THE Kepler Track begins on the shores of Lake Te Anau – the largest body of fresh water in the South Island of New Zealand – and winds its way through the spectacular Fiordland National Park.
Looping for some sixty kilometres up alpine heights and alongside two beautiful lakes, the track starts and ends only five kilometres from the town of Te Anau, at the Kepler Track carpark.
According to the official Discover New Zealand website newzealand.com, what’s unique about the Kepler Track is that it was designed from scratch:
“Unlike many other multi-day walks, which evolved from Māori greenstone trails or pioneer exploration routes, the Kepler Track was custom-made, built for pleasure, rather than necessity.
“Opened in 1988, the track was carefully planned to show walkers all the best features of Fiordland - moss-draped beech forest, prolific bird life, tussock high country, huge mountain ranges, cascading waterfalls,vast glacier-carved valleys, luxuriant river flats and limestone formations.The track’s construction makes for easier walking. Most streams are bridged,boardwalks cover boggy areas and the very steep sections have steps. Walk the Kepler and you’ll see everything that’s marvelous about this exquisite corner of the world.” (Quote as of the time of writing.)
The Kepler Track certain does make for magnificent views of the mountains and of the two large lakes that it loops between!
Although you can walk both ways, most trampers start off tramping to the Luxmore Hut high above Lake Te Anau. The Kepler normally requires bookings during the Great Walks season (October-April). Because the huts were full, we had to start off our tramp heading in the opposite direction, hiking towards Rainbow Reach carpark and onwards to our first stop at Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapōuri.
We left at two p.m. and tramped nine and a half kilometresto the carpark at Rainbow Reach, which took us around two and a half hours. From there we crossed the Waiau River on a swing bridge and carried on for six kilometres up the track towards Moturau Hut, where the hut warden was waiting for us. From the Kepler Track carpark, it had taken us around five hours to reach the hut, walking along the river’s edge and through a swampy area of wetlands.
The Moturau Hut was quite dirty inside, and we saw kea outside the hut pulling out the nails. These mischievous birds are very curious and as well as attacking the odd car tyre, they enjoy pulling nails out of buildings with their beaks. They also love to gnaw on anything made out of lead, which obviously puts them at risk of being poisoned. For some years now, DOC hut maintenance has included the removal of lead-headed roof nails and lead flashing, and their replacement with lead-free alternatives.
After spending the night in Moturau, we tramped on toward Iris Burn Hut. It was a long stretch of a little over sixteen kilometres between these two huts, heading uphill through beech forest and a winding gorge for around five to six hours. At Iris Burn, I heard kiwi calling out in the bush at night.
From Iris Burn Hut we got some really beautiful views, which only became more impressive as we tramped the five to six-hour walk, a bit under fifteen kilometres, to our next stop at Luxmore Hut. This route takes you up along a ridge just under Mt Luxmore, which has stunning vistas of Lake Te Anau and the Murchison Mountains.
The route down the mountain leads to Brod Bay campsite on the shores of Lake Te Anau, a distance of a bit over eight kilometres, and from there it was only a short one and a half hour walk back to the Kepler Track carpark where we had started.
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