We didn’t realize it at the time, but later learned that Saturday was the best day of the season, so far, on the Kepler Track. The Kepler is one of three Great Walks in the Fiordlands and considered by some to be the best, although the Milford Track (refer to previous post about it’s popularity) has the official title as the greatest tramp in the world (we aren’t sure who is evaluating these hikes–probably someone from NZ =)). We were so excited for the good weather and had been waiting for weeks for a clearing in the Fiordlands. It was worth the wait. We traveled by water taxi to cut out the first 6 km of flat land because we wanted to make sure we could make the 20 km alpine ridge crossing on the best day possible.
The first hour of the hike felt similar to our Clif bar days with nearly 100 trail runners passing us as we hiked up the mountain and they ran down it–only we didn’t have Clif Shot to hand out so we just cheered them on instead. This annual race brings crazy people from all over the world to run either the 60 km (about 37 miles, going up a mile vertically) Kepler loop or the 27 km (about 17 miles) half Kepler. We were slowed down a bit in our ascent, but it was fun to see the action. After we were clear of the crowds and the treeline, we began to see why this hike ranks among the best.
Our first stop along the journey to our campsite for the night was the Luxmore Hut which has a view of the Lake Te Anau and the beginning of the Kepler mountain range. It was a good place to stop for lunch. We met a couple from Texas and talked oil/gas (his line of business) over our food. We also found the Spanish body double for Michael and Brian Greller (you have to morph the two of them to make this work). This stop wasn’t long as we could tell the views were only going to get better. And boy were we right! We have been struggling to find new descriptive words to explain the incredible beauty of New Zealand, but we keep coming back to the same ones: amazing, brilliant, awesome, flippin’ sweet (oh, that one’s new), and on occassion, boss (which we are trying to get going in NZ, it’s not catching on so well).
Leaving the Luxmore Hut we had a big ascent ahead of us up to the top of Mt. Luxmore which is just over 5200 feet. The work of climbing felt easy with the views we were given the entire way. We made it to the top and spent almost an hour soaking in the sun and 360 degrees of mountains. This hike was our slowest to date. We ran into a hiker who encouraged us to take our time as the five hours of ridge line views were worth staying around for. We took this advice to heart and turned on a tortoise pace, getting the most out of the scenery. When we made it to the last spot with really great views we even considered eating dinner there, but realized we were both out of water and still had two hours of hiking remaining. As we were sitting quietly and just about ready to leave we both heard this whirring sound that was getting louder and louder. We looked up and saw a glider plane no more than 150 meters overhead soaring by gracefully. It was such a nice change from the buzzing of the helicopter tours that had been flying on occasion. It made four more passes before flying away. So, after an hour of snacking, taking photos until our fingers were raw, and being entertained by a glider plane, we made the steep descent to our campground, concluding nine hours on the trail. Unfortunately, John had to put in another 2 miles as he realized he dropped the lens hood to our camera on the trail and he decided to go back to look for it… found it!
The sky was clear that night, giving the opportunity for another night sky photograph. This is one is our favorite so far and took 18 minutes to capture the photo.
Day two was a much easier day. No real climbing, just a casual 12 mile stroll to our exit. The highlight of the day was watching and photographing the fantail birds that fly so lightly, just like butterflies. It almost seemed like they would land on you as they flew right up to your face and then floated away. They appeared curious about us and stayed around for quite awhile. We made it to the exit in time to catch our ride back to the carpark and we were on our way, leaving Te Anau and moving on to Queenstown where we have a day of rest before we hop on the Routeburn Track, another of the Fiordland Great Walks.
For more pictures check Flickr