The Kepler Track, in Fiordland National Park, is a 67 kilometre, moderate walking track that takes three to four days to complete. It traverses lake edges, beech forest, alpine mountain tops and a U-shaped glacial valley.
Reasonable fitness is required to complete the full circuit and trampers must be well equipped. During winter and spring the alpine section of the track can be closed by snow and ice. Sections of the track are suitable for day walks.
Location: Where is the Kepler Track?
The Kepler Track starts at the Lake Te Anau outlet control gates, 45 minutes walk from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau. Te Anau itself is easily accessible by road and has a regular bus service and a full range of accommodation options.
There is a shuttle bus service to and from the track ends, and boat services from Te Anau to Brod Bay.
Kepler Track Map
Weather on the trail: When is the best time to hike the Kepler Track?
The best time of the year to hike in the Kepler is during the hiking season, from late October to late April. October and November daily highs are around 14 degrees Celsius (62-66 F), and alpine flowers bloom all around. December to February are warmer and dryer but also busier, and daily highs around 19 degrees Celsius (70-73 F). Finally, April to May daily highs sit between 15 degrees Celsius (60-64 F) and the trail is a bit more quiet. Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring National Parks have high rainfall and changeable weather. Be prepared for at least one wet day on your trip. Remember, exposure / hypothermia can affect anyone when the weather is wet, cold and windy.
During the winter season (late April to late October) snow and avalanche danger can make the track impassable in some of the alpine sections. Please check current track and weather conditions at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre before departing on the track.
Fitness: How fit do you need to be to hike the Kepler Track?
Any fit person can walk the Kepler Track. You will need to be able to carry all your own gear over rough rocky uneven surfaces, climbing and descending for up to 16 kilometres (10 miles) a day with a maximum elevation gain of 800 metres (2,624 feet). It's an ideal trip for groups or individuals. You should start a regular walking programme 1-2 months before your departure on the track. This programme should include some practice at carrying your pack on hills or stairs. You can walk the whole track or walk into one of the huts and return the same way, spend a single night at one of the huts; or stay up to two nights at each of the four huts or two campsites. The choice is yours.
It is recommended that children under the age of ten do not attempt the alpine section.
Make sure all of your party is capable of undertaking the planned trip, are fully equipped and prepared for all weather conditions.
Accommodation and facilities on the Kepler Track
Between late October and late April the three Department of Conservation huts on the track are provided with heating, gas for cooking, mattresses, running water and flush toilets. Cooking utensils are not provided and there is no food for sale on the track. Over the summer the huts have conservation staff in residence. Trampers are expected to leave the huts clean and tidy and to carry out what they carry in.
Camping is permitted on the Kepler Track only at the designated campsites at Brod Bay and adjacent to Iris Burn hut. Camping outside these areas is prohibited because of the fragile nature of the area and high fire risk in summer. Campers should carry a portable stove
Please use toilets at huts and shelters. If this is not possible bury toilet waste well away from watercourses. Remember drinking water at huts and shelters comes from rivers and lakes.
Track etiquette and how to prepare
We recommend you arrange travel insurance to guard against loss of costs associated with cancellation or delay of your trip. The Department of Conservation will not be liable for injury, damage or any costs incurred by intending walkers. Emergency evacuation from the track can only be arranged by Conservation staff. For your own safety please sign hut books when you arrive. Know the symptoms of exposure. React quickly by finding shelter and providing warmth. If you become lost, stop, find shelter, stay calm and try to assist searchers.
Please remember when trekking in New Zealand
- All plants, birds and animals in the park are protected
- Please carry your rubbish out of the park
- No dogs or domestic pets are allowed
- Hunting is by permit only. Permits can be obtained from the Department of Conservation
- Fire is a major threat. Fires should only be lit in designated fireplaces. Please make sure fires are extinguished properly before you leave, and use portable stoves for cooking.
- Smoking is not permitted in the huts and shelters.
- Wasps and sandflies can be a problem. Carry insect repellent and antihistamines in case of allergy
- Possums are a pest and damage native trees. Do not encourage them by leaving food outside overnight
How to book the Kepler Track
Going by yourself
Booking is essential to guarantee your hut or campsite between November and late April. Outside this time during the winter season no bookings can be made and tickets for huts can be purchased from the Department of Conservation Visitor Centres just prior to departure. Bookings can be made on the DOC website from June 10 each year for the coming summer season. There is a two-night limit on staying at each hut and campsite.
Outside the summer season the huts have no heating or gas for cooking. Visitors need Backcountry Hut Tickets or an Annual Hut Pass to use the huts during this period, and should be well equipped to cope with winter conditions.
