“There was a plentiful silence around and the major part of the world started to count for nothing.”
(« Il se fît un abondant silence à l’entour et la majeure partie du monde se mit à compter pour du beurre. »)
(Froth on the Daydream, B. Vian)
“I’m not afraid of the road, let’s see, let’s have a taste of it.“
(« Je n’ai pas peur de la route, faudra voir, faut qu’on y goûte. »)
(Le Vent nous portera, Noir Désir)
I used to talk about it early this year. In 2016, I wanted to try a hike, from start to finish, all by myself. Settled in Te Anau, the Kepler Track soon became both an evidence and a new goal. My first month working as a Kitchen Hand allowed me to have enough money to pay for a Great Walk.
There are 9 Great Walks in New Zealand, and they stand out from other hikes by their popularity, accessibility to anyone but also… their expensive cost. When a night in a Hut on a hiking trail can cost you no more than 20$, a night in a Hut on the Kepler Track will cost you 54$. Multiplied by 3 nights. I can save money on the transports though, for the Kepler Track is a loop which starts about 3km from the town, at the Control Gates’ dam.
I’m well prepared. Thanks to Clémentine, I’m well organized: I have spare shoes’ laces, my tiger balms, a gas cooker, a camping pot set borrowed from Gove, my flip flops, ma rain jacket, my Swiss knife, a lighter, my ziplock bags full of food labelled for each meal, and… Chocolate.
1ST DAY: 8, WORSLEY STREET – MOTURAU HUT (17,5 km)
Here we go baby, I’m on the (right) track. I’m feeling a little bit sick (thank you Edgar), but I’m high on vitamins. At first, I thought of hitchhiking my way from the town to the Control Gates, since I’ve done this part of the track a few times before, but finally, I’d rather walk (for that’s a bit why I’m here, right?). I say hello to the hiker’s statue, to the Bird Sanctuary’s Takahe and I find plenty of wild red mushrooms on the way. After the Control Gates, the Waiau River is running beside me on this first part of the track, as well as the Tomtit and Silvereye Birds. It’s raining a little bit, but the trees’ canopy is protecting me.
When I reach the Rainbow Reach suspended bridge, It’s time to effectively try this camping pot set that Gove kindly lends me. At the end, it’s not rock science, I can even say I’m pretty good at this game of cooking my food in the woods. I meet a lovely German couple, Christina & Joe, they’re hiking the track the same way I am (the clockwise way, unlike most people do). We get along pretty quickly. I don’t know this yet but I’ll meet them all along the way through my adventure on the Kepler Track.
As I’m always seeing people hiking with sticks, I’m finding one in the woods that I carve a little bit, and soon I realise how efficient it is, like a third leg, another support when the track is steep, muddy or slippery. I let my mind wander. I realise my number one dread is about the post-New-Zealand. I’m 3 months now from my visa expiration date and it’s about time to take a decision. Do I throw down my return ticket and get another Working Holiday Visa in Australia or Hong Kong? Do I throw down my return ticket and start wandering in South-East Asia? Do I change my return ticket so I could have a stopover in Asia, then I come back to France to apply for the Japan or Argentinian Working Holiday Visa (which I can’t apply for if I’m not in France)? I’m walking and brooding.
When I reach my first night stop, it’s a little bit after 16:00,and the Hut is situated just beside the Manapouri Lake. It’s noisy around here, full of hikers. I want to isolate myself. I just spent the day with the silence of the woods, the wind, and the birds. It’s raining a little, it’s chilly out here.
I settle myself on the first floor, bed n°24. The golden rule in Huts is ‘first arrived, first served’ when it comes to beds. You choose your bed depending on the heat and the size. I’m not picky, I admit I don’t really care. I sign the register (very useful so the rangers can know if you reached your stops, in case you’d be report missing), cook myself my dinner and settle at Christina, Joe and two English brothers’ table.
The Ranger is briefing us about the Hut, tomorrow’s weather, the point of interest on the track and some simple rules of courtesy. For example, if you get up early, it’s better if you pack your bag in the kitchen, outside the dorm, for you won’t wake up anyone with plastic bags noise (especially because we all have those giant plastic yellow waterproof bags – this is called a pack liner- inside our backpacks). Electricity is rare out here, so there’s no light anymore starting 21:00.
