By Harri Pickett
Our party of seven left Invercargill at approximately 7:10am in two separate cars to Te Anau, where we arrived at the control gates of the Kepler Track around 9:50am. In our group, there were three adults: Tony, Alya, Katja and four kids aged 14-16, Marta, Tiana, Jayden and myself. We had the intention of walking to Luxmore Hut, through to Iris Burn Hut, followed by Motorau Bush Lodge before finishing at Rainbow Reach.
The weather was about three-quarters overcast and very little wind. We sorted out our vehicles by taking one of the cars to Rainbow Reach and having one car at the gates to save us an extra ten kilometre walk. We shared our group gear then began our walk at 10:10am. The first part of the walk from the gates to the Brod Bay shelter was reasonably flat through the forest, parts of which were along the lakeshore. During this part of the walk, Alya realised she had dropped her beanie, so she dropped her pack and handed us a walkie-talkie so we could stay in touch if anything happened as she ran back to find her beanie. She caught up with us soon after near Brod Bay.
Next, the ascent began. As we got higher, I could feel the change in temperature as it became slightly cooler. We took several breaks throughout the climb, whether to catch our breath, have a drink or a snack. A couple of times I went ahead of the others before dropping my pack to carry Tony’s for a while. We paused for lunch at the bluffs, large limestone cliffs about 15 metres tall. At this time, one member of our party started to feel unwell and out of breath so she decided to turn back, her mother going with her as well.
After lunch, our party of now only five set off again. As a group, it was decided to give all of our huts passes to me so I could go ahead to the hut and secure five bunks for us, as we were unsure of how busy Luxmore Hut would be. I soon reached the bush line where the track opened up and there were amazing views of Lake Te Anau, the town and surrounding mountains. I arrived at Luxmore Hut at 4:00pm, about 20 minutes before any other members of our party arrived. I registered our names in the intentions book and set up some sleeping mats in the conjoined bunk room upstairs. The whole walk on Day 1 was six hours on average and approximately 14 kilometres long. Luxmore Hut was 1073 metres above sea level. Most of the walk was in the bush with only the last half-hour above the bush line.
Throughout the walk, Tony pointed out some of the native plants around us. At the beginning of the walk, there were many podocarps (e.g. totara, matai, miro and rimu). As we gained elevation, I could see the change in the trees, as they become more stunted at higher altitudes. Higher up the mountain, there were more beech trees (e.g. mountain, red and silver, as well as old man’s beard). I also learnt some new native trees like tanekaha, the celery pine and dracophyllum.
Once we had all arrived at Luxmore Hut, we had a hot drink before four of us set off to the nearby Luxmore Caves, a 10-minute walk away. We took our rain jackets and torches as we descended into the caves where we explored about 200 metres down, having to crawl at times to get through to the next passage. We spent about an hour in the caves before returning to the hut for a meal.
We used our gas cookers and billies to boil some water to prepare our dehydrated meals, making sure to crack a window to keep the air circulating and stay safe while cooking with the gas. I had a radix plant-based Indian style curry. On the first night, there were two other couples and one family there with us, who were all doing day trips.
We woke up around 6am. There was a slightly visible sunrise of which we took lots of photos.
We cooked pancakes for breakfast with some butter and jam and I also ate some granola for breakfast. We had boiled some extra water the previous night that had been sitting overnight so we could use it to fill our water bottles/camelbacks. We packed up all of our belongings and left by 9am. The first hour of the walk was a steady incline out in the open with more beautiful views of the Murchison Mountains and Lake Te Anau. The weather was overcast again and still reasonably warm.
We soon reached the snowline where we were trekking through knee-deep snow at times. We were using our walking sticks for stability. We arrived at the Luxmore Junction at about 11am.
Four of us chose to take the extra ten minute walk to summit Mount Luxmore, while Tony stayed with our packs. Mount Luxmore is approximately 1460 metres above sea level and provided us with beautiful 360-degree views of Fiordland.
