The Kepler Track is a circular tramping track that is part of the Great Walk system in New Zealand. It is entirely located within Fiordlands National Park near the town of Te Anau on the South Island. The Track measures 60-kilometers and starts and ends at the Lake Te Anau control gates trailhead, Rainbow Reach, or Brod Bay. The Kepler Track was originally designated in 1988 as a way to ease congestion on the nearby Milford Track and Routeburn Track, which had greatly picked up in popularity as well in the mid-1980s.
A spectacularly diverse tramping experience awaits anyone willing to make the journey to this remote corner of New Zealand. Any walkers can expect a mixture of high alpine tussock ridges with expansive views of Lake Te Anau and surrounding mountains, mossy temperate forests, peaceful lakeside beaches, and everything in-between. Note that the logistics involved in planning this trip can be more difficult than the trip itself, so becoming familiar with reservations, transportation, lodging and packing is strongly recommended; you can read more about Great Walks logistics here. The description below addresses walking the Kepler Track in a counterclockwise direction from the Lake Te Anau Control Gates Trailhead and assuming the standard four-day trip itinerary in the hut system. Though there are three huts in the standard loop, two campsites are also available for alternate options or shorter out-and-back trips.
If you’re starting your trek from the Fiordland National Park visitor center, add an extra 5 kilometers to get to the Kepler Track carpark at the Control Gates. The first section of the trek leads through dense forest and takes about 1.5-hours to cover 5.6 kilometers to the Brod Bay Campsite. There you can find 15 tent sites, a shelter, water from a tap, and a vault toilet. Nice beach views can be found at this site.
From here the trail gets steep, and there is a challenging climb under limestone bluffs to take you above treeline with views of the Te Anau Basin in all directions. The hike to Luxmore Hut from Brod Bay is 8.2 kilometers and takes approximately four hours depending on fitness and how often you’re stopping for pictures of the gorgeous landscapes. It is highly recommended to pick out your bed as soon as you arrive, then take the 20-minute round-trip hike to check out the nearby Luxmore Cave, which has some information posted in the hut.
Hope for good weather on this leg of the trek, since the views on this stretch are the highlight of the entire Kepler Track. The hike from Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut takes you high into the alpine tussock ridges with expansive views of the Murchison Mountains. It is around 14.6 kilometers, and you should expect this to take between up to six hours depending on the weather and how many SD cards you fill with photos from the ridge. There are two emergency shelters with vault toilets on the way, and these make great spots to rest and escape the wind and sun for a few minutes. The entire day is fairly exposed until the trail descends back under the bushline as you approach Iris Burn Hut. Here there is another 20-minute side trip to Iris Burn Falls, which is worth a visit; just don’t expect to stay long because the sand flies can really start to get bothersome.
Luxmore and Iris Burn Huts are also the two best places on the trek to view the wild alpine kea parrots. As the hut stewards will tell you, they love to steal boots and trekking poles, so make sure everything is hung securely. The keas may also wake you up far earlier than you’d want with their playful and loud vocals as they swarm over the hut looking for things to chew.
The hike from Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut is approximately 16 kilometers, which means you'll cover more ground than Day 2. It involves much less elevation gain, however, so the actual trekking time is around the same. The scenery is very diverse, and there are many open areas in the bush to view the surrounding towering cliffs and ridges. A low saddle is crossed, and then you'll have a pretty steady walk through the rainforest with occasional lake views before reaching Moturau Hut.
The final leg of your journey from Moturau Hut back to the Kepler Track car park involves walking alongside the lake through fragile wetlands and then turning north to take the Waiau River back to the trailhead. At around 6 kilometers you’ll come across the Rainbow Reach Bridge, which is one of the larger swing bridges in Fiordlands and worth a stop. Rainbow Reach is another possible entry point on the trek, as well. From here it is another 10 kilometers of rolling path along the river back to the control gates where your journey began.