass meadows and the landscape becomes more aerial. I see Te Anau in the background and the snowy peaks of Mount Luxmore that I will follow tomorrow.

After forty minutes following the ridge and enjoying the scenery, the hut appears in a small hollow. Having not seen many people, I expect a company of about 5 people. My God ! That’s not the case at all. Thirty are already present and a dozen will arrive after me !! The official season (October to April) has not even begun, the 54-bed hut is almost completely full! Well, as it is an easy hut access, I tell myself it’s just normal. But still. A Chinese group, anglophones, French …

I’m setting up in the quietest corner that I can find (which is relative in dormitories) and goes for a walk around the hut and cook my diner. A warden in residence made us a speech about what not to do in the hut and provides information on trail conditions at the ridges. Some areas are still covered with snow and require to be aware. Especially since it’s in avalanche area. Apparently, listening to the discussions, half of the people would continue the track and the other half would return to Te Anau. I hope we will be only about fifteen people in the second hut because so many people into the track, is not the idea that I have of a tranquil alpine hike.

Luxmore Hut - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Day 2. September 2016 | 14.6 kilometers

Despite the large number of peopl in the dorms, I slept pretty well. Sleeping at 10pm and waking up at 8am. Long night of rest! The morning fog has engulfed the landscape. No distinction beyond ten meters. I pack my things, swallow my breakfast and jump on the track. A lot of people seem discouraged by the “bad weather”. Good, that’s means less people in the next hut. The track today is mainly on the ridges.

I enter into the mist, thinking that it only takes a few meters climb to go above the fog. The trail climbs to reach the peaks. Thirty minutes later, the mist clears and I see the snowy peaks appear in front of me and the crests of the Murchison Mountains in the distance just above a sea of clouds. Unfortunately as there is a little wind, the fog reappears to hide the landscape form me. I continue my climb between times in the fog and appearance of the landscape.

A circus appears with a small glacier and I make my first steps in the snow. Effectively some areas of the trail are covered with snow and I must proceed with caution. But by being careful there is no risks. I reach the first peak and the landscape becomes really aerial. And I am completely above the sea of clouds. The view is fabulous. Especially the peaks of the Murchison Mountains in front of me (separated by the South Fjord of Lake Te Anau). The tops are covered with small clouds that seem to rise into the sky. Absolutely fabulous.

I continued my hike on the ridges, alternating between land and snow and marveling at the scenery. Although for now I can not distinguish the bottom of the valley, the landscape that I se, the sea of clouds and the tops of mountains covered with snow, is probably more amazing.

Murchison Mountains - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Murchison Mountains - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Murchison Mountains - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Two hours later, I arrive at the Forest Burn emergency shelter. The fog has almost fully disappear and the valleys are now visible. The South Fjord of Lake Te Anau shimmers in the distance. Lunch break next to the shelter. A group of six Kea (New Zealand parrot) fly in the air screaming, a sound that curiously resemble children scream I think. The Kea are very inquisitive and cheeky birds and of course they land not far from me. I watch my bag behind me, because I know their tactics: one that attracts attention while another takes care of destroying the bag left unattended. I turned several times: nothing. A fourth time: a Kea is located on the bush right behind me! I didn’t heard him! That’s a little scary ! The others turn up! I hurry to put my things in my bag, I do not feel like being steal by Kea!

I then took out my camera to capture the moment: six Kea are located on the bushes a meter from me. They forage in search of seeds while slowly approaching me. Damn interesting. Many seem to yawn! We exchange glances. Approaching a little too much, I retired down to the shelter. Given the size of their claws and beak, I do not want to risk my luck. I leave my backpack in the shelter, time to use the toilet. I just returned in the toilet dangling over the void, that the Keas turn up! They land on the top of the toilet and I see one that’s try to open the door with his beak! Same back in the shelter where I put my stuffs in order in my bag:  one is doing the foul on the roof (they are damn noisy when they walk on the sheet metal!), one takes a peek through the door, one launches squeaks. When I come out of the shelter, they are all there, staring at me. I apologize for leaving them there, but guys, I have to go. They follow me on the first meters and then let me carry on my trail.

