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Kepler Trek – Day 4

Day 4 (04/04/19) – Moturau Hut – Rainbow Reach (6km)

Sleeping in huts are usually uncomfortable for me. Being a light sleeper, every movements, snoring, conversations in close proximity and opening and shutting of door keep me awake. All the huts in this trek is no exception. Yes, perhaps it helps to invest in a set of ear plugs. However, today, most of the hikers including us got up early. The reason, to catch the 1000 bus at Rainbow Reach that would transport us back to Te Anau. This is one option on the final leg of this trek. The full trek would take us all the way to the Control Gates and thereon to Te Anau ( an additional 9.5 km, about 4 hours walk). This extra 9.5 km is mentioned as ‘uneventful’ as it hugs the Waiau River and the scenery is monotonous. Personally, we thought after walking 52.6 km, it was enough for the weary legs!

Day 4

We left early at 0730 and the hut was a hive of activity. I think nearly all hiker had similar plans. It was still dark and had to turn our head torches. We immediately entered the wooded forest. Only the trek was lighted as we walked past silhouettes of trees. Half an hour later, we arrived at Shallow Bay on the shores of Lake Manapouri. There was a 180 degree views of mountains and islands including Kepler Mountains, Jackson Peaks, Mt Luxmore, Iris Burn and lots more.  Paradise ducks swam peacefully in the cold water. The sky was laden with thick dense swirling clouds. We took in the cold beauty of this bay. It really is a sight to behold. Suddenly, streak of filtered sunlight burst through and hit the peaks of the cold mountains. The natural beauty now was further enhanced. We were just mesmerized by the natural beauty before us today. The lake, however, remained calm. There were no sand flies here like the beach at Motorau Hut. Insect repellent is definite essential on this trek especially on the lake’s shoreline.

Wetlands

There was another 1.15 hours to Rainbow Reach. It was 0835. The trek soon exited the forest into a wetland – Amoeboid Mire ( an interesting and new word for me). It is a bog dominated with sphagnum moss and a variety of shrubs. A board walk took us towards the large tarn (pool of water) in the middle of a mire (or marsh). Part of the Lord of the Rings was short here – the Dead Marshes!

The barren summit of Mt Luxmore is quite visible from here. Back on the main trek, is a large and a sapling of a Rimu tree. This is certainly a mixed forest including Podocarps, Beech and broadleaf. It varied from the forests at the beginning of the trek at the Control Gates. Here, with the assistance of a elder trekker, he identified Miro, Beech, Lancelot, and Totara trees. The forest is further complimented with lichens, moss and ground ferns.  A solo female runner zipped past us with just water bag strapped to her back. These are the hardy runners training for the Kepler Challenge – a tough marathon that starts and finishes  at the Control Gates ( 60.1 km race). I saw a couple on day 2, near the summit of Mt Luxmore. Hardy souls! This year’s challenge is on December 7 and the race completed just under 5 hours!! Amazing, a testament of human endurance.

bridge over Waiau River, near the end -Rainbow Reach

We crossed a dry stream via a wire suspension bridge. soon after, the trek followed the terraces of the fast flowing Waiau River. We had finally reached the swing-bridge at Rainbow Reach. Time was 0950.  The transport shuttles were already waiting for the last few trekkers to arrive. We lingered on for a while, unloaded our packs off our weary bodies  and we were off back to Te Anau promptly at 1000.

Back at Te Anau, the weather turned from cloudy to light rain. To our delight, our accommodation had a spa which we indulged after dinner. Great for the tired legs and time to reminisce on the 52.6 km  trek we had completed. Te Anau is a great place to unwind. Kepler Trek is an iconic trek in the Fiordlands for its unique environment, varied landscape, wildlife and flora, and its unpredictable weather. It is indeed a great privilege to witness the magic of New Zealand for those whom venture.

