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How to Hike the Kepler Track for Only $25

Last updated : April 28th, 2020

A couple stand on a viewpoint on the Kepler Track, New Zealand


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The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks. Hiking the Great Walks is easily one of the best things to do in New Zealand. However, as the 2018 season kicked off so did new pricing for tourists on 4 of the Great Walks.

For both huts and campsites on the 4 hikes affected, the prices now doubled. For many, these new prices have made visiting and walking these 4 Great Walks inaccessible.

Both Bailey and I had lived in New Zealand for longer than 6 months when it came to hiking the Kepler Track and as such, we were eligible for the local pricing. This made the walk affordable for us and the reason we decided we couldn’t miss out.

But while we were on the trail, we found out that there is actually a completely legitimate way of hiking the trail for a lot less money than you think.

Although Bailey and I had paid and were already on the trail, we decided to investigate this further and come up with a plan for others on how you can hike the entire Kepler Track for as little as $25 for locals, or $45 for tourists. The best part is that it only involves one booking. Here’s how it’s done!

We will be writing this blog as if you were walking in a counterclockwise direction. This is the direction we recommend hiking in.

Hike the Kepler Track (for cheap)

Day 1 – Control Gates to Luxmore Hut

day 2 of the kepler track new zealand
Day 2 is by far the most spectacular!

Day one of this Kepler Track itinerary starts at the control gates or Kepler Track carpark. This day involves the long hike to the Luxmore Hut and is the biggest challenge to this itinerary.

The Luxmore Hut has no camping spots and costs $65 (local) and $130 (tourist) to stay in the hut. However, what we found out after arriving at the hut is you can actually camp here for free – there’s just one catch, you must hike 500m off the trail (we found this information in the Luxmore Hut.)

This is a New Zealand law and applies to all Great walks. On non-Great Walks, the law is 200 meters. This law is around to allow people to camp freely in New Zealand.

A photo of a lady walking on the ridge line of the kepler Track, New Zealand

In other areas on the Kepler Track getting this far off the track is actually impossible due to thick bushlands. However, at the Luxmore Hut, it is possible but not easy.

We did a little investigation while there and believe the best place would be in the direction of the nearby caves. Near the Luxmore Hut, there are a few caves you can explore that is signposted near the hut.

There is a path that leads to them and if you follow it to the end but continue on much further you will be around (I don’t think anyone is going to come up and measure your distance) the 500m mark.

The Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track, New Zealand
The Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track, New Zealand

At the caves you’ll have access to clean water that is good enough to be boiled for cooking. As for drinking water, you can actually use the Luxmore Hut’s outside overflow tap for free.

The ground around this area isn’t ideal for camping and it is hard to find a good enough clearing. To be honest this will be the worst night on the trip but with a little extra effort and maybe a bad night’s sleep it can be done, and has been done by other people who have read this blog.

Please note, you must be 500 meters from the caves too. Camping closer than that will mean the warden will wake you up to move you along. Your best bet is to keep walking and get way out of sight.

*At the bottom of this post, there is a comment from a guy who did this DEC 2019. He left more info on the spot he found.

Another option is the camp well before you reach the hut and off the trail. As you get close to the hut you will leave the trees and be out in the open. This area is a few kilometers from the hut and you could walk off the trail here and camp. The only issue is there is no access to running water so you would need to make sure you have enough of your own.

What you need to camp here

The area around the Luxmore Hut has no shelter from the weather. This means if you plan on staying in a tent up here you need to have a good quality tent built for alpine conditions (100 km/ph) and warm sleeping bags (at least -5 Celsius comfort zone).

Along with that, you will need good quality warm clothes and waterproof gear. It would also be a good idea to have a tent big enough to fit your bags to shelter them from both the weather and Keas (this is a real problem and they will take your stuff).

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Day 2 – Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Campsite

Enjoying views pon the Kepler Track, New Zealand
Not a bad view!

