Tuesday 15 December 2020
In what is becoming an annual tradition, I organised an early-December tramping trip in the South Island for friends and family, starting with a reasonably accessible tramp with a large group and followed by a more challenging tramp with a smaller group. This year our accessible tramp was the Kepler Track "Great Walk", December 5 to 8. It was the second Kepler trip for my kids and I, but new to the rest of the group.
This group was thirteen people this year, the largest group I've had to manage yet! There was a big range of ages and tramping experience, including a first-time overnight tramper. There was one person I'd never met before (a friend of a friend). We had seven men and six women. It was all a good mix and I thank God that, from my perspective at least, the group dynamics worked well.
In previous years with groups of ten I've found it difficult to keep track of who's carrying which supplies, especially food. This year I tried to mitigate those problems by splitting the large group into three subgroups and having the members of each subgroup carry supplies for their subgroup. This worked well. I had planned for the subgroups to actually cook independently but we ended up sharing cooking work across subgroups, which was a bit chaotic but still worked well with everyone eager to pitch in as needed. I mixed up the membership of the subgroups so that people got to know each other a bit more.
The weather forecast was looking pretty bad a week out but we ended up getting quite good weather, especially after the first day. That day was made more interesting because it also happened to be the day of the Kepler Challenge! That race starts at 6am and normally the runners run the whole Kepler Track the same direction we were going, thus would have been well ahead of us the whole way. However, due to the bad weather forecast they ran only as far as Luxmore Hut, then turned around and came back to the start at Lake Te Anau's control gates (followed by a run down to Moturau Hut and back). So, after we walked from town to the control gates (spotting the takahē at the sanctuary along the way) and got onto the Kepler Track proper, we were passed by hundreds of runners coming in the other direction. It was a little annoying but quite interesting, and I'm glad I wasn't running it myself!
It drizzled all morning and we had to stop for lunch in the rain, which was a slight downer, but after we got above the bushline the weather cleared up, we got some excellent views over Lake Te Anau, and everyone cheered right up. Pretty soon after that we got to Luxmore Hut and enjoyed a pleasant afternoon. We visited Luxmore Cave and were entertained by the antics of a kea on the deck. For dinner we had our current favourite first-night meal: sausages, fried onions and buttered bread.
On the second day we had our usual first breakfast of bacon and eggs. Carrying eggs in their cartons at the top of a few people's packs works surprisingly well. We had a marvellous clear day walking across the Kepler tops, and not much wind either, except up Mt Luxmore and later on the descent into Iris Burn valley. We encountered keas close up again at the Forest Burn and Hanging Valley shelters. Really we were exceptionally fortunate because the views were outstanding and the walk pleasant; on a windy, wet day, the tops could be a very unpleasant environment indeed. That night at Iris Burn Hut we had pasta with canned tuna, sundried tomato pesto and grated Parmesan cheese — our new second-night favourite.
The third day of the Kepler is an easy walk down to Moturau Hut and we got there early in the afternoon. It was a lovely sunny day and the whole group got to laze around at the fine beach next to the hut. A number of us braved the waters of Lake Manapouri — cold, but endurable to the point where after fifteen minutes or so it starts feeling OK! The swim was highly refreshing and made more enjoyable by the stunning views around the lake. Dinner was instant noodles and there was plenty of time for more relaxed socialising at the beach as the sun set around 9pm.
The last day was an even easier walk from Moturau back to the control gates and then into town to pick up our bags and take a shuttle back to Queenstown. Once again the weather was superb, sunny but shady in the bush and then windy to keep us cool in the open as we walked back to town.
It was a wonderful trip and I believe our whole group enjoyed it very much. A couple of people had some small fitness issues but were feeling much better by the end. Anyone who didn't enjoy it should assume tramping isn't for them! Coordinating such a large group was a bit stressful for me at times; part of the problem is that I'm not naturally good at socialising in large groups, especially when I don't know some of them very well, so occasionally I had to wander off on my own to pray and decompress a bit. Overall though I was very happy.
A couple of times it was appropriate to remind everyone what a privilege it is to be able to do a trip like this worry-free, while much of the rest of the world is suffering in various ways, and how grateful we should all be for that — we did not earn it!