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Published: December 21st 2015
I got a surprisingly good sleep despite the pile of rocks we were lying on. We woke to an extremely cold morning and struck camp as soon as we could. Two full days of walking lay ahead of us and we were looking forward to it. This was all of the Kepler Track that we could do due to lack of accommodation on the trail - we would walk out one day and back the next by the same path. We saw it as a practise for a full multi-day hike later in our time on New Zealand. It would certainly stretch us: forty-four kilometres over two days with full packs including tent, sleeping bags, stove, food and water.
We had a few things to do in Te Anau so it was around 11am when we arrived at the Rainbow Reach car park to start our walk. We hefted our packs onto our backs and took the only path we could see. About three hundred metres later I discovered I had left something in the car so I left Lindsey with the packs whilst I went back. Something made me take another look at the paths and I discovered the
right path. In about another kilometre or so we would have found the path we had taken completely impassible due to a fast-flowing strong river. I had found the only bridge to cross it. I hurried back to Lindsey and we were soon crossing the swing bridge onto the right path. This time the path was confirmed with a sign.
We hadn't gone far when the path was abruptly roped off. A warning sign explained that it was being diverted due to a "geological failure". We followed the pink ribbons of the diversion and soon found ourselves scrambling along a steep and muddy path up a rough, tree-root laden hillside. With the full weight of our packs this was difficult. Going down the other side was even more difficult as the packs were pushing us down. When we reached the bottom of this obstacle, we found a fallen tree which I couldn't get over or under with my pack on. In the end I kind of had to push through the branches and hope for the best. Still a little further on and we realised that our packs were not adjusted correctly which was causing problems already. We'd done
less than a kilometre of our day's planned twenty-two and it was already lunchtime... this wasn't going well.
Once our packs were adjusted we picked up the pace and marched down a good path through the beech forest and along the river. It took us another two hours to reach our first proper stopping point, the Motorua Hut. Here was our first view of Lake Te Anau from the path. We paused for a quick picnic on the glade of grass outside the hut but then had to press on. We quickly became bored of the beech forest with its mosses and ferns - scenery which could only thrill the most arcane of botanists. Even the birds were absent.
Our next section took us over a steep hill by a series of switchbacks and hairpin bends. The going was extremely hard and we had to stop in the middle. The task wasn't made easier by someone (with only a very light pack) coming up from behind and telling us how easy it was. We eventually got to the top and started going down again. It took a while to get into our stride again as the packs threw
us off balance.
We tramped on for a few kilometres... constantly expecting to see our next way point, a shelter and picnic area. The expectation of seeing this coupled with the illusions created by staring into the trees made me keep thinking I'd found it. A few steps later though and I'd realise that I'd just seen a strange formation of trees. Finally, when we felt we could take no more, the forest thinned and we came to a roof over two tables. We took a break here and weighed up what to do. I was concerned about whether we could accomplish our walk safely or not given that we were already tired and struggling with our packs. It was now 4pm and it would be 7pm before we got to our campsite. On the other hand we could walk back but it would be 8.30pm before we got to the car. This would save us a second day of tramping though. We decided to press on, our aching legs not thanking us for condemning them to further pains.
The next section took us through a wide open space called The Big Slip and then up a gentle
but unrelenting hill. On the far side of the hill we kept going until we found a hut. Behind the hut lay our camp for the night, Iris Burn Campsite. We arrived just after 6pm with our legs and feet and shoulders aching. Determination had brought us this far - twenty-two kilometres down, the same to go.
We were the last to arrive in camp and all of the forest sites, with less sand flies, had been occupied. We had to pitch our tent on a windy field where the flies could mount an effective attack. We ate dinner - never have instant noodles and soup tasted so good - and then dipped our feet in the crystal clear cold river. We collected some of the delicious water and then went into the tent for the night. I was woken in the night by a kea pecking at our tent right next to my head which was disconcerting. I got up and saw the most magnificent starscape I have ever seen - the cold light of the stars seemed to dispel the blackness of the night so that I could make out shapes in the dark. It was truly
We awoke to a freezing cold morning at Iris Burn and wished we had more layers to put on. It was hard to get going, especially as there were keas interfering with packing the camp away. Our legs weren't aching too much so we got going with an excellent pace. The morning went by quickly and we'd soon covered the eight kilometres back to the shelter.
The next section, before we allowed ourselves to have lunch, felt like an endless trudge. Lunch by Lake Te Anau revived us but soon after it felt like we were just plodding along again. Our packs really bore down on us and all we could do was put one aching foot in front of the other and keep going. The scenery was the same beech forest we'd already walked through which didn't do anything to relieve the tedium.
By the time we reached the point of the geological failure every part of my body was sore. It was only the constant encouragement of Lindsey which kept me going. I struggled to get over the diversion with my pack and at one point had to take it off and let
it fall, otherwise I'd have gone down with it. We finally cleared the area though and saw the swing bridge in front of us. We crossed with relief and a real sense of accomplishment. We'd done it.
We drove back to Te Anau and booked a room for the night. This turned out to be an amazing experience... somehow we'd managed to get a room in a Millennium Hotel cheaper than a motel. Even the manager was shocked when he saw the price we'd paid. We treated ourselves to a meal at an Italian restaurant too. I felt much more human after a hot bath and pizza.
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