2nd DAY: MOTURAU HUT – IRIS BURN HUT (16,2 km)
This morning, the track is splendid! It’s looking like an enchanted forest beside the river with all of those Fantails birds following me. I massaged my shoulder with Tiger Balm this morning, they hurt like hell for carrying my backpack. I call on a break at Rocky Point, just after the Big Slip Valley, where I saw some impressive landslide. The Sandflies are eating me alive. Those bitches are even biting me through my (thick) leggings.
The Valley gives way to another enchanted forest, then I reach my second night stop, Iris Burn Hut, at the same time as the English brothers. We are the first ones. (Wait, whaaat? I’m amongst the first ones? Me?!) Ranger Robbie is greeting us, there’s a waterfall and a river close to the Hut. The sun is shining brightly, I’m sweating. I try to wash myself in the river, but my goodness it’s SO cold. Too cold. Welcome in the mountains, Céline. I spot a Whio, a Blue Duck, a very rare and endangered endemic species. This day is truly an amazing day.
Inside the Hut, I found a book about the Kepler Challenge. Every year is organized this mountain race on the Kepler Track. The records are impressive: Phil Costley ran the whole track in 4:10 in 2004. This guy ran 60km in 4:10. It took me almost the same amount of time to get from Moturau Hut to Iris Burn Hut…
I carved my first name on my stick. The Hut is full of people but it’s very cosy and friendly. All of those people are speaking the same language, the wanderer one, the hiker one. Kepler, I feel good on your track. I fall asleep on the bed n°14 reading Froth on the Daydream. It’s hard to believe I’ve already hiked half of the track.
3rd DAY: IRIS BURN HUT – LUXMORE HUT (14,6 km)
It’s bloody hardcore this morning. I’m climbing in the forest, for I’m actually climbing a mountain this time. I passed by numerous rivers, and the closest I get to the summit, the more I’m guessing the amazing view that awaits me up there. Out of the tree line, I finally reach the crest, I’m laughing, I’m almost screaming. I am UP ABOVE THE CLOUDS. I can’t believe my own eyes. I’m not sure whether to stop and eat something because I’m exhausted or continue the hike, but the next shelter doesn’t seem so far so I just keep on walking…
Except that. There are stairs. But like hundreds of them. I stop counting them at 200 otherwise, I’ll get discouraged. I reach the Hanging Valley Shelter around noon. It’s snack time, I need to eat some nuts (and chocolate). There’s another shelter on the crests, my lunch will have to wait.
The track is ASTONISHING along the crests. It’s getting easier now, but I’m truly exhausted. The sun is shining hard, I’m more exposed here, there are no trees to keep me cool. The track seems like it’s never going to end… I reach the Forest Burn Shelter around 14:00 for lunch and I have my first pee at high altitude. Yep, I think peeing in toilets 1270m high is worth mentioning.
Final stretch to Luxmore Hut. On the way, there’s the Luxmore Summit (1472m) with a stunning 360° view over the mountains, the crests I’ve just hiked, Te Anau Lake and Te Anau town just below. I sat my ass down and close my eyes for about fifteen minutes. It’s hot, it’s sunny and the colours are glowing.
I finally reach Luxmore Hut and meet again with my English friends. The German couple reaches us later on. I’m sunbathing in the meanwhile. The Hut is full of hikers from the Rotary Club. I go to explore the Luxmore Caves, but I’m frankly disappointed. After exploring the Abbey Caves in Northland, those ones are really small and lack of interest without any glow worms inside.
This is my last night on the track, I play cards with the ones I met on the track from Moturau Hut until here, we’re 8, the two English brothers, the lovely German couple, another German couple and an English woman. Most of the people hike the Kepler the other way around, anticlockwise, hiking the hardest climbing part on the first day, this is why we are so few to know each other from the beginning. We play Uno with regular playing cards, they call it ‘Mau Mau’. The English woman says I’m pretty fit, like an antelope. That she was seeing me frolicking during the climb in the woods this morning. I was actually having a hard time, struggling and feeling like a heavy potato bag trying to climb a mountain, but hearing that warms up my heart. I’ve always thought I wasn’t made for physical effort, that I wasn’t this kind of person, you know, the sportive kind. What if I had it all wrong? What if I could be a hiker too?
Ranger Peter shows us the stars tonight. I’m not able to understand everything he says because of his strong kiwi accent, but it was beautiful. He says we have to take care of our planet because other planets are way too far. We only have one home and it’s here.
It’s weird to say but I don’t want to go back. The track is hard, painful sometimes (hello, I have bruises on my shoulders!) but the beauty… The beauty is everywhere around.
