Kepler Track winter version
27 June – 1 July 2018
Going down to Fiordland in winter for a circuit around the Kepler Track was Peter’s idea. Last year, he scheduled it for the third week in July and got it organised. A winter trip is obviously going to be more scenic and is also outside of the May – October Great Walk tourist season.
The concerning bit is avalanche risk in soft snow on north facing slopes. But the weather was even more of a factor. July 21st got closer and so did the major storm that flooded the East Coast and in particular, Oamaru. So much for that. Then we rescheduled it for 7-12 September, but the weather was again a no go. Try again next year.
This year we almost got it right; scheduling the start of the trip for Saturday 30th June, then bringing it forward to Wednesday 27th to suit what was looking like a reasonable weather window. Our plan was:
- Wednesday: Drive down to Te Anau. It’s a long way; 660km+. Going down we took the coastal route via Balclutha and Gore arriving at the Te Anau Top Ten Holiday Park after 5.00pm.
- Thursday: To position our vehicle at the lower end of the Kepler Track, drive to Rainbow Reach carpark, walk two hours up the Waiau River to the control gates, then around the lake to the track to Brod Bay, then up to Luxmore Hut above the bushline.
- Friday: This was our planned day in the snow. From Luxmore Hut up around the back of Mt Luxmore, drop to the first shelter, climb again and along the ridge to the second shelter. Then south on the ridge before dropping west again to the bushline and on down to Iris Burn Hut for the night.
- Saturday: Being below the snowline, an easier day down Iris Burn and around Shallow Bay to Moturau Hut for the night, putting us within an hour’s walk out to our vehicle in the morning.
- Sunday: Walk out and drive home. But it didn’t quite turn out like that.
The snow from the previous week was still down in the bush, but above the bushline it had been mostly compacted by a surprising number of day visitors up to Luxmore Hut. Not only day trippers; there were two groups of tourists at the hut that night. We had learnt during the day that there is actually a warden at this hut over the ‘closed’ season, so we were not surprised to meet Helen, but very pleased to find that she supplied wood for the logburner each day, and we could have mattresses on the floor in the living area. So a comfortable evening, but then our first change of plan. John had struggled up through the upper bush, and decided he might not cope with tomorrow’s trip, so he would return to Te Anau, stay at the Top Ten and meet us on Sunday morning.
On a fine, calm morning with the lake under valley cloud below, we parted company with John and headed up track at 9.10am. A bit late as it turned out. Once beyond where the tourists had gone, Peter and Raymond were plugging steps in the soft snow, mostly 300-400mm deep, i.e. fairly slow going. Up and around the northern spur from Mt Luxmore and to the saddle beyond, we plugged on and eventually started descending. Rounding a corner at 12.30pm, we could see the Forest Burn Shelter maybe twenty minutes below and the snow covered route ahead sidling somewhere up the face beyond, before it gained the ridge and disappeared out of sight. Being concerned at our progress, we took the prudent option – stopped for lunch, consulted the map, and debated the likely timing. At 1.00pm after lunch, with four hours good daylight left but allowing for the unknown, we decided to return to Luxmore Hut. Sure; that might have been conservative. We won’t know, but the changed plan turned out well. We returned to the saddle and went up over Mt Luxmore, descending the eastern spur which was fun in the soft snow and continuing calm conditions.
Back at the hut by 4.30pm, there was just a young English couple there. During the course of a second moonlit evening at the hut, I commented to Helen that I had a logistical problem with our vehicle being down at Rainbow Reach. She immediately asked our English friends, Emily and John how they were placed. John said he had a bike hidden near the road end so he could bike back to the farm stay they were at and return with their van. No trouble then to take me down to Rainbow Reach. Very nice.
Another fine calm day above the valley cloud. We left Luxmore Hut at 9.00am returning down through the bush to catch up with Emily and John at the Brod Bay shelter at 11.00am. We followed them out to the Kepler carpark, by which stage John had biked off to get their van, return and take me down to Rainbow Reach.
The next stage was to find John, who wouldn’t be expecting us. At the Top Ten, we learnt he was in a small cabin, but not around. After we had lunch in town and still no sign of John, we booked back into the family unit we had on the first night. Having been out on the launch to the Te Anau caves, John found us after 5.00pm. So after showers etc we were happy to wander down to the main street for a second evening at one of the Te Anau restaurants.
Today, instead of having an hour to walk out from Moturau Hut before driving home, we were able to leave the Top Ten before daylight and drive home, via Central this time, in ridiculously warm norwest conditions, to arrive late afternoon. Not quite the full circuit planned, but I don’t believe any of us were worried about missing the later section from the bushline down. Possibly a repeat in September still with snow? But in conjunction with another trip to make the distance travelled worthwhile.
On the trip were: Merv Meredith (leader), Raymond Ford, John Robinson & Peter Umbers . (MM)