Photo by Ange West
If you find the accommodation for the Kepler Track is sold out due to high season popularity, dont' worry, it's not the end of the road. You can still join a Great Walks guided tour. Many of our trips, such as our Ultimate South Island Adventure Rimu or Essence of the South Island Tui include a day walk at either end of the Kepler, plus a sample of many other Great Walks like the Milford and Routeburn Tracks.
Times are approximate only and will vary according to fitness, pace of group and direction of travel.
Most trampers start with a night at Mt Luxmore Hut. They are then in the best place to assess the weather for the next day's walking across the open tops and have most of the climbing behind them.
Control Gates to Brod Bay 1½ hours, 5.6 km.
The track follows the lakeshore through mountain and red beech with kamahi and some scattered rimu and miro. After passing an attractive grove of hard tree ferns and crown fern Dock Bay is reached. Continue on across the Coal Creek swingbridge and follow the lakeshore to Brod Bay. Brod Bay is a delightful place to swim, and to camp if you had a late start.
Brod Bay to Luxmore Hut 3½ to 4½ hours, 8.5 km.
The track to the bushline starts about halfway along the beach and climbs steadily for about two hours to limestone bluffs; an ideal lunch stop. After another hour's climb the bush line is reached providing panoramic views of the Te Anau basin, Takitimu Mountains, and the Snowdon and Earl Mountains. The Mt Luxmore Hut is about 50 minutes' walk from the bushline.
Mt Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut 5 to 6 hours, 18.6km.
In heavy rain, strong winds or wintry weather, wait at the hut until the weather improves. From Luxmore Hut the track climbs gradually to a ridge just below the summit of Mt Luxmore (1471 metres). It then descends to a shelter close to the Forest Burn Saddle. Beware of wind gusts when crossing the saddle.
The track sidles, climbs and then follows a ridge system for about two hours to the Hanging Valley Shelter. It then follows a long, open ridge toward the Iris Burn and descends via a series of zig-zags into Hanging Valley. The track continues down through forest, and provides a view of a large natural slip. The Iris Burn Hut (497 metres) is sited in a large tussock clearing with brilliant views up the valley. For a pleasant evening stroll head up the valley for 20 minutes to Iris Burn Waterfall.
Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut 5 to 6 hours, 17.2km.
A steady day's tramp down through beech forest, riverside clearings and a gorge. The track climbs over a low saddle and wanders through mixed forest to the large slip formed during heavy rain in January 1984. About 2½ hours from the Iris Burn Hut the track reaches Rocky Point, a work camp for track maintenance and a good place for a lunch stop.
Below Rocky Point the track sidles through a gorge to come out on river flats near the mouth of the Iris Burn. Nearing Lake Manapouri the track turns left through lowland beech and podocarp forest. It follows the lakeshore around Shallow Bay to Moturau Hut, situated beside a beautiful beach with panoramic views of Lake Manapouri.
Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach 1.5 hours, 6.2km.
The last day is a gentle stroll through beech forest to Rainbow Reach. The track crosses a wetland and then the meandering Forest Burn just above its outlet into Balloon Loop, an old part of the Upper Waiau River. It then follows the Waiau River terrace to the swingbridge at Rainbow Reach. In summer trampers can catch a shuttle bus service from Rainbow Reach to Te Anau.
Rainbow Reach to Control Gates 2½ to 3½ hours, 10.9km.
The track up river from Rainbow Reach is well worth walking for the variety of forest and river views. This section provides good opportunities for trout fishing.
Gearlist: What you need to pack for the Kepler Track
For your own safety it is essential to carry the equipment listed below, no matter how warm it is on the day of departure.
- You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in, and another dry set to change into at night. It is not possible to dry clothes overnight in the huts.
- Boots: need to be comfortable and well broken in.
- Socks: (wool/polypropylene) 2 pairs
- Shorts: (cotton/ nylon)
- Shirt: (wool/polypropylene)
- Longjohns or trousers: (wool/polypropylene)
- Jersey or Jacket: wool/polypropylene)
- Undershirts/ T-shirt: (wool/polypropylene)
- Mittens/Gloves: (wool/polypropylene)
- Woollen hat /balaclava & sun-hat
- Raincoat: (waterproof, windproof with hood)
- Extra socks, underwear, shirt or lightweight jersey.
- Warning - synthetic clothing is flammable.
- It is essential that this clothing is carried as your safety and the safety of others could depend on it.
- NB: cotton clothing such as jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts are NOT suitable.
- Pack: with large waterproof liner
- Sleeping Bag: good quality down or hollofil
- Matches/ Lighter: in waterproof container
- Torch: spare batteries
- Eating utensils: Knife, fork, spoon, plate, and cup
- Cooking utensils: pot/pan/billy, pot scrubber
- Toilet gear: soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, small towel (remember do not wash in lakes or streams)
- First Aid Kit: insect repellent, sunscreen, blister kits, pain relief, and assorted bandages
- Survival Kit: Survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil and spare days food.