Friendly Kea - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

The next two hours are extremely aerials since the trail follows the fine ridge of the Kepler mountains. The scenery is magnificent, but the mist turned into clouds that block sometimes the sun. Other than that, nothing to say, the walk is superb. Every 200m there are traps to catch pests animals with a “Kepler Challenge” slogan written on it. (The night at the shelter, I will understand the meaning of the slogan: every year in December, stands the “Kepler Challenge” a race where participants run through the 60km trail! What a challenge! ! Every ticket bought is used to finance the purchase and maintenance of the traps placed along the way. In NZ the biggest predator of native birds is the stoat).

Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

I arrive at the second emergency shelter where begin the descent into the Hanging Valley where the second hut is located. The first part of the descent is on the ridge and goes down reaaaallly steep! There’s even wooden stairs in areas too complicated! Better not get dizzy, it goes down vertical on both sides. The sun beats down. I reached the second part of the descent where I leave (with regrets) the ridge behind me to continue my descent into the forest.

Like yesterday, but this time in reverse, I first go down through a forest covered with lichen than moss and ferns. I appreciate the trees but my knees and legs begin to get tired. Small break where I find myself face to face with a Tomtit (or Miromiro, its Maori name) a few centimeters of me. He twirls around me but let me take his picture. Beautiful little bird with a yellow throat. Lower, there are Rifleman, the smallest bird of New Zealand, 8 cm, green with no tail, that appear in front of me! Lucky me ! But, those are much more difficult to photograph! I continue my descent accompanied by the tit tit sound of the Rifleman.

Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Friendly Tomtit - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

The descent seems never ending. At least the crossing of the forest is beautiful. Moss and ferns are splendid. I finally arrive at the Iris Burn Hut around 6pm, situated in a meadow. The place is very friendly. A few hundred meters away, there is an area to camp right next to a small river with the green waters with a small pebble beach. Beautiful place. And this time only 5 people are already present when I arrive and only 8 people will come after me. Quiet evenight, only disturbed by the presence of Sandflies (mid-flies, mid-moskitos), wanted to fest of my blood and I go to bed accompanied by the ouhh ouhh of the Morpork (New Zealand Owl) who begins his day.

Iris Burn Hut - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Day 3. September 2016 | 16.2 kilometers

I wake up and take a quiet breakfast before setting sail to a waterfall twenty minutes from the hut. Most hikers are already gone, the atmosphere is very peaceful. I walk up the valley to reach the waterfall, beautiful, pouring in an amazing green water. A small rainbow beautifies the scene. Back at the hut, where this time I take the track to get to my next step: the Moturau hut on the shores of Lake Manapouri about 16km from here.

The ballad of the day, is mainly in the forest. With some passages in swamps or grasslands. The forest is extremely beautiful. The floor is carpeted with mosses and ferns of an amazing green and the trees are covered with lichen. Fallen trees during storms or simply because of age, covering the forest floor and even the way! I had to step over at least a dozen fallen trees blocking the way! All this nature seems really alive, lush, old primary forest and also except the trail all seems untouched by man. Short passage in the open air in an area where a big slip occurred in January 1984. This allows me to enjoy the scenery of the valley and clouds on the mountain tops around me.

Waterfalls - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Iris Burn Valley - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Other than that, it will be 5 hours of nice walk into the forest. The landscape is similar and it’s less impressive than on the peaks but the beauty of the forest and the birds singing make it very enjoyable. Around 3pm, I finally arrive on the shores of Lake Manapouri at Shallow Bay, a small bay a little off the main lake. Break on the shore to rest before reaching the hut. Bad idea !! The Sandflies pounce on me in a blood thirsty cloud. I leave at full speed. Forty minutes later, the hut appears on the lake and I join a few of my companions with whom I travel for the past two days. The rain began to fall about twenty minutes after I arrived. This does not preclude a beautiful sunset with clouds tinged with red. In the background, I see a large mass of dark clouds approaching second by second. I have the feeling that a really big storm is gonna feel on us. And indeed, torrential rain accompanied by lightning fell on the hut for at least three hours. I’m glad to be inside.

