Thursday, December 25, 2014

Kicking Butt and Counting Flowers on the Kepler Track

Josh and I decided to spend Christmas hiking the Kepler Track. We knew we'd be away from family, far far away in New Zealand, in the summertime as opposed to our normal winter holiday season, and we figured where else would we feel at home than in the wilderness? So we booked ourselves on one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks.

Normally when we Americans think about taking a walk, it is a shortish excursion. But that is not the case in New Zealand where the term "walk" is really a euphemism for a "long, hard slog" or an "arduous adventure with great views" or what-have-you. Still, we were game and even though I hadn't been able to don my tennie shoes in over a month because of a massive scab bursting from the back of my heel, we set out on this wee walk/adventure.

Normally, one hikes the Kepler Track in a counter-clockwise direction, starting in Te Anau, then sleeping in the Luxmore, Iris Burn and Moturau huts before completing the loop back to Te Anau. Because we were late to book (only deciding two months in advance) we weren't able to hike in the usual direction or book consecutive night stays in all three huts. So our trek went as follows:

  • Day 1: Take a shuttle from our hostel in Te Anau to the Rainbow Reach car park and hike a gradual incline for 22.2 km (13.8 miles) to the Iris Burn Hut.
  • Day 2: Relax and recuperate at the Iris Burn Hut with day hikes to the waterfall and nearby river beach to be eaten alive by sand flies.
  • Day 3: Hike straight up and then across a ridge for 14.6 km (9.1 miles) to the Luxmore Hut and then drag our exhausted butts on a side trip to the glorious and quite wet Luxmore Cave.
  • Day 4: Hike 13.8 km (8.6 miles) mostly downhill to the Kepler Track car park and hitch a ride with some friendly expats back to Te Anau.

All and all, we covered more than 50 km (31 miles) in 4 days including more than 3,000 ft of vertical elevation gain and drop. Let's just say, I was beat at the end of each day and Josh came up with a new phrase for describing my end-of-day stride: the Zombie Waddle. Nice, isn't he? Alas, it was an apt description and I can't fault him for that, especially as he carried the majority of our gear.

Exhibit A: Josh's pack (at left); Mine (at right). Yes, he is a good husband. :)

In addition to the Zombie Waddle, I also found another way to pass my time on the trail--counting wildflower varieties. I found 57 different types in all! Yes, fifty-seven! That is not a typo. And they were all different, although some were less different than others--such as the small white daisy with the green center (top right) same same with the hairy yellow center (bottom right), larger version with a yellow center (top left) biggest version with a hairy stem (bottom left) and whatnot (unpictured plethora).

I also spotted several nearly microscopic flowers growing on moss and in what gardeners call bedding. Those came in little yellow varieties, white stars, white bells, white bells with red stripes, gray cactus creations, and a few other not-so-exciting-but-it's-still-a-new-variety-goddamnit! types.

My favorite was either this barely lavender beauty (lower left) or this bluish orchid-like flower (top right) or maybe one of these white ones, it was hard to pick!

Most of the flowers were seen in abundance, sometimes prompting irritation when I realized that I had already seen that one. A few were one-timers that I was bummed not to see again (or photograph the first time). Still the flower hunt kept me moving forward as my feet cried out for me to stop and my calves threatened to lock up and drop me on my face. Josh, meanwhile, maintained his chipper charm and pulled dozens of smiles across my face as we starred out on ever more impressive landscapes.

Yes, we really did hike through all these landscapes and more in our four day Christmas extravaganza!


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