- Drink bottle: you need to drink regularly during day
- Optional extras: sunglasses, camera, and lightweight shoes for in hut, earplugs for communal bunkrooms
- Campers need to carry gas cookers, tents and bedrolls. Campers are not permitted to use the hut facilities.
- Outside the booked walking season walkers will also need to carry gas cookers and mountain radios.
- Is not available for purchase on the track.
- Food should be lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value e.g.
- Breakfast: cereal, firm bread, honey or other spreads
- Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, margarine, jam/jelly, powdered fruit drink, fruit
- Dinner: instant soup, pasta/rice, dried vegetables/fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze dry) meals.
- You will also need: snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea/coffee, powdered drink, emergency food in case of any delays on the track.
You will need to drink regularly while walking, even on cooler days, to avoid dehydration. You need to carry some water, as you may not be able to find any enroute. Giardia may be present in some areas. Regular testing is not carried out. If you wish to treat the water you can boil water for 5 minutes, use a filter, or chemically treat it. Drinking water at the huts and shelters comes from the rivers and lakes.
A bit of extra background about the Kepler Track
History of the Kepler
Rakaihautu, legendary leader of the Maori canoe Uruao, is said to have named the great lakes while exploring the interior of the South Island. During a period of wet weather his party found a large and beautiful lake which they named Te Aria Au, meaning cave of rain, and just south of it another lake which Rakaihautu named Roto Ua, the lake where rain is constant. Today we know Roto Ua as Manapouri, a corruption of Manawa Popore (lake of the sorrowing heart), the original name of North Mavora Lake.
People seeking food from the forests, lakes and rivers of the area followed these early explorers. Evidence of seasonal Maori occupation has been found around the bays of both lakes and in the valleys which provided a link to the Fiordland coast.
Assisted by Maori guides, European explorers Charles Nairn and William Stephen found the lakes in 1852.
Richard Henry, Fiordland's first ranger, lived at the southern end of Lake Te Anau for many years and often explored the Kepler Mountains. Surveyor James McKerrow named the range after the 17th Century German astronomer Johannes Kepler.
Early tracks up onto Mt Luxmore were cut by runholder Jack Beer to provide summer grazing for his sheep. The Kepler Track was built with funding from the New Zealand Tourist and Publicity Department and opened in February 1988 in time for New Zealand's national park centennial celebrations.
Flora and Fauna: What to look for on the Kepler Track
The Kepler Mountains are built of metamorphic and plutonic rocks formed deep in the earth's crust. Resting on this basement material are younger sediments like limestone. Impressive limestone bluffs are found just below the bushline on Mt Luxmore. Glacial deposits dating from the last Ice Age mantle the lowlands around Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. Glaciers scoured the Fiordland landscape for tens of thousands of years, carving the fiords, lakes and deep U- shaped valleys so typical of the area.
Beech is the main forest tree of the Kepler Mountains. At lower altitudes mountain, silver and red beech grow alongside kamahi, and podocarps such as miro, rimu, kahikatea and totara. Toward the tree line and in the Iris Burn, silver beech dominates. A feature of the forest is the abundance of ferns, mosses and perching plants. Between Lake Manapouri and Rainbow Reach a wetland dominated by wire rush and sphagnum moss provides an interesting contrast. Manuka shrubland alongside the Waiau River between Rainbow Reach and the control gates marks the site of Jack Beer's farm. Around the lake shores kowhai trees provide a splash of yellow when flowering in the spring.
Above the bushline snow tussocks dominate. Dracophyllum, mountain daisies , native bluebells and gentians are also commonly seen.
Bellbirds, tomtits, grey warblers, fantails and chaffinches are common throughout the forest. Look for yellowheads and robins in the Iris Burn and yellow-crowned parakeets along the Waiau River. The tiny rifleman and flocks of brown creepers are most evident in the upper forest. At Mt Luxmore and Upper Iris Burn huts listen at dusk for the hooting of morepork and the brown kiwi's shrill whistles.
High tussock slopes are the haunts of pipits, a few kea, and in summer, skylarks, redpolls and yellowhammers.
The upper Iris Burn is the home of a few pairs of the rare blue duck. Paradise ducks, mallard and grey ducks, scaup and black-billed gulls are seen on the lakes. Little shags, larger black shags and kingfishers are often seen along the Waiau River.
Red deer, possums, stoats and rodents are present in the forest. At dusk you might be lucky to see bats (New Zealand's only native land mammal) fluttering across a clearing or out over the Waiau River.