I've done so much backpacking over the years that sometimes it's hard to remember just how amazing these places and views really are. You start to become a little numb to it all, even if you're still loving it. But then you visit a place that reminds you why you started all these crazy adventures to begin with...
I give you the Kepler Track in the Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand.
I have one of these "aha" backpacking moments every year or so, and it really puts all of my other trips into perspective and I appreciate each one more for it, but the Kepler Track was probably the most significant "aha" moment I've had in my backpacking career.
I was in New Zealand for a little more than a year all together, for a mix of traveling and work, but the real draw was the countryside. I was lucky enough to hike many of their trails (called tracks there) across both islands, and even a quick night time foray on Stewart Island in the rain to find the elusive kiwi... Success! See photo evidence below.
I did say it was night time... I might have also forgotten my lens cap in the excitement of actually spotting the unicorn. But why ruin the fun of the hunt for everyone else? Go hike in the dark, in a cold rain, for 3 hours, across questionable terrain, until you start wondering who's stupid idea this was in the first place, and all you really want is dinner and a warm bed, and you're starting to think maybe the locals were just pulling your leg and there's nothing out here... and find your own kiwi!
But back to the Kepler. Though lacking in kiwis, the views were absolutely stunning. I'm talking jaw dropping. We also had fantastic weather, something that can be incredibly unpredictable in the Fiordland, and although the Kepler doesn't get the rain that the more famous Milford Track does, it gets very intense winds that force hikers to bow before nature's might and crawl sections of the track. We were faced with none of those and frolicked without a care across the mountains.
All in all, the Kepler was everything I hoped it would be and then some. A beautiful reminder of why I bother to lug a bunch of crap on my back and sleep with the bugs in the first place. Maybe not for everyone, but I love it.