Day 3 awoke to cloud covering the mountaintops, which just goes to show what luck I'd had in deciding when to do the track. Ahead of me by a day was a huge group who had met another huge group coming the other way, which meant there had been 76 people in the Iris Burn Hut the night before I arrived; and if I'd been a day later I'd have missed all the views on the mountain path. The 17.2km track from Iris Burn to Motarau Hut was, however, low level, so before long I was tucked up in Motarau Hut on the edges of Lake Manapouri, watching the world go by from under sandfly-proof clothes.
That night, being New Year's Eve, I cracked open the 250ml bottle of port I'd been lugging for the last 50km (how's that for dedication?), and the other English speakers followed suit with a bottle of gin and tonic, a bottle of bourbon and a small bottle of champagne to complete our makeshift minibar. We all managed to stay awake until midnight, when we went out on the veranda and sang 'Auld Lang Syne' at the tops of our voices, much to the bemusement of the Germans in the hut who were seeing in 1997 with some comparatively staid celebrations of their own.
Day 4, New Year's Day, entailed a rather uneventful 17.1km walk through more forest, before I arrived at the car. The Kepler Track had turned out to be easy walking and a very pleasant introduction to the Great Walks, but it only served to whet my appetite; I now couldn't wait for the next challenge.