So, after a sedentary 4 day walk on the Milford Track, I was itching to do some proper running.
We were staying in Te Anau for 2 nights on New Zealand’s south island. Unlike Milford Track, that you need take a boat to get to, the start of the Kepler Track is a mere 4 kilometres away from Te Anau DOC offices. It is one of New Zealand’s great walks, a total of 60 kilometres up and over Mount Luxmore (at 1472 metres height).
I stuffed a bag full of food and some clothes, then headed out at 6 am to the trail head. The authorities suggest travelling the track in 3 to 4 days, stopping off in the huts conveniently placed on the way. But I knew that 60 kilometres is very do-able to run in a day, so I decided to forego the hut passes and overnight stays.
The track first winds through some peaceful beech forest skirting along the banks of Lake Te Anau. The birds were chirping, the weather was still and warm, and the trail was lovely and bouncy. I just knew that this was going to be a good day out. 6 kilometres in and I reached Brod Bay. From there, the trail left the lakeshore and headed up a long and steady switch-backed climb. Then at 900 metres, the forest abruptly stopped and I emerged onto the wide open heather plains of the mountainside.
The wind was blowing strongly and rain threatened to ruin my run. But still the weather remained clear, allowing perfect views over the Te Anau Basin, the Takitimu Mountains, and the Snowdon and Earl Mountain ranges. And there before me lay Mount Luxmore, a greyish peak that the path wound itself slowly towards.
I stopped off at the Luxmore hut to grab some water, then continued on up the hill. I have to admit that the views were far more spectacular than those I had seen on Milford only days before, despite Milford being more renowned for its beauty. I was also loving the fact that I didn’t have a fat 20kg pack on my back full of food and clothes for half a week. Travelling light with only my one-day needs and running gear was definitely the way to go.
After Luxmore the trail continued north, skirting around hills and teetering over saddles. The wind was picking up, and I passed a number of hikers huddling in the emergency shelters and over their lunchtime sandwiches. The ridge headed towards Irish Burn, then dropped back down in the Hanging Valley via a series of dizzying zig-zags. At the bottom, I found the second hut and the end of Day 2’s hike.
I ran on. Now off the mountain, the trail ran for the final 30 kilometres on flat forested ground. I picked up speed, enjoying the feel of running on perfectly prepared trails that were well marked and maintained. After a few hours I arrived at the banks of Lake Manapouri and Day 3’s lovingly built hut on a luxurious beachfront. My legs were starting to tire but I continued on, wanting to now get hotel by the time I had promised to be home by.
As I ran, someone shouted, “Good luck on Saturday!” I had no idea what they meant. On Saturday I was flying home to Cambodia, so why did I need good luck with the flight? So I stopped and asked. “I thought you were training for the race on Saturday?” she said. “No, no”, I said. “I’m just doing this for fun”.
It was only back at the hotel that I realised the annual Kepler Challenge was taking part on Saturday with 400 runners taking part. So it turns out that running the whole 60 kilometre track in a single day is more normal than it seems.