According to Lonely Planet, the Kepler Track was originally developed as an alternative hike to help ease the demand for reservations on the South Island’s highly popular Milford and Routeburn Tracks. The label alternative may lead you to believe that this hike is somehow inferior to its more famous siblings, but don’t let that fool you. The Kepler Track is a beauty of a tramp in its own right.
This 3-4 day, 60-kilometer loop features some of Fjordland National Park’s most stunning scenery and has also been designated as one of the DOC’s Great Walks. While there may have been a time that reservations for this trail were easy to come by, it appears that the cat is definitely out of the bag about the Kepler Track now, making this another highly sought-after reservation that can be tough to get.
Even booking six months in advance, most of the hut space on the Kepler Track was already snatched up. Luckily, as you can see from the DOC map above, there are a couple of camping spots on the Kepler Track, too, so, by combining a few nights of camping with a stay at the Moturau Hut and hiking clockwise in the opposite direction of the normal counter-clockwise flow, we were still able to make it happen for us. Whew!
Wouldn’t you know, it’s raining heavily the morning we are set to depart on the Kepler Track. We are camped at a holiday park just outside of Te Anau, and the downpour has us playing possum in our tents well past our normal wake up time. Once the sun finally comes out, we are in no hurry to pack up our wet tent, so we spend a lazy morning in town showering and packing while we wait for our gear to dry out. We have a 15.5-kilometer hike ahead of us today, but the trail profile shows that the day’s walk will be pancake flat with little to no elevation gain or loss. We are pretty confident that we can make good time once we hit the trail, even for two slowpokes like us.
While we are killing time, we visit the TeAnau Wildlife Park to see some of New Zealand’s beautiful birdlife. Most of the more exotic birds are located in large pens, so we photograph some of the more common species that we find out in the open.
After a quick picnic lunch on the lakefront we head back to our campsite to collect our gear. From the Holiday Park, it’s a quick 5-minute drive to the Te Anau car park just outside of town (or a 2-km walk along the lakefront), where we will leave our car over the next several days.
We are finally on the trail at 1:30 and have a beautiful mellow walk on a soft, flat trail through beech and fern forest alongside the Upper Waiau River. There is a sign at the trailhead indicating that we are entering a Kiwi Zone, so we have high hopes that we will spot one of the elusive birds. Apparently, they are more active at night, so our chances are quite low right now. It never hurts to look, though, does it?
We make slow progress with frequent stops for photographs of all the fern-tastic scenery over the first few kilometers. Once we’ve gotten our fill of ferns, we pick up the pace.
The only break up in the terrain happens when we pass through a wetland where a boardwalk leads out to a marshy lake. There are signs indicating that this marshy habitat is home to the shy and elusive fern bird, but we only manage to find a brave grey duck swimming out in the open waters instead.
As usual, we are the last hikers to arrive at the cozy Moturau Hut, so its top bunks for us again. The hut is located close to a beach on the shores of Lake Manapouri, and we get there just in time for the ranger talk about the history of the damming of the lake and the people who made that happen over dinner. After dinner, we head out to catch the sunset, and then it’s off to bed for the evening. Good night!
Day 1 Trail Logistics
Start Point: Te Anau Control Gates
End Point: Moturau Hut
Distance: 15.5 kilometers
Walking Time: 3-5 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss: negligible
Date on Trail: 27 December 2016
Best Done: October-April
Getting to the Trailhead: The Te Anau Control Gates are located a few kilometers south of the town of Te Anau. If you have a car, it is easiest to drive the 4.6 kilometers to the Kepler Track car park where you can leave your car for free while hiking. Alternatively, it is possible to walk along the lakefront path from Te Anau to the start of the track. If walking on flat terrain through fern-filled forests really isn’t your thing, you can also short cut the track by starting at the Rainbow Reach car park, cutting off 9.5 km of today’s walk. Shuttles are available through Tracknet. The Kepler Water Taxi that can bring hikers directly to/from the village of Te Anau to the Brod Bay campsite.