Trail Profile: Kepler Track, New Zealand
Located in the heart of Fiordland National Park of New Zealand, the Kepler Track offers panoramic views of mountains, lakes, and fiords. Fiordland is also home to Milford Sound, Milford Track, and the Routeburn Track. It gets 24-36 feet of rain per year and is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined (7,500 sq miles).
Kepler Track of New Zealand
Distance: 37+ miles (60 km), plus 45 minute walk to trailhead from visitor center (on the way in and out)
Trail Type: Loop, 1 of 9 hikes designated as a “Great Walk” in NZ
Trail Rating: Moderate— easy at start and finish with sections of steep climbs leading up to highest point
The options are plentiful! Check in at Fiordland National Park in Te Anau. Walk on a gravel path for 45 minutes to trailhead or drive there if you have a car. Another option is to drive and park at the Rainbow Reach carpark (NZ for “parking lot”).
If you need to shorten the loop, there is a shuttle to/from Rainbow Reach. Or, you can use a water taxi to start at Brod Bay.
Starting at the “Kepler Track car park” entry at Dock Bay, we headed North along Lake Te Anau. It is a flat, shaded walk through old growth beech forests. With so much rainfall every year, it feels a lot like a rainforest. There are thick ferns amongst the trees.
Brod Bay is a short walk in (3.5 miles/5.6 km). We found a sandy spot and enjoyed the native ducks! The Paradise Shelducks were especially friendly on the beach. Looking across the lake we could barely make out the town of Te Anau.
After Brod Bay, the trail begins ascending Mount Luxmore. After many switch backs in the woods, we arrived at the limestone bluffs. As we got higher and higher, the trees faded away. Crossing above the ridgeline was a powerful experience. Looking down at the clouds and trees below filled me with excitement for the day to come. Above treeline, the land turns mostly to alpine tussock grasslands.
We reached the Luxmore Hut in time for a snack and pack off break. It is perched high above treeline and overlooks the South Fjord of Lake Te Anau on one side and the rest of the lake directly ahead. We took a short side trail the the Luxmore Cave. From the hut, the trail continues up to Mount Luxmore, the highest point on the Kepler Track (1,472 meters).
The summit of Mount Luxmore was stunning! We had a clear, 360 degree view of mountains and lakes. Every angle was breathtaking. We wanted to stay up there as long as possible, so we had lunch and took a million pictures.
We realized that the rest of the hike was just as beautiful! The trail continued along the ridgeline and wouldn’t dip back below tree line for several miles. The map describes it as “extensive alpine views” and I can’t think of a better way to phrase it. With the Southern Alps on one side and the fiords of Te Anau on the other, we zigzaged along for hours. We passed 2 emergency huts (Forest Burn and Hanging Valley) which were attached to the mountain with large cables and bolts. It was hard for us to imagine the weather being anything but perfect since we were there on an idyllic day. Eventually we got to a spot where we could look down into the Iris Burn Valley, our next destination.
We descended down a few sets of wooden stairs and then many, many switchbacks into the Iris Burn Valley. We stopped off at the last view above treeline to take in the afternoon light. As we descended we discussed how fortunate we were to be there, especially on a day such as this.
At Iris Burn we were immediately warned about the curious alpine parrots, keas. They have a reputation for destruction since they like to pick away at things with their strong beaks (i.e. windshield wipers, car cables, tents, anything at all…). We were advised to set up in the woods rather than the field since the birds would come around 9 pm and hassle anyone out in the open. Sure enough, they came on time and made quite a racket. Andrew took an ice cold swim in the stream and we settled in to the loud and distict calls of the keas.
In the morning, we took our time and were the last to leave camp. We knew we only had 10 miles (16.2 km) to go for the day so we started with a side trail to the Iris Burn Waterfall (15 meters). It was a lovely morning and we even saw the very rare blue ducks!
When we returned to our packs, we were surprised to find a small flock of keas picking away at our packs and carrying off our belongings!!! We managed to get everything back but they destroyed our Camelback nozzle as well as my Timex watch. Andrew’s camp shoes have a permenant beak mark.
The Kepler Track follows the Iris Burn valley down, down, down. There were sunny sections through meadows and an area that had a “big slip” many years ago. Nature is reclaiming the space. There is a small shelter/pavillion at Rocky Point, which would make a good lunch spot.
After an easy day of hiking (in comparison to the day before), we made it to Moturau Hut. We got last minute reservations to stay there in order to extend our hiking time. We claimed our bunk beds and went for a swim in Shallow Bay of Lake Manapouri. Essentially, this is on the other side of the mountains from Lake Te Anau. It was neat coming down to an area we had been seeing from above for several days.
Note: If you are thinking about stayign at Moturau Hut, consider Shallow Bay Hut instead. It is technically not part of the “Great Walk” hut system and therefore way, way cheaper! ($5/night) It’s not far past Moturau Hut and the side trail is clearly marked with a wooden sign. We didn’t know about it until the next morning!
The last day was very easy terrain. We stopped off to see the Kepler marshes, which have board walks going out to the view. For much of the day we followed the Waiau River before looping back to where we began.
One thing we love about traveling is grocery shopping in other countries. There’s always something new to try! New Zealand stores carry olives in oil and spices that come in a little disposable pouch. They’re perfect for backpacking!
Since we don’t have a stove, Andrew built a fire. We grilled campfire pizzas on tortillas with sliced salami, melted cheese, and black olives. Super yummy!
On this trip we also tested out some pre-made mini pancakes and min waffles to use for our lunch meals. They were great with peanut butter and dried dates. They traveled well and were a nice variation on the typical backpacking starches.
The Kepler Track is a Great Walk in so many ways! If you are bummed that you didn’t get a spot on the Milford Track, consider the Kepler! The views of the surrounding mountains, lakes, and fiord did not disappoint. If you enjoy exposed ridgelines, this is a great pick!
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