Thuc, an avid adventurer and outdoor photographer, takes us with her along the Kepler Track as she weaves through the Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. Breathtaking sunsets, unbeatable spots to pull up for the night, and outstanding views of ice-carved fiords, lakes and valleys, and rugged granite tops make it the ultimate spot for an active adventure in New Zealand. Plus, although it’s a Great Walk, you’ll likely have a better chance at both securing a spot on the track and beating the crowds, which makes it the perfect adventure destination for your next trekking holiday. 

Kepler Track in Fiordland National Park

When it comes to adventure destinations, it’s hard to look past New Zealand and if you ask people what their most loved active adventures in the land of the long white cloud are, they’ll likely mention the Kepler Track. In its entirety, it is a 60-kilometre loop ending and finishing at the Control Gates near Te Anau.

The Kepler Track has you climbing out from lake level through fantastical forests before tracing impressive mountain ridges and finally descending to the river. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hiking and camping (or tramping, to use Kiwi lingo) adventures I’ve embarked on so far.

Mountain adventure in Fiordland

The Kepler Track: a stunning mountain adventure in Fiordland

Four Days on the Kepler Track

Day 1:

13.8 kilometres from Control Gates to Luxmore Hut, 4.20pm to 8.50pm

A late start for me; there are limited services outside of the Great Walks season so the only bus leaving Queenstown was a 1pm service. I arrived at the Te Anau DOC office minutes before it closed at 4pm to have my ticket for Moturau Hut stamped. One lady there was strongly taken aback by my intentions to hike to Luxmore Hut that afternoon. The other cheekily asked me, “how fast are you?” I assured her that I am pretty quick and that I had read that it can be done in 4 hours. She responded, “well you do have 4.5 hours of solid daylight yet and if you have a good headlamp…”. I told her my only two concerns would be if the track was difficult to find and if it was icy; both were illegitimate worries at the time so off I went!


My shuttle driver dropped my off at the Control Gates around 4.15pm and five minutes later, I was hustling over to Brod Bay, the first checkpoint of the Kepler. The signposted time is 90 minutes but I managed to dust it off in 58! After a quick water and snack stop, I started the uphill slog to Luxmore Hut.


I will never forget the moment when coming out of the forest to an expanse of alpine tussock framed by mountains in every direction (some still snow capped) with the township down below just as the sun was setting.


360 degree mountain views on this trekking holiday

Day 1: Emerging out of the forest to alpine tussock and 360 degree mountain views right on sunset

For 20 minutes, I sat alone and in awe, so psyched to finally be in the mountains.

Then, I realised it was almost 9pm and I probably should check into Luxmore Hut (which is one of the most beautiful places I’m sure I will ever fall asleep in).

Mountain Views on the Kepler Track

Day 1: Sitting still and soaking it all up before checking into Luxmore Hut

Pro Tip (Day 1): mirror my schedule above (if you are in good shape and a confident tramper) because arriving at 1,085 metres as the sun was going down was hard to beat

Luxmore Hut along the Kepler Track

Day 1: Luxmore Hut, backed by snow capped peaks


Day 2:

14.6 kilometres from Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Campground, 8.30am to 3pm

Sunrise at Luxmore Hut is incredible. It’s not every day that you have such an impressive landscape just steps from your bedside. I highly recommend getting up for it as it sets the epic tone for the rest of Day 2…which was hands down, the highlight of my Kepler Track experience.

Sunrise from Luxmore hut

Day 2: Sunrise from Luxmore Hut


Morning light outside Luxmore Hut

Day 2: Early morning golden light just outside of Luxmore Hut

Day 2 is mountain heaven, and as I walked along the ridges, some small sections still covered in snow, I found myself out of breath and yet so full of it. I felt very alive and grateful. The scale of the landscape is truly humbling and there aren’t many marked tracks in Australia and New Zealand that have you in such close proximity to so many natural wonders. At the same time, I also found the scale of the landscape empowering; because I got there, put myself amidst this majesty, on my own two feet.

A note on the snow sections: probably a novelty for most Aussies on trekking holidays. Just keep your head, move swiftly but make sure of each step. Scruff up the snow, kick it in to make solid footing. Gaiters are a great choice to slip on in the snowy bits to keep snow out of your boots and your feet dry.

Kepler Track vires and landscapes

Day 2: Walking along the ridges in this jaw-dropping landscape


Immense landscapes on this Great Walk

Day 2: The scale of this landscape is immense – spot the tiny trampers on the left!

