New Year’s Day saw us on the final stretch of the Kepler Track, with slightly sore heads and awaking to the call of kea parrots. Jess and Robbie, the hut wardens, had warned everyone the night before to bring their boots and waterproofs in before bed. Apparently the kea parrots had found a new game with which to entertain themselves – stealing the insoles and laces from the boots of unsuspecting hikers.
Unlike the first two days of the Kepler Track, which leads from beech forest up steep incline into the mountains, and then along a long ridge, the last day of the Kepler Track is fairly sedate. The route follows a low saddle through a valley with mountains and waterfalls on either side, until you reach Moturau Hut about 16 km later. With the beach only a stone’s throw from the hut, it is an ideal place to relax and enjoy a more leisurely day of hiking. Or, if you’re masochists like us, you’ll stop for a short lunch and continue the final 6 km of the trail to the Rainbow Reach car park!
On the last day we rose early and left the more hardcore partiers to their recovery slumber. It was hours before we ran into any other hikers, and a symphony of bird calls followed us as we wandered along. It felt as though we had the entirety of the park to ourselves.
Well, if by ourselves you also include the mosquitos – remember to pack layers or repellent people!
Halfway along the walk the Kepler Track passes the spot where a freak landslide occured in the 1980s. The trail then descends into a gorge, and then beech forest, before emerging onto the beautiful sandy shore of Lake Manapouri. Here we stopped for an early lunch (and toilet!) break. Lounging in the sun and resting tired limbs on the sand made it difficult to move, but the allure of a shower and meal that was not pasta was too good to delay, and after an hour or so we were back on the road again.
Officially the Kepler Track finishes at the Kepler Track car park, which is another 9.5 km on top of the 6 km to the Rainbow Reach car park and 16 km between Iris Burn Hut and Moturau Hut. However this also depends on where you start the trail.
The stretch between Moturau Hut and the Rainbow Reach car park is unlike any other environment seen on the Kepler Track. The trail meanders through ancient wetland, which offers a glimpse of what the landscape of New Zealand looked like millions of years before humans rocked up on its shore. This ecosystem is fragile and many unusual flora and fauna depend on it for their existence. It is possible to catch a peek at rare birds or insects here, but patience is key.
Eventually the Kepler Track meanders out of the wetland landscape and into small hilly landscape, with some scenic views of rivers and rapids. At the final stretch, over the bridge and into the Rainbow Reach Car Park, we paused and reflected over all the dramatic scenery, interesting people and curious critters we encountered over the past few days. It seemed as if the Kepler Track reflected all the best parts of New Zealand in miniature, and despite our grubby, smelly bodies and sore legs, our feet were itching to explore more of this amazing country.