Mushrooms, Keas, and Killer Views: Tramping the Kepler Track Part 2

Headshot of Anna Marie Riner.
Anna Marie Riner
April 14, 2023
An expansive view of grass covered mountains, a small tarn, and a hiking path cutting through it. In the distance are more mountains and puffy white clouds.

For the intro and day 1 of my tramp, check out part 1 of this post! For those of you who have stuck around for part 2, here it is…

Day 2: (14.6 km, 9 miles)

  • The wind says, it’s time to sit down now: This was the day with the Big Wind predicted but the hut warden said we should be fine as long as we left before noon. The wind was of particular concern since the track followed the ridgeline of the “tops,” or the highest area above the bushline. This meant it was very exposed most of the time, and probably not a great place to fall over. It sure was windy, but thankfully the rain mostly held. Occasionally there would be a big blast and I would stop and tripod myself as much as possible with my legs and hiking poles. As the wind picked up over the course of the day, there was one time where I just sat all the way down to avoid being blown over by a huge gust. This could have been a miserable day with the constant push of the wind, but it was impossible to feel miserable in such a breathtaking (literally and figuratively) environment. 
  • Are my eyes perceiving my reality?: This day had the most surreal and beautiful scenery for me. I would look up ahead and see the track stretched out along a vivid green and gold ridge, and the mountains plunging down down down towards the lake and then down some more, and orange flashes of lichen on the stark crumbly rock heaps, and occasional miniature lakes (called tarns) reflecting the boiling, sweeping clouds above, which occasionally enveloped the very peak I was standing on or shot down gold bars of sunlight. That long run-on sentence doesn’t do the scene justice at all, and neither do my pictures below, but I had to at least try. All the color saturation seemed cranked up, the air was crisp and clean, and all I needed was on my back. It was very pure happiness up on the tops. 
  • Knees Rest In Peace: The thing about being in the tops is that eventually you need to go down to get off of them, and the designer of the Kepler Track decided this should happen as quickly as possible. Aside from literally rolling down the mountain, the safest and most direct way to get down quickly is switchbacks. Lots of switchbacks. Think 98 of them, according to the hut warden. After about 60 switchbacks I was ready to never see a switchback again, and so were my knees. My hiking poles did really help, but I still had to take it slow. This wasn’t too difficult since there was a lot to look at below the bush line. Think beech trees, little waterfalls and stream crossings, ferns as far as the eye can see, and countless varieties of moss covering everything. Finally, I completed my last switchback, hobbled a little further through the bush, and arrived at the Iris Burn Hut.
  • The subtle way to arrive at work: We were all in the hut kitchen area cooking our dinners when the whole hut started shaking and there was a loud rumbling noise. I immediately thought it was an earthquake and so did other people, but before anyone could act a helicopter came swooping down and landed next to the hut. We watched in astonishment as a guy got out with a backpack, another guy climbed in with his bag, and then it took off again. It was our hut warden, arriving in style. We learned later that the first hut warden had been feeling sick and they wanted to get him out of there before the weather turned. His replacement, a man named Scottie, gave a good hut talk that night despite the short notice. At one point, when someone asked what a Kiwi bird call sounds like, he paused, then said “G’day mate, how ‘re you?” in an Australian accent, and everyone laughed, especially the Aussies in the room. He followed this up with a pretty good impression of an actual Kiwi call, and I think I may have heard one later that night. They are around in that area, but are rather elusive, especially being nocturnal. 

Day 3 (16.2 km, 10 miles):

  • My feet say, it’s time to sit down now: This day was probably the most challenging for me, even though it was relatively flat. My feet started to feel incredibly achy, and I just couldn’t get my pack feeling comfortable on my sore shoulders and hips. I don’t know if it was my boots, the infamous switchbacks, or my body saying “wait a minute” to me suddenly walking almost 10 miles a day with a heavy pack, but I was feeling the fatigue. As I limped along, I was ready to exchange half my life savings for a long appointment with a massage therapist. A foot soak in an icy stream helped, as well as some other highlights along the way. Like…
  • Mushrooms, mushrooms, everywhere: Man, there were mushrooms up the wazoo on this tramp. There were vivid red ones with white polka dots growing out of the ground in every size, brown and white ones the size of dinner plates growing out of the sides of towering trees and putty-looking tan ones glommed onto dead stumps. Everywhere you looked were mushrooms. 
  • Hut buddies: I was happy with my decision to hike alone, as I could go at my own pace and have solitary time to soak in the scenery. Even with it being a busier track, there were still many times when I couldn’t see the people ahead of or behind me, although I knew they were there. Since most of us were hiking the track in the same direction, I would usually be with a similar group of people in each hut, which was really nice. This wasn’t unique to the third day, but on the third night in particular I had a really good time sharing dinner with a Kiwi couple and another woman from the US. They cheered me up after I arrived feeling a little grumpy about all my aches and pains. I also made friends with people from Australia, France, and Germany. We would check in with each other, sometimes eat a meal together, and compare notes from the track. The couple from Perth that shared the boat breakdown experience with me were particularly nice. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the people situation before I started the track, but I always felt very safe and like I had people looking out for me even though I was technically tramping solo. 

Day 4 (6 km, ~4 miles):

  • A Minnesota morning?: I go to school in Minnesota and some of the morning scenery this day reminded me of there. As the sun rose, mist rose with it off the nearby lake, hovering below the almost full moon. It was beautiful, and chilly. Along the last bit of track to the carpark, there was a marshy area also shrouded in mist, and even covered with a layer of crispy frost. One of the Aussie guys said it was “like a fairy tale”. When a very masculine 30-something-year-old describes something that way, you know it was beautiful. 
  • A happy bird gal: If you’ve spent any time hiking with me in the last year you know that I’ve gotten really into birds. I’m a proud Bird Person, and I come by it honestly, with my parents and especially my grandparents being long time birders. This last day, I was thrilled to come across a Tui, an endemic NZ bird with a distinctive white puff of feathers on its breast. They have luxurious blue and black coloring, and the pop of white really finishes off their look. I also have to give a shout out to the ultra friendly South Island Robin for always coming right over to say hello (and to see if my feet stirred up any grubs) and the legendary Fantail, for keeping me entertained with its flitting and flirting all along the track. 

Overall, the Kepler track was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait until I’m able to get back out there on my next tramping adventure. Happy trails, and don’t let the Kea get the best of you!

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Headshot of Anna Marie Riner.

Anna Marie Riner

Kia ora! My name is Anna Marie, and I am a creative, outdoorsy individual from the Black Hills in South Dakota. This semester, I'm excited to be crossing the globe to New Zealand for some studying, tramping (hiking), eating, birding, interning, exploring and much more.

Home University:
Gustavus Adolphus College
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