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The Kepler Track is one of 10 Great Walks across New Zealand, it’s an unbelievable walk that truly lives up to all expectations. Whether you’re walking through beech forests near Lake Te Anau’s edge or along the tussock covered ridgelines set way above the clouds, you’re in for an incredible journey.
In this guide, we will be discussing all that you need to know to complete the track. We will be covering the track difficulty and distance, how to book the walk, how to travel to the track, a walk itinerary, what to pack, and plenty of other useful information. This guide is quite comprehensive so to make things easier, feel free to use the table of contents which will take you straight to the section you want to read.
- Kepler Track Difficulty, Distance and Elevation
- Best Time To Hike The Kepler Track
- How To Book The Kepler Track Great Walk?
- Where is The Kepler Track?
- How To Get To The Kepler Track?
- The Weather Along the Trail
- Accommodation Before and After The Walk
- How To Get To The Kepler Track Trailhead
- Huts and Campsites along The Kepler Track
- Kepler Track Great Walk Itinerary
- What To Pack For The Kepler Track
- Final Thoughts on the Kepler Track
Kepler Track Difficulty, Distance and Elevation
The track is a 60km loop, which means it starts and finishes in the same place. The walk itself is fairly challenging, probably more so than a lot of the other Great Walks. Almost all of the elevation is during the first two days if walking the track anti-clockwise. One thing I would say is if you have the option of walking the track anti-clockwise, I would recommend it. If you walk the track in a clockwise direction the inclines from Iris Burn Hut to Luxmore Hut are pretty tough.
If you do choose the anti-clockwise option, most of the hard work is during the first two days of the walk. During the first day you will be walking uphill for approximately 3-4 hours straight which can be challenging at times but fortunately the path is very well formed along this stretch of the track.
Although during the first day you are climbing more elevation, I actually found the second day to be the most challenging. The journey from Luxmore Hut towards Forest Burn Emergency Shelter and then Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter is particularly hard. Towards both shelters you will have to climb some elevation, and in some places the terrain can be a little tricky. There are lots of loose rocks underfoot in places on this stretch of the track, which obviously slows down the pace a little. From Iris Burn Hut towards the end of the track it is very easy, the paths are well formed and the majority of the track is either flat or downhill.
Best Time To Hike The Kepler Track
The Kepler is an extremely popular track for visitors to New Zealand and with this trail it almost feels impossible to escape the crowds at times. The busiest time on the track is during the summer months of December, January and February as the weather is generally better. The track is located in the Fiordland region which has very changeable weather conditions so this is worth keeping in mind when booking; if you’re worried about the weather, it’s best to walk the track during summer.
If, however, you are looking for quieter tracks, your best bet is to hike during spring or autumn but only when the Great Walks season is in full swing. During the spring months of late October and November there is normally more rain than other months but the tracks are not normally as full as the summer months. During autumn, in March and April, you will find the tracks start to get a little quieter as well so it might be worth trying to book your walk during these months as the temperatures stay warm till late April.
During the winter months it is not advised you walk the track unless you have winter climbing training and avalanche awareness training, as avalanches are a real risk. You would also need additional gear such as an ice axe, crampons and a snow shovel. The winter months are outside of the Great Walks season which is usually from the end of October to the end of the following April. Outside these months, facilities in the huts are greatly reduced, there is no gas provided for cooking, running water is turned off and there are no rangers based at the huts.
How To Book The Kepler Track Great Walk?
As with all the Great Walks, you will need to make sure you book either the huts or campsites that you will be staying in along the walk. There are no fees to actually walk the track or to enter the Fiordland National park, which is great if you fancy a day walk in the area. If you’re planning on walking the whole length of this Great Walk, it’s important to book your huts and campsites as early as you can as the Kepler is extremely popular and spaces fill up very quickly.
There are 3 huts along the Kepler Track trail, all the huts are very big with the biggest capable of accommodating 54 people. For adults aged 18 and over, it costs NZD$65 per person per night to stay in a hut. For international visitors aged 17 and under, it costs NZD$32.50 per person per night. For New Zealand citizens and those who are ordinarily residents aged 17 and under, there are no fees to pay. It is however, still extremely important to book your places.
