Kepler track, New Zealand - we arive home from Mauritius to winter, and then spring. Cold mornings, lovely days and our normal routine. Not much of any excitement. So we simply continued being sociable, enjoying all that Castlemaine offers, working our two days and enjoying life. It makes dull reading though - I doubt anyone wnats to know that Sheehan St. house is now painted outside, and that the painters are now starting on Lawrence St. Painting involves finding the odd rotten board and replacing it, lots of sanding and preparation as the cottage is over 160 years old. So I will skip that.
The way tickets are allocated meant that to do this walk, we applied in May and we knew that we would be taking some holidays in December. Instead of finding other walks to do back to back, we elected to relax.
So we flew into Queenstown, mostly blanketed in cloud; unfortuntely, as this is one of the more scenic airport approaches I have ever seen. There is still a lot of snow on the tops and we had glimpses of lake and hills and mountains, the colours instantly reminding us that this was NZ not Australia. We drove up to Wanaka and had three days just walking around, having morning tea, reading, exploring. Wanaka must be a crazy town in the winter as it is still full of tourists and young people "adventuring"; bike riding, running, mountain climbing, snowboarding (or were the boards on top of the car just for show?)
Wanaka set up a community run, giant recycling centre about 16 years ago and we had a lot of fun there filling the gaps in our packing. It may be summer but walking here, you need to have snow gear as well as sunscreen. We drove down to Arrowtown, a goldrush historic town full of tourists and restored buildings etc, then south along Lake Wakapitu to Fiordland. We even had a whole day mooching in Te Anau before we left. Anyone who knows us will realise this type of relaxed beginning is a bit unusual but I can heartily recommend it as a prequel to the Christmas season. As we were going to be away from Dec 5th to Dec 19th, we made a valiant attempt to fit in all the before the end of the year socialising before we left - so we ate out, had visitors, ate out, went to Christmas breakups and end of year performanaces every night for more than a week.
The Kepler track is a 3-4 day 60 km circuit walk. Up into the mountains. along the high country then down through beech forest back to the lake side. We can hear lots of birds but see no animals, as as is usual in NZ. Surprisingly, there are caves to explore at the frst night's hut. This is surprising because the limestone comes from seabed creatures deposited millenia ago and we are now on the top of a mountain range, 50 km from the sea. Such is the effect of NZ tectonic plate shifts. Apply enough water though and the usual stalactites, shawls and formations are accessible via the usual scramble in the dark through low ceilinged tunnels. It seemed reasonable to get wet seeing something, rather than get wet walking outside - inside the cloud.
Our luck held out for the rest of the walk. After walking up 1,200+ metres we spent Day 2 walking along the tops of more razorback ridges, with steep sides, than I've ever seen before. Spectacular! There was a lot of cloud around, so the views came and went, but there was no more rain and there was no wind. (The ranger at the next hut told us that strong winds were the biggest problem on those exposed ridges). The day finished with a descent of 900 metres which tested out our thigh muscles and our knees.
Then it was a day and a half walking back down to the lakeside, through beech forest, to where we began. And think about what to do with the nearly a week we had left in New Zealand? We decided to head south, to Invercargill, the "capital" of the south, and then to the Catlins - a very beautiful area of rolling hills, windy roads, waterfalls, and spectacular coastline with sea lions and penguins. We had fine weather there, until the day we left to fly home when it turned icy!
One of the best parts about travelling just before Christmas is that accommodation is not heavily booked. We like to just turn up and find somewhere to stay when we get somewhere, and at some times of the year this is not easy. But just now, it is. Another is the feeling of stepping out of the end of year madness and the way the days seem to last and last this time of year.
Now we are back in Melbourne for work and family get togethers. And we are not planning to go away for the summer.