On the third morning we both set a new record for sleeping in in the tent! It was around 9:30 when we both finally sat up and started on breakfast. I hadn’t slept very well that night. Our tent was on a slight tilt and I felt like I was always sliding down towards one side. At one point in the night I woke up and heard a female kiwi calling nearby. This was a good hike for getting close to some of New Zealand’s indigenous bird species. Kiwi are nocturnal so you won’t often see them in the wild, but if you know what they sound like (the hut warden gave us a demonstration the previous evening) then sometimes you can hear them. I suppose rare bird encounters make up for poor sleep.
Even though it was a sunny morning, the tent (especially the rain fly) hadn’t dried after the nights rain. Oh well, into the pack it went. We had a quick breakfast and filled up on water before we set out. The trail began with another series of agonizing switchbacks before we began our final descent. We followed the trail as it wound alongside a river through an endless stretch of magical fuzzy beech forest. If anything it was a bit monotonous, with more hateful switchbacks randomly thrown in. We occasionally came out of the trees and got some nice views of the river and the surrounding mountains. The walk only took us about four and a half hours today, so it was a breeze compared to the day before.
We reached the Moturau Hut and it was bustling with activity. There were people eating lunch, going swimming in the lake, running and jumping about. Everyone had so much energy. Well, none of them had to walk ten hours the day before. The huts and campsites really do have very different vibes. When we’ve stayed at the huts everyone is always very social and talkative, while at the campsites things are generally more quiet and a lot of campers keep to themselves. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some nice chats with fellow campers, but it makes the huts seem like a raucous party by comparison. And as much as I complain about sleeping on the ground, I’ve found I rather enjoy the relative quietude of tent camping.
We hiked an extra thirty five minutes off the trail to Shallow Bay. There is a DOC hut and campsite here that are not part of the Kepler track. That means camping this night was free! It was a great way to split the hike into four days instead of three. There is a sign marking the way to Shallow Bay just past the Moturau Hut. I suppose we could have slept in the Shallow Bay hut if we had really wanted to, but the weather was nice so we set up our tent a bit back from the lake shore. Two other people came later in the day to stay in the hut, but we were the only campers. At some point I saw one of the hut dwellers and shared a nod of acknowledgment. Like I said before, the camping crowd is a bit more introverted.
We had dinner and then hid from the sandflies in the tent. These rice and bean dinners are starting to get a little old. Maybe we’ll switch things up for our next hike. This day had been pretty uneventful, especially compared to the day before. The next day would be even easier. The signs claimed it was five hours back to the start, but I was eager to prove that we weren’t as slow as day two had made us seem.
Note about camping on the Kepler Track:
The Kepler track has three huts but only two campsites (not including Shallow Bay). There are two parking lots that you can start the trail from: Rainbow Reach car park and Kepler Track car park. In retrospect it might have been easier if we had parked at Rainbow Reach. This would have taken a couple hours off of our last day and added them on to the first day (which is only about an hour if you start from the Kepler Track car park). If we had done it like this it would probably have been easy enough to finish the trail in three days. We still would have had the really long second day (there’s no avoiding that unless you stay in a hut), but the first and third days would have been a little more balanced and we probably wouldn’t have needed a fourth day. That said, the Shallow Bay campsite was very nice and the fourth day was almost as easy as the first, so if you have the time why not take four days. For more information about the specifics check out the DOC site (though I don’t think there’s any info about Shallow Bay on this page).