As we were descending back down to the track, Tony continued on to the next corner to check out how safe the track would be. He soon returned and together we decided that it would be too dangerous for us to continue. We could see the avalanche risk from where we were standing and the distant ridgeline we had to cross was also too dangerous with all of the snow. It was a sheer drop on both sides and we could not determine if there were any air pockets beneath the snow, which could be fatal for us. A group of five is especially difficult to manage safely and we did not have specialised gear for alpine environments.
We turned back down the track we had come towards Luxmore Hut. On the way, we passed the hut wardens walking up to Mount Luxmore. They had carried their sleeping mats with them with the idea of sliding down a particular part of the track, which they offered to us so we could have some fun.
We gladly took them up on their offer and soon after we were sliding down the snow on their sleeping mats. Afterwards, we left their sleeping mats on the track under a rock (as they had asked us to do) before stopping to have some lunch once we were out of the snow. We filled our drink bottles with the freshwater from a nearby creek and ate our lunch of crackers, dip, chocolate, cheese and salami. On the track, we saw some edelweiss as well.
We arrived back at Luxmore Hut at about 2pm. We spent the afternoon hanging out with the keas that hung around Luxmore Hut, some of which we had seen the previous day. They were tagged with the numbers 2, 4 and 5. Number 2 (who we named Frederick) was very friendly and liked to come close to us and try to steal our things. He took off with my insect repellant, but I managed to get it back. He also ripped Alya’s hair tie from her hair and broke it.
We chatted a lot and played cards inside the hut, as well as quizzed each other about New Zealand geography. At one point, Tiana and I journeyed down a small path from the hut to find a firewood hut, a creek and some broken pest traps.
We were faced with the issue of our car now being at Rainbow Reach and us now planning to finish our walk at the gates. This issue was resolved when a couple who were passing through offered to help us. After speaking with them, we handed over our car keys so they would go to Rainbow Reach and take our car to the gates.
We had been alone in the hut all afternoon until two men arrived at about 6.30pm, who were also planning to go through to Iris Burn Hut. I had a few cups of tea, as well as a plant-based Mexican chilli for tea. We could see the clouds lowering as the evening came. We were all asleep by 9pm again.
I woke up around 6am to obscured views, as the clouds had lowered. I had apple and cinnamon rice for breakfast. We packed up all of our stuff from the bunk room and the kitchen before setting off again at 8.30am.
We walked through the clouds throughout most of the walk. We noticed the mysterious element in the forest when we first re-entered it – the mist, old man’s beard and beech trees. We descended the mountain in two hours, pausing only twice to rest our joints.
During this descent, I learnt about the crown fern and how they were named. They were named after the story of Tane Mahuta, the Maori god of the forest who was always getting into trouble. One day his parents were looking for him to punish him, so he hid in the forest and pulled out a crown fern from the ground. He hid in the ground and rested the crown fern on his head, thus the name ‘crown’ fern. I also noticed all of the new seedlings that had grown out of the fallen logs.
We arrived at the Brod Bay Shelter at 10:30am. Jayden and I went ahead in the last, flat section of the walk so we could arrive at the gates at 11.30am, as the couple who had our car keys had said they would arrive with our car by then.
I arrived at the carpark at 11.40am, where we found our car sitting with the keys hidden in the arranged place, as well as a note and a gift of juice and nacho chips. Soon after, the rest of our party arrived and we could leave for Te Anau to eat some hot chips for lunch. When we got to the store, I realised I had left my camera behind in the carpark and we had to drive all the way back to the carpark. Luckily, a family had luckily found my camera and were holding it when we drove in, as they were going to take it to the police station.
We left Te Anau at about 1pm and arrived two hours later in Invercargill, where I got dropped off at home.
We’re delighted to share another trip report from recent recipients of FMC’s Youth Award Grant. These grants are awarded four times a year, so if you’re inspired to get some financial support, head over to FMC’s website to apply.