New Zealand is well known for having great places to hike. New Zealanders generally refer to hiking as tramping, but that just conjures up images of homeless people every time I say it. My friend Craig, my sister and I have all been wanting to hike the Kepler Track for quite a while now and so we booked onto it from Sunday 21st to Wednesday 23rd December.
The Kepler Track is a 60km circuit in the Kepler Mountains close to Te Anau in Fiordland. It normally takes about 3-4 days to hike, although every December there is a race called the Kepler Challenge, in which people actually run it! The winner this year finished in 4h 56m 24s - absolutely crazy!
The Kepler Track is one of the New Zealand Great Walks (as designated by the Department of Conservation, I think). The highest point is the Luxmore Saddle at 1400m and the lowest point is the track by Lake Manapouri at 180m. Whilst many NZ tracks have evolved from old Maori or pioneer routes, the Kepler Track was established pretty recently - in 1988, to ease the strain on the popular Milford and Routeburn tracks. It is apparently named after Johannes Kepler, as are the surrounding mountains. He was a German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer from the 17th Century. I've no idea what he has to do with this area of Fiordland!
The Kepler Mountains are made up of metamorphic and plutonic rocks from deep in the earth's crust, on top of which are sediments such as limestone, formed when the area sank below sea level before being raised again. There were also lots of glaciers in the area for thousands of years, which carved the U-shaped valleys, fiords and lakes you can see in the area now.
The forest is mainly beech (silver and red) and podocarp, such as rimu and totara, with lots of ferns and mosses on the forest floor. Above the treeline the landscape is mostly covered with snow tussocks.
We opted to do the track in 3 days and 2 nights - mostly because of the exorbitant cost of staying in the track huts ($45 each per night!) - rather than over 3 nights which would have allowed us a slower pace. This meant we would start at the Lake Te Anau Control Gates (as most people do) but would finish at Rainbow Reach, cutting out the last couple of hours of track (which I've walked before anyway). Day 3 would be by far the longest distance, so it makes it a bit easier to finish at Rainbow Reach.
I will post my photos from my 3 day Kepler Track hike in the next 3 posts to follow shortly. Hope you like!