The Kepler Track is a fun but challenging four-day hike with hut or camping options, incredible wild swimming side trips and a definite ‘Frodo and Sam in the woods’ vibe. You don’t want to miss this sweet NZ Great Walk.
- 4 days hiking through pristine beech forest, alpine wilderness and glacial lake foreshore
- Option to camp or stay in National Park cabins (what we did)
- Very curious and friendly wildlife
- Bonus side adventures: Luxmore Caves, Luxmore Summit, and Iris Burn Waterfall
The Kepler Track
Being one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kepler Track is an experience of a lifetime and it provides a great taste of what the Fiordland National Park has on offer. The track starts and finishes through magical Lord-of-the-Rings-esque beech forest.
Day 1 – Kepler Track Car Park To Luxmore Hut
Distance: 13.8 km
Time: 5-6 hrs
There’s no better way to kick off a hike then taking selfies in front of the track signs. Luckily enough, there’s a few good ones at the Kepler carpark. Once all the selfies are sorted (and uploaded, you’ll still have reception) the track follows along the shore of Lake Te Anau and after a couple of hours, you’ll pop out at Brod Bay.
This is a prime spot for morning tea with a view over the lake back to Te Anau. Leaving Brod Bay, the climb begins to Luxmore Hut, at a cool 1085m. Scaling the final staircase will put you at the foot of the Limestone Bluffs. Here is a great spot for lunch with a viewpoint back over the lake.
Unfortunately, the climb continues. Finally, you will leave the beech forest and pop out onto an alpine tussock landscape with magnificent views over Lake Te Anau and its South Fiord.
At the end of the walk you’ll come across the Luxmore Hut. The hut is a two storey building with shared cooking and dining facilities. There are 2 bunk rooms which house 54 people. The beds are simple, timber bunks with a foam mattress. This hut is the perfect place to enjoy a cuppa while marvelling at the 180-degree views from the dining table.
Side Adventure: A short walk from the hut is Luxmore Caves, and it’s definitely worth a wander. A staircase descends into the caves which extend deep into the mountain. Remember to bring 2 torches and a jumper.
Day 2 – Luxmore Hut To Iris Burn Hut
Distance: 14.6 km
Time: 5-6 hrs
Day 2 starts off travelling along the saddle towards Mt Luxmore, which is a slight detour off the main track. The climb to the summit rewards those that bother with 360-degree panoramic views that will take your breath away. Keep an eye out for Keas, a large green parrot-like bird. They’re very friendly and curious creatures and may chew any unattended boots or bags.
Once you cross the saddle, the descent begins into the valley down to the Iris Burn. This part of the track is a real leg burner with 100 switchbacks and 300 stairs to wrangle with. The Iris Burn Hut is similar to Luxmore Hut with 2 bunk rooms and shared facilities.
Side Adventure: After a snack and cuppa, head over to Iris Burn waterfall for a refreshing swim. The water is very fresh but you’ll feel like a million bucks. Watch out for sandflies though (they love tired and sweaty hikers!)
Day 3 – Iris Burn Hut To Moturau Hut
Distance: 16.2 km
Time: 5-6 hrs
Still following the Iris Burn, this part of the track is relatively flat compared to the previous 2 days. Shortly after leaving the hut, the beech forest parts and you’ll be at the base of The Big Slip, the remnants of the January 1984 landslide.
At this point, if you look back down the track, you can see the track you descended the previous day down the side of the mountain (worth a photo for bragging rights). A couple of hours later you’ll come across Rocky Point shelter. This is perfectly placed for a morning cuppa along the river. The track continues along the river banks, in and out of magical beech forest until you reach Moturau Hut on the shores of Shallow Bay, Lake Manapouri.
If the weather is good (it was perfect for me) this will be the best part of the whole track. Dump your bags in the hut and head down for a well-earned swim. The water of Lake Manapouri is a lot warmer than the waterfall.
Moturau Hut looks out over the lake, with snow-capped mountains in the distance. This makes for a perfect last night on the Kepler. After dinner and if you’re lucky enough, you might be treated to a song by the resident ranger (moonlighting as a local songwriter). Depending on the weather, you might be able to take your mattress down to the water’s edge and sleep under the stars. This all makes for an unreal last night on the track.
Day 4 – Moturau Hut To Kepler Track Car Park
Distance: 15.5 km
Time: 3-4 hrs
Leaving Lake Manapouri behind, the final day starts off in a new environment; swamp and bog lands. There’s a viewing platform off the track over a small glacial lake that’s home to some interesting plants and bird life.
Continuing on, you will meet up with the Waiau River which links Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau. The final part of the track is nice and flat and snakes along the river banks.
Shortly after meeting the river, you’ll reach Rainbow Reach. Buses frequently stop here but it’s best to book a seat if you plan on leaving from here. Otherwise, continue on for a couple of hours to the starting point at the Kepler Track Car Park.
- DOC booking tickets (pick up from DOC Office in Te Anau)
- 65L or larger backpack
- Ability to carry +3L of water (drinking water is available at all huts)
- Sleeping bag and pillow
- Swimming clothes
- Torch and head torch (essential for exploring Luxmore Caves)
- Food and cooking gear (gas stoves supplied in huts)
- Rain jacket (Mt Luxmore is 1400m above sea level and weather can close in very quickly)
How To Get There
We had a hire car and drove to the carpark in Te Anau, which is about 3 hours from Queenstown. There are 2 alternate entry and exit points, each with the ability to organise bus pickup. One option is to catch a water taxi into /out of Brod Bay. The other is to book a bus for pickup at Rainbow Reach car park.
- Cave exploring
If time permits, I highly recommend taking a tour of the Te Anau glow worm caves.