| The Kepler Track and Mt. Luxmore
And a hike of Mount Luxmore - 4,829 feet
Feb 10, 2011 - Feb 13, 2011
Kepler Track DOC page
"The Kepler Track is a 60 km, 3-4 day loop track taking you from the gentle, beech-forested shores of lakes Te Anau and Manapouri to the tussocky alpine tops and grand Mt Luxmore. Your reward for the hill climb is a long section above bushline with marvelous panoramic views of the Kepler Mountains on one side, and lakes, rivers and hanging valleys on the other."
We wanted to go on a big adventure for our honeymoon. After about 3.6 seconds (maybe less) of thought, Kate said we should go to New Zealand. I didn't know much about it except that it was far away and it served as the backdrop to a few movies. And that backdrop was spectacular. Kate did most (like 99%) of the planning and she did a great job.
We flew to Sydney and spent a couple of days seeing the sights and petting a koala or two. Then we headed to New Zealand. Our first night in NZ was spent on a bench outside the Auckland airport. The next day we flew to Queenstown where we rented a car and took a trip on the Skyline Gondola. I think you can also walk up to the observation deck on the side of the mountain, but the gondola was nice and the views were great.
After lunch in town, we drove (on the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road) to Te Anau. This is a nice small town with a couple of great restaurants. Te Anau is a good place to stay if you're exploring the area. Note - Everything is more expensive in NZ, even after factoring in currency exchange rates ...
We weren't out for a luxury trip. That's not usually our style. In Te Anau (before our trek) we stayed at a hostel, which served our purposes just fine. There are a few hotels in town, too. None are 5-star, but they will do. Most things in town are walking distance.
We headed to the Department of Conservation (DOC) office in town, right on the lake, to ask some questions about the hike. The lady looked at us like we were crazy when I asked about the dangers of the hike. I wanted to know the basics - weather/thunderstorms and critters that we might want to watch out for. She thought we were nuts. Apparently, there is nothing in NZ that is dangerous. However, while they don't have mosquitoes, they do have sand flies. Billions of sand flies. And their bites are worse - I think - than mosquitoes in that you don't feel them biting you and the bites cause bigger red spots that are itchier and last longer than mosquito bites.
But she was correct - other than some nasty winds on a fairly exposed ridge (not vertical exposure, but it's a pretty steep slope that would send you tumbling for a while...) and sand flies, there were no dangers on the hike.
Anyway, a reservation is necessary for the trek - they limit the number of people at the overnight places, which can be obtained on the DOC website. The DOC office is where you check in for the hike, so you’ll have to go there. Here’s a nice brochure. The brochure has a picture of the hike profile and map on page 3.
The start of the hike – uhhh, I mean, trek is by the (water flow) control gate at the south end of Lake Te Anau. It is possible to walk to the gate from ‘downtown’ Te Anau or you can drive to the TH and park there. Another option is to take a boat from Te Anau to a spot a little ways into the hike. There are also shuttles that will take you to the TH.
You’ll enter the forest soon after you leave the trailhead.
Near the start.
After a while, the steepness of the glacial terrain becomes more and more apparent.
Steep terrain. Looking back.
The trail is easy class 1 – there is a clear, wide, maintained trail the entire way. At times, the trail is board-walked to make the trek easier and to reduce the impact of all the trampers on the land.
Looking ahead from the same spot.
The views open up after a couple of hours walking through the most mossy, green forest I’ve ever seen.
We carried my GPS on the ascent and we noticed that elevation remaining to hike seems to decrease faster in meters than it does in feet. So I kept it in meters…
Also, the signs along the way provided distances in hours, not kilometers.
Bushline – “treeline” – ends abruptly – far more abruptly than in Colorado. There are impressive views in every direction above treeline.
We arrive at the first hut – the Luxmore Hut.
We knew that Mt. Luxmore was up near the Luxmore Hut. Mt. Luxmore is a couple miles farther along the trail from the hut.
We also knew the weather was supposed to get worse the next day so we decided to go to the peak immediately since we had some time.
The views continued to be nice along the way to Mt. Luxmore. Here is Lake Te Anau.
There’s a sign showing the way to the peak. It was about 10 minutes to the top on easy terrain.
Track = Trail
The views from the top were well worth the minimal effort.
There’s also a cave near the hut. I went down into it after summiting Mt. Luxmore, while Kate went back to the hut. I didn’t have my headlamp and the floor was slippery so I didn’t go too far into it, but from what I hear it’s a fairly good-sized cave.
Trampers (their word for hikers) do have the choice to stay in huts or in their own tents, but everyone must sleep in the Luxmore Hut. This is probably because it is above bushline. The hut is simple, but there are at least 2 sleeping rooms, one with bunkbed type beds and another with just flat boards where people can put their sleeping bags. Indoor plumbing at the hut was key. There is also a gathering room that doubles as the kitchen. There’s a deck with a great view.
