Friday, January 8, 2010

The Kepler Track

“The Weka… pure evil.” Some thought this harsh, but really, as experience will show, the Weka are evil.

Three days on the Kepler Track, New Zealand

A native bird of New Zealand, like all indigenous bird species, they have had a predator-free experience. Which makes us humans, and in particular our disgarded boots and wet clothing left strewn along hut verandahs, susceptible to their wily ways.

Along the Milford Track they had been quite troublesome. Cartoon drawings left by hikers at Dumpling Hut depicted Weka dragging hikers aways by their boots. A seemingly unlikely tale but one that gaining credibility the more we heard.

Becky, for one, saw through their cute behaviour. Having returned to the car after a day hiking with Bill, her bf, they found one sitting atop their car, surrounded by pieces of apple. And a crowd of photographers recording it all, all claiming innocence in the part of having fed the Weka. Clearly there are some who do not heed the warnings not to feed the wildlife. The bird, it seems, are a whole lot smarter than some of us. In a magazine we found in the Kepler Track huts we read a story of Weka who having watched numerous hikers unlock and lock a Backcountry hut door, decided to do likewise in the wee hours of one morning. The hikers woke early to climb a nearby summit, only to found they had been locked in from the outside. Thankfully we were staying in a Great Walks hut, considerably larger and having conventional doors and multiple exits.

Now Becky asked me – this walk isn’t all about Becky, we did meet other people – which of the three walks we had done thus far was the best. The Kepler Track, it was clear. The Abel Tasman Track had lots of great beaches, but we are spoilt for them back in Australia. There were people everywhere, with so many water taxi, kayak and car access points. The Milford Track, the walking was very controlled, and almost all the walk is contained to two valleys. The Kepler Track though was special: beech forest, alpine terrain, river valley and lake side paths.

The walk starts at beside Te Anau Lake – New Zealand’s largest. Moving through flat, dense beech forest it reaches Brod Bay, seemingly infested with mice and sandflies. It ascends through different beech forest habitats, broken only by a line of dramatic cliffs, opening to a colder and somewhat different beech forest. All the more creepy with it’s various lichen, we walked higher to the edge of the treeline. Always – it seemed here – a sharp imaginary line cutting the forest from alpine. Standing just inside the treeline, a fierce wet wind blew in. From here we struggled through the cold, wet, windy – and viewless – alpine track to the first night’s hut on the side of Mt Luxmore.

Isobelle had joined us for this first day’s walk. We had met her in the carpark. As a lone walker from Germany, she was keen to undertake the walk with the safety of some of other people. My travelling partner had agreed, but no sooner had we been introduced but my mate had gone far ahead, not to be seen again until that evening’s hut.

In the carpark we had also seen our friends we had met on the Abel Tasman Track. Liz and Rick were beside their car making their final preparations for the hike. When we had me them at the campsite at Wharaheke Bay on the Abel Tasman Track we were disappointed to discover that we would miss them by one day on this track. Imagine our delight to see them here in the carpark, readying to set out.

Leaving them in the carpark to their last minute readying, we did not see them again until they stumbled into the hut later – dripping wet. Like a scene out of some western movie, everyone in the room stopped talking and turned to gaze momentarily upon the newest visitors, before returning to their drinks and conversations. It was the same welcome we had received, a rather uncomfortable experience. After walking determinedly through the alpine section with that fierce head-on wind, I had somehow imagined a warmer welcome.

The second day held much promise, especially when one disregarded the usual Severe Weather Warning. The Milford Track had been a series of Severe Weather Warnings, I was beginning to think they were routinely issued everyday to trampers here in New Zealand. We set out from Luxmore Hut into the cold, cloudy sky weather. However within minutes gentle snow started falling. Rain I first thought, being the Australian more accustomed to hot weather rather than these cold weather phenomenon, but soon I wasn’t so sure. Our new friend, Berta, who we had met the previous night in the hut, being a Belgian, declared it to be snow. I wonder if she noticed our uncertainty to make such a call. We walked through what soon became fierce snow for about an hour. Head down, following the footsteps in front , focusing on reaching the first of the two emergency shelters available today. Berta, like Isobelle the day before, had asked, as a lone traveller, if she could join us for today’s alpine section. Isobelle had decided she was ill-equipped for today’s alpine conditions and weather forecast, so opted to return back the way she had come. Today Berta was filled with a moment of terror as my travelling partner strode off quickly from the Luxmore Hut. She was relieved, trying to keep up, to turn around and see me some way behind her. Berta, we soon learnt, had also never hiked through snow. Becky and Bill, both being from the UK, later reliably informed us that we had not merely walked through snow, but through a blizzard.

The snow eased just before we reached the first emergency shelter, but we were still grateful to get out the cold wind and snow. Eagerly eating our snacks, the sun – quite unexpectantly – shone through the frosted glass windows of the hut. Emerging outside into the glorious sun, the clouds parted to reveal the valleys, burns, lakes and distant mountains surrouding us. With wonder we walked beyond the next emergency hut, eagerly taking photos of our new-found scenery. Berta stopped me once to point out to me the waterfall on the other side of the valley, falling over a steep cliff. The wind was strong, and we had already noticed that the water was swept away by the wind before reaching the pool below it. But now, for a few moments, the sun shone upon it and showed a most glorious rainbow in the water cloud.

By lunchtime we began the descent back down the treeline on the opposite side of the mountain, to be met by walkers just coming up from the second night’s hut beside Iris Burn. Waiting out the blizzard, they had just started their walk, in the reverse direction to us, now reaching the most dangerous part, the alpine section. Seemingly ignorant of the Severe Weather Warning issued for the afternoon – heavy snowfall – they set out now. No sooner had we descended past the treeline and the rain began to fall. No doubt there would snow falling high upon Mt Luxmore, indeed it rained constantly for the rest of the afternoon and night. The next day, from the safety of the hut on the valley floor, we looked up to see snow capped mountains surrounding us. The snow covered even the highest few hundred metres of the trees below the treeline.

We had booked only a campsite beside Iris Burn Hut, but were grateful for all the cancellations that allowed us to upgrade to a bed in the hut. Free of the burden of an afternoon spent in a tent with rain falling, we could spend the afternoon chatting and drinking warm drinks with our friends.

The final day, due to the 30cm of snow covering the alpine track, that section of the Kepler Track was closed. We were still able to walk out via our intended route along the Iris Burn, combining our last two planned days into one – we didn’t realise how short the final days would be – we walked out with Liz, Rick, Becky and Bill to Rainbow Reach. From here we caught a minibus service driven by what was quite possibly New Zealand’s grumpiest lady, back into Te Anau. We now had two days rest instead of our planned one day’s rest, which we suitably filled with a long sleep-in, a short scenic documentary and a delicious meal in a café.

The above map data does not come from my GPS unit, I accidentally deleted all files from my GPS unit losing this map. This is someone else's file.

1 comment:

Jez said...

The stories of the Weka in this entry might also be about the Kea. I'm not sure I might have got the two mixed up a little in the stories. One is more aggresive than the other, one can fly, one can not.

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