The Kepler Track is most accessible of the Great Walks, you can just wander from the start from downtown Te Anau in less than an hour, and, unlike the other Great Walks, the Kepler was specifically constructed for the purpose.
There’s no question that Kepler Track is worthy of the designation “Great Walk”: there is a pleasant walk around in forest near the edge of Lake Te Anau; a climb above the bushline with big views of the lake, the Murchison mountains and plenty more stretching across the horizon, only real grunt on the track; a gloomy sort of cave; the second day, mostly above the treelike, has monster views of even more remote parts of the country, exhilarating to be way up there, 1200m above the lake; Lake Manapouri; and a significant stretch through pristine, mostly silver beech, forest; the robust Waiau River. And the track surface is as well manicured as any. In fact it’s so well set up, signage and accommodation of a totally accepted acceptable standard, you can just concentrate on the experience, while trying to avoid simply dashing to the next objective.
A cautionary note, this is Fiordland, and the Kepler Track is an exposed walk, there is a considerable length undulating along at 1400m, partly along ridgetops, and it is regularly majorly breezy up there, no lack of oxygen, people get blown over, and when combined with the rain it can be a dangerously chilling environment at any time of the year. It is covered in snow for much of winter and spring and there is avalanche danger in some sections between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut.
The major thrill of the Kepler Track is this: there’s something special about standing high on a mountain looking down on the remote South Fiord of the lake, 1200 m below, mountains in every direction, knowing there are no towns, settlements, roads, farms, indeed only mostly wilderness wherever you gaze, basically standing on the perimeter of the Earth, looking out to forever.
Great Walk | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
There are two ways to experience the Kepler Track.
The cheaper summer season option is as an independent, “freedom walker”. You book your place in the huts, or campground, carry your own gear, including food and sleeping bag and look after yourself. You are required to sleep in the hut, or campground, you have booked. Sounds good, although while you have flush toilets there are no showers.
The problem is that each day is limited to the capacity of the huts and as this is getting to be a world renowned track places are taken very quickly, the summer season is often completely booked, at least during the main NZ holiday season. Many people walk the Kepler due to inability to get onto the Milford or Routeburn Tracks but it’s well worthy of walking for its own sake. Occasionally cancellations do occur but you need to be ready to go.
The cost: $54 a night for the huts, $18 to camp.
There is no guided walk option on this track.
There is also a winter option, ie, outside the summer season, where the huts are $15 a night but it has certain issues. There is a very real avalanche danger and deep snow is possible, the track is extremely exposed to high winds etc. October and May are the best months for this unless you have considerable alpine experience in NZ conditions.
where | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
The Kepler Track is circuit that is partly through beech tree forest and partly above the treeline. The start/finish is just 3.5km from Te Anau.
distance | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
time | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
3 — 4 days
when | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
The usual walking season for the Kepler Track is during the summer months, for the 2016-17 summer the dates are from 25 October 2016 – 3 May 2017. A popular track, there is a capacity for 48 or 50 walkers at each night at Luxmore, Iris Burn and Moturau Huts, booking is required. Hut wardens are in attendance during this time to check you are indeed entitled to a bunk. During the peak holiday season the track is often fully booked some way out. Check the availability of huts.
Bookings are not possible during the Winter Season, April 2016 to 24 October 2016, you just turn up and get a bunk on a first-come basis. During this time avalanche danger can be a major, and very real, concern. Check with DOC about the avalanche danger, it is very real. Two trampers, Louis-Vincent Lessard and Etienne Lemieux, tragically died on this track in July 2015 after ignoring advice about the safety of the track.
maps and GPS | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
On the extremely well marked and signposted Kepler Track there’s little real requirement for anything more than the free DoC brochure map.
It is possible to buy a real map, ie, on old fashioned paper. The Newtopo Kepler Track at a scale of 1:55,000, $9, is available from major DOC offices and some outdoor stores, Macpac keep them, or consult this comprehensive list of retail outlets.
route description | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
The usual direction to walk the Kepler Track is from the Lake Te Anau Control Gates to Luxmore Hut for the first night, with the alpine, above the treeline, section on the second day to Iris Burn Hut. You can then do the easy forest tootle down to Moturau Hut, or, for the more energetic get back to civilisation and those digital screens.
huts | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
The Kepler Track huts are comfortable enough, the mattresses are okay, the fireboxes work, the roof keeps the water out, what’s to complain about?