This is by far the most beautiful day of the hike but also the only night you’re going to need a reservation at the Iris Burn Campsite. You can reserve a campsite at the Iris Burn Hut for $20 (local) $40 (tourist). You must book your campsite through the Department of Conservation here. 

Panorama from the Kepler Track looking over the mountains

The reason you must pay to camp here is that it would be very difficult to get 500m off the track to camp for free. This section of the Kepler Track is a thick rainforest where it would be impossible to find a clearing to set up your tent.

Also, this campsite is the most likely to have space as the Luxmore Hut is often stayed in by overnight hikers who aren’t completing the entire trail.

What you need to camp here

camping at Iris Burn Hut
Camping at Iris Burn Hut on the Kepler Track

Since this is a paid campsite there are toilets, a shelter for cooking, and cleaning drinking water available. The campsite is much lower in altitude than the Luxmore Hut and in a valley sheltered from the weather. You really just need a standard tent, sleeping bag, and cooking equipment to camp here.

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Day 3 – Iris Burn Hut to Shallow Bay Hut

Shallow bay hut
Shallow bay hut

On the last day of your 3-day Kepler Track itinerary it’s off to a little-known hut called the Shallow Bay Hut. This small hut a few kilometers past the Moturua Hut (the recommended paid hut on the Kepler Track walk.)

Shallow Bay Hut is a non-serviced, unmanned hut on the edge of Lake Manapouri.

The hut has 6 beds at a first come first serve basis and plenty of room for camping. To stay in the hut, you should buy a $5 non-serviced hut pass from the Department of Conservation in Te Anau before starting the hike.

This hut was a huge shock to me as its not on any maps for the Kepler Track and the DOC (Department of Conservation) does a great job at hiding it from tourists. The reason? Well, it only costs $5 compared with the nearby Moturua Hut that will cost a tourist $130.

Important info: This hut is unserviced and not all that nice. My personal recommendation is to camp because it will be better. There is a comment at the bottom of this post from someone who completed the trail with this itinerary and they recommend that too.

Getting there

To find this hut you must walk for around 25minutes past Moturua Hut until you see the sign for Shallow Bay Hut. Follow this path along the lake’s edge then turn right along the beach. Walk up a 100 meters until you see the large orange trail marker and follow these to the hut. There are orange markers so just follow them it’s easy to find!

What you need to camp here

Camping area at the Shallow Bay Hut
The camping area at the Shallow Bay Hut

I would suggest carrying extra water for cooking here and be sure to arrive with filled water bottles. You can fill your bottle at the Moturua Hut. This is because the lake here has freshwater algae called Didymo. I don’t know much about it and am unsure if after boiling its safe to drink this water.

Before setting off you could just ask the DOC as they will know!

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Day 4 – Shallow Bay Hut to Control Gates

This last day you will walk 16km to the end of the trail back to where you started! For a tourist, this trail will have cost you $45 NZD and for a local $25 (providing you pay the $5 non-serviced hut pass before starting the trail)

Where to Stay in Te Anau

Te jetty and views of the lake in Te Anau

Te Anau is the closest town to the start of the Kepler Track and the ideal place to stay before you start the trail. From town, you can reach the start of the track in around 5 to 10 minutes and Te Anau is home to a DOC office which you’ll need to check into before starting.

Here are some great options for places to stay in Te Anau:

Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers – If you’re traveling on a budget then the Lakefront Backpackers is a great option. This hostel offers dorm beds for $30 NZD as well as private rooms for $75 with lake views. They have onsite parking, a communal kitchen and are walking distance from shops and restaurants.

Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park – For those in a campervan or those looking for a budget private, this is a great choice. They have powered sits and comfortable double rooms for great prices. They are a little out of town but in a beautiful location near the quieter side of the lake. I stayed here when I rented a campervan in New Zealand.

Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Appartments – If you would prefer to stay in a nicer place then Fiordland Lakeview comes highly recommended. They have self-contained apartments with amazing views. You can use the kitchen and room to prepare for your hike without the need to use a communal kitchen or space.

