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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 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 to stay in the hut. To be honest, if you can snag a booking or afford it, it’s well worth it to stay here. The Luxmore Hut is actually really nice and one of the best huts in NZ.
But if you want to hike this trail for free, don’t stay at the Luxmore Hut. 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.
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.
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).
If camping here doesn’t sound like a good plan for you, you can always just splurge for one night and book the Luxmore Hut. If it is already fully booked, use NZHuts, which will notify you whenever there are cancellations or openings.
Day 2 – Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Campsite
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).
Because the Kepler Track is a Great Walk, your campsite needs to must be booked in advance on the DOC website. If you don’t book far enough in advance it may be fully booked. In that case, you can use NZHuts, which will notify you of any cancellations or openings for your selected dates.
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
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.
Day 3 – Iris Burn Hut to 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.
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
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!
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 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!
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!