The Kepler Track truly is one of the Great Walks in New Zealand and is one of our favourites. The ridge lines and views all the way through are stunning and whilst it is a moderately difficult hike in a lot of sections, we think with some training and preparation that most people can do it.
You can read how were fared in our other post, but here's our advice for how to prepare for the Kepler Track. Please note this is based on walking the track during the Great Walks season (1 May to 23 October). Outside of this time is only recommended for experienced back country trampers.
Booking the Kepler Track
The Kepler Track is one of the more popular Great Walks and sells out early. It's worth looking at when the Department of Conservation puts tickets on sale. Although it's not as popular as the Milford and Routeburn tracks, tickets do sell out fast. if you have specific dates in mind then try and book on the first few days of tickets going on sale.
However, we had heard about some people getting lucky with cancellations, so it can pay to keep checking.
Kepler Track Difficulty
The Kepler Track isn't an easy hike. It has some pretty steep climbs on day one and two, with a very steep descent on day two as well. The third and fourth days are straightforward, but are quite long in distance.
Across four days you'll walk over 60km and climb over 2000 metres. That's a hefty hike. In our opinion, the Kepler is a harder walk than a three day version of The Routeburn Track and the Milford Track (four days).
However, don't let this put you off. With the right gear and walking up some steep hills beforehand, we believe that most people can do it. Despite the numbers, most days are relatively short, with the longest being 5.5 hours long. This means if you set off early, you'll have most of the afternoon and evening to rest up and recover.
Kepler Track Elevation
The first two days on the Kepler Track are steep. Day one climbs nearly 900m across 9 km (10% gradient) with little respite, but no one section is particularly steep. If you go slow and steady most people will find it achievable. The elevation on day two is split across two climbs, both being approximately 300m high.
However, it's the descent after these climbs which catches you out and is worth preparing for. After focusing on the climb uphill, it's easy to relax at the downhill. However, it's this part which can hurt your knees the most as it twists and turns down a steep gravel track. Add in some weighty backpacks and you're putting a lot of pressure on your legs.
But, it is achievable. We're no super-fit athletes and were able to complete these two days under the time stated on the DOC brochure. We'd advise bringing walking poles for the Kepler Track and your knees will thank you for it afterwards.
Direction for the Kepler Track
The Kepler can be walked in either direction, but we'd recommend walking in the DOC advised direction (starting at Luxmore). Although there's sometimes more availability on the reverse direction, it's a lot steeper climbing up. You also risk walking for two (less than inspiring) days and being turned around to them again if the ridge is closed due to high wind. At least at Luxmore you'll have a taster of the stunning ridge. This is a rare occurrence but it did happen the day after we had walked the ridge so it is something to think about.
Kepler Track Huts
The Kepler Track huts are excellent. The best of the four Great Walks we have competed so far. Luxmore in particular is luxurious for a back country experinece and is our favourite of all the huts on the Fiordland Great Walks.
Luxmore Hut comes with a million dollar view normally reserved for 5 star hotels. Looking down on Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains, it's hard take your eye off the mountains
The bunkhouse is split into two different rooms and we'd recommend arriving earlyish to snag a spot in the small one (12 people). The alternative is the big dorm which houses 42! The toilets are inside at Luxmore which is a real treat, avoiding those after dark freezing cold dashes that you experience on other tracks.
There are also some picnic benches outside on the decking which make for a great place to sit and eat outside. it adds to the feeling of space as it means not everyone crowds into the kitchen area at dinner time.
In the Great Walks season all the Kepler huts have gas for cooking.
Iris Burn Hut
Iris Burn is a little more rustic than Luxmore and seemed to be the home of hundreds of sandflies when we were there! Sadly, the windows to all the rooms seemed to have gaps, making sure many of the little critters made it inside the bunkhouses.
The bunkhouses were split into three with a small one (8 people), large ground floor (20 people) and large upstairs (22 people). Again the toilets are inside.
Don't forget to tie your boots up on the hooks outside the bunk rooms so the Kea don't make off with them!
Moturau Hut reminded us a lot of Mintaro Hut in the Milford Track (maybe because we arrived at both after a monsoon). This hut has a beach side view which would be idyllic on a warm sunny day.
It's also the home of hut ranger Rachel who plays the guitar and runs a quiz to liven things up a bit in the evening.
The bunks are set out as two small on the ground floor (8 people) and one large upstairs (24 people). Back outside again for the toilets here, sigh.
Every hut has a talk from the Hut Warden, taking you through safety issues, track conditions for the next day and anything you need to know. Just like the Routeburn, the hut wardens on the Kepler have decided to make the talks more entertaining.
The most memorable was the talk at Moturau Hut where the warden not only ran a quiz, but also brought out the guitar. Not your standard safety briefing!
Transport for the Kepler Track
The Kepler is a loop track, so the most straightforward method is to park at Kepler Track Car Park. However you can shorten the track by using shuttle services, either by bus or boat.
There is a car shuttle service that can move your car from Kepler Car Park to Rainbow Reach, cutting 9km off the final day. Similarly, there's a shuttle bus that runs from Rainbow Reach to Kepler Car Park and Te Anau. All details can be found at this website.
Another alternative is to cut out the first 5km of day one by getting a boat from Te Anau to Brod Bay. Unless you want to walk all the way back into town at the end of the track, this will mean you'll need to get the shuttle back to town from Rainbow Reach.
