New Zealand has 9 Great Walks scattered throughout the country (my last post about Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of them). Of the 9, though, 3 particular tracks are concentrated around Fiordland National Park on the south island: Milford, Routeburn and Kepler. Recently I walked 52.6km of the Kepler Track over three days. This trail was created to ease pressure off the other two Great Walks in the area, but now over 8,000 people per year make the journey (only a few thousand less than the others).
Eerily similar to Patagonia, the weather proved to be as wild and challenging in this corner of the world. The day with the notoriously epic views started and ended with rain, allowing for dramatic moments above and in the clouds, but no summit of Mt Luxmore.
The two nights were spent in reserved huts along the route. They were equipped with gas stoves, mattresses on bunk beds and water, which really helped with my pack weight! While I walked the 50+km alone, at night there were dozens of friendly faces to play cards or swap stories with. It was quite the experience. Already I’m planning a future ‘9 Great Walks’ trip in my head. (Click on the image to the left to see my route in red. The purple portion back to the car-park I opted out of.)
Here is the breakdown of the three days:
Day 1 (15.8k): Te Anau hostel to Luxmore Hut. The track went along the lake with plenty of ferns to remind me of Seattle. It then ascended over 3k feet through beech trees and around limestone cliffs before crossing the tree line. Once at the hut, there was a a 10 minute sidetrip to a cave.
Day 2 (14.6k): Lux. Hut to Iris Burn Hut. The rain started overnight and didn’t stop until 30 minutes past the summit side-trial. I crossed the saddle in and out of clouds before descending 97 switchbacks (or 24 stoat traps) to shelter. Not 3 minutes after I arrived the rain started back up again! A small bit of luck on a very unlucky weather day.
Day 3 (22.2k): Iris Hut to Rainbow Reach shuttle point. A relatively flat walk through a gorge, along lake Manapouri, beech forest and wetlands. Crossing the final swingbridge to the parking lot felt fantastic!