When the first day of our kayaking trip to Doubtful Sound was cancelled due to poor weather, we found ourselves with a free day in Te Anau.
Staffers at the tour company base suggested that, if we planned to spend the day in Te Anau, we could try walking a bit of the Kepler Track. Since the Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Center was located just across the road from our accommodation at the Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park*, we nipped in to find out more about it.
By the way… There is going to be a tonne of photos in this post. I cannot tell you how proud I am of these shots. It was too hard to pick some to put in, so I just put them all in.
If these photos don’t inspire you to get to the Kepler Track right now – you’re crazy and can’t be saved! (sorry – not sorry)
The Kepler Track
“Vast tussock-covered ridgelines and spectacular alpine vistas contrast with peaceful lakeside and valley beech forest in this wilderness adventure.” (DOC Website)
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. We’ll explain more about Great Walks in another post because we actually walked one almost end to end.
For now, we’ll tell you that the Kepler Track is a 60km loop track in the Fiordland National Park that hikers typically take 3-4 days to walk – although there is a foot race that sees runners do the whole thing in mere hours! Most hikers start and end the track in the gorgeous lakeside town of Te Anau. If you don’t have time to walk the entire track, there are plenty of day-walks to sheltered bays or to the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach.
It’s always best to start any trip into the New Zealand bush with a stop at the nearest DOC visitor’s centre. These little hives of information can provide you with weather forecasts, updates on track conditions, maps and general advice about the area. It was there I spied a poster announcing DOC Fiordland had hidden geocaches around the start of the Kepler Track.
I’d had the Geocaching.com app on my phone for the longest time – probably since 2012 – and had never used it. “Well, no time like the present,” we said. The decision was made to head out into the wet, walk some of the track, and see if we couldn’t find some of those caches.
What is Geocaching?
I hear you ask. Well, thanks for asking!
If you’re a fan of orienteering, you will love geocaching. It’s like scavenger hunting on a really big scale. Geocaching marries GPS coordinates, navigation and written clues to help you find hidden ‘caches’.
A cache is normally a small, water tight container (though we found some big ones) containing a log book and a pen/pencil. Sometimes there will be other items – say dinosaurs if there is a theme – or objects to trade. When you find a cache, you log your name and the date in the log book before returning the cache to its original position so others can find it.
You can often use your smart phone in place of a personal GPS thanks to the opening up of accurate GPS to the general public back in the year 2000. There are loads of great apps and websites listing geocaching coordinates, but we recommend Geocaching.com. Once you create an account you can access a bunch of geocaching clues and coordinates for free and, when you’re on the trail, it will use GPS to show how close you’re getting to the cache.
Don’t be put off by Tiernan’s expression. Kepler geocaching was maximum fun.
It was raining hard when we stepped out of the car and started trudging towards the start of the Kepler Track. Once we were under the trees we were well sheltered. Instead of stinging needles, the rain fell from leaves in thick globs.
We opened our phones to reveal the map with cache locations and picked the furthest one. It was called Jurassic Kepler, which sounded amazing. The further we walked, the more we agreed that this place really does look like a set from that dino film. Tiernan spent a small portion of the quest pretending to be a raptor. This involved clambering through bushes that were bigger than me and screeching.
The clue for Jurassic Kepler was “Inside a hole in a tree,” which immediately gave me the heebie-jeebies. New Zealand has these insects called wetas. Giant bush cricket like bugs of disgusting proportions. You do not want one of them falling on you in the shower (has happened to me). Not to mention they bite…
When we finally found the cache I let out an audible sigh and agonised if we could just leave it there and say we found it. Tiernan took one for the team, put his arm into the offending tree, and pulled out the cache. Good old Tiernan.
Then the sun came out – typical. We briefly discussed if it was looking this good at Doubtful Sound while winding our way back along the track.
Most hikers seem to walk the Kepler Track counter clockwise. I haven’t looked up the total elevation, but that must be the easier way. Every so often we would encounter groups making their way back to civilisation. Probably the best part of the day was meeting hikers at the end of their walk and telling them they were fewer than 15 minutes from the carpark and rest. The cheers were real!
We found most of the caches quite easily. Sometimes you can get a cache with cryptic clues or scrambled messages to decode, adding an extra element to the hunt. The DOC Fiordland geocaches are quite simple – family friendly, I’d say.
Speaking of families! As we completed the final cache, we met a young family who seemed to be walking out after a morning hike. A little boy walked right up to us and asked us, bold as you like, “What are you doing here?” My eyebrows must have raised so high that they melded with my hairline. It was like he was asking us some great existential question. Or perhaps he thought only his family knew about the world famous Kepler Track… We never really found out. But his parents had a good laugh and we got to tell them about the geocaches. A potential future family day out for them!
We wound up the hunt by taking some pondering photos before checking out the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach. I guess we have the poor weather to thank for this awesome day. If our kayak had not been cancelled, we may never have seen this beautiful place.
So thanks, wind!
Thanks, Go Orange Kayaking Tours!
And thanks, Department of Conservation for planting these geocaches.
Have you tried geocaching before?
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