Kepler Track Weather
You'll need a bit of good fortune for the Kepler as unlike the Milford and Routeburn, this Great Walk is the most susceptible to closure. The ridgeline is very exposed and if the conditions aren't right, they'll close day two of the track. You should heed DOC's advice as even the 30 kmph winds felt scary up there, let alone the 130 kmph winds that arrived the next day. Conditions like snow can also make that section pretty precarious.
The Kepler Track is in the heart of Fiordland, so prepare for every weather eventuality (yep, they closed the track for five days in November because of snow). Luxmore Hut in particular can get very cold, so bring the thermals and warm clothing. We were grateful for wet weather gear on day three and would recommend a pack liner to ensure your belongings and clothes stay dry.
Kepler Track in 3 days
If you're thinking of doing the Kepler Track in three days, then we'd advise shortening the final day and finishing at Rainbow Reach. Otherwise you'll be hiking nearly 33km over eight hours. The last 9km is the least interesting section of track, and while we enjoyed completing the full circuit, you won't be missing out if you don't.
A better three day option would be doing the track in reverse, starting at Rainbow Reach, skipping Montarau Hut and finishing at Brod Bay. However, this would mean you'll be taking on the really steep hike from Iris Burn on the second day, which is vicious.
Kepler Track Day Walks
There are a few day walk options you can do on the Kepler, but all are pretty lengthy and worth starting early. The most popular was getting a boat to Brod Bay and hiking up to Luxmore Hut. This is a 17km return hike and would take the best part of five hours to complete (you would need to get up early for this as the return boat to Te Anau leaves at 4.30pm). Fit hikers can go on a few kilometres further to summit Mount Luxmore before retracing your steps.
Alternatively you can do a day walk from Rainbow Reach to the beach at Lake Manapouri. This would be a pretty flat hike that would be a 12km return hike and take 3-4 hours.
What to pack for the Kepler Track
The Kepler Track requires a certain degree of preparation, mainly due to the changeable weather conditions. Within the space of a day you can go from blistering heat to freezing cold winds and rain. So it's best to ensure you have everything for these conditions.
Just like most hikes in New Zealand, it's sensible to bring a set of thermal base layers (top and bottom). We've used them on every hike in New Zealand and they can make a big difference (especially at night). Merino layers are best as it dries quickly. Cotton is a major no no for hiking in New Zealand, if it gets wet it will make you very cold.
Similarly, waterproofs are a must. Even with all the waterproofs, we felt soaked to the bone, so not having them would have been a disaster. We'd strongly suggest investing in a good waterproof jacket, but your boots are likely to get wet and stay wet for the hike and we haven't managed to combat this yet!
To counter this, you should always bring one spare set of clothes that are only used for the huts. It is really hard to put the wet clothes on again the next day, but if you end up with two sets of wet clothes you're likely to get ill when staying in the hut. At least when you hike, your body will warm the wet clothes and dry them off.
If you do the four day version of the Kepler , then you'll need three breakfasts, four lunches and three dinners (yes, that's a lot of food to bring). We'd advise bringing an extra meal in case you get snowed/flooded in your hut for an extra day.
The most common dinner hikers take are freeze dried food as they're light and most have a decent amount of energy. We'll be honest though, they don't taste good. We prefer to take dinners that can be light like pasta and a pot of sauce.
For breakfast we take muesli bars or porridge and then have some sandwiches and snacks for lunch.
You should also remember little snacks like trail mix and chocolate, tea and coffee. These little treats can feel like a big deal at the end of a long day hiking.
- Blister prevention gear - We saw quite a few people suffer from blisters on the Kepler, so bring along plasters, blister packs and walkers wool (the latter can be bought from a DOC Visitor Centre and is our favourite prevention).
- Small first aid kit - if you want to keep it simple you can buy the kit from the DOC when you pick up your track tickets like we did.
- Pack liners and covers - When it rains on the Kepler, it pours, so keeping your gear dry is essential. Most backpacks aren't actually waterproof and pack covers can still let a little rain in. Buy both to ensure you don't have a wet sleeping bag to get into.
- Warm sleeping bag - The bunkhouses in DOC huts can be either really hot or freezing cold, so bring a warm sleeping bag just in case the temperature drops.
- Flip flops - Having flip flops will mean that you don't have to put your boots on every time you want to move around, and boots are not allowed inside the huts.
- Headphones/earplugs - So far the best way to fight the snoring in a bunkhouse.
- Battery pack - There's no electricity in any of the huts, so bringing a battery pack will ensure your phone is charged for when you need to take photos
- Torch - Again no electricity means a torch will come in handy when the sun goes down.
- Cooking gear - Gas burners are provided at all huts, but you'll still need to bring everything else including a pot, matches, mugs, bowls and cutlery.
- Suncream and insect repellant - We'll warn you: there's a lot of sandflies on the Kepler Track and they particularly like the DOC huts. We'd recommend buying repellant with a high deet content to stop the pests. Also bring some suncream as the ridgeline in particular is exposed.
- Rubbish bag - Everything you bring on to the track must be carried out, so bring a rubbish bag with you.
- Wet Wipes - As there's no shower, this is the only way to stay slightly clean.
What you don't need:
- Water purification tablets. The water in the huts and in the rivers are as clean as you'll get anywhere. This also means you don't need to carry as much water as you can top up in quite a few places (except on day four).
- Toilet paper (all huts and toilets have this).
- Gas stove. All huts on the Kepler Track provide gas burners.
- Soap. The hut toilets have soap and you can't use soap in the rivers and lakes as this will harm the ecosystem.
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Have you hiked any of New Zealand's Great Walks? Would you take on the Kepler? Let us know in the comments below.