Kepler Track, Hollyford Track and the Pyke - Big Bay Route Blog

Having warmed up with 15 days around Arthurs Pass, I was feeling frisky to tackle the Kepler Track.

One great attraction is the ease of access, I walked over to the start from my Te Anau accommodation, whizzed around the track, and wandered back. Too easy.

The Kepler is 60 km and while the record is approaching 4 hours 30 minutes on the annual Kepler Challenge run, I preferred to take my time, three nights, as is common, just to soak up the atmosphere. And you get plenty of oxygen, Day 2 is entirely above the bushline, with, if the weather is okay, huge views over the remote mountains of Fiordland and Lake Te Anau way below.

Then it was almost immediately onto the Hollyford Track, I was hoping to be able to turn the track into a loop by adding on the Pyke – Big Bay Route to my itinerary.

If you time it right with the weather you can easily scoot around the Pyke, if you find wading around a lake for two hours and crossing the Black Swamp easy. Fortunately I timed my visit at the conclusion of a three week drought and failed to appreciate what conditions were like for many. Returning via Lake Alabaster with the lake 600 mm higher, ie, as in not knee deep any longer, we are chest deep now, made that clear.

Much of the Hollyford is at Great Walk standard, ie, a doddle, but it rates highly on the attractiveness scale and has wildlife interest, seals and penguins at Long Reef, and, of course, the standard birds.

Here’s some tales from the two week energy expending experience, of which hitching the 88km back to Te Anau proved, almost, to be the hardest part of all.

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Day 1 | Mt Luxmore Hut, Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

It's quite the view of Lake Te Anau and the Murchison Mountains from Luxmore Hut. | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

Up here, no impediment to the massive view, the lake, Te Anau now way below, snow covered mountains all around, mostly blue sky, not much in the way of wind.

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Day 2 | Iris Burn Hut, Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

No, the main track doesn't come up here, but you should.  | Mt Luxmore, Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

I was caught up with by yesterday’s ill equipped party, three guys, 25, cotton clothing, runners, not exactly the appropriate gear for tramping through deep, wet snow, but they were a French Canadian and a Scot, fairly accustomed to inclement weather although not perhaps to the enormously changeable New Zealand style, this island climate, where you can go from blue skies to rain pelting in 20 minutes later. They had not been dissuaded by the stroppy hut warden, and therefore had one of the best day’s of their New Zealand experience, out here in all this spring glory, with that ridiculously expansive view of snowy mountains disappearing into the horizon.

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Day 3 | Moturau Hut, Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

Hey, I just came down from there.  | Iris Burn valley, Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

The track is dry, totally easy, a few minor climbs but eventually I pop out at Lake Manapouri. And that gives another highlight, a view across to the Hunter Mountains, the Turret Range on either side of South Arm, miles away. The mountains might be modest dimension but they make up for it with an abruptness in the way that glaciated terrain just happens, ie, big on the steepness side of things.

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Day 4 | Back in Te Anau

Morning at the mysterious Lake Manapouri.  | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park

Birds around, skuas diving for breakfast as I drink a mug of coffee, not even many sandflies around, weather threatening for tomorrow, today at least the dry stuff will continue, the straight westerly wind, warmish, still ripping up high, but down surrounded by forest it’s calm, peaceful, just the noise of the lapping lake, gentle, serene.

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Day 1 | Hidden Falls Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Just setting out on the Hollyford with the bulging pack with 14 day's food. | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

I’ve 14 days food aboard for this Hollyford Grand Tour but otherwise I’ve seldom travelled with such minimal gear, abandoned at my Te Anau lodgings where they are getting used to my presence now.

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Day 2 | Lake Alabaster Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Wow, the Darran Range and the Hollyford River.  | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

It makes major sense to do this potentially boggy, or flooding, Pyke stuff now because the next two days will be okay according to the few days old long-range weather forecast. No flooded rivers which can trap you on the wrong side if that forecast is not exactly true.

