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 (New Zealand Summer - starting 23 October until the following May). Outside of this time is only recommended for experienced back country trampers. Ice and snow hiking skills may be required.
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.
During the Great Walks season huts and campsites must be booked. Outside this period places go on a first come first served basis.
During the Great Walks season hut places are NZ$65 per person for New Zealand residents. Children under the age of 18 go free but bookings are still required. International visitors (including children) pay NZ$130 per place.
Campsites are NZ$20 per person for NZ residents and free for children. International visitors (including children) pay NZ$40 per person.
Outside the Great Walks season hut places are NZ$15 per person with children under the age of 18 being free. Campsite places are NZ$5 per person with children under the age of 18 being free.
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.
What to pack for the Milford Track - Clothes
You will need base layers for the Kepler as the winds can be bitter and the weather can become incredibly cold, especially on the ridge lines. We always use Icebreaker as they use Merino Wool to create their base layers and they’ve kept us warm on all our hikes, no matter what the temperature.
You should check out both leggings and tops for the Kepler to ensure you are warm. Like all New Zealand hikes, the trail can be bitterly cold even in the middle of the summer.
When it rains in Fiordland, you get soaking wet. Having a good rain jacket will make things a bit more bearable (you should also consider getting waterproof trousers as well).
Taking care of your feet is important for the Kepler and hiking socks are often undervalued. We use Keen as they use high quality material which keep our feet warm and reduce the potential of blisters. It’s worth investing in for the Kepler Track!
A spare set of clothes
You should also bring a spare set of clothes that are for the huts only to ensure you always have dry clothes to change into. Having wet clothes on the trail isn't too bad as you warm up, but wearing wet clothes in the hut will make you very cold.
Cotton clothes also dry slowly and sap your body heat, so bringing woollen or synthetic clothes are a better choice for wet conditions. Merino wool would be our advice, as it is quick to dry and keeps you warm.
It can get cold, so a pair of gloves will mean you don’t have to walk with your hands in your pockets!
Another item for keeping you warm, on and off the track.
Something that comes in very handy as you can't wear your boots in the huts.
We’re big fans of Osprey Backpacks and use them for hiking and travelling as we own a large one, day pack and tiny day walk pack. For the Milford Track we used the Kestrel line (like the image above) as we wanted to pack both of our supplies into one bag.
Alternatively, you could for a smaller day pack like below.
We love these packs as they have good waist supports and straps that are designed to take the weight off your shoulders and around your hips. This will reduce the aches and pains you’ll feel across 4 days of hiking.
The top line big backpacks also have mouldable waist straps which customise the fit.
Pack Liners or Pack Covers
The rain on the Milford Track can be so heavy that you will want to get either a pack liner (goes inside the backpack) or a rain cover (outside the pack).
These will keep your food and spare clothes dry. Even if you think your pack is water proof, you should get one of these to make sure.
Merrell Hiking Boots
We’ve gone through a lot of hiking boots from a lot of companies, but have found the brand that is perfect for long multi-day hikes. Merrells are comfortable, hard wearing and we won’t use any others from now.
We recommend trying on hiking boots at a shop before buying as each fit (no matter what the size) differs between every brand.
Black Diamond Hiking Poles
We are hiking pole converts, making descending a lot easier and taking the weight of your pack from going entirely through your knees. Black Diamond are light, reliable and a brand we’ve been using for years.
A warm sleeping bag
The huts on the Kepler Track were reasonably new, but still can get pretty cold. We recommend bringing a sleeping bag that can cope with cold temperatures so you can get some rest after a long day’s hike.
Health, Hygiene & Safety Gear
First Aid Kit
You don’t need to have a huge first aid kit, but having a compact one with the essentials is something you must have for the Kepler Track. There are rangers and people who can help, but having your own first aid kit will take the reliance off anyone else.
If you’re susceptible to blisters, walkers wool is a must. This is a pack of wool that you can tear up and put around your toes and feet to either prevent blisters or make it a lot more pleasant if you have one.
Getting blister packs (or plasters) will help if you get a dreaded blister on your heel or ankle. If you have this and walkers wool you should be ok for any blister!
As there's no showers, wet wipes are the best solution.
Suncream & Insect Repellant
The entirity of day 2 is on the exposed ridgelines, making sunscreen essential. The other days have some shade, but we wouldn’t recommend taking the risk of not having it.
Like a lot of New Zealand, the Kepler Track has some vicious sandflies. Iris Burn in particular was a haven for New Zdealand’s most brutal blood-suckers. Having 100% deet should put them off, but you can only buy it online (we didn’t find anywhere in New Zealand sold it).
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.
Kitchen set (pot, matches, cutlery, plates and mugs)
The essentials for cooking. We recommend buying a set as otherwise you’ll spend hours getting every little bit and realise you forgot something simple like a mug!
Zip lock bag for rubbish
As you need to carry everything out with you (including food scraps), a rubbish bag will stop all your gear of smelling of food.
These were helpful in ensuring our phones and Apple Watch were charged every day (although the watch struggled with just how much hiking there was). We used the Anker Powercore which last through the whole of the Milford Track on one charge, keeping all our devices working throughout.
Headphones & Music or Earplugs
These are our only solution for dorms. After this much hiking, it's likely you'll be a victim of vicious snoring.
There's no electricity at any of the huts, so you'll need a torch after sunset and in the morning.
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.
Where to stay before / after the Kepler Track
Our Pick - The Distinction (Te Anau)
The Distinction was our base for the walks we did in Fiordland and it was the perfect place to rest up between the Routeburn, Milford and Kepler Tracks. The hotel has a free hot tub and sauna on site to help soothe those aching muscles and the rooms are nice and comfortable. It also happens to have one of the few working (and fast) internet connections in town.
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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.