New Zealand Great Walks:
Guide to Tramping the Kepler Track
Kepler Track Panorama
by Tom@Where (Flickr)
Everything you need to know in preparation for your own Kepler Track adventure
New Zealand’s Kepler Track is one of the iconic Great Walks all visitors should prioritize. Navigating a diverse landscape of-
ancient beech forest,
sparkling waterfalls, and lakes,
-you'll find a little bit of everything tramping this three to four-day track.
My wife and I trekked the track in early April and chose it over the Milford and Routeburn tracks for its proximity to Te Anau, and epic views. We are Americans who spent three months campervanning around New Zealand, and can honestly say the Kepler Track was one of the trails that has sparked a feverish hiking addiction that continues to this day.
In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know in preparation for your own Kepler Track adventure. From what time of year to tramp, to how to book accommodation, what to bring, an overview of a standard itinerary and so much more. If day-hiking is your speed, make sure to check out these 10 Epic New Zealand day-hikes.
If something has sparked your interest in learning more, well, come dive into the world of the Kepler Track.
-Packing essentials-Food & water
Kepler Track General info
The Kepler Track is a moderate-difficulty loop tramp located in the heart of jaw-dropping Fiordland National Park. Traditionally walked in the anti-clockwise direction, the track follows the shoreline of Lake Te Anau before climbing steadily up to exposed yet dramatic alpine ridges before dropping quickly to Lake Manapouri and meandering through beech forest.
Below I address some basic info questions about the track:
How long is the track?
The track is approximately 60 kilometers in length traditionally broken up over three our four days of tramping. Since it is a loop, you can walk in both directions, however, the anti-clockwise direction is most popular due to its more gradual incline.
How many days does it take to complete?
The Kepler track is most commonly completed in 4 days and 3 nights, with stays at Luxmore, Iris Burn, and Motorau Hut. An alternate option is to skip Iris Burn on your second day and cut the trip by a day.
Or, if you feel like challenging yourself, we heard of a few folks who completed it in as short as 2 days. However, I do not recommend this as you are more focused on beating darkness than enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
Alpine Tussock Field walkways-
How much elevation gain can I expect?
In total, you can expect ~2,215 meters of elevation gain, with the majority of that coming in the first day and a half as you climb to alpine elevations. If you choose to tramp clockwise, expect a significantly challenging climb from Iris Burn up to Luxmore Hut - it is steep!
What wildlife and flora/fauna will I come across?
Birdwatchers will delight at the wildlife along the Kepler Track, with the cheeky Kea being the most famed. It is the world’s only alpine parrot and is known for being very inquisitive - don’t be surprised if it comes to check you out or steal your sandwich. Also, keep an eye out for the mysterious Takahe that makes the Murchison Mountains it’s home and the beautiful Tui with its signature blue talons.
Fiordland’s unpredictable weather is what has shaped the region’s unique character. Abundant rainfall in the low-lying areas provide daisies and tree fuchsia with an opportunity to flourish. In the drier rugged alpine areas, dry tussock and rocky tarns cover the landscape and hardier plants like mountain buttercups find a way to survive and thrive.
Ancient Beech Forest trail view
Where is the starting point?
The most popular starting point is the Kepler Track Parking Lot, where you cross the Control Gate over the Waiau River to start your journey. Alternative starting points are:
Rainbow Reach Car Park (8 km south of Te Anau)
Brod Bay (reached by boat from Te Anau - book here with Fiordland Outdoors Co.)
If you don’t have your own wheels, book transportation to and from the track at the i-Site center in town, or give hitchhiking a try (a common way to get around NZ)
When to Go?
There are two tramping seasons for the Great Walks:
Late October thru April - known as the New Zealand Great Walks Season.
Pros: This is the most popular time to visit as the weather is warmer, the DOC manages hazards such as avalanches and flooding and the huts have most of their amenities operating.
Cons: Very crowded, significantly more expensive huts fees
May to Late October - Off-Season
Pros: Significantly less-crowded, cheaper hut fees, winter wonderland experience.
Cons: Weather is more of a gamble, it is very cold and snow is common along the alpine ridges. This time of year is more suited to experienced hikers and outdoorsmen. No rangers are at the huts, gas and running water are shut off and local transportation to the trailheads is reduced.
No matter when you go, however, the weather in Fiordland National Park is notably unpredictable, so make sure to come prepared for everything from heavy rain to steamy heat. We went in mid-April and were met with minimal crowds, and mild temps, however rain was a regularity.
Pro Tip: Hike in the Shoulder Seasons of April/May or September/October, avoiding full-blown winter and the large crowds.
Flowers-Kepler Track by David Baron (Flickr)
Where to Stay?
As with most of the Great Walks, accommodation is strategically set up along the track where trampers can post-up for a night. There are three established huts and two campsites along the Kepler Track.
Brob Bay Campsite - 30 sites
Luxmore Hut - 54 bunks
Iris Burn Hut - 50 bunks and 30 campsites
Moturau Hut - 40 bunks
During the Great Walks Season (late October thru April) reservations are required while in the off-season the bunks and campsites are first-come-first-serve. Make sure to book well in advance if traveling during the Great Walk Season. The booking system usually opens in June for the next tramping season.
Choosing which type of accommodation is completely up to your budget and camping preferences. As long-term backpackers, we were not hauling extensive camping equipment, so the huts made better sense for us.