Te Anau Lake view

 

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Kepler Trek – Day 3

Day 3 (03/04/19) – Iris Burn Hut – Moturau Hut (16.2km)

It was a “warmer” night compared to the freezing temperatures at Luxmore Hut. My boots hung on hooks remained undisturbed by the naughty Kea birds. We left the hut around 0830. The air was still and cold. The morning sun was just touching the top of the nearby mountains. Immediately we entered the mixed forest. it was slightly dark under the tree canopies. A few birds were busy forging on the moist forest floor. In an open grassland, the sun lit up the nearby mountain peaks. Lichen dominated the rocks scattered around on the narrow valley floor. Frost covered the grasses surfaces. Together with the lichen, long grasses with flowing inflorescence added some color to the otherwise green landscape. Tall beech trees dominated the mountain slopes while a dense cold fog hung just above the ground. A tomtit bird surveyed the area from a shrub, common in this area. Interestingly, numerous white silk nest of an unknown resident was bound onto these shrubs. I reckon it was the work of spiders.

We re-entered the forest. Moss grew abundantly onto tree trunks, branches and the ground. The trek continued along the Iris Burn River. Some of the scenery were amazing, the combination of structural beech trees, some in autumn colors, and the Iris Burn River in the foreground. The rocks on the river covered in green moss. It looked like a painting. Along the trek, I found a variety of fungus – red, orange, purple and beige. Some on tree branches and mostly on the moist and spongy sphagnum moss that seem to dominate the forest floor. Sweet birdsong accompanied us most of the way. Sunlight penetrated through the dense canopy creating shafts of light. This created an interesting and dramatic effect in the forest. I was just happy to get some light on my skin to warm up in the still cold and moisture laden air.

 

We reached a shelter around 1145 along the river. This was our lunch stop. A signage indicated the there is another 3 hours to Moturau Hut. Not to despair as my legs were still strong. As we progressed, the mossy forest floor gave way to ground ferns. A mixed forest began appearing. Broad leaf’s and shrubs with red and orange fruits appeared sporadically. Our hunt for diminutive fungus continued. Through a board walk, we emerged out of the forest onto the shores of Lake Manapouri. Half an hour later, we arrived at Moturau Hut around 1530. The sun shined brightly onto the lake and the hut.

I later ventured onto the shore and into the cold water. It was an opportunity to wash up after going two days without a shower. Within minutes, I was out and sunning myself. It was bliss. Time for a cup of coffee and put my feet up. Lee Cheng was yearning for some hot and spicy noodles. A fellow hiker was just cooking some up. She approached him and was just happy to share as he was trying to finish up his food stocks. Happy to help mate! In trying times like this, little experiences are blissful. I returned to the shores of Lake Manapouri to catch the last rays of the day. Later, we settled down for dinner and a talk by the local ranger. He gave us a passionate talk about the incidents, accidents and people whom contributed to the well-being of Lake Manapouri. Thanks to them, we can appreciate its beauty today. Still no screeching calls of the elusive Kiwi bird.

sunset on the shores of Lake Manapouri

Kepler Trek Day 2 – 2

Day 2 (02/04/19) – Luxmore Hut – Iris Burn Hut (14.6km)

From here-on, the trek was on narrow ridges with steep drops on both sides. The immediate landscape was mainly shorter tussock grasses complimented with small hardy flowering shrubs. The mountain looked like a beige and sometimes golden carpet, depending on the light. We walked with the ebb and flow of the mountain ranges.  From here-on, the trek now cut across narrow mountain ridges. I can understand why walking on the ridges with strong winds and poor visibility can be dangerous. We are completely exposed to the elements. Fortunately, today the winds were ‘gentle’. It was cloudy but no rain. The temperature however was still low. Information given by the ranges on weather conditions must be heeded. Turning back may be the only option sometimes. Again, the importance of proper gear.

At every turn, there were panoramic views of the both Jackson Peaks and Murchison Mountains. We are actually trans versing Jackson Peaks. On the south west, the snowy peaks of Kepler Mountains rose majestically. We arrived at Hanging Valley Shelter around 1515. In case of emergencies, this shelter is in valuable. Fifteen minutes later, we walked along several tarns (alpine lakes).  Finally, I could get glimpses of Lake Manapouri in the distant valleys. We descended one ridge assisted with a series of wooden steps. This led us to a lookout point, around 1600. It was still cold but with a gentle breeze.

The tree line was just below this point. On the open slopes, long beige grasses swayed in the breeze while hardy green shrubs clung onto the rocky slopes. We had now left the mountain slopes and ridges and entered the forested areas. We were greeted by beech trees draped with old man’s beard and lime green lichens.  Green moss dominated the forest floor. However, my knees took a beating from the zig zag steep descent. I had to slow down. Fortunately, there were interesting spots to take my mind of the demanding trek. The trek followed a fast-flowing stream. With increased humidity, tree trunks and branches were covered in moss.  I felt like walking through a primordial forest. My aches forgotten for a moment taken over by imagination. Perhaps, the now extinct Moa bird, might just run past the stream. Perhaps, I am just plain tired!