For more options, you can view all the hotels available in Te Anau!

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Before you go…

We cannot stress enough the importance to be prepared mainly on the first night. If you plan on hiking this way then wait until you get good weather conditions and consider hiking in the middle and end of summer when temperatures are warmer at the Luxmore Hut.

If you do give this route a go, please let us know how you went so we can share it with other travelers!

Thanks so much for reading! I hope this blog has helped you plan your trip on the Kepler Track. If you would like to know more about the Kepler Track be sure to check out our other guide to the Kepler Track. If you have any questions please just leave a comment below.

Also, if you found this Kepler Track guide helpful then be sure to check out all our other NZ blogs on our New Zealand page here. I’ll also leave some related articles below!

Things to do on New Zealand’s South Island

Te Anau to Milford Sound Road trip

How to score a cheap campervan rental in NZ

Whanganui Journey – Kayaking Guide

-Daniel

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About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

12 Replies to “How to Hike the Kepler Track for Only $25”

  • Hey Daniel,
    We just finished the Kepler track with two friends using your info above and it worked perfectly for us. All in all it cost us 45$/pers, which is really cheap.
    The hut at shallow bay is very small and lots of mosquitoes go through the chimney during the night so better sleep in tent but the place is stunning with very pretty view over Lake Manapouri.
    A very affordable way to hike the Kepler! Thx for the tip!

    • Hey Maire,
      So glad this route worked well for you! It is such a beautiful hike! Did you get good weather?
      Thanks for the advice, mosquitos can be bad in the area that’s for sure!
      Cheers,
      Daniel

  • Hi Daniel! Can i please ask you how much time in advance do you usually need to book the Iris burn campsite place? Week? or only a few days before starting the trek? Thank you very much. 🙂 Marketa

  • Hello!
    This article is really helpful – the Luxmore Hut is fully booked for when we want to go, so we’re keen to try the freedom camping you mentioned nearby!
    Can I just check when you went? I’m worried it will no longer be permitted / available!
    Also, is it reasonably clear which direction to go in for the wild camp?
    Thank you so much!

    • Hey Rose!

      I went last year and the rule of camping just 500m off the track is still around.

      I have had some feedback from others who have followed this blog and it is hard to find good ground to camp on! Just be prepared to not have the comfiest campsite and don’t take blow up mats as you’ll risk setting them up on the uneven ground.

      Yes, it is clear what direction to go as one side it descends into a steep and deep valley.

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • we did the track last december. 1 stop luxmore and put our tent near the caves , measered 850m from the luxmore hut (nice flat spot). almost dark and asleep we were waken up by the warden of the hut, she told us whe where to close to the path (she included 500m counting from the small path to the cave) gave us 3 choices 1) to go back 2) go to the next hut 3) go over the hill where i cannot see you which is over 500m but dangerous because of potholes etc. We thought we where allowed where we camped.. option 1 and 3 in the dark where no options , to camp else was dangerous and VERY unresponsable from the camp lady . We did and she kept watching untill we were over the hill. we got 5min to find a spot before being completly dark. we made the spot a bit level with hand and feet on the slope of the hill, the flat areas where to wet! Anyway it is possible but difficult and you need a tent thats 100kmh proof. so not to impressed with the doc lady, unresponsible ! ok i understand they dont want 10 tents in that aerea but this was not good. for anyone who wants the gps 45°23’29.4″S 167°36’39.9″E

    • Hey Eric,

      Wow, that’s such a shame they count the trail to the caves! I am going to look into this because when I saw the map of the no camping area in the hut it never said it was from the other trail.

      If you did the hike to the camp spot in daylight would it have been much safer? Like was it because it was dark that it was hard to find a spot further off the trail?

      Any help on this is great as it will help others who can’t get bookings or who don;t want to pay $280 per couple for a night in a hut.

      How did the rest of the trip go?

