I'd chosen the 67km Kepler Track as a gentle introduction to real tramping; the walks to Mueller Hut and Ball Shelter in Mt Cook National Park were both 'real' tramps, but neither required carrying serious provisions (although we managed to pack a fair bit in for our Christmas Day celebrations, naturally). The Kepler, on the other hand, is one of the country's eight Great Walks, which are slightly more expensive than other walks (or much more expensive in the case of the Milford and Routeburn tracks) but which are reckoned to be the classic Kiwi walks. Of course, all this has a whiff of marketing claptrap about it, because there are plenty of astounding walks in New Zealand that aren't classified as Great Walks, but the scheme is a useful way of focussing tourists on those tracks that DOC has put money into maintaining, and the classification indicates that the walks are worth doing, which is handy if you're visiting New Zealand on a short holiday and don't have the luxury of time.
The Kepler Track is a round trip, beginning and ending just down the road from Te Anau, so I parked in the car park and set off early on Sunday, my pack bulging and muscles as yet pleasantly ache-free. Day 1 took me from Te Anau to Mt Luxmore Hut, climbing up the mountain along 14.1km of track. To be honest I found the rainforest section slightly tedious after a while, but during a stop for lunch at the limestone bluffs about two-thirds up Luxmore, I fell into conversation with another tramper, Jo from Sydney, and we fell in step – even though her's were shorter than mine – and the rest of the day flew by.
We arrived at the hut in early afternoon after breaking through the bush-line to wonderful views that made the long, slow climb worthwhile; we picked out our bunks, and decided to explore the area. The first stop, the Luxmore Cave, was well worth it; the cave is just a big slit in the ground, down which you can crawl with a torch, and before long Jo and I were stuck in pitch darkness, with only a couple of Maglites to guide us.
That's when I remembered the guide on the tour that I had taken in the Bungle Bungles, who had taken us into one of the Bungle caves, turned off his torch, and made us stand there for about five minutes, while our eyes got used to the gloom. Slightly spooked, we did the same in Luxmore, and sure enough we could see all sorts of strange shapes and shadows from the tiny amount of light seeping in through the cracks; Jo had never experienced it before and was suitably impressed.
To round off the day and expend our excess energy we decided to hoof up Mt Luxmore itself, as the weather was clear and the views would be stunning. We were right; there, 1471m above sea level, the views were awe-inspiring, looking over Lake Te Anau to the northeast, towards Mt Aspiring in the north, and over Fiordland to the west and to the south. The climb also helped me build up an appetite; pasta, tuna, tomato purée, cayenne pepper and mixed herbs never tasted so good.