Cape Brett Track is one of the best coastal walks on North Island! I would totally repeat it every year If there were not so many other hiking options in…
The Kepler Track is an amazing 60 km trail in Fiordland, South Island of New Zealand. It is a truly amazing hike with the most spectacular views and poignant encounters with local keas.
The Kepler Track is one of the Great Walks in New Zealand and it is probably one of TOP-5 among those hikes. The hike gradually meanders along the beech-forested shores of Te Anau and Manapouri lakes and crosses alpine ridgelines with some impressive vegetation. It gives you the feeling that you are hiking on top of the world. And the cherry on top is that you can see many keas along the way.
The Kepler Track difficulty is considered Intermediate, and the entire hike is usually done over the span of 3-4 days. There is some climbing on Day 1 and Day 2. After that, it’s just a completely flat bushy walk.
I have done the Kepler Track both as a multi-day hike and as a day hike to Mount Luxmore.
All the NZ Great Walks are recommended during the hiking season from late October to April. That’s when the huts are mostly busy, so they should be booked in advance.
Outside of the hiking season, Kepler should be attempted only by experienced trampers with navigation and river-crossing skills.
We did the Kepler in November which is according to weather stats, the less rainy month. It is hard to predict the weather conditions in the mountains and to pick the best date for the hike, especially when booking the Kepler Track in advance.
Here’s the elevation profile for Kepler Track.
During 3-4 days of Kepler Track, you stay in the mountain huts or camp overnight. The huts are comfortable and have amazing locations. The first one, Luxmore Hut, is the most scenic and incredible. It is built right at the bottom of Mount Luxmore (a sidewalk from the main track) offering alpine vistas and shelter for keas. Keas are the smartest birds in New Zealand and they like stealing your food or personal stuff left without supervision.
Kepler track huts are comfortable and spacious located in beautiful spots throughout the track. The last 2 huts though (Iris Burn Hut and Moturau Hut) are very beautiful but have heaps of sandflies, so don’t forget your spray.
In the hut, there is a ranger who gives a talk every evening when all the hikers already arrived at their destination. Rangers are very interesting people and some talks we listened to, were very informational and exciting.
Kepler track is one of the most favorite among tourists and local New Zealanders. It is very scenic and diverse showing a beautiful alpine environment, tussock-covered ridgelines, lake shorelines with beech forest, and lots of wildlife.
Day 1. Kepler Track car park to Luxmore Hut via Brod Bay
Distance: 14 km
Time to complete: 5-6 hours
The track starts with a beautiful walk through native beech forest along the shores of Lake Te Anau. The trees are massive and the vegetation is abundant here. Te Anau is the largest lake in Australasia.
Once Brod Bay campsite is reached, the climb starts towards Luxmore Hut. It’s a pretty intense climb but the path is in good condition. After you reach the bush line, the views get truly amazing and panoramic. Luxmore Hut is a 45-minute walk from the bush line.
That is the start of the best part of Kepler Track. Staying at Luxmore Hut was an amazing experience! The ranger gives hut talks and even provides short tours around the area.
There is a short side trip to Luxmore Caves well signposted. The whole trip takes 20 minutes, and trampers usually have plenty of time to complete it.
Day 2. Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut
Distance: 14.6 km
Time to complete: 5-6 hours
Day 2 is the best day of the hike, so it’s really lucky to have good weather. The whole time, the track meanders through dramatic ridgelines and picturesque unique vegetation.
Right after the start of the hike, there’s a swift turn to Luxmore’s summit side trip. It usually takes 30 mins return. It’s better not to leave the backpacks behind since keas are very clever and fast, and they can easily get inside and steal all the stuff.
From the top of the mountain (1472 m), the views across the south fiord of Lake Te Anau to the Murchison Mountains are just breathtaking.
After that, the track keeps going along the mountain ways, and you can see the lake from different sides, and the shades of peaks from everywhere. There’s also Forest Burn Saddle emergency shelter on the way.
The descent starts with a long staircase that is followed by a zigzag path finally leading to Iris Burn Hut located by the river. In the end, the downhill zigzag just becomes unbearable. 🙂
The water is quite cold in Iris Burn river but it’s refreshing after the strenuous hike! There’s a short walk to the waterfalls, and there might be some kiwis in the area at night. (though we didn’t find any)
Day 3. Iris Burn Hut to Rainbow reach via Moturau Hut
Distance: 22 km
Time to complete: 5-6 hours
The rest of the hike, after Iris Burn Hut, is going through the bush. It is relatively flat, and some people might find it boring after experiencing amazing vistas from Day 1 and Day 2.
You’ll then wind through the gorge and beech and podocarp forest until you get to Moturau Hut and Lake Manapouri.
From here, there’s an option to stay overnight or to keep going until Rainbow Reach where you can get picked up by the shuttle.
Some people skip Moturau Hut while we stayed overnight and finished the hike at noon on Day 4. From Rainbow Reach to the final car park, it is a 9.5 km or a 2 – 2.5 hours walk.
The Kepler Track is situated in the very heart of Fiordland. The weather changes pretty quickly and the temperature can drop below 0 at night time even in the summer time.
As an alpine hike, get ready for cold weather, rain, and even snow throughout the year. Having a few extra layers of clothes and thermals would be helpful.
The ridgeline is exposed and windy, especially on the side trip to Mount Luxmore. When I was doing the Kepler as a day hike (just to the Mount and back), I remember the winds up there were so strong that I could barely reach the summit.
Winds higher than 50 km/h can be very scary in exposed mountain areas. It is better to check with DOC Visitor Center in Te Anau about the upcoming weather conditions.
Both tracks are amazing and worth hiking. Routeburn is more abundant in views throughout the whole hike. Kepler has crazy views during Day 1 and Day 2 but almost no views on Day 3, 4. The forest is beautiful and unique but not everyone likes walking in the forest for 2 days.
Kepler Track is 60 km (loop) while Routeburn Track is 33 km (one-way).
Personally, I really liked both hikes and would repeat them many times.
There are day walking options for Kepler Track.
For example, hiking up to Luxmore Hut and back down can be done in 1 day. It is a very long 30 km day but it is possible to complete. I went up there for a day and even wanted to get on top of mount Luxmore but the storm came over.
Another day hike option is to go from Kepler Track car park to Rainbow Reach bridge and enjoy the dense bush for a day. In this case, the track will go in the opposite direction.