One of the most repeated pieces of advice I was given before starting the Kepler Track was to be prepared for all weather. In the mountains, the weather can change in an instant, and we experienced just that on the first night on the trek, at Luxmore Hut.
Within 15 minutes of arriving back from our detour down Luxmore Caves rain pelted down, and continued to hammer down on the roof all night. The wind picked up, and more than once everyone in the bunkhouse was awakened to the sound of the windows a-rattlin’ from the winds. By morning, the rains were still going strong, and we waited until 11:00 in the morning to set off, under the advice of the hut warden, Peter Jackson (like the Lord of the Rings director, but not really).
‘The views from the top of the mountain ridge are what make the Kepler Track so spectacular,’ he explained. ‘Wait a while here, see if it clears up, and then you can properly enjoy the walk.’
After delaying our departure for three hours though, and more and more hikers from the beginning of the trail arriving into the hut absolutely dripping from the rain, we decided to put on our big girl panties and step into the storm.
Undoubtedly Peter Jackson/not Peter Jackson was right; all the photos advertising the Kepler Track are taken from the second day of the trail, when hikers can enjoy panoramic views of deep blue sounds contrasting sharply against mountainous terrain, all while hiking along a needlepoint ridge. Sadly for us, the beginning of the trail from the Luxmore Hut was completely shrouded in mist, which might not have been so bad had there not been lots of warnings for landslides every few metres.
Still, one of the unique aspects of hiking in New Zealand is the opportunity to see plants and animals not found anywhere else on the planet. As an island that was largely undisturbed until only the past couple hundred years, there is so much wildlife in New Zealand that is endemic to these islands. And despite the rain and fog, the mountains on the Kepler Track provided some otherworldly landscapes for us.
After two hours of walking along ridges in the rain and wind, we managed to have a break at the Forest Burn emergency shelter. This basic shelter offers a respite from the weather, but as all hikers had the same idea as us, we quickly departed. Luckily though, the clouds started to dissipate, and just in time, too.
On a clear day, hikers have panoramic views of the Murchison Mountains and Lake Te Anau. Not only that, but the Kepler Track stretches for miles onto a narrow ridge, which offers plenty of epic photography spots along the trail.
The best reason though? Kea parrots!
These adorable, mischievous and clever birds are the only mountain parrot found in the world, and are endemic to New Zealand. Not only that, but they’re an endangered species, mostly because their intelligence and curiosity for new things often lands them in hot water. They love meeting humans, mainly because they are a source of amusement for them; be on guard though, they WILL try and steal your stuff.
They had figured out how to open zips, and would not hesitate to rip open your bag with their sharp beak or claws to get to your snacks and trinkets. However tempting it is though, or however much the kea beg though, it’s best not to feed them, as a lot of human food makes them sick and can kill them.
We spent hours playing with the kea on the ridge – or rather, they spent hours playing with us. After some time though, we took the perilously steep stairs down the ridge and back into the forests.
A couple hours later we arrived at the Iris Burn Hut. Set at the foot of the mountains with a waterfall nearby, it is the perfect place to spend an afternoon, an afternoon that happened to be New Year’s Eve for us. The hut wardens broke out a bottle of whisky and we all improvised on shot glasses to celebrate and ring in the new year. After an epic day of hiking 15 km, we had a lot to celebrate.