Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Kepler Track

One of New Zealand's great walks, the Kepler Track had been one of the first things on my to do list when I first planned to go to New Zealand, as it was more accessible and doable out of season when compared to the possibly more famous Milford Track.  As always, it didn't disappoint.

It was a tricky business squeezing-in 3 main trips in the Fjordland into weather-windows of good weather in the wettest part of New Zealand.  I managed things pretty well.  The first challenge was to figure-out how I could first do the Kepler Track and then have two good-weather days in order to get to Milford Sound and back.  I decided to risk the Kepler Track with a slightly dodgy weather forecast and go to Milford Sound on the two best days forecast for the week. This meant, however, doing the whole track in 2 days.

The Kepler Track is 60Km long, but I also had about a 5Km hike to get to the starting point.  So with the extra 5Km on the way back also, I needed to hike a total of approximately 70Km in 2 days.  This was not easy, especially when it is on mountainous terrain with lots of steep ascents.

I started as early as I possibly could, and the forecast for the first day was mixed, supposedly sunny spells, with the odd spot of rain and possibly snow on higher ground. The day before, I was safely in my hostel because of torrential rain, and this rain fell as snow in the mountains.  I was a little worried that this might have made the hike a little dangerous.

The track went right along the ridge, very exposed in bad weather, but awesome for views.

Luckily, there was no snow on the mountain passes before the downpour, so the fresh snow simply made the mountains and ridgelines more spectacular-looking.  The weather also lived-up to its forecast, with enough sunny spells and breaks in the clouds for the scenery to open-up all around me.  On the long traverse across the ridge, it was simply amazing.

I was making good time, but still had plenty of time to savour my surroundings and even do a little side-trip to a secluded waterfall.  Again, I saw few others attempting the hike, but about 6 or 7 hikers and a team of park rangers converged at the end of the day to spend a night in the same hut I was staying in.  The rangers were preparing the huts for the start of the Great Walks season, which was beginning after another couple of weeks.  Teams of them basically hike out to the huts and service them, reconnecting the gas supply, opening-up flush toilets, making sure they were all clean and tidy, that sort of thing.  Not a bad job, I reckon.

You can just about see an emergency hut camouflaged in the foreground. 

Every other hiker I met was doing the track over 4 days, which meant they had started in the god-awful weather the day previously.  However, I knew that day 2 on this hike for me wasn't going to be too pleasant.  The forecast was for rain all day again, which I knew already, but I had planned the hike so I would be traversing the ridge in the best weather, and that worked out very well.  All I had to do was put up with getting very wet in the trees on the way back down.

In heavy snow, I reckon the trail would have been a little hazardous.

I do quite enjoy forests in the rain, but 35Km in the rain was always going to be a little miserable.  Towards the end of the hike, being cold, wet, and exhausted, saying that the last few kilometres dragged a little would be quite the understatement.  Still, a degree of misery is part of the appeal of long hikes, runs, and bikes, and this year in particular, I have got quite used to this feeling.

Another stunning hike done, I now had a weather window of two days for my trip to Milford Sound.  I was hoping that using different muscles on the bike would mean that the exertion of the hike wouldn't affect me too much, as I had over 120Km to do to get there with some of the most severe climbs of the trip as well.  By this time, though, I could feel myself getting stronger, not a surprise given what I was putting my body through.  Turns out, there was plenty just off the road to keep me distracted from the physical effort.

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