“As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all person. Speak your truth quiet and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they vexatious to the spirit” – Max Ehrmann, Desiderata
New Zealand is a destination people all over the world love. After a few days on the tourist circuit here in NZ it sure is easy to see why. With every continent represented, every race and religion; Asian, European, Middle Eastern, American, Indian, all squished together into communal kitchens, bunk rooms, waiting rooms, tours, boats, buses … and everyone is on such good terms with everyone else. The resort operators, backpackers, pubs, tour guides, information centres and tourists themselves are all without exception an open, friendly, helpful, nothing is too much trouble, bunch. It is a funny thing when you are a New Zealander in New Zealand, and it is you that ends up being told about the places to go, the places to avoid, the people to talk to, the tours to take. And you are being told this in English, in a backcountry hut, over a bowl of two minute noodles, by someone who lives in the South of France.
The Kepler, as with all New Zealand Great Walks, is of international great walk standard. For a track to meet Great Walk status, the track has to be in such a condition that 90% of it can be walked without looking at your feet. So unlike the tracks I’m used to in the backcountry, the Kepler was like taking an incredibly long botanical garden walk on a track that closely resembles a motorway. I took my gaiters off and put my jandels on. It is also international in the sense that I’m pretty sure I was the only Kiwi on it.
The first day on the Kepler I was literally chased up the track to Luxmore Hut by a 19 year old Londoner named Tom. I had two sections of the track to do in one day as Luxmore Hut was full and had to make it to the second hut, the Ibis Burn, by that evening, some 22.8km away. Therefore I wanted to do the first leg of the track to Luxmore Hut by noon. The water taxi dropped us off at Brod Bay and I walked up to Tom who stood by the sign reading “Luxmore Hut 4hr 30mins”. I read the underscore aloud as I marched past him “Times can be halved by fit trampers in fine weather”. Tom quickly tucked himself in behind me. “I’m going to walk this fast” I warned him. “That’s alright, the best part’s at the top anyhow” he said gathered away his map and compass. Tom’s personal commentary was just as expeditive as the pace I set, and I quickly learned Tom’s life story. Once finished his nine month tour of the world, he planned to graduate in politics then join the British Army. He was a confident young man with a lot to say, and now and then I’d turn to look at the ruddy faced, slip of a thing at my heel. Rivulets of sweat ran down his face out of his soaked hair. I had to hand it to the young lad, no matter the pace, I was never going to get so fast that he couldn’t stop talking.
The 4hr 30min hike up to Luxmore Hut took us a mere 1hr 50min. Not bad! That meant I had time for lunch and a trek through the Luxmore Caves before starting my second leg. I wished Tom well on his day trip to Luxmore Summit. I spotted him again later in the day, with a couple of new lady friends, he was still talking and transporting their walking poles for them.
Within the luxurious Luxmore Hut, I ate my lunch with Hans from Germany, a Doctor of Engineering, who was on his fifth visit to New Zealand. He informed me of a better cycling route from Te Anau to Queenstown than the one I planned to take. He quickly pulling out some maps to show me the back country route past the Mohave Lakes. Thanks for that Hans.
I dawdled the second and remaining leg of the day down to Ibis Burn Hut, hoping in vain that the cloud would clear before I had to leave the Kepler ridge line. However, being up there, above and in the cloud, was very other worldly and enjoyable all the same, “Foddo, are you sure this the the way to Middle Earth?”
When I arrived late at Ibis Burn Hut it was heaving with internationals, loud and social at meal time. This was a bit much for me, as I was fresh from my lonely mountain solace. I went and found solitude at the waterfall and made friends with the sandflies. As lovely and interesting, as helpful and as full of advice as all the tourists are, I did come here to be alone, so on day two I purposely slept in, then dragged the day out as long as possible, and made the six hour walk last twelve. I sun baked nude in the valley for hours, swam in the river, cooked on the beach, watched the sun set, then found the hut. Moturau Hut is right on the beach, and was being watched over by Boyd, the ever attentive and uber friendly hut warden who knew all thirty of his guests by name. Imagine doing that every day!
On day three I mentioned something about kayaking over breakfast, and before you know it I was being taken for a scenic tour in Boyd’s double kayak around the shores of Lake Manipouri. We paddled and shared stories, it was a glorious day. Beaching at Stony Bay, Boyd drove me around to Rainbows Reach where I hooked back up with the Kepler and completed it back to Te Anau Dam. I then sat at the finishing picnic table with two Germans and another Kiwi to share more stories and wait for the bus to pick us up.
Friends are easy to make in New Zealand living on the backpacker circuit … but I really think it is the tourists themselves, and the crazy kiwi’s like Boyd who love this country to bits, that make this country such a wonderful place to visit. They all seem so happy to be here, and are an enormous pleasure to be around.