It is possible to camp at two locations along the track, at Brod Bay campsite and at a campsite outside Iris Burn Hut. For adults 18 years and older to stay at these campsites, it costs NZD$20 per person, per night. For international visitors aged 17 years and under, it costs NZD$10 per person, per night. For New Zealand citizens and those ordinarily residents aged 17 or under, again there are no fees to pay but you will however still have to book your place online.
Where is The Kepler Track?
The Kepler is located within the Fiordland National Park, which is situated in the lower south-west corner of New Zealand’s South Island. The track is located very close to the town of Te Anau, otherwise known as the gateway to the National Park and Milford Sound. The track starts and finishes at the Kepler track car park, which is situated right next to the Kepler Control Gates, a short 10 minute drive from Te Anau. Te Anau is one of many beautiful small towns in New Zealand.
How To Get To The Kepler Track?
There are a few ways to travel to the start of the Kepler, the most obvious option is to drive yourself. There is a large car park at the start of the track near the control gates. This is free to park in and as it is a loop track, getting back to your car is no problem.
There is another car park at Rainbow Reach, which is approximately 9.5km before the end of the track if you are walking in an anti-clockwise direction. It is actually possible to have your car relocated from the Kepler car park to Rainbow Reach. If you do this it makes it more viable to finish the hike in 3 days rather than 4 days as Rainbow Reach is just another 2 hours from the last hut. The last 9.5km of the track isn’t anything too special so you won’t be missing much if you do choose this option.
If you don’t have a car to travel to the start of the track, it is possible to catch a shuttle from Te Anau. This is a reasonably priced service by a local company called Tracknet, you can find a timetable of the services they offer here. It’s also worth noting they offer a service from Rainbow Reach to the Kepler car park, which is a much cheaper alternative than having your car relocated.
The Weather Along the Trail
The weather in the Fiordland area is very changeable so it’s important to be prepared for all conditions throughout the year. Summer is generally when you will find the best conditions, the temperatures are on average the highest. However, even during summer you will find conditions can change very rapidly and rain is still a definite possibility. It rains on average 200 days per year in Fiordland so make sure you pack yourself a rain jacket.
The section of track between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn hut travels through an alpine area. As with most alpine areas, this section of the track is extremely exposed in places. During days with high winds or gusts, it’s important to remember you will be very exposed to the elements. The ridgelines you will be walking down can be narrow in places so it’s worth turning back if the conditions seem too dangerous.
Accommodation Before and After The Walk
The nearby town of Te Anau has plenty of options to fit any budget when it comes to accommodation. You can find it all here, holiday parks, backpacker hostels, B&B’s, motels, lodges and even farm stays. When I went, I just pitched my tent up at the Top 10 Holiday Park located in the centre of Te Anau, which was a nice budget-friendly option.
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How To Get To The Kepler Track Trailhead
The Kepler Track is very accessible, especially if you have based yourself in Te Anau. If driving from Te Anau centre, take State Highway 94 to get out of the town and then turn onto State Highway 95. After a few minutes on State Highway 95 you will reach Golf Course Road, turn right onto it, now simply follow this road until you see the Kepler Track sign.
Huts and Campsites along The Kepler Track
Luxmore Hut is set in some pretty unbelievable surroundings, at 1085m above sea level. The hut is situated well above the bush line, which means on a clear day you can see the Kepler Mountains and across Lake Te Anau. Unfortunately, while we were there we were unlucky with the weather, which meant we didn’t get to see these amazing views. However, if you’re lucky enough to catch it on a good day the sunrise and sunsets from this location are incredible.
The hut accommodates 54 people in total so, as you can imagine, it’s very sizeable. The hut has one large communal cooking area and two sleeping areas, one small and one large. Make sure you bring your earplugs for this hut, as if you end up sleeping in the large room, you’ll probably be sharing with a few loud snorers! During the Great Walks season it has gas cooking facilities, heating, lighting, flush toilets and untreated tap water. Outside of the Great Walks season the facilities are greatly reduced.
Iris Burn Hut
Another one of the Kepler Track’s large huts is the Iris Burn, which is situated in a tussock clearing in a valley, which means views from this one are not quite as spectacular as at Luxmore. However, just 20 minutes away from the hut is the Iris Burn Waterfall, which is well worth a visit, but beware of the sandflies!
This is also a great location to spot the Fiordland Kiwi or Tokoeka. However, if you are going to have the chance to see one you will need to be on high alert during the night for its call. Kea are also quite common in this area so it’s important you don’t leave anything outside of the hut during the night as you might wake up to find it’s not there in the morning.