Iris Burn River

There were tracks of fallen trees damaged from storm or landslides. It looked like a strong force. Only sounds of the water flowing and gently rustling of the leaves was heard. Suddenly, I heard flap of wings high above. They were from a couple of Wood Pigeon.  The feathers were colorful and was perched on a beech tree branch. I finally arrived at Iris Burn Hut located on a grassy filed around 1800. I was more relieved than delighted. No more walking for the day. Fortunately, the sun was still shining through a clearing in front of the hut. I had walked 8 hours on this leg (estimated as 6 hours). I was exhausted and normally would be happy to explore the area. A small path led towards Iris Burn River and another towards a waterfall with prospects of seeing the iconic Kiwi bird. Not today. Kea birds are notorious for investigating anything left outdoor. So, the ranger advised us to tie up our boots and hang them on hooks provided. The dining room was warm, although the fire place was not lit. A hot cup of coffee and boots off, I rested my weary legs. What’s for dinner?

Iris Burn hut

 

 

Kepler Trek Day 2 – 1

Day 2 (02/04/19) – Luxmore Hut – Iris Burn Hut (14.6km)

I got out of the bunk bed around 0730. I did not bother getting my boots on. With a woolen socks and slippers, I ventured outside. It was freezing. However, the low clouds were bright and the sun still below the horizon. I walked away from the hut and climbed a series of wooden steps to get some elevation. The South Fiord of Te Anau Lake was gleaming like a sheet of glass with glowing clouds reflected off it. A crescent moon and a satellite glowed in the dark sky.  The Murchison Mountain was just a silhouette. Around 0815, the sun broke above the eastern mountains and the lit up the tussock grasses to a golden hue. The peaks of the faint lightly snow-covered Murchison Mountains glowed with a pinkish hue. The panoramic view was very uplifting indeed. Kea birds call could be heard when a couple flew past the hut.

sunrise at hut

After breakfast, we packed up. We decided to check out the nearby Luxmore Cave. I walked up the wooden steps and noticed that the water was still frozen. At the top of the mountain, the expansive views of greenish Te Anau Basin emerged with the Snowdon and Earl Mountains in the background. In the nearby valley, small water bodies, tarns, gleamed in the morning light.  It was wet inside the cave and only spent a few minutes. The walk here was the highlight.

Back at the hut, a helicopter had just delivered a few passengers and quickly returned to Te Anau. This is an expensive way to get here and save walking in the rain, snow and wind for six hours. Where is the fun in it? Our next stop is Iris Burn Hut, an estimated six hours away. The wind had died down and the weather promised to be good. I find that the wind and cold can be managed but the rain can be depressing. We left around 1000 and the walk was uphill but not steep as the day 1. The low clouds started to move upwards as the warmed up. The South Fiord and Murchison Mountains was still visible amidst the moving clouds. We came across a tarn surrounded by golden tussock grasses.

The trek now was cut on the slopes of mountains and ridges. Avalanche signage advice on the eminent dangers during the winter and spring (between May to October) seasons. I could see the trek snaking along the slopes on a golden carpet. However, the trek itself was well laid with crushed gravel. Orange markers indicate the trek paths. The winds started to pick up. Around 1130, we reached the base of Luxmore summit. We dropped our packs and climbed up a steep mountain with loose rocks and gravel. At the rocky summit (1472m), there were fantastic 360 degrees views of the lakes, glacial gauged valleys, snow topped mountain ranges including Jackson Peaks, Kepler Mountains and Murchison Mountains.  We seem to be floating surrounded by dense hanging clouds. Pocket of tarns reflected dimly on this partially clouded day. The wind here was cold and had a little bite, but manageable. Kea birds hopped around the base of the mountain fluttering their colorful wings as they flew.

