Bára & Kuba on the road

Kepler Track

Kepler Track

Most of the Great Walks need to be planned well ahead and the same stands for the Kepler Track which is one of them. It is the 3-4 day walk, so we booked our hut tickets already in October for a long weekend in January. Unfortunately, campsites, which count for a cheaper accommodation option on Great Walks, are not well spread along the Kepler Track. Given the fortune we spent for hut tickets and flights, we really hoped for good weather, despite the bad weather forecast.

The Luxmore Hut - our first night destination
The Luxmore Hut - our first night destination

On Friday we walked through the airport gate without any troubles even though our carry on backpacks weighed a bit over 7kg. Luckily, nobody checked that.

In Dunedin, we picked up our El Cheapo from Jucy and carried on to Balclutha where we were going to stay the night. We knew about a nice camp there as we’d already stayed there during our Christmas travel.

Almost as a mirror
Almost as a mirror

The next day, when we approached Te Anau, the surrounding hills were covered by clouds. Once it started to drizzle, our last hopes for good weather had just vanished.

Lake Manapouri beach
Lake Manapouri beach

In Te Anau, we walked to DOC center to pick up hut tickets and get their latest weather advice. It wasn’t good at all. A lot of rain and strong wind but apparently not bad enough to close the track.

The first part to Brod Bay campsite was flat and easy
The first part to Brod Bay campsite was flat and easy

So, we headed off. The first part of the track ran through beech forest along the shore of Lake Te Anau. At Brod Bay campsite the track turned away from the lake and we started to climb up. I was annoyed. All that effort ahead and money we spent for nothing. No more than rubbish views and wet clothes. After a while, my mumbling and complaining annoyed even Jakub. Moreover, blisters appeared on my heels. On the first day. Perfect!

Jakub posing with limestone
Jakub posing with limestone

We passed a massive limestone bluff before we got above bushline. It was a moment when we should have enjoyed panoramic views. What we really experienced was total mist and views of few meters around.

A view above bushline -- not much
A view above bushline – not much

After about 45 minutes we reached the Luxmore Hut. While having a snack we got a bit warm and as there still was plenty of daylight we went to explore Luxmore Caves which were nearby. A few stairs led down to the cave entrance and with a torch we could go quite deep into the cave. Definitely worth those 10 minutes walk from the hut.

A view got better later in the evening
A view got better later in the evening

During the evening the clouds raised up and we had a better view of the lake Te Anau and surrounding hills. However, a hut ranger didn’t put our hopes for better weather too high during his evening hut talk.

The second day on the ridge was tough with gusts over 100km/hr
The second day on the ridge was tough with gusts over 100km/hr

In the morning, he confirmed his predictions with the comment “It’s pretty brutal up there.” and added that groups with young kids should consider returning back to Te Anau.

After thinking it through over the breakfast and reassuring with the ranger twice that it would be tough but not dangerous, we set out ahead.

A desperate smile
A desperate smile

Once we left the hut, a cold wind hit our faces. It was strong but luckily most of the time we were sheltered behind the ridge. We rejected a side climb to Mt Luxmore summit and headed to the Forest Burn Shelter instead. On the way, we passed a number of other people and surprisingly even a group with small kids.

The section between Forest Burn Shelter and Hanging Valley Shelter was rough. There were patches of snow on the path, it started to rain (horizontally thanks to the wind) and the temperature dropped down below zero due to wind chill factor. My trousers were covered with an icy crust.

Little waterfalls were everywhere in the forest
Little waterfalls were everywhere in the forest

The worst part was when we were passing one of the exposed saddles. The strong wind that rushed up through​ the valley along with gusts with speed over 100km/h made it really hard to stand on the narrow pathway. In the middle of the crossing, I suddenly saw Jakub’s backpack cover being blown away. At that point, I was quite scared and was thinking about going back.

However, when we got over that section the conditions calmed down a bit and we reached the Hanging Valley Shelter in about 10 minutes. There, we met a couple who came from the other side of the track and they assured us the wind wasn’t so bad over there.

The best view of the second day with Lake Manapouri on the horizon
The best view of the second day with Lake Manapouri on the horizon

In fact, the following part when we descended along the ridge to the Iris Burn Hut provided some good views of the valley and Lake Manapouri. Finally, the more pleasant half of the track began.

Iris Burn waterfall
Iris Burn waterfall

The Iris Burn Hut was situated in a large tussock clearing and there were no signs of terrible weather which troubled us on the ridge. Inside the hut, a wood burner made it nice and warm. Refreshed and with dry clothes, we went to Iris Burn falls which was a 20 minutes side trip from the hut.

A guide leaflet referred to the waterfall as a place suitable for a dip but after plenty of rain in the last few days, the waterfall was a quite massive and too whirling even for famous blue ducks.

A little friend
A little friend

In the evening we listened to an interesting hut talk during which a ranger tried to imitate sounds of kiwi. His performance was a bit weird but it was authentic enough that later in the night when I woke up and heard a similar noise I knew it was a kiwi out there. Yeah!

Jakub having a dip in the Lake Manapouri
Jakub having a dip in the Lake Manapouri

The next day the track took us over an easily graded saddle, we passed a location where heavy rains caused a large slip in January 1984 before walked through lowland beech forest. We were almost eaten by sand flies during our lunch on side of Iris Burn. Early in the afternoon, we reached the shore of Lake Manapouri. While Jakub was having a refreshing dip, I enjoyed the sunshine. The Moturau Hut was located only a few hundred meters further and in the evening we observed a beautiful sunset over the lake on the beach.

Sunset at the Lake Manapouri
Sunset at the Lake Manapouri

Last day was a bit struggle as our legs were wobbly after previous 3 days and 45km. The section walked across flat wetland and then followed the Waiau River. From swing bridge at Rainbow Reach, which was an optional end of the track, we still had 10km to finish the track. Despite aching feet, we refused to take a shuttle, clenched our teeth and carried on.

A wetland area on the way to Rainbow Reach
A wetland area on the way to Rainbow Reach

It was a real relief when we finally passed control gates at Te Anau Lake and got to our car after four days.

The last 10km to finish
The last 10km to finish

Eventually, the trip was not a waste of money. Those four days had everything – a lot of rain and a bit of sun, some wind and frost, little drama and enough fun. And most importantly, when we looked back we’d survived and enjoyed it all.

Description Distance (km) Moving duration Average speed (km/h) Elevation gain (m) Elevation loss (m)
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