Iris Burn sleeps 50 people, so again it’s a big hut, with one communal cooking area which can be a bit cramped when full. There are three sleeping rooms, one large one above the communal area, and two other smaller rooms. Similar to Luxmore, it has gas cooking facilities, heating, lighting, flush toilets and untreated tap water.
The last hut on the trail is Moturau Hut, which is situated right on the edge of Lake Manapouri. After a day of tramping, this is a great location to end up as you can enjoy a swim in the beautiful lake.
This hut is a little smaller than the other huts on the track but is still large enough to accommodate 40 people. It’s possible to walk out to the end of the track from Iris Burn, which is probably why this last hut caters for less people than the others. Similar to the other huts, Moturau has gas cooking facilities, heating, flush toilets, lighting and untreated tap water.
This hut is split into five sections; downstairs there is a communal cooking area, two small sleeping rooms and four toilets. If you head upstairs you will find a large communal sleeping room above the kitchen. There are also some picnic benches outside so you can enjoy a lunch with a view, however there are sandflies here so make sure you have insect repellent on.
There are actually only two places on the track that you can pitch your tent. These are at Brod Bay campsite near to the Kepler car park and a campsite near Iris Burn Hut. Brod Bay is located on the edge of Lake Te Anau and Iris Burn campsite is obviously in the Iris Burn Valley just outside the hut.
Both campsites have the same facilities, non-flush long drop toilets and untreated tap water. The campsites don’t have cooking facilities so you will need to bring your own backpacker stove to cook on. Both campsites do however have a shelter to cook under, in case the weather is not great. Although Iris Burn campsite is located directly next to the hut, campers are prohibited from using the hut’s facilities.
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Kepler Track Great Walk Itinerary
There are a few different ways to walk the track, you can choose to walk the loop either in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. You can also choose whether to complete the track in 3 days or 4 days.
For the 4 day option you will be staying at all 3 huts along the track. This will allow you to complete the full track and you will be walking between 4 and 6 hours each day. This is a popular route for trampers to take, as it is very manageable. If you have the choice I would suggest you walk the track in an anti-clockwise direction as this way you get the hard part out of the way during the first 2 days.
The 3 day option will have you staying at two of the huts, Luxmore and Iris Burn Hut. This is a good option if you want to shorten your trip and save a bit of money on the hut costs, and again it can be quite a manageable journey. The first 2 days remain the same as the 4 day itinerary, however on the third day instead of stopping at Moturau Hut you continue straight to either Rainbow Reach or the Kepler car park.
If you decide to walk the track in 3 days, I would recommend you walk to Rainbow Reach and get a shuttle back to the Kepler car park. You will not be missing anything too special on the last 9.5km of the track from Rainbow Reach. If you choose to walk straight to the end, just be aware you will be walking a total of 31.7km in one day. When we walked the track, this is the option we chose as I was unaware that you could catch a shuttle back to where you started. If I were to walk it again, I would probably walk the track in 3 days to Rainbow Reach and catch the shuttle for the last section.
Below, I have detailed what the four-day itinerary would look like as this was the most popular option chosen by other trampers.
Day 1 – Kepler Car Park – Luxmore Hut
The first 5.6km to Brod Bay are nice and easy, the track is flat and is very well pathed. The start is made up of a very diverse forest of beech, rimu and lots of ferns. When you arrive at Brod Bay Shelter and campsite it’s worthwhile taking a quick break as the track soon starts to get a lot more challenging.
After Brod Bay, the track starts to travel uphill for approximately 3 hours. At times the track follows a relatively steep incline, but as long as you keep a consistent pace, you should be fine. Most of the day you are under the cover of the forest trees, which is definitely a relief during hot sunny days. After 2 hours of climbing you will reach the limestone bluffs and from here it is just another hour of climbing until you reach some flat ground. After your 3 hours of climbing you will reach the end of the forest and be rewarded with an open landscape with panoramic views.
From here, where the cover opens up, it is just 45 more minutes of walking until you reach Luxmore Hut. This last section of the day was my favourite, the ground is covered in grassy tussock and all the mountains that surround are visible. This final stretch to the hut is much easier compared to the rest of the day as the land is a lot flatter. Altogether you will be covering a total distance of 14.8km during the day.
