Kepler track was not our original hike that we were wanting to do, but since the routeburn was fully booked we chose instead to do a day walk along the Kepler trail with the intentions of reaching Luxmore hut and turning around.
In order to get to the Kepler trail, you could either walk around Lake Te Anau, adding an extra approx 7 km, or you can take a water taxi to Broad Bay.
We decided that we would take the taxi therefore making the round trip a 16.4 km journey, instead of a 23.4 km hike. The water taxi only departed at two times in the morning and picked up once in the afternoon. So in the end we departed at 8:30am and returned on the taxi at 4:30pm.
The short boat ride over got us there within 7 minutes, so we were able to begin our hike by 8:45am. Not far into the trail our uphill climb began, and so did the de-layering process. The majority of the climb to Luxmore hut was through the forest, it was not until near the top that we finally emerged from the tree line. The terrain changed from lush mossy, overgrown forest to the open arid tundra where the scenery opened up and the mountains lined the horizon. Down below Lake Te Anau seemed to spread out into every valley and crevice.
The view was already breathtaking and we were not even near the top.
Start - 8:45am
Luxmore hut & caves - 11:35 - 11:45pm
Summit - 12:45pm - 1:10pm
Luxmore hut - 2:00pm - 2:05pm
Broad Bay - 3:40pm
When we rounded the last corner before the hut, the trail split into two directions, one leading to the hut and the other leading towards the caves. Since it was only 11:00 and the caves were only a 10 minute walk we decided to check them out first before going to the hut for a lunch break. The trail to the caves was along flat ground so it didn't take us long at all to reach them.
Since the caves were unguided I didn't imagine the access would be very good, so when we got there we followed the set of stairs that wound down into the darkness of the cave. I pulled out my headlamp and proceeded to the bottom of the stairs, approx 10 ft inside.
After taking a quick look around we decided that we would go no further than the bottom of the stairs since the rock bellow looked to be wet and possibly slippery. We instead headed back up to the trail and made our way back to the hut. It was interesting being inside of a cave without a guide but it also makes you a little more leery.
When we reached the hut, we grabbed a spot outside on the picnic table and pulled out our lunch. Glancing at the time we were calculating how long it would take us to get back to the bottom, and had decided that we would be able to fit in a bit more hiking and still make the water taxi back. While we ate the balcony we sat on faced outwards towards Lake Te Anau and the mountain range that followed it.
I ate quickly however knowing now that I wanted to make it to the summit of Mount Luxmore and have enough time at the top to enjoy the full panoramic view.
As soon as we finished eating we began making our way to the top of the mountain with the goal of reaching the peak. I had decided that I was going to continue on until I reached the peak regardless of whether it was putting us over time for the water taxi back. I figured I had come this far, I am going to continue until I reach the top. Lauren had decided that she was going to walk for an hour and then turn around, so in the end we ended up splitting up as I walked on ahead. As I got closer and closer the path began to get steeper, until it rounded the backside of the mountain where it would split into two trails, one continuing along the Kepler trail and the other turning and heading straight for the summit of Mount Luxmore sitting at 1472m above sea level.
By this point I could no longer see Lauren so I figured she had turned around, since it had been almost an hour since we had left the hut. The sign read only 10 minutes to the summit, so I continued on and began climbing the narrow and steep track with two other people following behind me. The majority of people had left their packs at the split in the trail, making the climb easier. Since I only had a small day pack with me I brought it up the remainder of the way with me.
When I arrived at the summit, it took me exactly an hour to walk from the hut, leaving the hut at 11:45 and reaching the summit at 12:45. For the first 10 minutes I sat enjoying the view and chatting with the other hikers, some that I had passed earlier in the day or they had passed me. The view was stunning overlooking Lake Te Anau, Jackson Peaks and Lake Manapouri. With a 365 view you could easily sit there for hours gazing across the mountain peaks.
As I started taking photos, I was surprised and excited to see Lauren round the corner towards the peak. I had expected that she had turned around, but I was happy that she had come the entire way because the view was definitely what makes the climb much more satisfying.
Overall I stayed up top for 25 minutes in order to enjoy the view and get a couple photos before heading down again. With the wind starting to get cool on the skin, it was the perfect amount of time to stay so at 1:10 we began our journey back towards Luxmore hut and beyond to the forest.
The girl (Anya) that we had passed back and forth on the way up, ended up stopping at the hut again on the way down, where Lauren and I continued making our way back, not wanting to miss the water taxi.
On the way down Anya ended up tail running a portion thinking that she wouldn't have enough time, but when she bumped into us again she slowed down and we ended up walking together. Lauren was walking a bit slower than Anya and I, busy taking some photos and enjoying walking alone, so we split up again and met at the bottom. With our paces differing by about 15 - 20 minutes.
In the end we made it down to the beach again with lots of time to spare, so we sat down, enjoyed a snack and relaxed on the beach while we waited for our pick up.