Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. These articles feature some of the most scenic or challenging trails from around the world. We hope that they inspire you to get out there and see them for yourself!
This week we're highlighting the Kepler Track in New Zealand.
Featured photo: Lake Te Anau (photo by Vincent Lammin)
Why Hike the Kepler Track?
The Kepler Track is one of nine of New Zealand's “Great Walks”. These popular trails were created and well-maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC). They feature some of the country's most beautiful scenery, from coastlines to sweeping mountain views.
Today's feature is located on the south island in Fiordland National Park. This loop trail offers a grab bag of scenery, including beaches, lush forests, and sprawling alpine views. The latter are said to be the best mountain views out of all the Great Walks in the country. You'll feel like you're walking on top of the world!
- Distance: 60 km (37 miles)
- Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
- Elevation gain: 7,160 feet
- Best time to visit: October-April
- The trail is well-marked and maintained.
- You'll get amazing ridgeline views the first two days. Even the view from Luxmore Hut is amazing. The beach view from Monturau Hut isn't bad either.
- The first two huts you'll be staying at have indoor restrooms. These can feel like a real luxury after being out on the trail!
- Some other highlights of the trail include limestone cliffs, swimming beaches, and beautiful views of Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri.
- The Kepler Track also offers a couple of side trails if you're looking to do some extra exploring. Iris Burn Falls side trip is about a 20-minute walk. Luxmore Caves side trip is around a 10-minute walk from Luxmore Hut.
- There are bridges over most of the creek crossings, so don't worry about your feet getting too wet on this trail.
Before you pack your bags, keep the following in mind:
- You will be hiking along exposed ridgelines. Treacherous conditions, including wind and snow, can temporarily shut the trail down, even during the spring and summer months. Be weather aware. It is always changing.
- While not quite as popular as some of the other Great Walks, you'll still want to get your permits and reservations taken care of asap to ensure a spot.
- Speaking of popularity, don't expect to find much seclusion on this trail. On the bright side, it's good to have others around if you run into trouble.
- Don't leave anything unsecured or unattended. The kea, a curious alpine parrot, may take off with anything you leave out!
How Do I Get There?
Queenstown Airport is the closest major airway. From here, follow Sir Henry Wigley Dr and Lucas Pl to State Hwy 6. Head south on Hwy 6 for an hour (85.7 km). Turn right onto State Hwy 97. Continue 19.7 km. Turn right onto State Hwy 94 and continue 57.6 km. Turn left onto State Hwy 94 and drive 2.4 km. Make a right on Golf Course Rd and drive 2.1 km before reaching the car park on your right. Total drive time is about 2 hours.
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended campsites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Kepler Track Trailhead to Luxmore Hut (8 miles)
- Day 2 - Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut (9 miles)
- Day 3 - Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut (10 miles)
- Day 4 - Moturau Hut to Kepler Track Trailhead (9.5 miles)
Day 1 - Kepler Track Trailhead to Luxmore Hut
Your first day starts with an invigorating stroll along Lake Te Anau through mossy beech forest. Fun fact: This lake is the largest body of freshwater (by volume) in Australasia. After a few short miles, you'll reach Brod Bay. The pebble-filled beach here affords nice views of the lake and surrounding mountains. You'll begin a gradual climb from here to the limestone cliffs area. After this, things get a lot steeper as you wind your way to a jungle-like area.
Once you reach the bushline, you might find your breath catching, in a good way. Here you'll find absolutely magnificent panoramic views. If you're fortunate to have clear weather, you can see Mt. Luxmore, Lake Te Anau, the Murchison Mountains, Jackson Peaks, and the Kepler Mountains. All this while traipsing through the tussock-filled mountaintops.
Luxmore Hut is about 45 minutes from the bushline. Hopefully, you have some extra time to spend soaking up the gorgeous scenery there once you arrive. Or, go explore the nearby caves!
Day 2 - Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut
It may be hard to peel yourself away from the scenery at this hut. But rest assured: The views get even better on day 2!
Continue your mountain trek to a saddle just below Mount Luxmore. Weather and adventurous spirit permitting, you can take a short detour to the top. Even if you don't, the surrounding snowy mountains are otherwordly from up here.
After that, you'll continue along the ridgeline for quite a while. (There are two emergency shelters located along the way if the weather turns against you.) You'll eventually start making your way down towards your second stop. From here you'll get your first glimpses of Lake Manapouri and the Iris Burn Valley. Meet up with Hanging Valley Creek and some welcome tree coverage...And lots of switchbacks.
Finally, find Iris Burn Hut located amongst a sizeable tussock clearing. Don't forget to go explore the falls! It's a short side trip and worth the effort. And, if the weather is nice, take a refreshing dip in the swimming hole there too.
Day 3 - Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut
You won't find all of the alpine views of the first two days. But, this section of trail is pretty in its own right and less strenuous than the previous days. You'll head over a low saddle before reaching Rocky Point. You'll also notice a large landslide area that was created back in the 1980s, evidence of the area's heavy rains.
After that, you'll meander alongside the Iris Burn River through a gorge for a bit. It gets very tropical-feeling again with the interesting beech and podocarp forest with its lovely fern-filled undergrowth. Soon, you will reach the shore of beautiful Lake Manapouri. You'll feel totally relaxed gazing over the waters with the Kepler Mountains serving as the backdrop.
Day 4 - Moturau Hut to Kepler Track Trailhead
Although 9.5 miles is nothing to sneeze at, your walk back to the trailhead is a breeze on your last day. You'll start in the fern-covered forest once again before reaching a marshy area. Fortunately, there is a boardwalk through here to protect you and the delicate ecosystem! The trail then winds its way toward the Waiau River, which you will basically follow all the way back to the car park.
What Will I Need?
Average highs range between 50 and 64°F during the summer. Keep in mind these are just the averages for the park. And, you'll be up in alpine country, so be prepared for anything. It's a safe assumption it can still get pretty chilly, if not downright cold, during the night, even during the warm months. And again, the weather can be very finicky. Keep these things in mind when planning your trip and what gear you will need.
If you go the campsite vs hut route, you'll likely want a 4-season or even a mountaineering tent. Either way, a down quilt or sleeping bag with a low comfort rating will keep you warm at night. And, since they're so light, a compact down pillow can help you get some quality sleep at night too. Even if you're sleeping in the huts, it's still a good idea to bring your ultralight sleeping pad for some extra support and comfort.
Trekking poles are highly recommended. This is not an easy route and there are some steep sections. Areas can also become muddy and slippery when wet. And the park is known to have around 200 rainy days per year!
Our Tri-Fold trekking poles fold down to just 15-inches when not in use, making them a great options for backpackers. They can be a lifesaver on very steep climbs, which there is no shortage of on the Kepler Track.
Speaking of rainy weather, be sure to pack your wet weather gear regardless of what the forecast says: raincoat, pack liner, extra socks. You get the idea.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories
Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
Yes, you will need to get a backcountry permit. You can pick these up from the Fiordlands Visitor Center in Te Anau. That said, tickets can run out quickly, so it's best to book them soon after they become available online. Huts must be booked in advance as well. (Which are around $65/person.) Tent campsites are also available to reserve in advance. (These are about $40/person.) Note: There are only two tent camping areas, so you will likely still need to book a hut for at least one night.
If you're looking for an unforgettable adventure in the beautiful country of New Zealand, the Kepler Track is one to put on your bucket list.
Have you done this or any of the other Great Walks? We'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our "Best Backpacking Trips for Your Bucket List" round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great hikes abroad.
For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.