Kepler Day 1.
Sometime in 2017 or 2016 the urge to complete the Great Walks got established in our heads. Plans for Christmas 2017 were unformed when the 2017/2018 bookings opened on the DoC website and the family had already said they wanted to be on their own, so we quickly booked our huts for over Christmas. Sadly Marcel and Carole could not join us.
We organised ourselves in Te Anau on the 23rd before wandering down to the waterfront on Christmas Eve and hopping on the 9.30 a.m. water taxi to Brod Bay. This saves a couple of hours walking from Te Anau and seemed a sensible option as Gail’s back was sore after shifting furniture as we moved out of our house.
The sand flies were biting on the beach so we quickly shouldered our packs and set off up the climb to Luxmore Hut. This is a 1200m climb, or so, and our packs were heavy with treats for a Christmas Eve dinner, rather than the usual freeze-dried meals. The track climbs steadily through the beech forest and after a couple of hours meets some limestone bluffs. The track sidles along below them until the height lessens and steps take you to the top. We stopped for a breather and something to eat.
A further hour takes you to the bush line and we burst onto tussock grass to be faced with a cold northerly easterly wind in our faces as we headed to the hut. This is a high hut at 1200m but it is in a splendid position with views over the lake. We wandered out to the caves but did not go far down them. I find them claustrophobic, but with a good torch, you can explore a good way in.
There was quite a mix of groups on the track. Two kiwi families which were great, a group from Auckland which included some noisy English people, some Americans and a French-Canadian family. Most were good company but the English were noisy and one man snored heavily.
The warden warned of bad weather overnight and by the time we went to sleep the rain was set in. Gales rose overnight, shaking the hut and making the inside toilets most welcome when a pee was needed.
Kepler Day 2.
At 7 am the wind was raging and so was the rain, so we sat tight and waited over breakfast and coffee. By 10 a.m., as promised by the warden, the wind had died down and the rain showed signs of stopping so we packed up and headed into the mist. Mt Luxmore is a steady climb and I found the ascents of day 2 harder than day 1. We bypassed the summit as we were in thick cloud, but the clouds began to clear as we reached the ridge. Soon they were ripped apart by the wind and the rest of the day was glorious with blue skies and a cool wind.
We reached the first shelter in under guidebook time and stopped for a bite to eat and to enjoy the views. The next section is a wonderful switchback along narrow ridges with great views of the main divide all the way. After an hour and a half, we arrived at the second shelter. I was puffed and Gail’s back was sore.
The descent to the Iris Burn hut is lovely to start with, along a final narrow ridge, but it then plunges down some steep switchbacks through the forest. My thighs were hurting as we descended and Gail was clearly getting sorer by the minute. After a six-hour walk, we arrived at the hut, rehydrated and bathed sore feet in the river. It is a lovely spot but the sandflies were vicious and the snoring noisy. We evacuated the bunk room to the kitchen to get some decent sleep for the second half of the night.
Kepler Day 3
Things ease off after the ascents of the first two days and the exposed ridge travel. Day 3 is a gentle stroll for 17km down the Iris Burn Valley to a hut beautifully sited on the edge of a lake. The track is gentle, soft underfoot with beech leaves and wanders through a beautiful forest.
The greens are so varied as the sun is glimpsed through the canopy: moss, leaves, ferns all contribute different shades and the birdsong is gorgeous. We were woken up from our dreams as we neared the lake: we were back in cell phone coverage and a stream of beeps notified us of emails and messages arriving.
I was a bit grumpy with the noisy snorer but it did the trick. He slept in the kitchen from the outset this night and we all had a much better night.
Kepler Day 4
There is an option to catch a shuttle after 6km or so from Rainbow Bridge and again at the Control gates after 15km and many groups took one of these. We decided to walk back into Te Anau and our campsite, which was opposite the DoC centre. The walk over the shoulder to the river is gentle and the 9km up the river bank is lovely. The jet boats on the river are a bit intrusive.
The final 3km into Te Anau is not pleasant and should be avoided. A gravel road shared with mountain bikers is set in the open and the final half an hour seemed to take for ages as we became thirsty and sunburnt. We dropped our packs, checked in, showered and assessed the damage. Gail’s back was not good at all, and her leg was sore too: some days of rest were needed.
Even so, this had been a great walk. The scenery is outstanding, the track and huts are well maintained. We had made some new friends and enjoyed Christmas away from all its commercialism. Nice.