New Zealand has plenty of strenuous and lengthy backcountry tracks, as well as gentler and more accessible day hikes. However, the tourism industry is particularly vocal about their 9 “Great Walks.” In my 2+ years here, I’ve thus far checked off the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, as well as the Routeburn from this list. Though they (unfortunately) tend to be a bit busier than the less well-known routes, the Great Walks definitely pack a wide variety of stunning scenery into a condensed area. I hope I get to do a few more before I leave.The Kepler Great Walk has definitely been on my to-do list, but it’s a bit too far from Christchurch to be a weekend mission.When I found myself in Te Anau (Fiordland National Park) this past month, I unfortunately did not have the time to do the full 60km loop track, but I DID have one day of amazing weather for a massive hike to the summit of Mount Luxmore, the highest and most stunning point along the track (1472m).At about 21 miles round trip, it was a definitely a huge day. I might mention that this was also my first big solo hike. I was confident about my fitness, but know first hand that the end of a long tramp can often get a bit tough mentally (with songs like “Just Keep Swimming” looping through your mind). It has been a goal of mine to accomplish a notable tramp on my own (even though I have the best hiking partner there is), and though this wasn’t an overnighter, I’m going to say it counts!
After a 3 hour drive down from Wanaka that morning, I didn’t hit the track until nearly noon, and felt a bit pressed for time to make it out before sunset. I wanted to make sure I could have a leisurely lunch and explore at the top, so to knock some time off the estimate (8-10hrs round trip just to the hut, another 2.5-3 hours if including the summit), I jogged the first 3 miles or so (the only flat part of the track). This combined with a steady pace on the nearly 8 miles of steep uphill made for a time of 2hrs 15 to the hut, and just another hour to the summit. By the time I got back to the car at 7:30pm, my legs were jelly but it was one of the best days I’ve ever had on my own. One of my favorite parts of tramping is sharing the amazing views with the people I’m with, but the mission itself is also half the appeal. Since I don’t usually do it alone, this one was particularly special. Other than the occasional passing stranger, it was just me and the forest, me and the mountain views. The scenery was stunning and the nature sounds were calming. I set my own pace and was accountable to only myself. I could think about whatever I wanted or nothing at all. I could randomly decide to run, or sit and breathe and take in the scenery. I could eat an entire bag of candy in one go without being judged (or sharing 😉 ).Other than the solo aspect, this hike progressed like most others. Big uphill mission, followed by lunch at the summit. I chatted with some friendly people at the top as we tried to snap Instagram-worthy photos of a particularly social kea (who attempted to eat not only my sandwich, but also my backpack and my shoe). I spun in circles taking in the panorama of Fiordland. I breathed in the blustery moment, filing it away for keeps. It was unreal. Was it the best hike ever? Nah, I’ve had far too many amazing ones to make that sort of claim. But it was certainly incredible.After a 30 minute lunch break, I started wandering back down when I passed an abnormally large group of people. They turned out to be a camera crew choppered in to the hut to work on New Zealand tourism videos. Go figure, you know it’s good weather for a hike when the professional photographers are there shooting a commercial!I filled my water bottle at the hut, then wandered off on a little side track to see the Luxmore Cave. It was cool (I LOVE caves), but you can’t get very far inside.I was getting a bit tired, so the hike back downhill was a mission (plus it’s always anticlimactic heading out the same way you came in) but I still made it out well before my goal. Mental stamina stood the test, but was aided by a phone call at the end to tell my hiking buddy about all that he missed!