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February 2011 Issue
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Poor Man’s Kepler

Shallow Bay Hut squats on the tranquil shores of Lake Manapouri
1.5hr to Shallow Bay Hut or Moturau Hut
From Rainbow Reach Road, off SH95 6km south of Te Anau
Shallow Bay Hut, Fiordland National Park

Just 6km down the road from the tourist town of Te Anau, is a short-cut onto the Kepler Track, one of the famous Great Walks, a 60km loop lasting 3-4 days. My wife and I were not fit enough for such an epic, and sought some solitude. They say that ‘beaten paths are for beaten men’, but sometimes the beaten path is quite handy as a platform from which to launch your own adventure.

Here, at Rainbow Reach, we crossed a suspension bridge over the Waiau River into Fiordland National Park. The wide, flat pathway was typical of these Great Walks – the weather wasn’t: we managed to stay dry during the two day excursion.

We trod gently on a soft carpet of beech leaves, enjoying the easy pace. The tranquility was tangible – you could feel it in the moist Fiordland air. The track follows the meandering Waiau River downstream, then cuts inland to avoid unnecessary mileage. We crossed the Forest Burn, admiring the dark, tannin-stained water rushing below the bridge.

Well-worth the visit was a sphagnum moss swamp, accessible across a boardwalk which we kept to, as the peat is five-metres deep. We whispered quietly as a friendly yellow head paid us a visit. Several ducks scampered off across the pond, a dragon-fly buzzed on by. This Amoeboid Mire was a wildlife Mecca.

Sign at Moturau Hut

About 10 minutes along the lake front we arrived at our destination, Shallow Bay Hut. Looking like a boatshed, it was clad with weatherboards, and stood on poles above the sandy shoreline. Whilst basic (we had to fetch water from the lake) it was free, and empty. A local scouting group had saved it from the axe, taking responsibility for hut maintenance.

We spent hours gazing across a moody Lake Manapouri toward the Cathedral Peaks, shrouded in a thick mantle of mist, their rugged spires occasionally appearing out of the clouds. Across the water we spotted foreign backpackers spilling out of Moturau Hut onto the nearby beach.

Then, the silence was broken. A lone speedboat could be heard, the distant drone of its outboard motor slowly increasing in intensity as it cut through the mirror-glass water. Aboard were some Southlanders taking their kids water-skiing, but there was definitely a clash of codes here. Annoyed at the intrusion, I went for a reconnaissance of the river mouth, returning after dark to search for kiwi.

The following morning, we reluctantly departed our old shed, rejoined the Kepler, and did a detour off to the Great Walk facility, a mere 20-minutes walk around the lake. Moturau Hut had emptied its 40 or so trampers, the big barn looking somewhat out-of-place next to the small hut warden’s quarters. “Two’s company, 40’s a crowd,” we told ourselves.

We headed for home, glad of our little adventure. It was, as we called it, our poor man’s Kepler.