We left Invercargill and headed towards Riverton. San navigated Jeff completely the wrong direction and the van ended up on a beach! After some map consulting we arrived in Riverton half an hour later. We visited a Paua shop where they sold lots of beautiful Paua shells of different sizes and colours. A lady chatted to us and gave us lots of information about how they catch Paua, apparently divers aren't allowed to wear a tank so they have to wear snorkelling gear, and it can be very hard on the divers, causing their ears or noses to bleed. You can also eat Paua but it's very expensive to buy. The shells look completely different when they are first retrieved under water; they go through a lot of processes until they are shiny
We made our way to Colac Bay where we had hoped to surf but the waves were tiny and the weather wasn't so good. We finished the Lord of the Ring films (since we were in New Zealand we thought we should), neither of us we that impressed but we enjoyed them. Jean and Lea joined us at the campsite later and we treated ourselves to a steak sandwich and a beer, we had a few games of pool and had an early night. The next day it was quite overcast and we headed for Tautapere and stayed at a campsite called Last Light Lodge, which apparently has the last sunsets across New Zealand. Jeff made a delicious chilli and we spent the day relaxing and reading in the sun.
We drove to Lake Manopouri the next day, it was quite overcast and there were occasional showers, we had planned to explore some caves in Clifden but it was too wet and we were advised not to due to flooding in the caves. We took a walk down to the lake and watched some films for the rest of the day as it was too wet to do anything and we wanted to conserve our energy for the Kepler track. The next day we hired some row boats to row across the river to access an island and do a 3 hour walk called the Circle Track. It was a very steep climb but there were beautiful views from the top. The ground was so soft to walk on, like a carpet of moss and tree roots. We made our way to Te Anau and had a walk around the town and enjoyed a cold beer in the sun. We played mini golf the next day with Jean and Lea and some friends of theirs. It was a beautifully sunny day, especially for Te Anau. We enjoyed some short bread and gold rush (chocolate hokey pokey bits) Tip Top ice cream. We made our way to the next campsite which offered a free shuttle to the beginning of the Kepler track and free parking at the campsite as we had heard from other travellers that the Kepler car park has had campervans broken into before. We didn't want to take that risk.
Day One of Kepler Track: Kepler Control Gates to Luxmore Hut (16km, supposed to take 6hrs)
We walked through the forest of beech trees alongside the lake initially. We then started our ascent to the hut about (800m). We stumbled upon the hut much earlier than we thought, it had only taken us 4.5 hours. The hut was in such a beautiful location with panoramic views of mountains, glacial carved valleys and lakes. We explored some caves and Jeff led a group of about 12 people though the cave, taking us through narrow gaps, low overhangs and pools of water. San was on her hands and knees for some parts which was when her torch decided to give up so she stayed very close to Jeff. We climbed, splashed and scrambled our way down until we got quite far down and it became quite dusty. We climbed back out and dried off and read for a while. For dinner we had a freeze-dri meal (Chicken a la King) for dinner which was tasty. The hut ranger gave us a quick safety and weather briefing and played an old Maori wooden instrument to get our attentions. We played some cards and called it a night in our 50 bed dorm.
Day Two of Track: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Campsite (16km, supposed to take 6 hours)
We woke up to sunshine and blue skies, the ranger had told us the previous night to expect wind and showers. We walked for 4 hours across an alpine ridge high above the bush (1,200m). We stopped off to get some better panoramic views of Mount Luxmore. We could see Te Anau and Mount Cook. There were two emergency shelters (in case the weather changes dramatically) on the track, we stopped at one for a snack and a drink. We continued walking with spectacular views of glacial valleys and lakes. We made our way across the ridge (we had heard from previous trampers that this could be quite scary when there are high winds but luckily for us we didn't even have a breeze) which was a metre wide with beautiful views. We climbed a small mountain for lunch with an incredible view. We continued along the mountain and came to some steps, this is where our 1,000m descent started down 98 zig zags through the bush, this was very hard on our knees and we were very relieved to finally get to the campsite (we had to camp as there was no room in the huts). We put up the tent and had a very, very quick dip in the extremely cold river. We had a cup of tea and biscuits while fighting off the hundreds of sand flies buzzing around us. We walked to a waterfall and tried to swim but it was too difficult to get as there were big slippery rocks and far too many sand flies. We had another freeze-dri meal (Carbonara) and actually slept very well in our tent.
Day three of track: Iris Burn to Moturau hut (16km, approx. 6 hours)
We woke up to find our tent covered in sand-flies and our bread half eaten, San initially thought Jeff had a midnight snack, bit it was a possum, rat or mouse. Luckily we still had 6 slices that weren't touched. After we killed more sand flies, braved the long drop toilet and took down the tent we set off through forest and bush again and completed the track in 3 hours and 50 minutes, over taking everyone on the path. We had lunch at the hut and had a very nice swim in the lake, which we later discovered was full of eels!! A crazy ranger entertained us and gave us some weather reports, and then we had our freeze-dri lamb fettuccine (which wasn't as tasty as the others) and some freeze-dri strawberry ice cream which was more like a strawberry mousse. San went down to the beach where people had lit a fire and chatted with other trampers, Jeff played cards with Dutch and French people and wanted to stay away from the sand flies.
Day four of track: Moturau hut to Kepler Car Park (16km, approx. 6 hours)
We woke up early to lots of people getting up and a mosquito flying around our heads, maybe there were several mosquito's it was hard to tell. We hiked through the wetlands and the forest. It took us 4 hours and a half. We were picked up and had a wonderful hot shower. We ate out at an Italian which had a great cheap menu and had a few beers as it was our last night with Jean and Lea after a few weeks together.
We left Te Anau and stopped at a campsite by the lake close to Glenorchy with fantastic mountains views just by the lake. We might have an early morning sunset swim depending on how brave we feel. Next stop glacial kayaking at Mt Cook.