An easy hitch from The Divide brought us to Te Anau, gateway to the Kepler Track and, indeed, most of Fiordland. We took a day to rest and resupply before heading back into these fine mountains. At the holiday park, we made friends with some good folks from Asheville of all places.
Our plan for Kepler was funky, due in part to the lack of campsites and our reluctance to pay the outrageous hut fees. Day 1 was a breezy 6 km walk on totally flat terrain. And I guess here “breezy” means we knocked it out in an hour because I got into hiking mode and couldn’t slow down. Anyway, we had a long sleepy evening camped on the shore of Lake Te Anau, and that was alright.
When we woke up the next morning, the weather was fine, a slight breeze and overcast sky, nothing to worry about. We hiked out and climbed up to treeline past towering limestone bluffs. Sweaty from the ascent, we got to the exposed alpine zone and were hit with gale-force winds. We booked it to Luxmore Hut and cooked up a big hot lunch to warm us. It was awfully cold up there, and the wind was fierce. It nagged us all along the ridge, even as the mountains and lake and sky begged a moment for a long look. Up there, I felt connected with the essential things: desire for warmth, for shelter; safe passage over mountain tops; the terrible power and beauty of this environment. And then we descended back below treeline, flying down an impressive series of switchbacks, and hiked a few km more to camp. Though we found a fine spot under some trees, we were plagued by sandflies, and so spent the evening cozily in our tent.
Our last day was nearly as long, but without the elevation changes and hazardous weather, it took half as long to hike. I daydreamed about the upcoming season at the farm, Pat was busy thinking about Community Rebuilds. We arrived at Lake Manapouri, ate lunch, hiked on. And then we crossed a magnificent suspension footbridge over Rainbow Reach, hitched back to Te Anau, and set our sights on the Milford Track, which we’d start in just another day or two.