Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Kepler Track- One of the “Great Walks”

The Kepler Track is one of DOCs “Great Walks”, its a 60 km, 3-4 day circular track that starts on the gently sloped beech-forested shores of Lake Te Anau climbing steadily up onto and along tussocky alpine ridges, past Mt Luxmore, through deep gorges, down the steep Iris Burn and back through beech forest along the shores of Lake Manapouri. Being so close to Te Anau the “Walk” is a very popular tramp and the huts are booked up well in advance. The car park close to the Waiau Control Gates where the track starts and finishes was full of rental cars both days we were in the area with people entering & exiting the track constantly.

There were a number of day walk options available on the track and we decided to do the 4 hour return walk from Rainbow Reach to Moturau Hut. The hut is the last one on the Kepler Track & we would be walking against the normal flow of traffic. As I’ve previously said we usually like to do a loop walk so we’re not seeing the same scenery twice but with a hut at the end to entice us (in fact two huts to choose from), a few other interesting features on the walk and two swing bridges we decided there would be enough to keep our interest.

This is the fabulous swing bridge at Rainbow Reach, one of the largest we’ve seen and capable of taking 10 people at once, although it looks like it could safely take a few more. The bridge crosses the wide Upper Waiau River which flows from lake Te Anau and into Lake Manapouri.

The walk starts in quite an airy light filled beech forest with a moss covered floor. The track is well formed and in fact we both commented on the feeling that this walk had a “commercial” feel about it. So much so that I felt like there could be somebody hiding behind a tree waiting to tell me off if I stepped off the path. We also passed a number of people & groups walking the track, a few making a huge amount of noise- those are the ones that then complain about there being no birds in the bush!

Before long though, the track narrowed and the understory grew thick, green & lush with ferns & spongy moss . The people thinned out too, a lot obviously just take a stroll from Rainbow Reach to get a small taste of NZ bush. I’m sure most wouldn’t have walked  far enough to see the beautiful ferns.

It was a thrill when I suddenly spied some flowers on a moss covered log & realised that they were our tiny native epiphytic orchid; Raupeka or Easter Orchid. As most New Zealanders will know, our native bush does not do large or flashy flowers they are mostly small & unobtrusive. This perfectly formed little beauty has the added advantage of a strong sickly sweet smell to attract attention. Cool!

Deep in the bush we came to the second swing bridge which crossed a small rocky stream bed. It was here that David decided to take a look at the water to see if there were any trout. I failed to notice that he had moved to the edge when I left the bridge after taking some photos. So for the next 40 minutes or so I raced through the bush trying to catch him up while he also pushed on hoping to catch me! Lesson learned- we need to communicate if either of us moves off the track. Needless to say we both had some choice words to say when we finally met up. After 40 minutes I realised that David just couldn’t have got that far ahead of me so I stopped and waited….and waited. Just as I was starting to worry, I heard him whistling for me. Although I didn’t know the whistle was for me! We also need to have a whistle tune that we recognise so I don't think some weirdo is approaching.

Needless to say the whole of Kepler Track could have heard us stomping down the boardwalk to the viewing platform over the wetlands and across Forest Burn.

By about now we were also starting to tire (after the mad dash) and we still had a few kilometres to walk. This cheeky little fantail (pīwakawaka) pushed us on flitting in and out of the trees as we walked by.

Along the way I found some unusual fungi to shoot, but nothing like the colours we saw in the Catlins. Finally we came to a fork in the track. One branch led to a day hut at Shallow Bay on Lake Manapouri, the other to the Moturau Hut still 20 minutes away. We had come so far I wasn’t about to turn around although my boots were starting to feel like lead weights.

Then without warning we broke out onto a clearing in front of the hut which was surrounded by people, inside and out! Kepler Track walkers that had arrived from the other direction and were staying the night at the hut. Some of the younger ones were playing a ball game, older ones were reading, others were sorting packs & airing bedding. And in amongst all this were hundreds, nay, thousands of vicious little sandflies! We had our lunch with us which we gulped down all the while swatting at sandflies and dancing about on one leg. We quickly threw everything into the pack, turned around and high-tailed it out of there. A very short and not so sweet visit! Even an invite from the DOC ranger to have a look round inside was turned down.

The view from the hut out over Lake Manapouri. At least on a hot day you could take a swim to cool down and get away from the pesky little buggers- the sandflies not the trampers.

The Kepler Track is also home to the Kepler Challenge, an annual running race that covers the whole 60 kilometres in less than five hours. While we were having our lunch on the hop a runner came in from the other direction calling out a greeting to the ranger. She filled up with water & was having a conversation with others while doing some stretching exercises when we left but it wasn’t too far down the track when we heard her footsteps approaching. We stepped aside as she ran past marveling at her sinewy leg muscles. She was in training for the Kepler Challenge and obviously covers the distance quite often. I was in awe.

It was a long slog home for us, towards the end you’re just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and praying that around the next bend will be the car park. One benefit of a there & back track, you know roughly how close home is when you see some familar objects……like a rotten log where you took a photo of some fungi.

Back at Rainbow Reach as we crossed the bridge, we spotted a canoe & a kayak approaching. We waited to see them pass under the bridge & it was good to see kids out with their Dads having fun in the great outdoors.


  1. Welcome back! I see what you mean about the commercial feel of the track. I have a couple of friends that just did The Kepler Challenge. They completed it in 16 hours!

    1. Thanks. 16 hours! I just can't imagine it. Apparently there is a fairly steep section at the other end where it just keeps climbing & climbing. No good for me, I would want to stop & take photos of the view all the time! :)

  2. When it first opened I and a friend (who was training for a marathon) walked uphill to the first hut, getting there at noon, so we carried on getting to the second hut on dark. We walked out the next day. It is a fabulous track.
    Impressed by your attention to detail and photo's.

    1. I would have loved to have walked the whole track but we're not that into staying in huts with others so the best we can do is day walks. I know that a few people at the last hut decided to carry on as it was only another 3-4 hours to finish for them. Seems the huts aren't that well placed to split the track up evenly. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. I love your photo of the mossy forest.

    1. Thanks Olwen, we've now seen enough mossy floors to last us a lifetime! :)


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