We were dreaming about this 3-4 day hike for months and finally we’ve made our way down to the edge of Fiordland and into the small town of Te Anau. After checking the weather forecast, buying and preparing all of our food and equipment, and after getting accommodation in a camp site closest to the beginning of the track itself, we were ready.
Since the Kepler track is one of New Zealand’s 9 great walks, it’s pretty busy and we had to book our bunk beds in the huts in advance. In fact, we booked them months before. Luckily our dates seemed to be destined for nice weather, as the forecast was good for the next three days. And this meant good news, as Fiordland is otherwise the third wettest place in the world with an unimaginable amount of rainfall (over 3600mm/year).
We started walking quite early in the morning and we slowly made our way through the beech forest, walking alongside the enormous Te Anau Lake. Suddenly we started ascending rapidly and we began to feel the full weight of our fully packed backpacks. We were pretty heavily packed, as you need to carry all of your clothes, sleeping bags, dishes and food for the 4 days of hiking on the Kepler. Soon after the about 2 hours ascend, we made it out of the beech and moss forest and on to a tussock clearing. As we started to enjoy the beautiful views around us, we continued to walk towards the first hut on our trek, the Luxmore hut. After about 4-5 hours of walking with our heavy load on our backs, we were happy to reach the lovely little wooden hut.
The huts on this track are pretty expensive (54 NZ$/person/night from October to April) and offer very little in terms of facilities. You get a plastic mat on a bunk bed to sleep on, the use of the toilet, running water and a gas cooker in the big dining room. That’s about it. No heating, no showers, no pillows or bed sheets and no food on offer. Still, they say you should feel privileged to have the chance to be here, enjoy the opportunity to even be on the track and having a place to spend the night. So we did.
After the freezing cold night, we woke up early with a mesmerizing view. The sky above was as blue as ever, but underneath, where there was an enormous lake before, there was a sea of clouds. Snow white, thick, low clouds covering all the valleys around us, making it look like something out of a fairytale. It was definitely one of the most amazing sunrises that I have ever seen.
Inspired and in a cheerful mood, we started walking again. After about an hour, we reached the summit of Mt Luxmore, the highest point of the track, from where we were rewarded with 360° views of mountains nearby and valleys that were still overlaid with the magical sea of clouds. The path then leads us up and down the mountain ridges with more views at every turn, this time into fiord valleys and lakes. The view on that clear day also reached some much higher mountains in the background, still covered with snow and ice. After a few hours of walking on the high and open ridge tops with gold tussocks all around us, we started a big descend through another thick beech forest. Our legs and knees started to hurt at this point as we already covered a lot of ground with our heavy packs, and the steep zig zags leading down seemed to go on forever. We reached our next hut, the Iris Burn, exhausted. After a big dinner, we went straight to bed.
We woke up tired and our legs felt full and heavy. But after learning about possible heavy rain, strong winds and recalculating our food supplies, we decided to finish the rest of the track in one stretch and cut it a day and a few kilometers short to the Rainbow Reach car park. We had a heavy breakfast and started walking with a slightly faster pace to be able to cover enough ground in time. The path was less scenic but still very nice as we were walking through a valley covered with thick beech forest, full of moss and small beautiful birds that greeted us on the way. We stopped at the last hut only to have lunch and left for the Rainbow reach car park to try and catch the shuttle bus or hitch a ride back to Te Anau where we had our car. After a couple more hours of walking through the by now very familiar beech forest, we finally made it. Tired and exhausted, but really happy, proud and full of beautiful impressions, we hitched a ride back to Te Anau just in time as the first drops of rain started to fall.
The Kepler track was definitely one of our favourites, and we would highly recommend it to all the trackers out there! Doing it counter clockwise is the best option not only because it’s slightly easier this way, but also because you get a much better view and overall impression from this direction. We would also advise skipping the last day (as we did) because we feel you don’t really experience anything extra while walking another full day through the beech forest. It’s probably better to arrange a shuttle bus (12$/person) from Rainbow reach and thus save up on the last hut accommodation (54$/person).