I’m currently writing this when I’m not distracted by the mountains, sheep, lake, and nice breeze just outside on our house rental’s north-facing, unobstructed-view, porch. I may not get this up for a bit, the one downside of this rental is no wifi and a wired connection that doesn’t appear to be working…*5 days later*…
Keith and I finished our last work day of 2014 on 19 December and spent the night packing for our first half of our 2 week New Zealand adventure. Our plan was to drive to Queenstown Saturday afternoon and start our 4 day Kepler Track hike on SUNDAY. When I was printing out our week of confirmation emails, I had a major freak out when the Kepler Track booking said “thanks for scheduling your track journey, starting MONDAY.” It turns out the booking we made several months ago was for Monday instead of Sunday…oops. Well our Christmas house rental started on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) so we HAD to end our hike by Wednesday. After confirming from the Dept. of Conservation (DOC) there was NO WAY we could change our booking (the Great Walk huts book up MONTHS in advance especially during Christmas time), we decided we would hike almost all of the track in 3 days instead of 4 and skip the last night in the hut. Looking back, this honestly made our holiday even better — 1) we had a full day to just relax in Queenstown and leisurely drive to Te Anau (the jumping off town for Fiordland national park where the Kepler Track is) 2) the weather was more perfect a day later and 3) we were super tired by that third day and ready to relax.
Ok let’s back up and start from Saturday—we actually went swimming with dolphins! Pretty random, but I saw a GrabOne deal (New Zealand’s version of Groupon) a few months back and thought it looked like a cool experience. I think this is probably one of the few places in the world you can swim in the wild with dolphins, or at least with the rarest dolphin in the world. The dolphins in Akaroa are also the smallest dolphins in the world (the Hector Dolphin).
Apparently the dolphins are typically even more friendly, so Akaroa’s Black Cat Cruises gave us all some money back (even though we already got a discount to begin with)! I was impressed with their honesty – I’d recommend them!
Then we drove the leisurely 6 hour drive to Queenstown, enjoyed the night and day there, and then headed to Te Anau to spend the night. Te Anau is a nice quiet town that caters to all the tourists visiting Milford Sound etc.
The next day we were up bright and early to eat a big brekkie at Bailiez–which definitely doesn’t look like much from outside, but was very cozy and served us great food and coffee on the inside. We then went to the DOC visitor center to pick up our hut tickets and we were on our way! The weather was great–my first trek with NO rain! Taking from my co-workers’s example during the Routeburn trek, we decided to take several video clips throughout and splice a quick video together. Feel free to watch below for a 3 minute overview of our 3 day journey. We picked our background music wisely with Keith Urban’s “Days go by”–
“We think about tomorrow then it slips away
We talk about forever but we’ve only got today”
If that didn’t cover enough, read on…
When we got to Luxmore Hut it was another 1.5 hrs to Mt Luxmore’s summit. If it’s one thing you should know about hiking in New Zealand, when the weather is good – TAKE ADVANTAGE. We knew it could easily be miserable the next day, so we sucked it up and hiked even farther up.
This may be the oddest photo ever, but I really wanted to share what a great view the track bathrooms have…
The second day of the Kepler Track was the most challenging day of I’ve done of the Greak Walks thus far–lots of up and down, up and down, crossing a ridge line for a bit and then a whole lot of down. The views made it all worth it!
Warning…stepping on the soap box now…I’ve checked off all the Great Walks in Fiordland (3 of them–Milford, Routeburn, Kepler). It’s quite bittersweet. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past week and I can’t pick a favorite. They each have very unique qualities, and I had very different personal experiences hiking each of them that make them all amazing.
MILFORD (post here) is super popular. Some people don’t do it because of the popularity…however, you have to figure, they only book 50 people/night in a hut, and that spreads out throughout the day of hiking. I am always so amazed about the lack of people we run into on these trails even if it is the height of tourist season. It is a heck of a lot of work to get to it…taking a shuttle, taking a boat, walking, taking a boat, taking another shuttle. However, that just means you’re walking through one of the most remote places there is. The valley views are incredible, topped with the drive back on Milford Sound road. It was a lot of fun hiking with my big group of coworkers in the off-season. I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried in my life with all the avalanches coming down the night before we crossed the McKinnon pass, but it ended up being quite the epic experience. Milford = a big valley with huge mountains & waterfalls.
ROUTEBURN (post here) I think is the easiest to do in terms of time–it’s the shortest distance–however is a bit of a pain to transfer your car or figure out the bus schedule. Going down over that pass is another beautiful view. I honestly have no idea what this hike looks like from the highest point due to the blizzard I walked through while doing it. Luckily I wasn’t quite as worried as Milford, but still made for an awesome story and experience. Routeburn = a mix of terrain with a beautiful view on each end.
KEPLER is the most accessible being a loop track–no car transfer, boat, or bus required. Kepler, in my opinion, is the most physically challenging. I was so glad the weather was perfect (FINALLY!) for this hike, especially since we were on the mountain ridge for most of the second day. I could see this hike being far less enjoyable in dodgy weather. It was also nice hiking with just the two of us for once. Kepler = most accessible, with epic ridgeline views.
Alright, that’s my schpeel! Another blog post to come (probably within the next day) on the next adventures we had shortly after Kepler!