Hiking on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks is a rite of passage for all visitors to this amazing country. With dramatic mountain scenery, unique wildlife and the well-organised hut and camping system, it’s easy to see why hikers worldwide flock to New Zealand’s Great Walks. Not gonna lie, it was difficult deciding on only one Great Walk to do in New Zealand. Given the amount of time we had to spend in the country, not to mention how far in advance it took to book sleeping space in the mountain huts, we decided to avoid the beautiful but popular Milford Track and instead opted for the Kepler Track. What followed was three days of otherworldly landscapes, close encounters with endangered species not found anywhere else in the world, and of course a diet mostly consisting of pasta, granola bars and chocolate.
The Kepler Track is a 60-kilometre loop trail located in Fiordlands National Park. It takes roughly 3-4 days to complete, unless you’re one of those ultrarunners all the hut wardens talk about while shaking their heads. There are parking facilities available for those that need somewhere to store their wheels for the duration of the trail (like us), as well as a bus service that will take you to the starting point if needed. Anyway, enough with logistics, let’s get to the fun part – the actual walk.
Depending on which way round you hike the Kepler Track, day one is arguably the hardest. Starting from the shores of the serene Lake Te Anau, for the first few kilometres the trail winds its way through beech forest. The whole atmosphere feels prehistoric, and I kept waiting for some Jurassic Park-esque action to suddenly jump out of the enormous ferns lining the trail.
It’s also nice and flat, and we enjoyed that for as long as it lasted, all the way to Brod Bay campsite 1.5 hours later. With its sandy beach, water basin and picnic area, it is the perfect lunchtime spot. There’s also a toilet here, but word of warning, it also doubles as a hotel for mosquitos.
The beautiful surroundings of Brod Bay campsite lulls you into a false sense of relaxation, because the trail for the next 8 kilometres is ridiculously steep path, taking you from roughly sea level to 1000 metres into the mountains. It’s this section of the Kepler Track that gives it its ‘intermediate’ grading, and the best advice I can give is to take it slow and have frequent water and rest stops – this is supposed to be fun, remember!
In all seriousness though, while it was hard going and the searing summer heat meant everything was damp, it was also a good opportunity to take a proper look at the flora in the forest, and keep any eye out for some of the unique birdlife that call Fiordlands National Park home.
Just before reaching the bushline, the Kepler Track skirts across enormous limestuff bluffs. Despite years of climbing, even our legs felt a little shaky as we walked along the wooden boardwalk underneath these behemoth stones. Do you remember that one section from Crash Bandicoot, where he was chased by the rolling boulder? For some reason, that kept crossing my mind the entire time we walked along the bluffs.
Soon after though, we emerged from the forest into the brilliant sunshine and open fields of the bushline. For miles lakes, mountains and forests stretched around us. Honestly, it was some of the most beautiful scenery we had ever seen. And the best part? We were promised it would only get better on day two of the Kepler Track.
Roughly 45 minutes later we made it to the Luxmore Hut. If there is one thing New Zealand does well (besides rugby) it is mountain huts. Having booked our spots in the dormitories months prior, we were pleased that we simply had to sign in, show our tickets to the hut warden, and find some free bunks.
The Luxmore Hut has a fairly large kitchen and social area, plus an adorable wood burner to dry your socks. Another benefit is that it is only a short trip from Luxmore Cave, and with a few hours to spare before the warden’s talk we decided to make the side trip.
Luxmore Cave is only a 10-minute walk from the hut. It is easy to while an hour or so in here, depending on how adventurous you are, and we revelled in crawling and squeezing our way through some of the tunnels here! Apparently there are more than 30 caves in the area, but most remain unexplored. It was at this point that the thunderclouds rolled in and rain began to drip down into the cave, cutting our adventures short.
Each hut on the Kepler Track has a talk by the warden each evening, which gives all campers the chance to ask questions and learn more about the wildlife in the area. All of the hut wardens have big personalities and kept everyone in stitches throughout their talk. Other than that hut life is very chill, and we spent the evening chatting with other “trampers” from all over the world.