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Kepler Track in 3 Days: What you need to know

by | Apr 25, 2017 | Hike, New Zealand | 0 comments

The Kepler Track quite rightly holds the title of a New Zealand Great Walk. Taking you above the clouds and through the mountains, it’s one of the most dramatic hikes we have ever done.  It definitely deserves a place on your hiking bucket list. 

We may have had to battle through gale force winds and hide out in emergency shelters.  But with the squally weather came rainbows and atmospheric banks of cloud and mist.  Not to mention some great footage of Emily literally getting blown off the path.

Would it have been nice to have seen a little more of the scenery? Well, yeah.  And we don’t exactly enjoy getting absolutely drenched.  But you don’t get to go hiking in New Zealand without enduring the occasional downpour, especially in Fjordland National Park.

If we haven’t put you off taking on this stunner of a hike, here are our tips and advice for hiking the Kepler Track.

When

Great Walk Season runs through from the end of October to the start of May (Spring, Summer and Autumn). During this season you will need to book your accommodation in advance. In the Winter you will just need to buy a backcountry pass before you start.

The Kepler track is Jekyll and Hyde between the winter and summer months; this guide is purely for the summer season. You will need a whole host of other gear for the winter months and more than 3 days.

The track sits firmly within 9 avalanche paths and whenever there is snow on the slopes there is an avalanche risk. Snow can extend into December.

For this reason we would recommend tackling the track between January and March, but it is accessible all year round.

Distance

The Kepler track is 60km total with no significant side trips. Summiting mount Luxmore only adds 20 minutes to your day and is only recommended on clear days, in these mountains these are few and far between. Other side trips (caves and waterfalls) can be done from the huts (Luxmore and Iris Burn) as evening activities.

Where

Located in the Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. The perfect launch point for this hike would be Te Anua.

Te Anua

Weather

The ridge section between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn is extremely exposed and the weather is exceptionally volatile. This video sums up the conditions you should expect to face on this section of the Kepler Track.

When the wind is forecasted to be over 100km/hour you will offered the option to not cross the summit that day if you do not feel comfortable. At 150km/hour the crossing will be closed.

In these circumstances, DOC has the right to ask you to backtrack and refund your bookings. However, more than likely the rangers will find an alternative for you, probably an extra night at your current hut. 

Expect rain and lots of it. This combination of rain and wind will make a pack cover useless (see the video), if your cover is not ripped from your bag the rain will pool under it. To deal with this level of wind and rain you will need heavy duty pack liners and your sleeping bag and valuables in heavy duty dry bags.

Crossing the ridge in high winds

  • Most importantly take it slowly.
  • Do not cross solo – if hiking alone find a group to tag on to
  • If the winds get worse take refuge in the emergency shelter
  • Always be prepared to turn back
  • Anchor each other through particularly difficult or exposed sections
  • Focus on the track at all times, don’t approach the edge to take pictures.

Where to stay

Huts

The huts truly are backcountry luxury; with flushing toilets, running water, mattresses and stoves (you will need your own pans, plates, cutlery), they are a wonderful way to finish a day. Hut facilities cannot be used by campers.

However expect 20 people to a room and there is always a snorer so bring your earplugs.

Along with all the obvious benefits which go along with the above, huts allows you to drastically reduce your pack weight. If you solely use huts then technically you do not need to pack a tent, roll matt, stove or gas. However, with the rapidly changing conditions of the mountains it is recommended that you still carry a stove and gas in case you get stuck in one of the emergency shelters on the ridge or you need to have a hot meal or drink to fend off the cold.

Camping

It is possible to complete the Kepler Track by just camping.

Camping does have its benefits. As always, it is more budget friendly with huts costing 52NZD per person opposed to the 12NZD of a camping pitch. The campgrounds are a little more secluded, giving a level of privacy not found in the huts. If you leave your tent sealed and just jump in to sleep you will also have fewer sandflies and mosquitos as bed buddies as opposed to the huts, where doors are constantly being opened and closed.

A huge disadvantage of camping in Iris Burn is the keas (alpine parrots). If you do camp here, try and camp in the tree line and not in the open. The keas are curious birds and have a tendency to be a little over eager to get inside your tent. Suddenly the extra 40NZD is a bargain compared to replacing your tent.

You can book your accommodation through the DOC website and collect your passes in Te Anua (Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre) up to 2 days beforehand.

Getting there

You can start the Kepler Track from the Rainbow Reach carpark or the Control Gates. Parking is available at both; it is recommended not to leave valuables in your vehicle. Lockers are available in Te Anua.

We recommend tackling the track anti-clockwise and would suggest starting from the Rainbow Reach carpark.

Public transport

A shuttle bus is available from Te Anua to Rainbow Reach or the Control Gates.

There is also a boat shuttle or Kepler Water Taxi (no website, email [email protected]) which offers a service to and from Brod Bay.

Hiking

After picking up your tickets from Visitor Centre there is a 2km, 30 minute, lakeside walk to the control gates.