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • Hey! Thank you for all this info. Wanted to give an update because we attempted to do this as said a couple weeks ago. SOOO camping by the Luxmore caves is not allowed (the path to the caves is still considered Great Walk track). Talked to the Luxmore Ranger for a long while about this and how frustrating it is when they see people walking up towards the caves with packs anytime in the afternoon. They will make you move. Be nice to the ranger if you meet them (chances of them ticketing you are much lower). The ranger said they don’t usually ticket but they will use it for education purposes but they will make you move 500m off the track. There are flatish spots to camp 500m off the track if you go past Luxmore. You have to drop down into them from the ridge (but it’s just grassy), they’re not by a water source (make sure you have enough). They’re exposed and you should make sure you have a solid tent.

    But the point of me of actually giving this update is because we didn’t end up doing the track as said in this blog post. If you are moderately fit, it’s more than easy to do this hike in two nights. You start at the Rainbow Reach car park (you can leave your car there), spend your first night camping in Broad Bay and the second at Iris Burn. You pass Luxmore hut on the morning of the second day. The first and third days are really flat/easy! Plus it’s totally legal and Broad Bay/Iris Burn rarely book out so you don’t book in advance. Obviously you’re paying for two campsites so it’s $80NZ total (~50 USD). While it’s frustrating to pay for camping, I do think it’s reasonable for a Great Walk and then you don’t have to worry about the super confusing laws (honestly they still don’t make sense to me and I read the actual laws). If you’re an experienced/fit tramper, we also met plenty of people doing Kepler in 2d/1n (just staying at Iris Burn). Hope this helps someone!

    • Hey Cat!

      Thanks for this!

      So you did attempt it but never stayed the first night at Luxmore? Or, did you attempt it but hiked back down on the first day?

      I am just a little confused at exactly what happened as you said you attempted it but then said you never hiked the trail this way?

      I have fixed the blog to reflect that camping at the caves is not allowed and have another comment mentioning a spot further on.

      Also, $80 NZD is not that bad but the $140 fee to stay in the hut per person is ridiculous.

      I will be coming back to New Zealand to settle down this year and will be making a trip out to the Kepler track to properly map out how to hike the trail this way.

      The season is coming to a close so let’s hope net year we have a better blog to help people hike an amazing trail legally and safely.

      Thanks so much for your comment I really appreciate the feedback. If you can clarify the above it would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • March 2020 update: don’t do it, it is a very grey area and might ruin your experience.

    We camped before Luxmore hut. The next morning the warden at Luxmore hut questioned us when we were passing by, we didn’t lie and said we freedom camped. She asked for the proof we were 500 m away, we didn’t have any proof, so she took our ticket for Iris burn campsite and reported our booking number to DOC and promised we will be punished. The next two days of the hike we felt like shit waiting for our punishment. As of now, we finished the track and left Te Anau and no one fined us yet so probably she only wanted to scare us, but it totally ruined our hike.

    So be prepared that when you pick up your ticket for iris burn campsite at the DOC office, if you don’t lie about your intention to freedom camp, DOC people will treat you like trash, warden at the Luxmore hut can question you and treat you like trash, warden at Iris burn campsite can ask where you stayed last night and if you don’t lie will treat you like trash. So unless you are very comfortable being treated like that or lying to the wardens, DO NOT DO IT. Even if you get that freaking proof that you camped 500 m away, you are still a criminal in their eyes.

    I appreciate the author sharing this information but I wished I never came across this post and never tried freedom camping 🙁

    If you don’t have a budget for huts, you can do it in 2 days (camp at iris burn only) or just choose another track – Great Walks are great but imho Kepler is overrated and definitely overpriced.

    • Hey Anastasia,

      So sorry to hear about your experience.

      The rules are not a grey area but the DOC do not like them at all. It sucks that they have resorted to this sort of bullying when it is their rules and the rights of people to camp 500 meters from any Great Walk Track. If it is that much of a problem they should change the laws.

      Once again I am sorry to hear it ruined your experience I hope the rest of your trip was amazing.

      Thanks for sharing and I hope others can learn from this and make a decision.

      Daniel

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