Hiking the Kepler Track: What to Expect and Our Experience
Recently I completed one of New Zealand’s Great Walks -the Kepler Track. In this blog, I’ll tell you all about my experience hiking the Kepler Track including tips and info to help prepare if you plan on doing it for yourself!
Hiking the Kepler Track: What to Expect & Our
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The Great Walks get their name and fame based on how scenic they are and how well maintained they are by the Department of Conservation (DOC). After hiking the Kepler Track for myself, I can easily see why it is included as one of the Great Walks!
The Kepler Track is a 60km loop in Fiordland National Park, starting and ending only a 5-minute drive from the town of Te Anau. So, not only is this track beautiful but it’s also easily accessible.
Hiking the Kepler Track was the first of the Great Walks Dan and I embarked on. Just last week we headed off on what would be a four-day adventure and our first multi-day hike of the season.
This blog is all about our experience on the Kepler Track along with some tips and tricks we discovered along the way. If you plan on hiking the Kepler Track for yourself, then this is what to expect!
General Info About the Kepler
Where it starts: 5 minutes outside of Te Anau in New Zealand’s South Island
Where it ends: Same place as it starts or in the Rainbow Reach car park if you choose to cut the track short by 9km
Distance: 60 km for the entire loop
Accommodation: Huts and Campsites managed by the Department of Conservation
Recommended route length: 4 days, 3 nights
Day 1: Car park to Luxmore Hut
Knowing that the first day was only about 6 hours of hiking, we didn’t start until almost 11 am. We had a hearty breakfast before checking in at the DOC office in Te Anau. The clerk gave us our “tickets” for the huts and campsites we had booked along the way and reminded us to bring insect repellent and a lighter.
We were excited and nervous about our first multi-day hike of the season. We didn’t know what kind of views to expect or the condition of the huts and campsites, but what we did know is that it had been raining, a lot lately, and we were worried that every day we would end up being poured on!
Car Park to Broad Bay
We started walking in the rain. The first section of the trail goes from the car park to Broad Bay campsite/boat deck. This section is flat with a wide and easily walked trail. It is about 5km kilometres in length. If you wanted to be fancy and cut off that portion of the trail there is a ferry service from the lakefront in Te Anau straight to the Broad Bay campsite.
For us, we started at the car park and walked this flat section to Broad Bay very quickly. We thought to ourselves “if this is how the rest of the hike is then it will be so easy!” But, just as soon as those thoughts crossed our minds, the trail headed upwards.
Broad Bay to Luxmore Hut
This next section of the trail is, to be frank, long and steep and boring. Climbing through the same forest as before as you tackle switchbacks up for 6 kilometres straight – it is tiring and gruelling!
However, once you pass the treeline you are able to see some incredible views. From this point, it is only another 40 minutes or so of hiking along the ridgeline before you reach the Luxmore Hut.
Just as I started to think “where is this hut already”, I turned a corner and there she stood right in front of me!
It took Dan and me 4.5 hours in total to hike from the carpark to the Luxmore Hut. We were going at a steady pace but stopped frequently for short periods of time for snacks and photos.
Night 1 – The Luxmore Hut
The Luxmore Hut is really luxurious considering it is a hut in the mountains. It has two bunk rooms, flush toilets, a massive kitchen, and views that you have to see to believe. It is comfortable and well maintained. I was thoroughly impressed!
We arrived around 3:30 pm and had time to relax, get our beds set up, and enjoy the view before we went on the short 10-minute walk to the Luxmore Caves. To me, the caves weren’t spectacular but definitely worth the 10-minute walk it took to check them out.
After the caves, Dan and I made dinner (we often eat pasta on our hiking trips) and then headed out exploring for sunset. Luckily for us, the sunset was incredible and around the Luxmore Hut it is easy to explore. The bare ground makes going off the track very easy and the views are incredible!
Day 2 – Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut
Not knowing what to expect for the day, we headed off around 9 am. The weather was ideal for us, blue skies and only a bit of wind.
Walking along the ridgeline
Within only minutes of starting on the trail, we realized how lucky we were to have this weather on this particular day. The trail was all above the treeline with views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. The clear blue sky let us see mountains for miles. Needless to say, this portion of the hike took way longer than necessary as were we stopping what felt like every 5 minutes to take photos. Every view seemed better than the next!
Water is limited along this portion of the track so be sure to fill your bottle at the Luxmore Hut before you depart and bring plenty. It is a difficult trail exposed to elements with several steep climbs. A hat and sunscreen will also come in handy on sunny days and windproof/rainproof clothing during not so ideal weather.
There is a side trip to the summit of Mount Luxmore. It is only meant to be 10 minutes each way but I reckon it takes longer. Dan and I took this side trip just to be able to say we actually summited Mount Luxmore, but to be honest, the views from atop are no better than those from the trail. It is steep and rocky and I’m honestly not sure it’s worth the climb.
