The reason New Zealand’s Great Walks were created (in 1992), was to safeguard the precious ecosystems they pass through, from being loved to death by a growing number of unlimited freedom walkers. The special protections put in place on Great Walks include limiting numbers through a booking system for a set amount of hut and campsite spaces, and the introduction of freedom camping by-laws alongside the tracks.
Camping at the Luxmore Hut is possible if you know where to go and if you are prepared. I am in no way recommending or promoting freedom camping on this trail. However, I know that many hikers will pursue this. Therefore, I have left my freedom camping experience below which may provide an insight into how we did it safely and sustainably.
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
About the Kepler Track
New Zealand's Great Walks are amongst some of the best in the world. Amongst them, the Kepler Track is ranked as one of the best in all of New Zealand. However, the $100+ hut fees often discourage hikers from getting out on the trail.
The track beings along lakeside beech forest and ascends up into vast tussock planes, following alpine ridgelines and even offering opportunities to climb the nearby Luxmore Summit.
For a full guide to the Kepler Track, including tips for camping and a route itinerary, check out my Kepler guide here. Alternatively, if you'd like to visit the Luxmore Hut and even summit Mount Luxmore, then it's possible to do this hike in one day.
Can I Camp for Free on the Kepler Track?
So, is it possible to hike the Kepler without staying in huts?
Under the Fiordland National Park Bylaws 1981 no camping is allowed on land within 500 metres on either side of the Kepler track, nor within a 100 metre radius of the Kepler Hut. People breaching these by-laws can be fined up to $500. Hut facilities are only available to those who have booked and paid to stay in the hut.
While there are several overlapping and confusing laws surrounding freedom camping, the DOC's general consensus is that freedom camping is permitted in any of New Zealand's National Parks as long as you are 200 metres from any track and 500 metres from any Great Walks Tracks*.
So, since the Kepler Track is a Great Walk, you can camp near the Luxmore Hut, as long as you are 500 metres from the track. This applies to the main track AND the Luxmore Caves track.
However, after seeing the irresponsible camping behaviors of other hikers during our trek, we decided to publish our personal account in hopes of providing some first-hand information for those who are already committed to freedom camping.
If you have your own alpine tent, you can hike the entire Kepler Track for a much more affordable price, although not for free. This is because there is no way around it, you will have to pay for a site at the Iris Burn campsite since there are no suitable spots near 500 metres from the track.
Remember, the DOC does a great job of protecting New Zealand's natural biodiversity and maintaining the trails for everyone. The camping rules are there for a reason, please, if you choose to freedom camp, do so responsibly and within the distance rules. I am in no way promoting or condoning camping on this trail.
Camping near Luxmore Hut
The area around Luxmore Hut is classed as an alpine area. The DOC recommends that you do not try to freedom camp here because the tussock plains are completely exposed and there is little to no dry, flat ground.
However, I'm writing this post based on my personal experience camping within the rules of this trail and taking my own calculated risks. I used a 100km-proof alpine tent and have several years of wilderness camping and mountaineering experience behind me.
Remember, anybody who is freedom camping near the Luxmore Hut shouldn't use any of their facilities, since they are for paying customers. This includes water refills and toilets. We avoided camping on any sensitive vegetation and always prioritize leaving no trace (including packing out our own human waste). If you're not prepared to do this, don't try to freedom camp.
How I Stay Connected Off-Grid
I've been using the Garmin InReach Mini satellite communicator for all serious treks and expeditions since 2020.
It lets me send unlimited SMS anywhere on earth and has an emergency SOS feature that could save your life.
Our Camping Spot With GPS Coordinates
There are a few blogs and guides online with limited information on where to actually camp near the Luxmore Hut. However, none actually provide exact directions or locations.
So, after arriving at the hut, most people try to find a freedom camping spot just past the track to the Luxmore Caves. This is not responsible or within the rules since this track is also considered a Great Walks track and camping is not permitted within 500 meters of the caves track.
Following the tracks already carved out by other freedom campers, we headed west for around 100 meters and then followed the edge of the hill southwest until we rounded the bend where we saw a mostly-flat (although bumpy) plain.
We decided that this area was best because we were out of sight of the Luxmore Caves track and 500 meters from it. We spoke to the warden at Luxmore Hut about our intentions, who told us that if we were freedom camping, their priority was to be "out-of-sight", however we ensured we were 500 meters away as well.
This area was far from perfect since the little flat ground that exists is usually either too wet or rocky. However, there are a few "goldilocks" spots. The GPS coordinates below is roughly where we set up our tent.
S 45°23.5899 E 167°36.7059
Fresh-water Source near the Camping Spot
Of course, since you can't use the hut facilities to fill up your water bottles, you'll need to either pack up extra water or rely on the availability of fresh water from the nearby stream.
When I camped here in March, there was a healthy, flowing clear stream just 100 meters behind our camping spot above. We could hear it from the GPS coordinates above.
I'd imagine that this stream will be flowing during most of the Great Walks Season. However, it's important to pack extra water on all treks.
What Camping Gear Did We Use?
Here's a bare minumum of what gear I'd use when freedom camping in New Zealand's wilderness plains.
- Waterproof alpine tent rated to 100 km+
- Warm sleeping bag (-10°C)
- Insulated sleeping mat
- Means of packing out your own waste (including human waste)
When I camped, we were pretty lucky to have fairly calm conditions. However, this alpine area is exposed and is known to cop some very strong wind and frequent rains.
We were fairly disappointed to see that one camper had brought up a non-waterproof $15 "pop-up" tent. These guys were very lucky that the weather didn't turn on them. Don't be like them.
More South Island Hikes and Travel Guides
I hope that you've enjoyed reading about our experience camping near the Luxmore Hut in a safe, legal, and responsible manner. If you have any questions or updates from a recent trip, help out other travelers by writing a comment below.
If you're interested in free travel guides and articles for New Zealand's South Island, you'll find them in the links below.
More hikes? Don't miss this list of the Best Hikes on the South Island!