Huts have bunks, mattresses, heating, toilets, basic cooking facilities, solar-powered lighting, and running water. No food, cooking utensils, or showers are provided.
$130 per person/night - with Kiwis getting a 50% discount ($30 in the off-season)
Campsites have toilets, sinks and a water supply with some picnic tables and shelters
$40 per person/night - with Kiwis getting a 50% discount ($5 in the off-season)
Kepler Track New Zealand by tommy chheng (flickr)
Standard Track Itinerary
Below is the day-by-day summary of the traditional anti-clockwise route, which is what we followed.
Day 1: Kepler Track Parking Lot to Luxmore Hut
14 km, 5-7 hours, 800 meters elevation gain
The track starts off casually meandering along the shores of Lake Te Anua - the largest body of fresh water in Oceania - through dense beech forest until you reach Brod Bay campsite (~90 minutes). Take a pitstop at the lunch benches and toilets before tackling the steep climb up to Luxmore Hut.
Turning away from the water, the 2-hour climb requires you to navigate limestone boulders and wooden walkways. Expect to stop several times to catch your breath as the ascent is relentless. Eventually, you get above the treeline and stunning views of the surrounding Murchison Mountains and Te Anau basin come forward. Crossing gorgeous alpine grasslands en route to Luxmore Hut, you are on top of the world for the 45-minute final stretch. Take plenty of pics.
Side trip: Luxmore Cave. If you feel like exploring the area, grab a headlamp and follow the signs to Luxmore Cave where you descend ladders into a damp and dark cave system. We are not huge cavers, so it wasn’t that exciting for us.
Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut
14.6 km, 6-8 hours, 500 meters elevation loss
Day 2 is the highlight of the track in my opinion, as you leave Luxmore Hut and tramp alpine ridgelines providing panoramic views. You start your day passing under Mt. Luxmore and blessed with views of Lake Te Anau sprawling out in front of you. Take the short 20-minute side trip up to Mt. Luxmore - highest point on the track at 1472 meters - it does not disappoint.
Continue to follow the ridgeline for several hours before you hit Hanging Valley Shelter and you descend quickly to Iris Burn Hut. Tucked away in a peaceful, remote valley - the calm atmosphere on Day 2 is why you are out here.
Side Trip: Iris Burn Falls. Get some warm grub in your belly before strolling down to Iris Burn Falls, a short 20-minute walk from the Hut. The charming horsetail waterfall is the only one on the track and a great place to take a nap or swim if the weather cooperates. Just make sure to bring insect repellent - the sandflies are unforgiving.
Day 3: Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut
16.2 km 5-6 hours, 250 meters elevation loss
Leaving Iris Burn Hut, Day 3 is the longest leg of the track but provides you with an ever-changing vista as you follow the river all the way to Lake Manapouri. You walk through dense forest, rock slips crafted by heavy rain, and high brush before you hit Rocky Point Shelter and drop over the low-saddle.
The final part of the day winds through a gorge before you meet the banks of Lake Manapouri and follow it to Moturau Hut. If you are feeling strong, you can continue on the final 15 kilometers or rest up at the Hut and go for a swim.
Day 4: Moturau Hut to Kepler Track Parking Lot
15.5 km, 5-6 hours, zero elevation gain
Trail between Motarau Hut & Rainbow Reach
The final day of the track navigates boardwalks over wetland areas before diving back into the ancient beech forests. You truly feel like you are walking through a forest in a Lord of the Rings movie, with green moss covering all and the trees groaning as if they are talking to you.
Following the Waiau River all the way back. You can exit at the Rainbow Reach suspension bridge or continue on the final 9.5 km to the Kepler Tracking Parking Lot. This day can get tedious as you know the end is so near - we were craving a cold beer and a pie from Miles Better Pies (must-stop bakery). Jump on the bus or into your rental car to get back to Te Anau and revel in your epic journey.
Views of Te Anau
What to Bring?
Being prepared is critical to having an epic experience on any multi-day tramping adventure. Due to the unpredictable weather, it is essential that you come prepared for all seasons. However, it is also unnecessary to haul a massive 30 kg pack for the entire trip - pack light and efficiently.
Below are a few of the essentials I recommend you bring.
Great Hiking Boots
Chill shoes (ex. Crocs) to hang out in at night
Two pairs of hiking socks to rotate between days
Rain Jacket or Poncho
Good Down Jacket
Comfortable Sleeping Bag
Insect-Repellent - sandflies are common, especially close to water sources
Deck of Cards or Cardgames (Monopoly Deal, Uno etc.) - a great way to make new friends
Pack what you are going to eat. No food is available along the track.
All the huts have drinkable water to fill up your water bottles, and there are plenty of streams, rivers, and melted snow opportunities, so there is no need to haul water with you.
Final Pro Tips:
Tramp in the Shoulder Seasons
Do not underestimate the sandflies - come prepared with Insect Repellent
Don’t rush - make sure you give yourself plenty of time to experience this Great Walk for what it is. A magical journey through Fiordland National Park.
Spend a few nights in Te Anau before or after to recharge. The peaceful lake environment is quite the therapy.
Quick hello from the Kepler Track by Tatters (flickr)
About the author-
Name: Ryan McNutt
Blog Link: https://thenuttytrekkers.com/
Ryan is an avid traveler, hiker, and foodie, who has been to 4 continents and over 30 countries. You will usually find him scaling mountain peaks in Colorado or eating his way through an Asia street food market.
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