The Kepler Track is a 60km circuit, starting from Te Anau. It is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks supported by the Department of Conservation to protect and preserve the unique and delicate natural environment in which these walks are located. In February a group of seven Sole Sisters (Caroline, Debra, Marna, Susan, Mary, Louise and Liz) set off to tramp the Kepler Track circuit over 4 days with 3 nights staying in the huts on the track.
The walk can be done in reverse however at the end of Day 2, we concluded that we had taken the easier of the two directions. Hut accommodation needs to be pre-booked during the October to April season and tickets are collected from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau before departure. Tickets are checked nightly by the hut wardens.
You need to be well prepared for wet and cold weather on this track, taking warm and water proof clothing options with the expectation that at some point in time you are likely to get wet. We were not disappointed, getting our soaking on our last day. At the time of collecting your tickets, if you don’t have a good plastic bag liner for your back pack, the centre sells one for about NZ$8.00 which is highly recommended. Check the weather forecasts – the winds can be extreme and dangerous on the exposed sections between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut.
Kepler Track Day 1: Te Anau to Luxmore Hut
After a pleasantly undulating start to the walk from the Kepler Park car park along the shores of Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay, the climb up to the first nights’ accommodation begins. The track rises some 800 metres over eight kilometres. We walked through beautiful beech forests with ever increasing views of the area below and the fiordland scenery as we gained height. This tested our fitness, especially as it was our first day carrying our fully laden packs.
Close to the edge of the tree line there is a massive limestone cliff, a remnant from the interesting geological history of the area. If you look carefully you will find rocks completely composed of shell fossils. We were to learn later from our hut wardens more about this and how sea level fossils had managed to find their way to this elevation.
Luxmore Hut, as with each of the huts we stayed in, offers bunkroom accommodation, flushing toilets, cold running water in the bathrooms and kitchen area, and gas cooking facilities. You are expected to assist with the cleaning maintenance of the lodge before your departure, otherwise it becomes another job for the hut warden.
At each hut the hut warden gives a safety and general hut etiquette talk. At Luxmore Hut, the warden conducted a nature walk and talk for those who were interested. We learnt a lot about the native grasses, plants that you could eat and about the stoat traps that we had noticed during the day. Stoats, introduced to New Zealand in 1880, do considerable damage the natural environment, particularly to the bird life.
Kepler Track Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut
The distance is 14kms but feels longer!
The early bird catches the worm, they say and at Luxmore Hut if you are up early enough you can catch the spectacular sunrise – Caroline was the lucky one in our group to capture this. We were also there for a full moon, but unfortunately cloud cover during the night prevented us from seeing it.
After breakfast, we headed off on the most scenic of the days, walking along ridge tops and traverses with stunning Fiordland scenery and views to the region below. The vegetation was very interesting with fascinating plants, flowers and lots of mosses. Weatherwise, we spent a short amount of time in the clouds necessitating putting on our warm and wind-proof gear. We were able to take this off after some time when we were out of the exposed areas. We watched the cheeky Keas, took lots of photos, nibbled on snow-berries and enjoyed the views. There are two emergency shelters along the way, with toilet facilities, that make a good place to stop for a break.
After our lunch stop, we commenced the long descent to our accommodation. After the long staircase (that we aptly named “Stairway from Heaven”), we had a seemingly never ending walk down: we crossed avalanche chutes and zigzagged our way through beautiful beech forests down to the river and then some more. It was at this point that we decided we had definitely walked in the right direction and would not want to do it in reverse!
The Iris Burn Hut is located on river flats with sand-flies in abundance. Funnily the school group from Te Anau, who were staying there the night, seemed to be quite unaffected by them, in comparison to us! What they did have that we didn’t was blisters!
Iris Burn facilities were very similar to the last hut and once again a very enthusiastic hut warden briefed us on hut etiquette and safety and provided us with some interesting information about the area. Before dinner, a couple of us braved the chilly water in the river, having unfortunately arrived too late and too tired to do the intended 20-minute walk to the waterfall.
Kepler Track Day 3: Iris Burn to Moturau Hut
The walking on this leg is undulating to flat and broadly follows the river that flows into Lake Moturau. All in all, this is a very pleasant day with the most interesting aspects being the big slip zone and good views of the river as you walk through the fern and beech forests.
On arrival at Moturau hut, we enjoyed a swim in Lake Moturau which has a surprisingly bearable temperature. We watched the rain clouds get closer and closer, and had a pretty good idea what would be in store for us the next day!
Interesting things about Moturau: there were moths and caterpillars in abundance! We had a very interesting talk from the hut warden on the saving of Lake Moturau from being drowned in the 1970’s for electricity generation.
Kepler Track Day 4: Moturau to Te Anau
15.5 kms of rain! In a word Day 4 was WET! We considered ourselves very lucky that it was our last day, and we would not have to be in a hut trying to dry gear that night. On our arrival back at the departure point, we looked quite sympathetically at those we saw setting off, especially those camping, knowing that the night ahead would be not a dry cosy one!
We all changed into dry clothes on for the bus trip back to Queenstown, looking forward to a hot shower, a glass of wine, something to eat other than rehydrated dinner in a bag and a soft comfy bed.
The Kepler Track is a delightful tramp, and we all felt it was a good taster of what New Zealand has to offer. We are looking forward to our next New Zealand Great Walk.