We know it as “hiking” or “trekking”. But in New Zealand, you go “tramping”.
After getting the trekking bug in Patagonia, we wanted to check out New Zealand's famed great outdoors. We'd already enjoyed an easy tramp in the Queen Charlotte Sounds, and now it was time for an alpine tramp in beautiful Fiordland.
The Kepler Track
We set off on the three day Kepler Track with some trepidation. There had been an unusually early cold spell and the higher mountain passes in the region had been closed due to snow in recent days. It was uncertain how far we would be able to go. I say three days, but the first day was only a 5.6km stroll to the Brod Bay campsite, so we set off through the beech forest alongside Lake Te Anau late afternoon. Once again we were thankful for our trusty Patagonian-wind-proof tent, which fended off the relentless rain during the night.
After a friendly wake-up call from New Zealand's alpine parrot, the Kea, pecking at our tent, we set off on the steep climb through a cloudy forest to Luxmore Hut, 8.2km away. When we reached the tree line, snow and ice lay on the track, but we were treated to views of snowy-topped mountains peeking out from amongst the clouds.
We weren't so happy to see this, however:
Alas, it seemed we would have to retrace our steps and that would be the end of our Kepler exploits. So what else can one do but sit and enjoy those salami sandwiches in the sun while lapping up stellar mountain views.
It was a surprise all round when a welly-clad, super chilled-out hut ranger - himself a bit of an alpine tramp ;-) - returned two hours later and realized that he'd forgotten to take the sign down. The route had in fact been open since the morning. It was now 2pm, and an estimated 6 hours to the Iris Burn campsite, 14.6km away. With sunset at 6pm, it would be tough going to arrive before darkness.
Did we continue? Of course we did! And we were so glad that we did! There was plenty of snow, and our Gore-Tex footwear had definitely lost its waterproof-ness after 7 months on the road. But despite the wet feet, we think you'll agree that the views along the mountain ridge were stunning.
There was something fascinating about walking along a ridge, with the path stretching out in front of us as far as the eye could see, and, looking back, the route that we had tramped fading into the distance. We made good time and reached the Iris Burn camp at 7pm, five hours after leaving the Luxmore Hut. Tired, but so happy that we hadn't turned back, we set up tent, cooked our pasta, and went out like a light!
The third day – a 22.2km trek through more beech forest - was something of an anti-climax after the previous day's mountain glory. (There's only so much beech forest you can take). But I guess you shouldn't have too much of a good thing. We now had our sights on the next tramp we'd signed up for – another of New Zealand's nine designated “great walks”, the Routeburn Track.