How To : Kepler Track
By James Cook
The Kepler Great walk is a 60km circular tramp departing from Te Anau. It goes over the Kepler mountains (named for a 17th century astronomer), through a beech forest and ending with a beautiful walk along the Waiau River. Due to the Alpine section of the Kepler, it cannot be traversed in winter due to avalanche danger. We went in October just before the tramping season officially opened. Unfortunately the conditions on the alpine section were to dangerous for us to do.
It is always important to listen to what the rangers at the DOC (Department Of Conservation) have to say about the conditions as they will always have the most up to date information on weather and how do-able the track is. It is also a good idea to leave a notice of intentions slip with the DOC. On a few tramps these are non-negotiable, even if they are not, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you are going lest anything terrible were to happen.
The Kepler Track Is Seasonal
As the conditions were to bad to dangerous to complete entire track, we decided that we would spend one day hiking out to the hut that you would normally come to on your third day, then spend one day at the hut just sort of hanging out and exploring the area and the third day would be spent hiking back into town.
On most of the great walks in New Zealand (with the exception being the Milford Track where you can only stay in huts) you have the choice of either staying in a hut, operated and maintained by the DOC or in a campsite. Both of these options have to be pre-booked and in the high summer season often sell out due to the immense popularity of some tracks. The huts are normally double the price of camping but a lot more comfortable if you have a leaky tent (as we did for most of our tramps). The prices of the huts go down drastically over the winter months and are much more comfortable when the weather is a bit colder. When you are doing the tramps in the off season, the huts only cost around $15 per person so it is worth it for the comfort.
All About The Kepler Track
The start of the Kepler is not actually in Te Anau, but a forty five minute walk from town. The highlight of this “hike to the hike” is going through the bird sanctuary. These are birds that are recovering from injuries. Once they have recovered they are set free. I was happy we went through as I got to see a Takahe which is extremely rare and until 1948 was believed to be extinct.
The start of the hike is at the Control Gates, a big structure that controls the flow of water into lake Te Anau. From here you can either walk to the right which leads up into the mountains or to the left which skirts along the riverbank.
We stayed to the left and soon entered thick forest. There is a side trip that you can take which will take you to some marshes. That were used in the filming of one of the Lord of the Rings films. The first rest stop that you can take is at a place called Rainbow Reach. This is a swing bridge crossing the river and has toilet facilities and a small shelter. This is also a drop off point for a shuttle service that runs out of Te Anau – for those who don’t want to walk from Te Anau.
The days hike was quite easy and the forest offed good protection as it started to drizzle and rain. It took us around six hours to get to the hut. Since we were still in the off season, we had the added advantage of being the only people there (aside from some rangers who were working on maintenance jobs). It was beautiful and the slow laid back atmosphere was just what we needed to unwind after the hectic past week travelling down the West coast. Living the simple life was nice. There was no phone reception. No need to catch a bus anywhere. Just the lazy ebb and flow of the lake against the shore. Just the slow movement of clouds across the sky. And at night that very complete darkness that you only really get when you are detached from civilization (albeit only 20km away). We spent two whole days relaxing at the hut, before heading back the way we came to Te Anau.
Tips For Making The Most Of The Kepler Track
Do Not forget Bugspay! The Kepler is chock full of viscious little sandflys which love to feast on any uncovered skin.
Do the 45 minuite hike out to the start of the great walk as this will save you having to pay a shuttle company.
Listen to the DOC they know what they are talking about and if they say it is to dangerous then don’t do it.
In the high season be sure to book ahead as the huts fill up fast.
Nitty Gritty Of The Kepler Track
The best place to base yourself from to do the Kepler Track is Te Anau.
If you want to get the track transport to the start of the Kepler it will cost around $10 each way and can be booked here
Try to buy your supplies before you get to Te Anau. There is a large supermarket here but it is about a 10 minute walk out of town and can be a hassle.
Make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
And Finally Enjoy! The Kepler Track is a stunning example of New Zealands Alpine areas.
Have you ever done a Great walk? What are your tips?