Downhill section to Iris Burn Hut
After you finish climbing along the ridgeline there is a steep descent down to the Iris Burn Hut. While this part is all downhill, it is long and boring. After having seen so many incredible views along the ridgeline, the hike through the forest seems underwhelming. At this point for me, my feet were sore and so was my back from carrying my bag. I was just ready to get to the hut and this section just seemed to go forever!
After about 6.5 hours ok hiking with tons of stops we made to Iris Burn Hut and Campsite. While Day 2 was definitely the most scenic, it was also the most challenging – but definitely worth it!
Night 2 – Iris Burn Hut/Campsite
Pretty much everybody who hikes the Kepler Track stays at the Iris Burn Hut or Campsite. It is located in the perfect resting spot for people walking in both directions and since there is also a campsite here, it is great for budget travellers.
Dan and I try to save a few dollars whenever we can so we opted to camp instead of staying in the hut. Reflecting back on this, I’m not sure we made the right decision as we stayed in huts the other two night and had to carry our tent, camping mats, and cooking equipment the entire way for only one night. Also, the sand flies at Iris Burn were a problem. They were everywhere and fierce. At least by staying in the hut, you would be able to escape them, when camping, you just had to take their itchy bites and deal with them.
For locals, the price difference between staying in the hut and camping is just over $40 per person, but for international tourists, the price difference is about $90 per person.
At the campsite, we did have a water tank for drinking and cooking, as well as a shelter for cooking, picnic tables, and drop toilets. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but it did the trick!
Day 3 – Iris Burn to Moturau Hut
Day 3 we woke up late, and by late, I mean very late! Dan and I had a terrible sleep thanks to an allergic reaction I had to our bug repellent.
After I went to bed the night before, I woke up only 30 minutes after with my eyes swollen shut, my lips puffed up, and my nose runny! Luckily, we had allergy medicine and that helped calm my reaction down enough eventually that I was able to sleep.
Besides the allergic reaction, it was surprisingly cold that night which made it hard to sleep. We hiked the track at the beginning of November which is still spring in New Zealand, so cold weather is to be expected at times. We, however, didn’t have the right sleeping bags and froze!
Once the sun came up and warmed our tent we slept like babies! Daniel randomly awoke at 9:30 am to an empty campsite and quickly woke me up. I assured him it was a short walk today and we would be fine. We packed up and ate breakfast and were on the trail by 10:30 am.
The trail on Day 3
The trail on day 3 was easy. It was about 15 kilometres of mostly flat ground through the forest. We stopped to have a cooked lunch this day and really took our time. Even with taking it slow, the whole trail only took about 4.5 hours.
The trail passed over some rivers and through a couple of valleys. To be honest, there weren’t any noteworthy viewpoints – that was until we reached Moturau Hut.
Night 3 – Moturau Hut
Moturau was much smaller than the Luxmore Hut, but it was also very luxurious. We had flush toilets but they were in an area that could only be reached by going outdoors. There was a huge bunk room upstairs as well as two smaller ones downstairs. The kitchen was smaller than Luxmore Hut but was suited to the number of people. The views here weren’t as great as Luxmore but were very different and spectacular in there own way! Instead of mountain peaks, we had a beautiful lake to stare out at.
The grassy outside was perfect for relaxing and the sandy beach as sunset put on a spectacular show over the lake. The ranger at the hut even did a presentation for us all about the area and its history.
Moturau Hut didn’t have the crazy mountain views like Luxmore Hut did but it was relaxed and beautiful in its own way. It was a great place to spend the final night of the hike and feel accomplished that we almost made it to the end!
Day 4 – Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach or the Carpark
Originally, we planned on walking the entire way to the carpark, but when the option of taking a shuttle from an area called Rainbow Reach was told to us we couldn’t resist. The ranger at Moturau Hut explained to us that Rainbow Reach is 9 km closer than the car park and a shuttle costs $14 per person. He also explained that there wasn’t anything particularly interesting to see on the last 9km, which was enough to convince us to take the shortcut. Dan and I had to drive back to Queenstown that same day so taking a shorter route seemed like a great option!
We started hiking from Moturau Hut at 7:30 am. We knew there was a shuttle at 10 am and we wanted to ensure we made it with ample time. Not to mention, we wanted to take time to explore and take photos as well!
The highlights of this day are Shallow Bay Beach and a wetland you walk through. At Shallow Bay Beach we could see Mount Luxmore in the distance and be able to reflect on just how far we had come.
It was another day of flat walking, and by cutting off the last 9 km, it was very easy and manageable.
At 10 am, Dan caught the shuttle to the main carpark and drove the van back to pick me up and two other friends we made along the hike. We did it this way so that we only paid $14 between all four of us! Rainbow Reach and the main car park are only a 5-minute drive apart for one another.
We finally made to the end! Hiking the Kepler Track was rewarding and beautiful and I would highly recommend it to anyone. While I haven’t yet done any of the other Great Walks, I can see why those who have rate hiking the Kepler Track so high!
Would you go hiking the Kepler Track? Does it sound like a hike you would tackle? Let us know in the comments!
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June 3, 2019