Eventually, what comes up must come down. The descent to Iris Burn is steep and took me just under two hours…but that last hour felt really gruelling. However, a true sense of mountain adventure!


At Iris Burn, there wasn’t much to do because the sandfly assault is well and truly apparent – I was mostly confined to my tent.Definitely bring the Bushman Insect Repellant! I did go for a dip in the river (highly recommend) which was refreshing, in every sense of the word. By 6.30pm, I was ready for bed.


Pro Tip (Day 2): take your time and soak it all up. I spent an hour at Hanging Valley Shelter, journaling and staring out in total bliss. Before you know it, the track starts to descend and maybe it was just me, but it felt bittersweet. No matter how present I am in the mountains, they always become a distant and surreal memory all too soon. But I guess that is part of what drives me to keep going up.

Hanging Valley Shelter for lunch

Day 2: Hanging Valley Shelter makes for an impressive lunch spot


Day 3:

16.2 kilometres from Iris Burn to Moturau Hut, 9.30am to 2.50pm

The quads and knees will be grateful for a relatively cruisy day 3 with only short uphill and downhill sections; the majority of this leg is flat. Even still, it is a lot of walking and we (I found some friends to tramp with!) arrived at Moturau Hut 5.5 hours after leaving Iris Burn.

Now, in my rush to plan the Kepler Track (I headed out 5 days earlier than intended due to an amazing weather window), I unnecessarily booked Moturau Hut. I was finishing at Rainbow Reach which is only 90 minutes from the hut so I could have saved myself $130 by pushing on. Alternatively, I could have camped at Shallow Bay which is another 30 minutes onwards from Moturau Hut, for free!

However, it was very nice to have some downtime; to reflect on the Kepler Track and ease my way back into non-tramping life. I actually spent 3 hours chatting with the only other tramper there that night and we covered all sorts of topics from religion, to the changing role of community, to the evolution of women, to social media and more!


Day 4:

6 kilometres from Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach, 9.30am to 12pm

The shuttle wasn’t picking me up until 3pm so I enjoyed myself and dragged out this leg, which should only take 90 minutes. I did it in a leisurely 2.5 hours! I stopped at Shallow Bay to catch a vibrant dancing rainbow and those quintessential moody New Zealand clouds drifting in and out between peaks.

Natural Beauty Along the Kepler Track

Day 4: Rainbow over Shallow Bay

The forests on this final day reminded me of the ones that kicked things off between the Control Gates and Brod Bay and I found beautiful poetry in this. They were so lush, brilliantly green thanks to the overnight rain (it’s Fiordland after all). My friend back in Queenstown described them as ‘straight out of Avatar’.

Day 4: The fantastical forests of the Kepler Track

Day 4: The fantastical forests of the Kepler Track

Crossing the swing bridge that exits the track to Rainbow Reach, I was filled with immense joy…as well as intense desire to take my shoes off, which I promptly did. I was eventually joined by 3 other trampers (2 from Switzerland 1 from Singapore) and we all sat around, with tired faces but sparkling eyes.


Tips for your Kepler Track:

  • If weather permits and you have the skills and abilities, going just out of season will save you lots of dollars. In season, the price to stay at a hut for an International Visitor is NZD 130, campgrounds; NZD 40. This is compared to NZD 15 and NZD 5, respectively, out of season. However, if you do have to pay full fare, take comfort in knowing that your monies are going towards conservation and management of these beautiful tracks and environments that we can to experience!
  • In my opinion, it is well worth carrying a tent, stove and sleeping mat in order to camp. Whilst the joviality of the huts was really nice, the solitude, quietness and privacy of my tent was bliss. I had one of the best sleeps in weeks in my tent at Iris Burn.
  • If you are tramping alone, bring along some sort of entertainment whether it be a book or journal. I opted for a journal because I worried about finishing my book too soon, whereas I can never run out of thoughts to explore and express!

Have you done the Kepler Track or any of the other Great Walks? Share your tramping experiences with us using the hashtags #ExperienceIsEverything and #PaddyPallin or tag us @paddy_pallin!

About The Author

Thuc Do

Thuc is an avid traveller and outdoor adventurer. Her favourite type of adventure is backpacking in the mountains with her camera, a pen and notebook and lots of snacks. At home in Australia, she loves Kosciuszko National Park and her most visited and loved overseas destination is New Zealand (Queenstown, specifically!). She places heaps of importance on connection so say hi if you run into her on the trail or leave a comment below!

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