The water taxi will take you to brod bay on the Kepler Track

Recommended itinerary

Times are based on our experience. You may walk quicker than us or stop for more or less photos. We found that on days 1 and 3 we walked a lot quicker than the track estimates. Day 2 timings will vary based on the weather.

Day 1 > Rainbow reach car park > Luxmore Hut > 5 hours > 23km

Day 2 > Luxmore Hut > Iris Burn (hut or camping) > 5 hours in good conditions (rare) plan for 8 hours > 15km

Day 3 > Iris Burn > Rainbow Reach > 6.5 hours > 22km

Going anti-clockwise from Rainbow Reach will keep day 2 relatively short.

Day 2 of the Kepler Track is when you cross the mountains. In bad conditions progress can be exceptionally slow and although there are 2 emergency shelters along the ridge this is not a place you want to be caught in the dark.

Although 30km a day is feasible in good conditions, in bad conditions it would be nearly impossible. For this reason we would not recommend tackling the whole Kepler Track in less than 3 days. 

Luxmore Hut has no camping option and is the best set-up for the summit, so is extremely popular and is often sold out. In this case there are a few alternatives.

Alternative itineraries

Camping (3 days)

Day 1 > Rainbow reach car park > Brod Bay (Camping)> 3 hours > 15km

Day 2 > Brod Bay > Iris Burn (Hut or camping) > 6.5 hours in good conditions (rare) plan for 10 hours > 23km

Day 3 > Iris Burn > Rainbow Reach > 6.5 hours > 22km

Hut (2 days)

Day 1 > Morning Ferry from Te Anua to Brod Bay > Iris Burn (Hut or camping) > 6.5 hours in good conditions (rare) plan for 10 hours > 23km

Day 2 > Iris Burn > Rainbow Reach > 6.5 hours > 22km > 3pm Shuttle to Te Anua

This is a good option for those who don’t want to carry the additional weight associated with camping. However, expect additional costs from the shuttles (bus = 18NZD, boat = 30NZD). You will also miss out on completing the entire Kepler Track, but you will cover the most picturesque areas.

Hiking the Kepler Track with children

Although this is totally possible we would recommend the following things:

  1. Be prepared to turn back if the weather forecast on the summit is not promising; at times I (weighing in at 90kgs) was getting blown off the track. For considerable amounts of the ridge I had to anchor Emily (50kgs) down and help her walk forward. Hypothermia is also a very real risk.
  2. Ensure they stay on the track, especially when crossing the ridge
  3. Make sure they remain covered, particularly in the evening, and pack lots of repellent and bite creams

Wildlife

The Fiordland National Park is a haven for birdlife. For the luckier hikers you may glimpse the rare Blue Duck and for the exceptionally lucky there is a Kiwi population near the Iris Burn hut. The Kiwis can be heard at night but are rarely seen (the ranger had seen 3 in 8 years).

You are more likely to come across Keas trying to steal your food and South Island Robins inspecting your footprints for any potential grubs you have stirred up.

Packing list

Merino wool is the perfect base layer for the Kepler Track

Merino Wool

Merino wool is the perfect base layer for the Kepler Track. If you are heading to New Zealand towards the end of the tourist season, (after mid February) then you can get up to 30% off Ice Breaker Merino in most outdoor stores clearance sale.

  • Walking boots
  • 3 pairs of lightweight socks
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • Hiking trouser
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Base layer
  • Fleece/Down Jacket
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Sleeping bag
  • Packliner
  • Waterproof bags
  • Swimming shorts/suits (optional)
  • Towel
  • Gloves
  • Hat (beanie and sun protector)
  • Sunglasses
  • Nightwear (long trousers and long sleeves – cover as much skin as possible to avoid sandflies)
  • Firelighter

Packcovers are useless on the Kepler Track, you should opt for a packliner.

Packliner

Packcovers are useless on the Kepler Track. If there are high winds the mountain will claim them or push the water sideways into them. You should opt for a heavy duty packliner, you can purchase these at the visitor centre for as little as 8NZD. They also can be used as a makeshift emergency shelter.

  • Firestarter (Fire pits are available at campsites, check current restrictions but the smoke will help keep the sandflies at bay)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Cooking Pot
  • Cutlery
  • 4 days food
  • 3 litre water capacity – water on ridge is scarce if it has been dry for the previous few days
  • First aid kit
  • Insect repellant
  • Toiletries
  • Sun Screen
  • Essential items (rescue kit, navigation, SteriPen)
  • Stove and gas (optional)
  • Poles (optional)
  • Gaiters (optional)
  • Waterproof camera (with the rain coming in sideways the only device we could take pictures on was a GoPro)


Have you done the Kepler Track? Let us know how you got on! 

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About The Author

Strategy consultant by week, explorer by weekend. His first ever hike was a 9 day thru-hike at Torres del Paine and it was love at first hike. He now sleeps better in a tent than a bed. He would rather drive for 2 hours down a country lane than sit for 2 minutes in traffic. He has been known to lead driving safaris in areas without wildlife with a Justin Bieber soundtrack.

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