I’ve come a long way since Day One of the Kepler Track. Starting bright and early, I leave the other hikers far behind and manage to find a little slice of wilderness despite the popularity of the trail.
I set off from the Iris Burn Hut before any of my fellow hikers have risen from their beds, just the way I like it. It’s wonderful to get a head start on everyone on any day but besides the solitude, I have another reason for making an early start today. The only way to split the Kepler Track across 3 days is to make one of them significantly longer than the other two. I’ve been cruising along at an easy 5 hours a day so far but today I have 8 hours to cover. It’s easy terrain, but I’m sure my feet will be needing their fair share of rests along the way.
The sun hasn’t made it down to the valley floor yet so the landscape is all cliffs, mist and dew drops. I can see why this part of the track was the ranger’s favorite. It doesn’t have the punch of the mountain peaks but there’s a peacefulness here that sinks into your bones if you let it. Everything is so still, as if the earth itself hasn’t woken up yet. I stray along the valley floor in sort of dream world. Immersed in the silence of the place.
As the open valley ends the track delves into another stretch of beech forest. It seems they just get better and better going this direction. Yesterday’s scraggly mountain beech certainly beat out the movie set forest from the day before, but this is the best yet. An eerie maze in the dim morning light, all dark, shambling and twisted. The sun starts to make an appearance here but it’s a fleeting fractured light that makes it’s way through the thick tangle overhead. Beams spear through the canopy, spotlighting saplings, sending flared halos around mossy trunks but leaving most of the land in shadow. Light and dark sit side by side in the gloom.
The changing light entrances me for hours until finally, with the sun now high in the sky, the track opens up on Lake Manapouri. The lake views are nice, but part of me wants to go back into the big dark fairytale forest. There’s still a fair few hours until the car park, but I realise rather sadly that the real wilderness is at my back.
I’m soon distracted from my short bout of melancholy by a DOC sign that informs me there’s falcons nesting in the area so everyone should carry a stick with them for safety. Nothing like the danger of falcon attacks to brighten up the day! I pick up a suitable looking stick along the path and keep alert, ready to wave it around above my head if any pesky falcons turn up.
The forest path remains very pretty but gets steadily less wild as the track cuts back around to Lake Te Anau. It’s getting back into day hike territory now too. My morning of solitude is over and a steady stream of chatty day walkers start to come in from the other direction. I can’t help but notice that none of them are carrying sticks. They’ll be sorry when the falcon attacks! Except it doesn’t. I just carry a stick around for hours.
I arrive back at a very hot car, stick discarded, and a little sad to be leaving the wild behind. A hot shower and the greatest beer of my life wait for me back at the hostel in Te Anau. I’ve knocked off four of the great walks in a matter of weeks. I thought that I would feel strong and ready for whatever life was going to throw at me at this point but now that I’m here, all I really want to do is keep on walking.
Listening to: Medicine Man – dDub