Monday, March 27, 2017

Kepler Great Walk

Kepler Great Walk
Date: January 2017
Category: Great Walk
Weather: Mainly fine
Location: Te Anau
Distance: Official distance: 60 km, distance from my watch: 59.8 km

The Kepler is one of the logistically easiest Great Walks. One of only two loop Great Walks (along with the Northern Circuit in Tongariro), you don't have to plan much in the way of transportation. In fact, you can even walk the 2 km to and from the track and Te Anau. This 2 km walk can be mentally tough if you are tired on your last day. The parking lot at the Kepler Track Carpark has plenty of spots, but does fill up as the day goes on, particularly on nice days when the day hikers are out. We started just before 7:00 am, so there was plenty of room. There is an additional carpark at Rainbow Reach, which is a further drive from Te Anau, but less busy. You can also take boat transport to Brod Bay campground.

 As we were trying to fit in as much as we could to our Christmas holidays, we did the Kepler in 2 days. Though DOC times for the 2 days are around 12 hours each day and there is plenty of sunlight in mid-summer to do a 2 day walk, it is recommended only for the very fit or very silly. Most people complete the walk in 3-4 days. Because gale force winds were forecast up on the mountains for the first day, we completed the walk in the reverse direction of most people. This meant the majority of the elevation, both up and down, was left for the second day. However, it was also the slightly shorter day at 28 km, while the first day was 30 km.

The first section of the track, when going clockwise from the Kepler carpark takes you through some lovely forest. It's primarily flat, so the 9.5 km to Rainbow Reach goes pretty quick. You then continue on the flat portion of the trail to Moturau Hut. This is where many stop, as the next hut is 5-6 hours away. The hut was nice and looks out onto Lake Manapouri. According to the ranger there, the mornings tend to be calm with raging sandflies and the evenings tend to be windy with slightly less sandflies. Bring your spray! If you're hut bagging, Shallow Bay Hut is just before Moturau 20 minutes down a side track. This hut has only 6 bunks and can't be booked like the other Great Walk huts. This could also make for a nice little overnight trip from Te Anau.

From Moturau hut, the track continues on the fairly flat track up to Rocky Point shelter. This is a nice place to take a pit stop, though, like most places in Fiordland, it's best to have plenty of bug spray on. Another thing to watch out for on the Kepler are the cheeky robins. You may have heard about the mischievous keas stealing from you, but the robins can be almost as bad. They came right up to us without fear and tried to get in our bags. They also have a tendency to stand in the middle of the track, not wanting to move to let you pass.

After this last shelter before the halfway point, you slowly climb up to Iris Burn Hut. All of the huts on the Kepler (aside from Shallow Bay) have mattresses, lighting, and cooking burners with fuel. When full, the Iris Burn kitchen can get pretty busy and chaotic. I recommend eating a bit earlier than most to avoid fighting for space. Because of our long km days, we didn't go to the Iris Burn waterfall. However, if you want to, it is a pretty short walk from the hut and can provide for a refreshing swim on hot days.

The second day was a challenge, but we were rewarded with fantastic views. Directly out of Iris Burn hut, we started climbing, and steeply. Going this direction, you climb about 900 meters in the first 6.5 km. It's tough, but might be better than going down this steep path, particularly if it's raining and slick.

Once at the top, you arrive first at Hanging Valley shelter then Forest Burn shelter. The views are fantastic, but you are also very exposed. If it's windy, rainy, or very cold, this could be a miserable 15 km between Iris Burn and Luxmore (and a bit after Luxmore). Be warned that all hikers, regardless of how many days they plan to do or direction, must complete the 15 km between Iris Burn and Luxmore. This is a difficult section of track because of the elevation gains and losses and the exposure. You should be fit and have plenty of gear for all weather (i.e. rain gear, cold weather gear, sunscreen). At least you can put your bug spray in the bag for a while as it's too high for the sandflies. If you are lucky enough to get a sunny day like we had, the views are some of the best I've seen in the world.

Though we stopped at Luxmore hut only for a quick pit stop, it looked pretty flash with a few separate bunk rooms. However, it is fairly exposed, so if it's a particularly windy night you may be kept up by the noise. After Luxmore it is a long way down. We actually ran much of it as this tired our legs and knees less than walking. Over 10 km from the peak, you descend 1100 meters. Do your strength training before hiking the Kepler, your knees will thank you.

5 km from the Kepler carpark you come upon Brod Bay campground. You'll find a lot of campers just there on an overnight from Te Anau. We found there to be slightly less sandflies than some areas of Fiordland at this campsite, but they were still outnumbering us a million to one. The campground is quite scenic, but we didn't stay long as we were shattered from our epic 2 days. The 5 km to our car felt like it took forever, as our feet were swollen from the heat and downhill, making our boots suddenly 2 sizes too small. We were very happy we hadn't chosen to walk the 2 km from town, as I don't think we would have made it.

Overall, the Kepler is tied for top place with the Norther Circuit for our Great Walk rankings. It was logistically easy, we had phenomenal weather, and the views were majestical (yes, this is a word if you've seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople - if you haven't, do so now).

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