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Day 3 | Olivine Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Area

The wander around the lake edge is almost done but still more getting the feet wet to come. | Lake Alabaster, Pyke Big Bay Route, Fiordland National Park

There were a few fallen trees to clamber over, or, around through the bush but for the most part it was easier just to plunge on through the lake, knee deep, rocks beneath generally slippery, an approach saving a lot of frustration rather than crashing through dense shrubbery, up and down banks.

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Day 4 | Big Bay Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Area

Leaving the hut, sheesh, it's still dark. | Olivine Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Park

There’s a few legends about the track between Olivine and Big Bay Huts that various people have outlined in the hut books: three hours walking in the dark, or, 15 hours on the move, or having to bivvy at Lake Wilmot with no tent in the pouring rain, or just camping at the Pike River crossing.

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Day 5 | Big Bay Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Area

Yumm, mussels, booty from the sea, wrapped in my T shirt | Big Bay, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Park

Note that after the last few day’s exertions I’m intent on spending at least four nights here, after all it’s rare to have an opportunity to stay just 150m from the high tide mark in an out of the way spot like this.

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Day 6 | Big Bay Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Area

The delightful Riwal and Morgane | Big Bay Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Park

I grab a few more mussels on the way back but even with the favourable tide the experience is just at my gnarliest limit.

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Day 7 | Big Bay Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Area

Another day off, why not walk around the rugged rocks. | Big Bay,  Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Park

I had things to do, like a whole lot of very little, and the morning went by.

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Day 8 | Big Bay Hut, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Area

Be warned, Big bay is a big and gnarly bay. | Big Bay, Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Park

Ozzy Bob, a well-known local, has been coming here since 1983 he tells me when he dropped in for a cup of coffee. I quiz him on most things, I’m quite the journalist with the interrogation. Of particular interest is the nature of the track down the coast, he thinks it is flat and knows that the three bulldozers made their way along the coast from Jackson’s Bay in the late 1960s, two with blades, the third pulling some lodgings on skids.

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Day 9 | Martins Bay Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

More rock hopping on the way to Martins Bay, looking back to Penguin Rock. | Pyke Big Bay Route, Pyke Forest Conservation Park

That was the prelude to wandering through the Long Reef seal colony, the seals nestling high up the beach or, mostly, in the kiekie tangle, the acid stench is quite something, it wasn’t me, I checked. They must be tired and hungry, not so keen to do their sack race to the surf, I scurry on through at close quarters.

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Day 10 | Martins Bay Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

The way forward, looking up the Hollyford River valley. | Martins Bay, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Geoff is with the police and while there were many stories the most memorable was told with such a straight face you might even believe him. He volunteered for the cannabis patrol, they had three weeks flying around in helicopters, pulling out plants, but the story of spooking a deer which then broke its leg, then him jumping from the chopper and killing the deer with use of a Swiss Army knife had us all laughing most uncontrollably.

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Day 11 | Hokuri Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

One of the many infamous three-wire bridges on the Demon Trail, you get to enjoy them. | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Maybe I’ve been out here too long, I thought of a long shower for the first time in a while today. The pog and spag diet, that’s porridge and spaghetti, might be starting to get to me after 11 nights.

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Day 12 | McKerrow Island Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

The day might not look too promising but the view is certainly great. | Lake McKerrow, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

And, the second high point of the day, after meeting a couple who guessed, incorrectly, that the Hollyford River flood overflow channel, it’s actually a permanent feature of the landscape, was up too high to cross to the island, I took the plunge and manage to rinse my underwear, quite a bit deeper than the knee deep Geoff and Doug claimed a few days ago, and was successfully aboard the island.

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Day 13 | Back to Hidden Falls Hut, Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

The Darran Range from the Pyke River suspension bridge. | Hollyford Track, Fiordland National Park

Wet feet for the day, I’m scared to look at what’s happening down there with all the immersion over the last few weeks.

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Day 14 | Back in Te Anau

The upper Hollyford River from the Moraine Creek suspension bridge. One of the many infamous three-wire bridges on the Demon Trail, you get to enjoy them. | near the road, Fiordland National Park

I directed them to the topic of Stupid Things They Had Seen Trampers Do. Seems that could provide an endless supply of tales to your average hunter. And more interesting than the 1099 Reasons Why DOC Is Wrong About 1080.