Kepler Track

Leaving Bluff and starting the bike trip up the west of the South Island, I was intent on spending some time in Fiordland, a large, mountainous and heavily fiorded area in the island’s southwest. Except for a few side roads and tracks, all access is through the towns of Manapouri, Te Anau and Milford.

I spent about 8 days in the Fiordland area, focusing on two short backpacking trips along the Kepler Track and Milford Track. I found out about the Kepler Track from someone hiking on Stewart Island a few days earlier. The Milford Track is the most famous track in New Zealand, and books up long in advance; I reserved a spot the previous May (about five months before booking my plane tickets to NZ).

I was hoping to do the Kepler Track first, and with a strict schedule in place for the Milford Track I needed to get to Te Anau quickly. I ended up biking from Bluff to Te Anau the day after finishing the NW Circuit at Stewart Island, a ride of about 215 kilometers (130 miles). This is the longest I’ve biked in a day by a wide margin; fortunately the route was pretty flat and easy most of the way and there were 15 hours of daylight. Leaving Bluff:

Bluff

Much of the ride to Te Anau was very pretty, with the nicest stuff along the coast west of Riverton, making its way to Te Waewae Bay before going inland towards Te Anau. The views along here are dramatic as the mountains of Fiordland come into view, rising up sharply from the surrounding farmland. Te Waewae Bay:

Te Waewae Bay

The day after biking to Te Anau, I started the Kepler Track, a circuit of about 60 kilometers. It starts in Te Anau, winding its way up a river valley and then making an alpine traverse back to the start. It is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, one of nine tracks in the country that are very well maintained and accessible, and go through some of the country’s best terrain.

Kepler Track

The main attraction of the Kepler Track is the traverse between Iris Burn and Luxmore huts, along the track’s northwest section. This is all above the treeline (about 1000 meters here), and has spectacular views the whole way, in good weather. The clear weather here was only in place a few days, and it started raining as I got off the track.

Kepler alpine area

Kepler alpine area

Along the traverse and on the second night at Luxmore Hut, there were a good number of Keas. These are wonderful parrots that live only in the alpine areas of southern New Zealand, with a distinctive keee-aaa call and bright orange plumage in flight. They are famous for their keen curiosity and interest in destroying things, whether boots, cars or houses (I wouldn’t want to live near them).

The morning at Luxmore Hut was absolutely sublime, maybe the best of the whole trip. This is a great hut situated in the alpine zone with commanding views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. While admiring the dawn light on the mountains and a forming rainbow, five Keas landed on the hut’s roof and proceeded to try to pry things off of it, succeeding a couple times. (In some areas of the South Island, landowners have had to replace lead nails on their roofs to keep the Keas from poisoning themselves.)

Luxmore light

Luxmore Keas

Luxmore Keas

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