Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Kepler Track

The first day was 13.8km with almost 800m of elevation gain, but it still felt easier than the days in Tasmania.  I think it had something to do with the lighter packs, cooler weather and incredibly smooth surface, no falling in mud puddles here.
Takahe at the Wildlife Centre in Te Anau

There are 10 great walks in New Zealand, the Kepler Track being one of them, and there is a world of difference between these walks and anything in Australia.  For one thing we felt like we were in the height of luxury as we stayed in huts every night.  But these were so well organised, when you arrived at the hut you would pick your bunk, with individual mattress already laid out for you, get changed, go to the toilet, which was flushing and inside the hut!!!  There were even washrooms with running water (no showers but I think some of the more popular routes may have had them).

The abrupt treeline

Then it was into the kitchen/dining room where there would be heating on and gas stoves provided, before the hut ranger would emerge to tell stories.  It felt a bit like being on a cruise ship, where there is entertainment provided every night.  It was at this first hut which we learnt about the Takahe and the Murchison Ranges.  These are the mountains on the other side of the fiord from Luxmore Hut you can see them in the below photo.

Murchison Mountains opposite Luxmore Hut
This is one of the last places on mainland New Zealand where there are still Takahe.  I think there are something like 200 remaining in the wild, and for quite some time they were thought to be extinct.  Until they were rediscovered in these mountains.  Now nobody except researchers and department of conservation workers are even allowed in those mountains to try and protect the birds.

The reason why everyone thought these birds were extinct are the stoats.  I think these were introduced to New Zealand to keep the (introduced) rabbits in check.  As is always the way with these stories the stoats decided that rabbits are a bit tricky to catch but large flightless birds are really easy. 

Overcast on the second day
The first day's walk was slightly overcast with a little bit of rain, but it cleared up once we got out of the trees, so we got a bit of a view over the ranges.  The alpine plants are really different here in NZ than the ones in Australia, you kind of think that all alpine plants would be roughly the same, and I guess they are if you include short and stumpy in the description, but other than that they had some really freaky plants out there.

Another thing which was different was how abrupt the treeline was, you literally stepped out of the forest into the grasslands of the alpine.  In Australia the trees just get smaller and smaller and then there always seems to be a wide swathe of dead trees that have grown higher than they could survive.

The second day was the main alpine section and it was a little cloudy that day.

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