So Part 2...
New Zealand is renown for having 9 Great Walks, which require several days, kilometers, dedication, and blood blisters to get through. I am proud to say I have completed my first of these, and am 1/3 of my way through getting to my goal of walking 3 of them (truthfully there’s 5 I hope to complete but my status as a full-time student makes this goal rather difficult to achieve).
3 days and 60 kilometers later (and it actually turned out to be more than 60km since we did part of the walk twice), I completed the Kepler Great Walk, also popularly referred to as “The Walk above the Clouds.”
I suppose the whole trip took off with an adventurous edge as I walked out of my flat Thursday morning with no bus, shuttle, or campsite booked. Funny story, I decided to come on this 5-day excursion about six hours before I stepped out of my flat to catch the bus I had no ticket for. My friends Jamie and J had already made plans to go, and J invited me along as we were studying the evening beforehand. The decisions 8 hours of studying for a Marketing exam will lead you to make…
On a brighter note, the odds were in my favor as all methods of transportation and accommodation had availability, AND I even got a student discount on my bus ticket.
Thursday consisted of an 11 hour bus ride through InterCity, also the LONGEST bus ride one can take on the South Island (I would come to find out). We arrived in Te Anau at about 7PM.
Early the next morning, we took a shuttle to where we were camping that night. We reached the campsite with an ample amount of time, so found trees to climb, streams to chase and fall into, caves to explore, and even decided to walk up to the top of the mountain in case of poor visibility the next day (due to the expected thunderstorms in the forecast). So yea, we walked up the steepest part of the track two days in a row.
I am actually very grateful we did this, or we would not have stumbled upon this rather “off the grids” cave that looked like it came straight from the Goonies. It was quite stimulating to wonder about the last time a human stepped foot on its stunningly white rock, or dropped their iPhone from the crystal-like ledge we climbed onto (yea J did this). I saw multiple magnificent views throughout this great walk, but the discovery of the cave and its mystifyingly beautiful depths holds a fond spot in my memories of the trip.
(what am I looking at?)
Dinner on the beach in the company of bratty sandflies was quite charming, especially when followed by sleeping in-between two smelly boys in a 1-2 person tent. Despite my sarcastic writing, I have to say I was rather entertained by this whole expereince, so please don’t let my sarcasm confuse you.
Woken up to J's clever alarm, “I’m Wide Awake” (Katy Perry) at 6:30AM, we were ready to face the proposed rain and thunderstorms ahead of us. Before heading out, we also made friends with a girl from Sweden and two American guys studying at the Uni in Dunedin, located on the East Coast about 8 hours south of Christchurch, who traveled the remainder of the track with us.
Our plan was to beat out the rain during the climb up, but this did not happen. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about New Zealand, is that its weather is harder to predict than....well, everything. While it rained in the beginnings of the early morning, it cleared up and turned out to be a lovely day in spite of the weather report. It was quite cloudy, but walking alongside clouds, and breathing in clouds is an experience very few get to partake in. What does inhaling a cloud feel like? Well, refreshing in the purest sense of the word.
A quick shout out to the friends I’ve been travelling with during my time here – I love them for always being game to wander off the trail, climb random things along the way, and for making hiking so much more entertaining than it already is for me. I’m overly grateful that I’ve found so many people with the sense of adventure and consistent “happy-go-lucky” attitude I love to find. That being said, we of course went off the trail and climbed several random things throughout the second day of hiking. This was along was Kepler’s alpine segment of the trail, and consisted of lots of uphill, downhill, and fast-moving clouds revealing the beautiful mountain scenery notorious of New Zealand. One of my favorite parts of the track was the saddle path that leads into the descent down. Maybe you can understand why…
(Attempting to be cool)
And just our luck, it didn’t begin to start down pouring until we hit the tree line during the descent. I’d take 2 hours of hiking within the forest in the pouring rain over 5 hours under the open sky any day. Hey, I even got a (well-needed) free shower out of the deal.
Upon arrival at the hut, I walked in looking (and smelling) like a wet dog, and a cute mom-like woman immediately started fretting over me. Since I’m somewhat stubborn and refused to pay money for a pack cover (which I now have in my possession due to this experience), the contents of my backpack AKA all my clothes, sleeping bag, towel…everything was SOAKING WET. Ha, live and learn.
This was the only point in the trip where I was really unenthused about camping and being outside… mostly because I was soaking wet and was preparing myself to sleep in a tent in a flooded campsite under the non-stop rain.
Welp, thank the tramping gods for our site Ranger, who somehow read my mind and brought in all the campers into the hut as we were about to go pitch the tent. Never have I enjoyed warmth and walls and good-smelling food that was not mine more in my life. That’s not an exaggeration.
The next day’s tramp was fairly easy, minus the fact we underestimated how long it would take us to get to the shuttle leaving us to run for some of it (although the race against time definitely added more fun to the last day). We ran into 3 Keas who looked like they wanted to peck our brains out (one even walked right up to J and his 7-foot wide shoulders), and travelled through the valley of the Park.
Our hut Ranger claimed that the valley is actually his favorite part of the track. While I was completely stunned by the alpine section and its incredible mountains, I see where the Ranger is coming from. Every time we crossed over an open part of the valley, it seemed like we were entering a whole new forest with an eclectic new breed of trees. “First I walked through the 7 layers of the candy-cane forest” (Buddy the Elf) kept popping into my head throughout these last 22km.
The ferns, moss, and waterfalls are such underrated aspects of Kepler. Perhaps, this is because they’re compared to some of the most breathtaking mountains in the world. To be fair, it’s impossibly difficult to compare the various beauties of New Zealand, as they’re all very unique in their own ways.
Making excellent time given our poor time-planning that morning, we finished the track about 15 minutes before our shuttle picked us up. The sense of satisfaction while rubbing my wonderful looking and smelling feet on the shuttle was overwhelming. I FINISHED MY FIRST GREAT WALK WOOT WOOT.
All three of us also splurged in satisfying our overpowering sugar cravings, and took one last tramp to the supermarket in Te Anau. Not sure if the elder couple sharing the room in our hostel with us was disgusted or amused by our feast of potato chips, cookies, peanut butter, ice cream, and candy…probably mixed feelings of both.
Given my excellent company of my animate and rather animated (ha) hiking buddies and the inanimate mountains and trees, I couldn’t have asked for a greater first Great Walk (ha again). Sometimes it’s those spontaneous, last-minute decisions one is offered that lead to the best experiences. You know that saying that’s like “every opportunity not taken is an opportunity missed” or something? Yea... cliché but true.
So anyway, I will be embarking my second Great Walk along the coastal Abel Tasman Track in just a few days with my flat mate, Jena. And after that, it's off to Raratonga with our beloved program director, Eunice, and my IES mates!
Keep Climbing, Keep Happy,
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<p>A native of Syracuse, NY, (US) Emily is currently pursuing her B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications with Minors in Art and Honors. A curious explorer and outdoors lover, Emily's spontaneity and passions will one day lead her to all ends of the Earth. Witty author, candid photo snapper, and avid dreamer, Emily plans to pursue a career in the fields of advertising and/or design. </p>