Here’s the three DOC huts you will encounter on the official Kepler Track:
You can also stay at the small nearby Shallow Bay Hut which is not on the official track. It’s about half an hour from Moturau Hut but for some reason DoC seldom mention it, maybe because it costs $5 a night, not $54.
There are also two campsites available on the track, camping is otherwise not permitted within 500m of the track.
There is an official campsite not so far away at Shallow Bay.
There are some shelters to get, err, shelter when the weather is not so great, ie, raining or snowing heavily. You are not permitted to stay or camp near the shelters.
tramping times | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
Here’s the DOC stated tramping times between huts for the Kepler Track, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks. DOC bases its estimation on times for an “average” tramper which means that it’s possible to walk faster.
Unfortunately this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, experience the thundering waterfalls, watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to minimise the time racing through this memorable landscape.
Kepler Track shelter and carpark at the Lake Te Anau Control Gates to Brod Bay campsite
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Distance: 5.6 km
Brod Bay campsite to Luxmore Hut
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes – 4 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 8.2 km
Side trip – Luxmore Cave
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut and campsite
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Distance: 14.6 km
Side trip – Mt Luxmore
Time: 1 hour return
Iris Burn Hut and campsite to Moturau Hut
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Distance: 16.2 km
Side trip – Iris Burn waterfall
Time: 1 hour return
Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach shelter and carpark
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes – 2 hours
Distance: 6 km
Rainbow Reach shelter and carpark to Kepler Track shelter and carpark at the Lake Te Anau Control Gates
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes
Distance: 3.4 km
getting there | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
Easy, you can walk to the start of the Kepler Track from downtown Te Anau in about 45 minutes and have a view of the Takahe at the Fiordland Wildlife Centre thrown in for free.
If you have to park a vehicle somewhere there is a decent sized carpark near the control gates that is not majorly secure, ie, cars can get broken into although many cars are indeed parked there for the duration. Those who are doing the speedy version, ie, one or two nights, may prefer to park and walk from Rainbow Reach on the first day.
Water Taxi to Brod Bay? Sure, but aren’t you supposed to be walking the track.
supplies | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
Te Anau has one major supermarket, Freshchoice, open 7am to 9pm seven days, for getting the main supplies. There is also a small 4 Square with similar, but marginally truncated opening hours.
Shellite or Fuelite and gas canisters for your stove can be obtained at Outdoor Sports, Fiordland Frontier Supplies, both open Monday – Friday 9.00am–5.30pm and Saturday 9am-1pm, or Mitre 10, Monday – Friday 8am-5.30pm, Saturday 9am-4pm, Sunday 11am-3pm, if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it. All these shops are in the main shopping area of Te Anau.
warnings | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
The Kepler Track is a purpose-built track, fully benched and with no significant river crossings, most of the creeks are bridged. You can walk the entire track without getting your feet wet.
And the Kepler Track is popular, particularly in the summer holiday season, and huts can be full, all 54 bunks taken, it ain’t a track to get away from people.
The major issue is the entirely exposed alpine section from Luxmore Hut to the forest above Iris Burn Hut.
You’re well above the bushline, walking for significant distances along highly exposed ridges, the wind can be strong, gale force, people have been blown over. In any case it can rain, obviously, and even snow at any time of the year. Yup, even in January or February. The combination of heavy rain and wind at 1400m means good wet weather gear is useful.
And being New Zealand, this is something overseas visitors are entirely unused to, the weather can change surprisingly speedily, from blue skies to heavy horizontal rain in half an hour. Or snow, even in January.
In winter the track is often covered in snow, sometimes quite deep and there is a real danger of avalanche in some sections. It is not a track for inexperienced trampers during the off season, ie, May to October inclusive.
Remember this is a track in the high mountains of Fiordland, one of the wettest areas in the world. Despite the generally low altitude the Kepler Track can have very exposed conditions. As they say, be prepared.
other websites | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
DOC has a track guide on the Kepler Track tramp.
a big image slideshow | Kepler Track, Fiordland National Park
Here’s a 50, err, 51, image slideshow from the Kepler Track giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing.
Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.
Images of the Kepler Track huts and campsites can be found in the Kepler Track huts, campsites and shelters.