The Kepler Track in the Fiordland National Park is the only Great Walk with a long section on a mountain ridge. Weather can be harsh and often is cloudy, yet on a clear day, this 10km section rivals any walk in New Zealand for some of the best views.
The Kepler Track is not as visited and popular as some of the other Fiordland walks, yet the ridge line thrill factor made this our favorite of all the Great Walks.
Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.
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Guide to the Kepler Track in New Zealand
The Kepler Track is located near Te Anau in the Fiordlands. There are two car parks, the Kepler car park and the Rainbow Reach car park. The trail is fully connected as a circuit.
Best Season to Visit
The Great Walk season is from October 24 to May 4. During the season, the huts and campsites require prior bookings. In season, huts have a resident hut warden with cooking stoves. Out of season, huts are first come first serve with discounted rates (see How to Book for costs).
The hike can be done out of season within the first couple of weeks before and after the season closes depending on the weather. During the winter, hikers are required to have experience in alpine and snow/ice conditions.
How Many Days to Stay
The Kepler Track is typically a three or four-day hike. We recommend leaving a car at Rainbow Reach car park and hitchhiking or taking a shuttle to Kepler car park. Stay the nights at Luxmore Hut and Iris Burns Hut.
If staying two nights, it makes for an easy final day to the Rainbow Reach car park. If leaving a car at the Kepler car park, stay a third night at Moturau Hut. For more details on hut locations, distances and maps, check out the DOC website for the Kepler Track.
How to Book
Huts and tent camping must be booked during the Great Walk season. Huts can book out far in advance during the peak summer season. Campsites cost $32 per person per night and huts cost $102 per person per night in season. Out of season, campsites are $5 per person per night and huts are $15 per person per night, paid by Hut Tickets or with a Backcountry Hut Pass.
Both are obtainable from any DOC office or visitor center. You can book online for in-season at the DOC’s website.
While there are shuttles available, it is not needed as the track is a complete circuit. It is easy to hitchhike between the Rainbow Reach car park and Kepler car park or back to Te Anau. In season, Tracknet has four shuttles daily to Te Anau (from both car parks) and three shuttles daily between car parks. Contact Tracknet for times. The cost is $7.95 to Te Anau from the Kepler car park and $15 from Rainbow Reach to Te Anau.
Our Experience Hiking the Kepler Track
Distance and Elevation Gain
Distance: 34.4 miles / 55.3 kilometers
Elevation: 6,682 feet (2,038m) ascent, 6,403 (1,953m) descent
Time: 3 Days (12 hours 50 minutes)
Day 1: Kepler car park to Luxmore Hut
We parked at Rainbow Reach and walked to the Kepler car park without bags. We then began the hike with our packs from the Kepler car park. The hike begins through a forest along the edge of Lake Te Anau until reaching Brod Bay campsite. The trail becomes very steep until getting above the tree line. Once above the tree line, Luxmore Hut is twenty minutes further.
Distance: 8.6 miles / 13.8 kilometers
Elevation: 2,970 feet (906m) ascent, 167 feet (51m) descent
Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut and Iris Burn Falls
The reason the Kepler Track is one of the Nine Great Walks is because of this section of the trail. From Luxmore Hut, the trail wraps around Mount Luxmore. There is a small sign and a ten-minute detour to climb to the summit of Mount Luxmore. Shortly after, the trail narrows onto a thin ridge line with stunning panoramic views.
Lake Te Anau and the Kepler Mountains in the distance are one of the best views in New Zealand on a clear day. The trail continues on the ridge past the Hanging Valley Shelter before descending into the forest to Iris Burns Hut. The Iris Burn Falls is a 45-minute detour from the hut.
Distance: 11.5 miles / 18.5 kilometers
Elevation: 2,697 feet (822m) ascent, 4,491 (1,370m) descent
Time: 5 hours 20 minutes
Day 3: Iris Burn Hut to Rainbow Reach car park
The final day of the hike was an easy walk through dense forest. The trail reaches Moturau Hut, a scenic hut on the edge of Lake Manapouri. A common stop for a third night; however, we continued another hour and a half to the Rainbow Reach car park.
Distance: 14.3 miles / 23 kilometers
Elevation: 945 feet (288m) ascent, 1,745 feet (532m) descent
Time: 4 hours 15 minutes
Day Hike Alternative
There are two-day hikes from the Kepler car park. For a short leisurely stroll, hike to Brod Bay along the edge of Lake Te Anau. For a long strenuous hike, head up to Luxmore Hut, a 6-8 hour return. The views from Luxmore Hut are stunning with Mount Luxmore in the backdrop as well as Lake Te Anau below.
Important Things to Know
- Water is available at each hut. Water is not filtered and you can filter/boil it for your own precaution; however, hut water is almost always drinkable in New Zealand.
- Huts have gas stoves for use; however, tent campers cannot use the hut facilities. There are no cooking utensils or cookware for use.
- Hiking in the winter requires extensive alpine experience with snow/ice equipment.
That’s it – we hope you have a wonderful time exploring the Kepler Track!
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