Shallow Bay - Manapouri Lake - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Shallow Bay - Manapouri Lake - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Shallow Bay - Manapouri Lake - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Day 4. September 2016 | 17.5 kilometers

The next day I wake myself in a dorm full of people! About six people arrived during the night! They had to be soaked by rain because their clothes and bags are hung above the stove in the common room. Quick breakfast to start not too late. The last part of the track, back to the starting point, is usually done in 4-5 hours. The weather is cloudy. I make a detour to see a small hut in another corner of the bay. The location is superb. The hut contains only 4 beds but I feel that it is possible to come to camp. I will probably come back spend a weekend here. On the edge of the shore, geese discuss with ducks in a honk honk concert.

Shallow Bay - Manapouri Lake - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

I continue into forest and swamps. This is the least beautiful part of the trail, I think. Especially as a whole area of the track that was on the edge of a gorge collapsed. A new trail was created not long ago using a machine (digger I guess) and I can see the ferns and trees damaged along the trail. This is not very nice. The Waiau River flows through the gorge below. The river was used at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring (the first film of the Lord of the Rings) for the scenes where the Uruk-hai hunt the members of the Fellowship along the banks of the River Anduin! The amazing green waters of the river remind me memories of the movie  but the part I see is not the prettiest. In my opinion, the location shooting was further up the river. I reach in two hours Rainbow Reach where there is a carpark. The Kepler Track can also be start or finish from this carpark. I continue into the forest to completely finish my loop and reach my starting point at the Kepler Track carpark, 2-3 hours away.

The last part seems very long to me. Must say that my bag weighs on my shoulders and the cloudy weather is not the best. Two hours later, I’m seeing with relief the shores of Lake Te Anau. I completed the loop! The approximately 60km from the Kepler Track! It is 2:30pm and I still haven’t eaten. I find a quiet corner along the lake for a lunch break of one hour. The sun finally appears at times and “only” twenty Sandflies come bother me. A seaplane is doing capers of the lake.

Entry/Exit - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

A little rested, I’m going for the last step of my trip, a little “extra”. At the opposite of four days ago, where Jill, Julie’s mom, dropped me at the carpark, I decided to walk back to Te Anau. A path wanders along the lake and the sign says: Te Anau Visitor Center: 1 hour. Perfect. I walk along the lake enjoying the sun and marveling at the sight of snow-capped mountains in the distance. I arrive at the Visitor Center where I called Alan, Julie’s dad who works at the Lakeview Holiday Park (the same Holiday Park where I will start working from Monday, October 3). He is finishing to clean and repaint the shuttle from the park. I drop my bag with happiness in his car and he brings me back to his house where I’ll spend the weekend before “moved” to the Lakeview Holiday Park on Sunday.

Te Anau - Kepler Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

In the end, the Kepler Track has proven to be a great ride despite a small disappointment on the last day. The second day on the peaks is by far for me the best and most impressive. I just regret that this part has been so short. I think my next big hike, will be the Routeburn Track, another Great Walks located few hours from Te Anau, with a duration of three days with two and half days on the ridges.

The end.


_ informations

Summary: Kepler Track is one of the nine Great Walks to discover New Zealand’s nature. Three or four days of hiking on the shores of Te Anau and Manapouri lakes and on the tops of the Kepler Mountains.

Location: South Island. The start and end of the hike are on the shores of Lake Te Anau in the Fiordland area.

Duration: From one day to four days, depending on your physical condition and the time you want to spend on the trail. Athletes can make the journey in one day!

Distance: About sixty kilometers. It’s a loop.


_ in the area

View of Lake Mackenzie - Routeburn Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Routeburn Track

Two days hiking through the ridges of the Fiordland Mountains and beautiful lakes. This is probably the most beautiful of the three Great Walks in the area.

View of the valley - Milford Track - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Milford Track

A three day hike in New Zealand beech forest in one of the narrowest valleys of the Fiordland.

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Hiking stories is a love letter to nature, to walking and camping. And to all that’s come with it: weather troubles, muscles pain and noisy tourists on the trails.

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All the photographies published in this article are my creations. They are not free of rights. Please do not use them without prior authorization.