4th DAY : LUXMORE HUT – 8, WORSLEY STREET (13,8 km)
This morning, all of the people of the Rotary Club woken up very early, around 6:00, making a hell of a racket. I was explaining up above the ranger’s briefing about bags’ noises and the importance of being respectful to others, well those ones, for people who are used to hike, they let me speechless. Between their packing noise, the whisperings which soon turns into ‘Doris, did you take the chicken?’ yelled across the dormitory, I can’t take it anymore. I’m asking the two old bitches below my bed (I’m on the top bed) if they could just lower their voices for I know it’s strange but I was actually sleeping and I’m a bloody hiker too. They stared. And laughed at my face. Since I’m in New Zealand, that’s actually the first time someone is that disrespectful to me. I try to get back to sleep but I just can’t. There’s too much racket in here. I end up rising up, meeting my track mates who seem as upset and furious as me. We are scandalized.
But then… I have a look outside and down below there’s an OCEAN OF CLOUDS. And the sun rising up. That’s surely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Really. I could have burst into tears. Or into laughter. I could have screamed from the top of my lungs. But I just beheld, slaw-jawed with amazement. The Rotary Club finally deserted the place, we are all alone now, the eight of us, facing true beauty for breakfast. We start to play with the Kea Birds which are coming after our leftovers.
My mates are slowly leaving one after another. Then, it’s my turn. Je kiss Christina and Joe goodbye, this lovely couple is selling dreams with their wanders in Asia and Africa. I wish I would be like them in the future. They give me some tips for my journey in Bali and advise me to go scuba diving there. Christina says “I think you’re really brave. The way you’re doing things. I mean it.” What she says is just like an arrow that goes straight through my heart. It moves me, touches me, filling me with an unknown feeling. I’m shivering. I start to cry on the way back. At this moment, it was like someone was telling me he’s seeing my efforts, the changes I’m getting myself involved into every day since I landed in this country, and my attempts, moreover. Someone who doesn’t know me and still is encouraging to keep going. Someone who’s not telling me “you can do it”, but “you’ve already done it”.
I finally arrive at the Control Gates around noon. The way down wasn’t that exceptional compared to the day before, and I’ve already had been to this part of the track, from Brod Bay to Control Gates, on a Geocaching escapade. It’s over now. I’ve made it through my first hike alone. And it felt good, even beyond good. At that moment, I don’t want the track to end, this adventure to stop. I want to spend my whole lifetime on the New Zealand tracks, over and over again.
Kepler Track. 60km. 4 days. 3 nights. Kepler, you dazzled me. You comforted me in my own abilities, but moreover, you confirmed that I was already sensing… I like the mountains, I love the mountains and hiking have become a new passion, I can’t get enough of walking.
At the DOC (Department of Conservation), I gift myself the famous certificate which says I’ve completed a Great Walk, then I run treating myself at Miles Better Pie with a Chicken Thaï Pie and a Blueberry Muffin that I devour in front of the lake. I bathe my dirty feet and I head home. On foot, obviously.
WHAT I BROUGHT WITH ME:
- 1 60L backpack
- 1 sleeping bag + 1 silk liner
- 1 microfiber towel, 1 tea towel, 1 sponge
- 1 toilet bag with medicine + baby wipes
- 1 beanie + 1 pair of gloves
- 1 pair of leggings + 1 tank top + 2 t-shirts + 1 long sleeves t-shirt + 1 pyjama + 2 pairs of hiking socks + 4 panties
- 1 pair of flip flops + 1 pair of hiking shoes + 1 pair of spare shoes laces
- 1 gas cooker + 1 camping pot set + cutlery + 1 lighter
- 1 Swiss knife
- Froth from the Daydream, by Boris Vian + 1 colouring book + my travel journal + a pencil case
WHAT I FORGOT AND I WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT TO HAVE SOME:
- Earplugs. Hikers are such snorers!
MY MEALS ON THE TRACK:
- BREAKFAST: 1 portion of oats + 100g of muesli + 1 tea
- LUNCH: 1 pack of noodles + 1 apple + some dates
- DINNER: 100g of riz + 1dehydrated soup (you can cook you your rice into it!) + some dates
- SNACKS: 100g of nuts and dry fruits mix + 2 squares of Whittaker’s chocolate + 1 cereal bar + tea or hot chocolate
LET’S GO THERE!:
KEPLER TRACK, Fiordland National Park, Te Anau
MILES BETTER PIES, Milford Rd, Te Anau