My second choice for a title for this one was the simple and to the point: ‘People Suck’. You know that wonderful feeling when everyone you meet on the trail is a kindred spirit with the same childlike enthusiasm for the landscape as you? Or the equally wonderful times when you don’t meet anyone at all and get to experience vast open spaces in complete solitude? Well, the Kepler is neither of those. It has some spectacular scenery for sure but something about it attracts the sort of people that I generally go on multi-day hikes specifically to get away from. People who don’t know the first thing about experiencing nature, chatter incessantly about their little soap opera city lives whenever they aren’t fiddling with their iPad, and want everything to look exactly like that postcard they saw of the place so they can take a picture and prove to their equally obnoxious friends how adventurous they are. As a nature lover and raging introvert, their presence was a bigger challenge for me than any mountain climb has ever been. My trip here became less of a hike and more of an exercise in avoiding everyone. Luckily, I got really good at it.
I know you’re not supposed to admit these things, but I start the Kepler Track in a bit of a funk. It’s not that it’s not pretty. It’s absolutely beautiful in fact. Delicate ferns line the forest floor and make way for the fat trunks of tall beech trees with dancing leaves backlit golden in the morning sun. At their feet storybook toadstools jut up to show off their perfect red caps all along the perfectly comfortable dirt path…right beside a perfect blue glistening lake. That’s just it really. It’s ALL perfect. I feel like I’ve accidentally wandered onto a movie set. The only thing out of place is the amount of chattering day walkers that frequent the perfect track due to how accessible it is from Te Anau. I know these must seem like strange things to complain about, but it’s difficult to feel the magic of being out in nature when you keep thinking “okay, but where’s the REAL forest”.
The perfect woods go on for so long that I’m relieved when I finally hit the alpine near Luxmore Hut. Compared to the Routeburn’s views though, it’s honestly a little disappointing. There’s certainly a nice panorama being up so high, but with Te Anau and the surrounding farmland still in full view it’s a far cry from the wilderness. Everyone else seems impressed, so maybe I’ve just seen too many amazing places lately and my bar is getting a bit high. Speaking of everyone, since Luxmore Hut is such an easy distance from Te Anau (particularly if you cheat and get a boat across the lake) it’s still very much in day walker territory. There are a lot of people hanging around and most of them aren’t the usual hiker types. I quickly grab a bunk at the hut and make a break for the nearest side trail just to get away from them all.
Not far from the hut is Luxmore Cave, which is a bit claustrophobic for me to wander too far into but the real joy for me is the delightful little alpine plants that grow along the track up here. Away from the little cluster of chatter, inspecting the tiny gardens at my feet, I finally start to appreciate the beauty of this place. When I wander back down to the hut, the warden is giving a little nature tour which revives my enthusiasm even further with interesting facts about all the wonderful plants. The reason all the grasses here fan out in some sort of weird hairdo is because the alpine gets so dry that they need to get as much of the limited water supply as possible. Instead of growing upwards, they fan out in order to take up more space on the ground which keeps the neighbours off their turf.
I brave the hut again briefly for dinner but even now that the day walkers have headed back, it is not my type of crowd. I guess that’s the down side of the Kepler being such a well kept track. The terrain that usually puts these types off going places like this just isn’t there. The last straw for me is when an obnoxious Israeli man decides to complain to the entire room that DoC doesn’t refund your hut fees if it rains during your trip. Nature doesn’t always cooperate, cry me a damn river. The sun’s about to go down, screw it. I don’t need to associate with these people.
Outside, all is calm and quiet on the mountaintop. For all my complaints about the clientele, Luxmore Hut is in a pretty spectacular spot. I wander up the trail towards Iris Burn getting different angles on the mountains opposite as they plunge down into the lake. The sun has just sunk down for the night and the light slowly transitions from pastel pink to a deep rich blue over the water. I head back to the hut just as I start to lose the light completely, avoid the common area and head straight for my bunk. I can still hear plenty of chatter across the way, but that’s for the best. The later this lot stay up, the easier it will be to beat them to the trail in the morning.
Continue as I avoid more people on Day Two…
Listening to: City of New Orleans – Arlo Guthrie