By Robbie Reid, Hut Ranger
Working an eight day on, six day off, shift on the Kepler, means I lead two very different lives. One is surrounded by people whose lives revolve around smart phones and computers, and the other is surrounded by people discovering the beauty of Fiordland, and that there is life away from electronics, even if it’s only for a day or two.
This year was my fourth season on the Kepler Track and it was the best one yet—plenty of fine weather interspersed with several big storms.
My German friends tell me that “there is no such thing as bad weather only bad preparation and clothing” and they are right. Fiordland comes alive in the rain and wind and all of my most memorable days are the wet and windy ones.
One such memorable experience was over New Year. I started my shift on New Year’s Eve, walking the usual 24 kilometers to Iris Burn Hut. Shortly after I had arrived, two wet trampers turned up on the porch to inform me that several others from their group had taken refuge from the stormy weather in an alpine shelter two hours up the hill, and one young lady had hypothermia.
After getting the details, I got some gear together, called Te Anau Base and also informed Fay and Kay, the two other rangers on the Kepler. They both have nursing backgrounds and are invaluable assistance at times like this. Martin, a young English tramper from the hut volunteered to come up the hill with me and so, once I had informed the visitors in the hut of the situation, we set off.
It was raining steadily as we climbed. Just before the bush line we stopped to ‘rug-up’. In addition to the rain, the wind was blowing over 100 kilometers an hour and the wind-chill meant that it was very cold.
It’s times like this that prove the worth of these alpine shelters as by the time we arrived, Martin had become very cold and needed to get out of the weather.
We found the group sheltering inside, including the patient who had been wrapped in a thermal blanket and was in a sleeping bag. Fortunately, they were campers and had bedrolls and a cooker to heat food with.
After giving the group some extra clothing, and calling Fay on the radio for some advice, we decided that the safest course was for them to stay put overnight. I left my handheld radio with them and after Martin had warmed up a bit, we headed back down to the hut. It was dark by the time we got back and most of the trampers had gone to bed—a very quiet New Year’s Eve.
The shelter dwellers made a run for the hut the next morning—the young lady had revived a little overnight but back out in the rain her condition deteriorated.
A doctor, staying a second night with her husband at Iris Burn Hut, helped me when they arrived—she got the patient out of her wet gear and into a sleeping bag and organised a roster of warm trampers to be in with the patient while I got on the radio.
Even though it was still pouring with rain, there was just enough visibility for a helicopter to be able to fly in with a couple of paramedics on board. It was a welcome sight to see them arrive.
By the time they checked her out and flew back to Te Anau, it was nearly 22 hours after the two trampers had arrived on my porch—a very long time to be cold and wet!
Despite the drama I feel lucky to be stationed at Iris Burn and have learnt so much about the native flora and fauna of New Zealand over the last four years.
I was involved in the farming industry for 30 years until I hit my ‘mid-life crisis’—when they say you should either buy a Harley Davidson, change your job, or change your wife. I’m not interested in motorcycles, and I still like my wife, so here I am, working on the Kepler.
I get to see whio on the river; I’ve seen long-tailed bats leaving their roost tree; and we often hear kiwi calling around the hut at night. There is a wide variety of other native bird life and plants too and it is my privilege and pleasure to introduce these to the many travelers who come my way.
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. It’s a 60 km, 3-4 day loop track, within walking distance from Te Anau (50 minutes).