Archives For Kepler Track

By Robbie Reid, Hut Ranger

Hut Ranger Robbie.

Hut ranger Robbie

My wife Sarah and I live beside State Highway One on the edge of Balclutha in South Otago. My alter ego, Ranger Robbie, resides at the Iris Burn Hut on the Kepler Track in Fiordland.

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.

Ranger Robbie eating dinner in his office.

Dinner on the Kepler Track

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.

Robbie drinking a hot drink inside Iris Burn Hut.

Enjoying a calm day at Iris Burn Hut

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.

Ranger Robbie benching snow along the Kepler Track.

Benching the apline section of track making it safer for trampers

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!

Ranger Robbie using his shovel as a guitar on the Kepler Track.

Air guitar on the Kepler alpine ridgeline

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).

Ranger Cate Helm (star of this Air New Zealand safety video) writes about her adventure along the Kepler Track with the Air New Zealand Great Walkers.

Our first day got off to a great start with a welcome and haka performed by the local school as we entered Fiordland National Park for the first time. It was a moving and exciting beginning for the four Great Walkers who were about to undertake New Zealand’s nine Great Walks in nine weeks.

Ranger Cate Helm with the Great Walkers and students.

Great Walker team with students from ‘Kids Restore the Kepler’

We were joined by three local school students, who walked with us through to Broad Bay telling us about the work they are undertaking to help restore native bird life as part of the ‘Kids Restore the Kepler‘ programme. They were truly inspiring and just what our Great Walkers needed for the next part of their journey – an 800 metre climb to Luxmore Hut (just a small ask for their very first tramp).

It was worth every gruelling step. As you emerge from the bushline, the view from Luxmore Hut (1085 metres), overlooking Lake Te Anau and the mighty Murchison Mountains (where the last of the wild takahe population roam) will leave you truly speechless.

A Great Walker walking along the Kepler Track.

The Kepler is truly a unique track

Just when the team thought things couldn’t get any better the Luxmore Hut Ranger, Fay, took us on a personalised ‘Caving Expedition’ to the local limestone caves, a great remnant of geological activity. The group was awestruck by the raw untouched beauty.

The Great Walker team jumping up in the air after reaching Iris Burn Hut.

Jumping for joy at the Iris Burn Hut

The following day we left Luxmore and headed for Iris Burn. This leg, over steep rugged alpine terrain, offers one of the best day’s tramping in New Zealand. The eye is kept entertained at every turn with flowering alpine plant life, ever changing rock formations (including evidence of the last ice age and glacial activity), and all day views across mountain ranges.

At Motorau Hut in the Iris Burn Valley we were joined by Ranger Leigh and Ranger Kay who gave a presentation on New Zealand’s only two native mammals, the elusive and unique endangered long-tailed and short-tailed bats. We took an excursion in the dark hours with bat monitors to see if we could pick them up as they flew by. We also kept an eye out for the equally unique and endangered Fiordland tokoeka kiwi.

Great Walker Stephanie Hathaway with DOC rangers on the Kepler Track.

Chilling out with Steph the Great Walker, look at that view!

All in all, the Kepler Track offered a little of everything for our four Great Walkers, and it is safe to say they were truly blown away by the views, wildlife encounters, conservation management and hut systems!

The Great Walkers having a rest and taking in the view on the Kepler Track.

Time for a rest and to take it all in

Head to the Great Walker website for more information and to follow the Great Walkers on their blog and see more stunning photos and video from their journey.

Head to the DOC website to book your own Great Walks adventure.