Day 2 – Luxmore Hut – Iris Burn Hut
The first part of the track to Forest Burn Emergency Shelter is uphill and steep in places, the terrain is made up of loose rock which can be hard to walk on. Unfortunately, when we were walking this part of the track, the visibility was terrible so we couldn’t see too much. It’s important to be prepared for changeable weather conditions during this section of the track as it is a very exposed alpine area. On the way, if the conditions allow, you can take a 30 minute side trip to Luxmore Summit where you will be rewarded with stunning views from the highest point on the track.
The journey from Forest Burn Emergency Shelter to Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter is challenging but is absolutely unbelievable. The exposed ridgelines you are walking along are amazing but during windy conditions would be very dangerous, as you are so unprotected, hence the emergency shelters. Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter is a perfect little picnic spot to take in the beauty of the vast landscape that surrounds you.
After Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter, the track starts to go downhill pretty much all the way to Iris Burn Hut. First you will travel down the ridgeline until you reach a lookout point, here the track changes from an open grassy tussock landscape to a covered forest. The track meanders down through the forest and is extremely steep for the majority of the journey.
Eventually, after your journey downhill, you will find Iris Burn Hut in a large tussock clearing which is a welcome sight after a long 14.6km day of walking. Iris Burn Waterfall is a 40 minute return trip from the hut and is a great way to end the day with a relaxing swim.
Day 3 – Iris Burn Hut – Moturau Hut
The trip to Moturau from Iris Burn was a pretty magical experience. The track starts through a wet area of land and at the beginning you will walk through ‘The Big Slip’. This is an area that was formed due to heavy rainfall in January 1984. Something that is extremely apparent is the amount of greenery you’re surrounded by. There is this amazingly light bright moss growing absolutely everywhere together with many ferns, it’s quite a pretty setting.
The track was mostly flat with some uphill and downhill towards the start. The walk was pretty easy going and we reached the hut within 4 hours and 30 minutes. The Department of Conservation estimates this section of the track takes 5-6 hours to walk but you would have to be walking really slowly for it to take this long. The total distance covered during the day is 16.2km. The hut is situated right on the waterfront with a nice little beach – it’s a pretty laid-back location.
Day 4 – Moturau Hut – Kepler Car Park
The last day of the Kepler track is relatively easy and covers a total distance of 14.5km. The track is well formed and mostly flat for the duration. The start of the day takes you through the wetlands, it’s not the prettiest place but it is, however, an extremely vital part of the local ecosystem. As the track continues, the wetlands gradually turn into forests and after approximately 2 hours you will arrive at Rainbow Reach. The swing bridge that crosses the Waiau River is well worth a visit.
The last 9.5km of the track from Rainbow Reach follows along the side of the Waiau River, all the way to the Kepler Control Gates. I didn’t find this part of the track as interesting as the rest as there isn’t too much to see. However, the terrain is nice and easy going so it makes the final stretch of the 60km quite painless. Eventually, you will reach the control gates, and around the corner is the Kepler Track car park, which marks the end of this incredible journey.
What To Pack For The Kepler Track
It’s important to make sure you come well prepared for the Kepler track, as with any backcountry trip. If you’re new to tramping or backpacking and you’re unsure of what you might need to bring along, check out my Great Walk packing guide here.
All the huts along the Kepler have gas cooking facilities so you might think you can probably get away with leaving your backpacker stove at home. You might be right, however, I believe it is always worth bringing it along as you never know when you might need it. For instance, if the weather turns for the worse you might get stuck at one of the emergency shelters, and without your stove you may go hungry for the night. One item you should definitely take along with you on every hike, is some good insect repellent. The sandflies can be quite bad in places along the track so adequate protection is a must.
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Final Thoughts on the Kepler Track
I had a great time while walking all 60km of the Kepler track and I can definitely recommend it. The whole trail is just otherworldly, my favourite parts were the astonishing setting of Luxmore Hut, the ridiculous panoramic views on day 2, and the lush forests found during day 3.
The only downside of this track is its popularity, it can feel quite crowded at times which is not always ideal. I suppose that’s to be expected though, with an area of such beauty. Another thing worth noting is that the weather is not always going to be on your side with this track. Bookings must be made months in advance of walking the track which means you can’t plan around the weather but this is just part of the reality of the Kepler. These minor issues aside, walking the Kepler Track is an amazing experience that you’ll never forget.