Our Easter weekend was spectacular! Here in New Zealand, both the Friday before and the Monday after Easter are public holidays.We also took Thursday off, meaning we had a 5 day weekend! With all that time, we decided to do the Kepler Track.
We travelled to Te Anau with two friends we’ve made while living here, Nick and Hilde. Nick is originally from the UK and Hilde is from The Netherlands. They moved to Christchurch about 3 months before us and we met through work. Nick and I (Evan) work together at Tait.
On Wednesday night, after work, we drove 6 hours down to Queenstown. We spent our last night in civilization staying at the YHA in Queenstown. It would be our last shower and comfortable bed for 3 nights. We woke up early the next morning and drove the remaining 2 hours to Te Anau, where the hike begins.
Morgan’s excellent video of our trip:
Our first day was brilliant. We had sunny skies and a cool breeze. The first 6 km (3.8 miles) were nice and flat and went along the banks of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in New Zealand. We then turned and began our climb up the mountain.
Although the trail was not extremely steep, we consistently moved uphill for the next 9km (about 5.5 miles). Our total elevation climb was 850 meters, which was hard work with 30 pounds on our backs! Once we got above the tree line, however, the views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains were beautiful. We reached the hut around 4:30 and which bunks we wanted to sleep in for the night.
On the Kepler track, there are 3 huts for people to stay in. Each one is limited to 40 or 50 people. The huts have twin sized bunk beds, gas stoves, and flush toilets. You bring your own cooking tools and there are no showers. So it isn’t the Ritz, but it was great to be out of the wind and we were sure happy to save the extra pounds a tent would have weighed on our shoulders!
Our second day was even more beautiful than the first. Although we didn’t expect it, this day was very challenging. We climbed another 600 meters and fought against 50-60mph winds. Frankly, it was epic.
The views were insane. We moved from mountain top to mountain top, and could see 360 degrees all around us. The lakes stretched out amongst the glacier shaped mountains to create spectacular panoramas.
To finish the day we descended a very steep slope. In fact, I counted 99 switchbacks! By the time we reached the Iris Burn hut we were exhausted. We made dinner, devoured it, and did our best to stay awake until 9pm before sleeping a solid 10 hours.
The third day was the easiest, speaking from a terrain perspective. Although it was our longest hike at 11 miles, 95% of the hike was a gentle downhill slope that followed the river.
From a, “our bodies are in pain” perspective, however, it was rather difficult. Our shoulders, hips, backs, and especially feet were screaming at us. We also had collected some excellent sandfly bites.
If you’ve never met a New Zealand sandfly, be grateful. They are like mosquitos, except their bites itch more and last longer. Despite their best efforts, we managed to press on, and even took time to enjoy the scenery.
We started by hiking an extra 2 miles (without packs) to the Iris burn falls. It was a refreshing way to start out the morning. The Iris burn hut actually had my favorite view of the trip. We were placed in the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains that had been carved by glaciers. Standing below them is both inspiring and humbling.
My favorite part of the actual hike was “The Big Slip.” In the 1980’s, a massive landslide occurred and left a rather tall cliff in addition to clearing out the trees. Therefore, it has since been called, “The Big Slip”. The mountain view around us was great.
Our final hut was called Moturau. It was positioned nicely on Lake Manapouri and surrounded, as you might expect, with mountains.
Our final day on the Kepler was an easy one. we only had to hike 3.5 miles more and it was nice and flat. The forests we walked through were so beautiful and, at least to me, exotic. Ferns filled the forest floor in all directions, and the beach trees were ancient. The area felt sacred in a way.
One small landmark was the Dead Marshes. If you’ve seen the Two Towers, this is where Gollum leads Frodo and Sam on their way to Mordor. We chose not to jump into the bog ourselves, but we did take a picture.
We finished the track, took a shuttle back to our car, and then drove to Queenstown. The first mission was to eat a Fergburger, home of the best burger in New Zealand (in my opinion anyway). I enjoyed a Big Mouth burger, which had 1/2 pound of Angus beef, American streaky bacon, and a whole lot of cheese.
Our second mission was to shower – we had been 4 days in the wilderness without one! We did wash our faces in the sink (the water was freezing) and I actually went for an 8 second swim in Lake Manapouri (the water was freezing), but nothing can replace a nice hot shower. We relaxed for the afternoon with Nick and Hilde and slept rather well that night.
Since we were in Queenstown, we wanted to do something fun. Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. We were feeling rather drained, so we didn’t go all out by bungy jumping or skydiving. We did, however, ride the gondola up to the top of a small mountain in Queenstown.
From there we had great views of the beautiful town. We also rode the luge 3 times, which was certainly a fun ride. You drive little carts down a curvy raceway. I of course won each race because I was well stocked with red turtle shells, mushroom boosts, and star power.
We then had a 6 hour drive back home. We stopped at Lake Pukaki and took in one of the best views of Mount Cook I’ve ever seen. Lake Pukaki is shockingly blue and the sky was so clear.
All in all, it was an excellent adventure. While it was difficult, we are really happy we did it and are eagerly planning our next Great Walk.