Kepler Track, Day 3: Iris Burn to Brod Bay

Kepler Track, Day 3

Sleeping outside in a tent is something that makes us very happy under ordinary circumstances. Add to that the fact that it is December and that we are waking up in New Zealand on Day 3 of a multi-day backpack, and we are feeling pretty dang lucky right now. 

This is our first night camping out on one of NZ’s Great Walks, and the campsite is above average overall. We have a nice, flat spot, and there are two clean outhouses nearby. We prepare our meals in a small, covered cooking shelter with a few picnic tables. There is a sink with running water to do the dishes and a huge container of water to fill our water bladders up for the day’s hike. The view isn’t bad either. This Kiwi camping isn’t too shabby!

We leave camp at 8:30 am and begin the long, switchbacky climb through the fern-tastic, moss-mastic forest that begins this day. The past two days have been filled with forests almost exactly like this one, but, for some reason, the ferns, trees and mosses look extra green and even more lush in this section. We stop often to photograph the pretty scenes we encounter.

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We also notice that we are gaining some elevation rather quickly, which is a nice change of pace. After two solid days of walking on flat trail through beech forest, exerting ourselves feels invigorating. We can sense a big change is coming.

BAM! We are suddenly above treeline, and it is awesome.

We take a short side trail up a ridgeline to a look out point, and we are excited to encounter our first up-close kea parrot. This fella is extra curious and wants to check out (and eat!) everything. He has no fear of us and walks within a few inches of our cameras. We are amazed.

Matt gets the best views of all. What a ham this guy is for the camera!

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Enough with the photos—this bird wants some food! The kea gets ahold of my trekking poles and leaves a beak mark where he chomped into the handle. Cheeky bird!

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Eventually, our crazy, little friend grows bored of us and flies away just as quickly as he arrived. We continue on, hiking along a spectacular ridgeline that we follow for the next few hour. Life is good!

When the terrain gets really steep, there are suddenly multiple sets of stairs leading us up, up, up. We feel like we are hiking along the Kiwi version of the Great Wall. The quality of the trails here in New Zealand really is quite impressive!

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We stop for lunch at the Forest Burn Saddle Shelter, where more kea are eagerly hoping for handouts from all the hikers who are breaking for lunch here. We have to keep a close eye on our food to make sure this little alpine gang doesn’t make off with anything.

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Whenever we get a break from the birds we try to look out and take it all in because the views from the shelter are pretty phenomenal!

From the shelter, it is a non-stop parade of spectacular scenery as we continue hiking along the ridgeline for several more kilometers. This part of the trail is often closed due to the exposure. On super windy days, a heavy backpack can feel like a sail, making this section of the trail particularly dangerous. We have heard that some people have even had to crawl on their hands and knees to avoid being blown off their feet here!

Lucky for us, the winds are relatively calm, and we even have pretty clear skies. We stop often to photograph the trail as it undulates up and down through the grassy yellow peaks until it disappears out of our view. We are suckers for trail shots like these!

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Eventually, the trail takes us high above Lake Te Anau, and we pass a perch that looks like it was just made to be photographed. The footing is a little treacherous, and a fall here would be disastrous, so I send Matt out to play model for us. I am glad I did because this is the photograph that we end up using for the cover of our book Hiking Photography. How cool is that?

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This views keep coming  all the way to the Forest Burn Shelter, where we stop for a quick break to eat a snack and use the bathroom.

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We don’t want this hike to end, so when the opportunity comes to extend it with a short side trail up to Luxmore Summit (1472 meters) we take it. We don’t even mind that we have to carry our packs up to the top because of a few cheeky kea hanging out at the trail junction. If we leave the backpacks there without any supervision, there’s a good chance that we will come back to find them torn to shreds by the kea. A few extra minutes never hurt anyone, right?

After soaking up the views, we head back down and find the pair of kea still at the trailhead. The two birds crack us up. We are not sure if they are courting each other or perhaps even an old married couple, but their antics are pretty amusing.

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This kea doesn’t appear to be nearly as impressed with the bright red underwing of her friend as we are!

From the summit, its a long, long descent past Luxmore Hut (where we are really wishing we had a reservation for the night) all the way down to our campsite on the shores of Lake Te Anau at Brod Bay. We are losing elevation quickly, and the scenery is not nearly as dramatic in this section.

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We are really pushing ourselves the last few kilometers, but we suddenly stop when we hear the loud chatter of fantails all around us. The little birds are really going nuts. We look to see what all the commotion is about and spot a Morepork owl in a tree just above the trail. The songbirds are all up in arms about this small predator hanging out in their neighborhood! He pretends to be blissfully unaware and doesn’t seem too terribly upset by the smaller birds.

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We finally make it to camp at 9:10 pm, just before nightfall. We pitch our tent on a beach campsite right on the shores of Lake Te Anau and eat our dinner by headlamp. It looks like we milked this fine day on the trail for all it was worth!

Day 3 Trail Logistics

Kepler Track brochure
Source: New Zealand Department of Conservation

Start Point: Iris Burn Campsite
End Point: Brod Bay Campsite
Distance: 22.8 kilometers
Walking Time: 10-12 hours
Elevation Gain/Loss:

Kepler Track brochure
Source: New Zealand Department of Conservation


Side Trips: Hike up to Luxmore Summit (30 minutes roundtrip) to see the views from the highest point on the track at 1472 meters. There is also a very worthy sidetrip to Luxmore Cave (20 minutes roundtrip) that we didn’t feel like we had the time to do but wish we had.
Date on Trail: 29 December 2016
Best Done: October-April

18 thoughts on “Kepler Track, Day 3: Iris Burn to Brod Bay

  1. All I can say is ” WOW”. I’m ever so glad I get to enjoy the hikes! The fun thing for me, I can hear your voices and laughs!

    1. Our Day 3 of the Kepler Trek is one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever done. To get there, you do have to do a lot of bush walking, but we think that is really pretty, too–definitely worth it for that ridgeline walk!

  2. IMHO maybe the most enthralling blog of any of yours that I can remember.

    Your blog does justice to the unbelievable New Zealand landscape, as well as the intrepid trekkers.

    1. Thank you, Frank! That’s quite a compliment. New Zealand is definitely an incredible place. We hope we get to go back someday and do some of the other amazing hikes there!

  3. I’m planning a six week trip to NZ in March/April 2019 and I’m so happy to have found your blog! My partner and I are considering doing one of the Great Walks and I’ve found your Routeburn and Kepler Tracks reports to be most informative. And your photos are stunning!

    1. That’s wonderful, Chelsea. We are envious that you have a trip to NZ in your future. You will love it! Do make sure that you pay attention to the date when reservations open up for hut and camping reservations (sometime soon, we think!). If you have any questions about planning your hikes, please let us know!

      1. Thank you, I’m sure I might have some questions in the next few months! As for reservations, I’ve got a daily reminder set to check the DOC website 🙂

  4. Wow!

    What an amazing location and trip review and really breathtaking photos!
    I am really amazed with this post and I will soon share it with my network.

    Thanks for posting such quality material on your blog.

  5. Those are stunning photos of the parrots. And your writing has made them seem very endearing.
    With all the mentions of how popular these trails are, I only spotted one other hiker in your photos. I know you probably don’t post photos that show others, but just curious as to how alone you are out there.

    1. Good question! Because hut/camping reservations are required on the Great Walks, the number of people is controlled. We never felt like the trails were overrun or even crowded. We also prefer hiking in the opposite direction of the norm because we have the trail to ourselves a lot of the time. We also don’t have to worry about passing and leapfrogging other hikers as much. We cross paths on the trail for a few seconds, and that’s that!

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