The people we met were mostly friendly. We brought our standard Colorado-overnight food, Mountain House, while others brought up pasta, zucchini, meat, canned food, etc. (Do not try to bring jerky or other fruit/meat into NZ or Australia. They will likely confiscate it, even though you’ll see the same brands in their grocery stores. Our Mountain House meals were allowed. Also, don’t try to sneak that stuff in; they take it seriously.) Some of our fellow trampers also brought up their own cook pots – not camping cook pots, but something from their kitchen… Their packs must have weighed a ton. Some nice lady saw my pouch meal and offered me some of her cold lamb-on-the-bone. I politely declined, but she insisted. I ate some. I didn’t like it.
If you’re looking to chat with people, meal time is the time for it. We met people from all over the world.
A ranger is stationed at the Luxmore Hut and he gave us weather reports and other info on the hike. One thing that was quite interesting is that they don’t filter or treat water up there. The water that comes out of the kitchen faucets is straight out of a spring. We were told that we could filter the water, but that no one ever does and the ranger never heard of someone getting sick. Oh – and farther along the trek, he said, we’d come to some streams. He said to just drink directly from the streams (but not the lake we’d see on day 3) without filtering. When in Rome… We never used our filter and were fine. The streams were running fast enough that I wasn’t concerned about whatever was in the lake backing up into the stream. The water was some of the best water we’ve tasted.
Views from around the hut were great.
We called it a night.
We woke up and the wind was howling! The weather forecast was right. Winds were 40 – 60 miles per hour. And they were supposed to get worse. Oh well…
We followed the easy trail all day. The ridge was pretty steep in some places. You wouldn’t want to trip and fall off the trail in many places. In fact, they built a couple of boardwalks and stairs going up and down some more difficult/exposed areas.
Kate in the wind.
It was not real fun to be in such high winds with our big packs on. In fact, I remember seeing people crawling along some sections because they didn’t feel secure. This isn’t to say this hike is dangerous, but, again, a fall off the easy trail in some spots would be bad.
You can see the trail on the ridge crest.
The descent came fairly quickly and soon enough we were back in the trees and out of the wind.
We didn’t need much water between stops/streams. Maybe 1 – 2 liters, max, though it wasn’t too warm when we were there.
We arrived at the Iris Burn Hut, but we didn’t have a hut reservation because we brought our tent… If I had this to do again, I’d stay in the huts each night. It costs more, but it was pretty rainy – it rains a lot – and it would have been more fun, dry, and social to stay in the hut…
After some Mountain House, we listened to the rain, killed sand flies, and then drifted off to damp sleep.
We woke up in our damp sleeping bags feeling damp in the damp air and the damp tent. The dead sand flies were our only consolation. There are some picturesque falls near the hut, but the area was closed off due to a recent landslide. The terrain there is so steep that the dirt ‘avalanches’ off the rock from time to time. These slides take the trees with them and leave bare rock behind. Not something we wanted to be around…
A little damp.
I bet those smart people in the hut weren’t so damp…
We got up, had some breakfast, and quickly got on our way.
We were feeling tired and not real energetic this day. This was supposed to be our longest day and it was supposed to be downhill. It was a long day, it trended downhill, but there were many small ups and downs – less than 100 feet each.
The forest was still stunning.
We arrived at the shore of Lake Manapouri, where the Moturau Hut is located.
We stopped for a bit and rested at the lake. I had the knee zippers of my hiking pants partway opened for the hike and the sand flies noticed... My left knee took the brunt of the attack and I had itchy sand fly bites covering almost my entire knee. They stayed with me for about a week after.
As we rested, we decided to hike all the way out. It was only another 15 ish km… That’s like, what, 3 miles? I never was good at math.
So we didn’t unpack our tent; we started down the trail.
A suspension bridge along the route.
We were not attacked.
We hiked to where the bridge over the river, which leads to the Rainbow Reach car park (parking lot), met up with the trail. Here we had a decision – Kate knew of a shuttle that would take us back to town from here. Do we sell out and take the shuttle or continue walking? We took the shuttle. Hey – we were on vacation!
That didn’t sit real well with us that night. We were only tired, not facing bad or dangerous conditions... We decided to drive back to the Rainbow Reach car park the next day and finish the hike. Because we didn’t have 2 cars, we did an out and back totaling ~19 km.
We had to cross back over the suspension bridge to get to the trail from the car park. The weather this day was great.
View from the bridge
I would stay in the huts if I did this again. Unless you’re really motivated to camp out, the extra weight and space of a taking a tent to NZ and back isn’t worth it – to me. Others will have other opinions.
Take your time on the hike and enjoy the scenery. There aren’t afternoon thunderstorms to worry about.
Places we liked in Te Anau:
- Olive Tree Café – It has great coffee and a good breakfast.
- Sandfly Café – We went there once. Ok, but I think we concluded that Olive Tree was better.
- La Toscana – Italian
- Redcliff – A little fancier
- The Ranch – Bar food
After Te Anau, we hiked Avalanche Peak from Arthur’s Pass.
From there we spent a couple days in Mt. Cook Village. Our next NZ trip will include a summit attempt of that beautiful mountain.
Check out Milford Sound while you're in the area. It’s very touristy, but beautiful!
And if you’re into wine, the Barossa Valley in Australia, near Adelaide, is awesome. We spent several days there at the end of our trip.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):