Luxmore Hut to Forest Burn
Day 3, to Iris Burn, was by far my favourite day of the Kepler Track. Being above the bush line for almost the entire day means the views of the surrounding landscapes are unbroken (on a clear day!), and you can see everything from waterfalls in far off valleys to snow capped mountain peaks. Looking ahead, the Kepler Track itself looked like the Great Wall of China – crossing ridges and peaks and stretching off into the far distance. (Read about the previous day here)
Location: South Island, New Zealand
Distance: 60 km
Days: 3-4 days
Camping: Wild camping, huts
Guidebook: Great Walks of New Zealand
Another early start meant I could experience quiet solitude on this part of the track, looking out over the clouds lit by the remnants of dawn. It was a fantastic way to start the day, alone on the ridgeline.
The Kepler Track section from Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn can be divided into three 2-hour chunks. The first involves the most climbing – somewhat easier than climbing to Luxmore Hut – to a relatively flat section. Around each corner are new and spectacular views of lakes and mountain peaks. The path then repeatedly ascends and descends, first reaching Forest Burn emergency shelter after 2 hours.
Luxmore Peak side trip
About an hour from Luxmore Hut there is a short side trip to the summit of Mount Luxmore. This is worth doing if only to spend 20 minutes without your heavy pack, and the short trail to the summit rewards you with 360-degree views of the area. Luxmore Peak can also be reached as a side trip from Luxmore Hut the previous day, but it makes much more sense to simply do it as a side trip on this day, since you will be passing it anyway.
Forest Burn to Hanging Valley
The section between the two emergency shelters passes directly along the ridge line. I was lucky enough to have some of the best weather I’d seen in my three week New Zealand trip, and stopped often to take dozens of photos along this section. The trail crossing peaks in the distance reminded me of the Great Wall of China. The Hanging Valley emergency shelter is reached after a further 2 hours, and is a good spot for a late lunch before the final descent to Iris Burn.
Descending to Iris Burn
After the Hanging Valley emergency shelter the path makes it final descent to Iris Burn. After a few sections of steps – care is needed even in good weather – the trail quickly enters the tree line again. The forest is a real highlight of this section. Offering some protection from the weather (good or bad!), it surrounds you in a Lord of the Rings-like world full of old, gnarly, twisted trees covered in lichen and moss. It is totally unlike the forest encountered on day 1 and day 4, and a real wonderland.
Iris Burn campsite offers the chance to camp either in a small copse or in a grassy field surrounded by high cliffs. Despite the sand flies I went for the latter option – the forest seemed rather damp, anyway. After a long day the hard work of the Kepler Track was behind me. However, the final day – although flat – would still be a 22km walk…
Iris Burn waterfall side trip
Iris Burn waterfall is a flat 10 minute walk from the Iris Burn campsite. The rare blue duck (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) is supposed to frequent this place, although I didn’t spot it (I guess that’s why they call it ‘rare’). The surroundings are impressive and cooling, though the sandflies are very aggressive.