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Two Teens, Ten Days - Routeburn & Kepler Track (Part II)

Posted by Trek and Travel Staff on

By Stephanie Ho

[T&T's youngest staff member Stephanie (16) and her friend (15) continue their first unsupervised multi-day hike in New Zealand. Read the first part of their adventure here.]

After re-organising our bags for the next 4 days, we were off to hike the Kepler track, a 60km circuit ranging from beech forest to exposed ridgelines. We caught the 10 minute shuttle ride to the start of the track and began the 14km day winding through the forest floor. It felt good to be back in the hands of Mother Nature, with Lake Te Anau glistening through the trees on our right and the morning sun rays gently landing on our faces, it was quite the idyllic atmosphere. After 6km of tramping bordering the lake, we began the slow ascent to Luxmore hut, which involved 900m of vertical gain and consistently steep switchbacks. My mate is out in front and sets a cracking pace. After two and a half hours, we emerge out of the dense forest as we clear the bush line. The views are stunning; we could see the town which we had departed from early that morning, almost as if we were looking out of a plane window. The alpine tussocks extended endlessly and we could see the track kilometers ahead.

Above the bushline, heading towards Luxmore hut

Upon our arrival at Luxmore hut, we settled into a bunk of our choosing (we were one of the first to have arrived there) and made ourselves a nice cup of tea. This was complemented by picture-perfect views of the Murchison mountains from the dining area. After getting settled in, we donned our head torches and made the short trip over to the Luxmore caves. Here, we entered into a cool and sensitive environment, where speleothems and a gentle running stream were hidden from the outside world. We felt privileged to have been granted access to this fragile region and treaded carefully in order to ensure minimal impact. After descending as far as we could without getting claustrophobic, we stopped to take in the features around us.

Stephanie near the opening of Luxmore Caves

After exploring the caves, we headed back to the hut to catch the sunset over Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. It was the best view anyone could ask for and the clear weather seemed like it was there to stay for the next few days. Later that night, the warden took everyone in the hut to the helicopter pad, situated 100m or so from the hut to reward us with magnificent views of the stars. Using his laser beam, he pointed out the various constellations and planets and told us of the auroras that could be spotted at around midnight. We decided to catch some kip early, as we were conscious of the long day tomorrow; 15km of tramping over alpine ridgelines and a 1000m vertical descent to the next shelter.

View of the sunset from the hut

The next morning brought with it a few clouds in the distance and, following a carb-filled brekky, we headed out into the cold. The track wound over alpine passes and ridgelines, where we knew each ascent would be shortly followed by a descent. As always, the views never failed to impress. We stared in awe at the grandeur of the environment around us and struggled to take in all the scenery. Having been amongst the first trekkers to leave the hut, there was not another person in sight, and I found the isolation strangely peaceful and calming.

About an hour into the hike, we had reached the base of Mt Luxmore. It was approximately a 20 minute return climb/scramble which would take us to the highest point on the track. Five minutes in, the wind started to pick up and the early morning rays were replaced by low, fast-moving clouds. We struggled to stay upright, a major concern since there were steep drops on either side, and after a couple of slips, decided it was only safe to head back down. I could see the summit from where I was standing and was disappointed that if we had only arrived here ten minutes earlier, we would have made it. Nevertheless, I took a quick shot and proceeded back down without question.

Attempting to summit Mt Luxmore - 1472m

We continued on over seemingly endless mountain ridges, embracing the harsh but beautiful environment. There were a couple of welcome emergency shelters along the way where we could briefly take refuge from the deteriorating weather. There was still a fair bit of snow as well and the cold temperatures combined with the wind chill meant that we had to keep moving to ward off hypothermia. {Photo at the top of the page}

Following a steep descent from the last emergency shelter, we had hit the bushline again. From here, it would take us a lot longer than expected to descend 1000m (mostly due to my bad knees), where with the constant switchbacks, I was jealous of my mate’s trekking poles. After a few hours of sore knees and stinging feet, we finally arrived at Iris Burn hut. Even though we were one of the last to arrive, we found a couple of spare bunks and settled back into hut life. We took our shoes outside in an attempt to dry them, after having been wet since day 2 of the trip, but quickly changed our mind - a swarm of sandflies bombarded every exposed surface of us and our shoes! With another long day behind us, we slept like a log, waking up to a fair few bites despite having applied generous amounts of DEET.

The next couple of days were relatively easy, similar to our previous hike (Routeburn track), where after an exciting couple of days in the mountains we tramped across the forest floor. The highlight of the third day was the big slip, a wide bowl with mountains on either side. It almost felt like we had entered into another region altogether, with a mixture of both beech forest and shrubs amongst an open landscape. The low clouds added to the aesthetics of the scene, a perfect time for photos!

The Big Slip

The last day was a short one, only 6km. This would take us to the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach where we would catch a shuttle back into town. Even though the terrain was flat and the weather was accommodating, I couldn’t help but notice the hot spots developing on my feet. I had worn thick merino socks over the past few days but they had gotten so wet I decided to wear the only dry socks I had - liners. With a couple of millimeters of fabric between my foot and shoe, this did not help to ward off blisters. As we tramped the final steps towards the end of the track, I wondered how many blisters I had accumulated, but the pain was soon overcome by an inexplicable sense of accomplishment.

Completion of the second hike - Kepler Track

We had just completed an adventure I never thought could be achieved so soon. The opportunity to be given 10 days to fly overseas, plan our own trip and do what we loved best - being amongst nature and going on the ultimate alpine adventure was more than incredible. On the drive back into town I was still grinning from ear to ear. Forever thinking of the future, I was already planning my next adventure.

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