The tops of the mountains were now covered with short golden tussock grasses and flowering alpine plants hugging onto the windblown slopes. Evergreen trees grew abundantly on the lower slopes just above a no name lake. Winds up to 20 km per hour began to blow. Today’s trek is quite exposed. This can be a dangerous area when strong winds and rainfall combined with snowfall. Particularly walking along steep slopes and high ridges. It can become extremely cold and poor visibility. We are lucky today. The views of the lake and surrounding mountains was fantastic. We reached Forest Burn Shelter around 1245. This is an emergency shelter and perhaps a good place for lunch. It was crowded and a little noisy for our liking. We continued and found a great spot on a rock overlooking a blue lake surrounded by evergreens and snowy peaks. Time, 1315, for some lunch.

 

Kepler Trek Fiordlands

Recently, I had just completed a 60km hike in one of the most beautiful landscapes – The Kepler Trek, Fiordlands, South Island, New Zealand.  It has one of the most diverse environment with rain-forest, alpine tussock grasses, high mountain lakes, mossy forest floor, beech forest, limestone bluffs, waterfalls, icy cold winds sometimes combined with snow, cozy huts, wildlife with opportunity see the iconic and endemic Kiwi and Takahe birds, huge fresh water lakes, mountain ranges and much more. All this in a 4- day trek. Beware, the fiordland is unpredictable – all four seasons in one day plus icy cold winds without request.

Able Tasman Coastal Track – day 2

Day 2, Nov 24, 2018 –  Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay (8.7km)

After a quick breakfast, we left calm Anchorage Bay around 0630. The sun was just peeking through thick clouds. Oyster catchers and cormorants were the only residents on the beach. The reason for the early departure is to walk across Torrent Bay Inlet at low tide. This would save us an hour’s hike on the high tide track (11.7km). Therefore, when planning to hike in the park, knowledge on tide time is critical especially on Day 4, across Awaroa Bay Inlet. There is no high tide track.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay
Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

There is an open expanse of sand and mud at Torrent Bay Inlet. A stream of water flowed out to sea that must be negotiated. Probably from Cleopatra’s Pool and Torrent River. At places, it was just below my knee. We waded through the inlet in about 20 minutes. That led us through a quiet Torrent Village. They were perhaps holiday homes. It was a substantial village. From here-on the track meandered inland passing through several streams. The lush forest kept hiking cool.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

Around 9am, we crossed a wonderfully clear Falls River via a suspension bridge. Sunken logs clearly visible under water with old man’s beard (lichen), hung off trees on the river banks. Towards the later part of the track, it drizzled lightly. It became darker under the trees, shrubs and tree ferns canopy. Having left early this morning meant we arrived early at our hut at Bark Bay, around 1115. It was high tide. Collected out pack from the beach near the camp sites. It was slightly wet from the late afternoon drizzle. Bark Bay hut had 34 bunks.  I took a quick cold shower, courtesy from a hose. Time for some lunch and rest. The day stayed gloomy and the sky grey. The resident DOC staff, Phill, was a humorous guy with lots of information and wise cracks. We managed to get a ‘private room’.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

It became routine to start dinner early. Lights through solar power lit the dining room intermittently. I had packed some miso with noodles and rice with ready to eat Indian meals. As per day 1, there were lots of meal sharing. Some of us had packed too much food. I strolled out to the bay, at low tide, walked across soft sandy beach. Some hiker had collected mussels off the rocky coast for dinner! Still, there was no wind! The surrounding forest was still as it was well sheltered. Early to bed but no need to catch the low tide the next day. Both low tide and high tide tracks took about the same time to walk. Sleep in huts is never easy as hikers sleep in close proximity. Ear plug might be a solution.

 

Banks Peninsula Trek, Akaroa

A group of us made this 29km  in Akaroa Banks Peninsula 3-day trek , off Christchurch, in April 2018. This trek is on private property and permits only 12 persons a day. Porter service is available. It consists mainly farmland, spectacular cliffs and native forest (with a diverse flora) with the trek meandering mainly along the rugged coastline of the Pacific. It had all the seasons plus fierce winds and rain. Small seal colonies nest on the craggy coast. Bird life is abundant. Even caught sight of a Wood Pigeon. The elements were a challenge but rewarded with ever-changing and fantastic views. Life in the hut is basic but comfortable. Some basic food is available, on an honesty basis. Cooking and resting our weary legs in front of the fireplace was soothing. With good company, it was a wonderful trek taking in remote and isolated southern coast of NZ.