Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fiordland Adventures - Kepler Track

Louisa, my old housemate from Canberra, came over to New Zealand to visit. We flew in to Dunedin, and then took a bus to Te Anau in Fiordland, southwest of the South Island. A couple of years ago Louisa, Alison and I had done the south coast track in Tasmania and Lou and I thought it was about time we had another multiday tramping adventure. This time we were walking the four day Kepler Great Walk in Fiordland. Unfortunately Aaron couldn't come as he has only just started his new job - so he hasn't earned any holidays yet. He prefers biking to tramping anyway!

Day 1
We set off from Te Anau, picked up our tickets for the huts from the Department of Conservation office, checked out the birds at the wildlife centre and then started on our tramp around the edge of the lake. The walk officially starts from the dam/control gates at the south of the lake, but we walked the 4 km from town. Most of the first day of the walk goes through beautiful beech forests along the lake edge and then heads up the hill in a series of steep switch backs to the tree line. Then it is a gentle climb up to the Mt Luxmore hut. The weather was looking pretty grey when we left Te Anau, but the clouds came and went and there was only a little bit of rain. However when we got to the tree line we walked the rest of the way in the clouds. We arrived at the hut, dumped our bags and went out to explore some caves near the hut. The weather also cleared and we got some wonderful views down to the southern arm of Lake Te Anau.

Louisa at the official start of the Kepler Track

The well maintained track through the beech forest

Stalactites/flowstones in the cave

View of Lake Te Anau from the Mt Luxmore hut

Day 2
After a rather noisy and cool night at Mt Luxmore hut we waited to see what the weather forecast was before setting off up the hill to Mt Luxmore. I guess there are advantages and disadvantages of staying in the huts. The main advantage is that you only have to carry your sleeping bag, clothes, food and pots and pans, but the disadvantage is that you have to share with people who stay up late, get up early and you definitely don't get as much sleep as you would like!

The cloud was pretty low and our view from the top of Mt Luxmore was a sea of white/grey! But most of the way along the track the clouds were just above us and we got some fleeting views of the Lake below and along the ridge. It was quite spectacular with the clouds adding to the atmosphere and contrasting with the green forests and blue lake below. It wasn't as windy as we expected, but quite cool, so we had our rain jackets on most of the way along the top to protect us from the wind. We had been warned that we might see keas (the mountain parrot), but obviously they were shy. Soon we were heading down back into the trees through a series of tight, steep switch backs down to the Iris Burn Valley.

Crazy clouds

Louisa walking along the ridge with the view down to Lake Te Anau

We got to the Iris Burn hut and again selected our beds and dumped our packs and headed out again to head up the valley to the Iris Burn waterfall. It it nice to walk without a pack and just loosen up the legs at the end of the day. We didn't stay long at the waterfall as there were quite a few sandflies around. These are the scourge of Fiordland, and well known for ruining a tramp. We were very lucky that because it had been cool and windy we really didn't have too many problems with sandflies on the whole tramp.

Iris Burn waterfall

That night, after our delicious meal of tuna and pasta, we spent a couple of hours playing cards with a bunch of Israeli guys and a dutch couple. We were surprised how many Israeli's we met, but supposedly it is very common to travel after you finish your military service and Australia and New Zealand are popular destinations. Once it got dark, around 9:30pm, Louisa and I went out "Spotlighting" to search for kiwis. Supposedly a male and female live in the clearing in front of the hut and the hut warden played us their calls, so we knew what to listen for. Unfortunately we didn't seen any kiwis, but we did see a deer (a feral pest in Fiordland) and a morepork (a native owl).

Day 3
After a slightly quieter night in the hut, we set off down the Iris Burn valley. Most of the track was through more beech forests, with lots of ferns, fungi, but not many birds or wildlife. The track had a couple of detours as a result of landslides. We followed the river down the valley until we reached Manapori Lake - claimed to be the most beautiful lake in New Zealand. We walked along the side of the lake and reached the hut. What an idyllic location for a hut, about 20 m from the lake. The weather had finally cleared up and it was relatively warm and sunny, although the wind had picked up and there were some significant waves on the lake. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the beach and braving a brief swim in the cool waters of the lake - very refreshing, especially after 3 days of walking and no showers!

Fungi in the forest

Lake Manapori

Day 4
Last day of the tramp. We set off and soon left the edge of Lake Manapori and headed through some wetlands and down to the river that connects Lake Te Anau with Lake Manapori. We walked along the edge of the river until we were back at the control gates. There was a lot more foot traffic along this section, with lots of day walkers. From the control gates we strolled back to Te Anau along the lake front. Back at the hostel we had a quick shower and then headed down to the pub for a beer and some hot chips. The perfect way to end a long walk!

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