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How I Hiked the Kepler Track in 3 Days For Under $40

How I Hiked the Kepler Track in 3 Days For Under $40

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Here’s my hiking itinerary for the Kepler Track over 3 days while getting the most out of this incredible hike without paying hundreds in hut fees!

The Kepler Track in South Island’s Fjordlands is known as one of the best Great Walks in all of New Zealand! However, as you probably already know, the cost per night for staying in the huts goes well over $100 per night!

If you do have the means to pay these fees, then it is worthwhile, since the money is going directly to the DOC, who do a fantastic job in protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity and maintaining all of the park tracks and routes.

However, I don’t believe that budget travelers should have to miss out on the Great Walks simply because the pricing structure is aimed at “big-spender” travelers. In this guide, I’ll outline how to hike the entire Kepler track, with some tips on how to save some money in the process.

Lake te anau frm the kepler track

What You Need to Know About the Kepler Track

  • Elevation: Highest Point: 1,470 m AMSL (Luxmore Summit)
  • Start Point: Kepler Control Gates near Te Anau (or further in via a boat transfer to Brod Bay Campsite)
  • Total gain elevation gain: 2,450 m
  • Length: 65 km
  • Difficulty: Moderate; some steep sections and long but not technical.
  • Direction: It's possible to hike both ways but I recommend the counterclockwise direction for the best elevation profiles.
  • Season: Great Walks season is 29 Oct - 30 Apr. Outside this season prices are cheaper but the DOC recommends only fit, experienced & well-equipped hikers to attempt it.
  • Contacts: Te Rua-o-te-moko/Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre
  • Route: My Strava | GPX File (.gpx 6.4 mb)

The Kepler Track is considered one of New Zealand's "Great Walks". The track is located in the incredible Te Wāhipounamu, South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The track leads through beautiful beech forest along Lake Te Anau before climbing alpine vistas above 1,400 meters with incredible views of Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri.

Although it's a fairly long hike, it's not at all technical in the Great Walks Season. However, you'll need alpine/avalanche experience and equipment in the winter months.

You can find more up-to-date information on track closures and safety information on the DOC website and by downloading the official brochure.

Lake te anau frm the kepler track

How to Hike the Kepler in 3 Days

The typical Kepler Track itinerary spans four days. My itinerary below to do it in 3 days essentially cuts out the last hut (Moturau Hut), squeezing in a long 33 km walk on the last day.

This is possible because the last day involves very little elevation gain or drop and is more of a pleasant (yet long) stroll along flat paths beside Lake Manapouri and the Waiau River.

Here's the hiking itinerary, read on for more details.

  • Day 1: Kepler Track Carpark to Luxmore Hut (15.6 km & 810 m elevation)
  • Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut (18 km & 580 m elevation gain, 1040 m descent)
  • Day 3: Iris Burn Hut to Control Gates (33 km & 50 m elevation gain, 200 m descent)
Kepler track map
Source: DOC

How Much Does it Normally Cost to Hike the Kepler Track?

Since the Kepler track is considered a "Great Walk" the hut passes and campsite bookings are much more expensive than other routes and tracks in NZ. Below is a rundown of the current costs.

SeasonVisitorHut Pass Per Night (NZD)Campsite Per Night (NZD)
Great Walks Season
(29 Oct – 30 Apr)
New Zealanders6821
Internationals10232
Outside the Great Walks Season
(1 May – 28 Oct)
Everyone2510
*Winter bookings are still required for Luxmore Hut & discounts are typically available for youth (under 17).

In total, if you want to stay at Luxmore Hut, Iris Burn Hut, and Moturau Hut on the official 4-day Kepler Track itinerary– expect to pay $306 NZD as a foreigner, or $204 as a Kiwi.

Lake te anau frm the kepler track

How I Hiked the Kepler Track for Under $40

No, it's not possible to hike the Kepler for free. However, as I found out, it was possible to hike the entire track for $21 NZD for New Zealanders and $32 NZD for foreigners. This was possible for both 3-day and 4-day itineraries.

This was achieved by freedom camp near the Luxmore Hut and near the Shallow Bay Hut. However, it was never possible to freedom camp anywhere near the middle section of the hike (Iris Burn Hut) because it's simply too dense with no flat clearings to pitch a tent.

Therefore, when I hiked, the only compulsory campsite fee is for the Iris Burn Campsite.

Updated Rules: In regards to freedom camping laws in New Zealand, you are able to pitch a tent anywhere in New Zealand's parks, as long as you are 500 metres away from the Great Walks track. So, it is still legal to camp near the Luxmore Hut like my itinerary below.

That said, the DOC reached out to me recently and noted some important facts about conservation in this region. Unfortunately, many irresponsible trekkers have been taking advantage of this information and causing damage to the sensitive alpine environment. So, I do not recommend this affordable route. Read my update in the link above or the official budget alternatives below.

Tussock plains hiking near the luxmore hut on the kepler

Alternative "Cheap" Kepler Track Option

Without freedom camping near the Luxmore Hut and instead hiking the "official" budget Kepler itinerary, you can:

  • Stay at Luxmore Hut ($68 or $102)
  • Camp at Iris Burn Campsite ($21 or $32)
  • Freedom camp 500 meters from the Moturau Hut (free) or finish on the 3rd day as I did

This totals $89 (Kiwis) or $134 (foreigners), which is still a lot more affordable and accessible than the full 4-day hut route. With the latest developments, I believe this is a much better option.

Kepler track in three days

Current Iris Burn Camping Costs

Below is a table of current pricing that I update yearly. The fee was cheaper when I hiked a few years ago but is still very reasonable.

PeriodCategoryAdult (18+ years)Youth (17 years & under)
Great Walks Season
(29 Oct – 30 Apr)
New ZealandersNZD $21 per nightFree, but booking is required
InternationalsNZD $32 per nightNZD $16 per night
Outside Great Walks Season
(1 May – 28 Oct)
EveryoneNZD $10 per nightFree

Update: DOC also told me that we are not allowed to camp or stay overnight in the Forest Burn and Hanging Valley shelters. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, please check the Department of Conservation (DOC) website.

How to Get to the Trailhead

The start point for the Kepler Track loop is at the control gates, located near the township of Te Anau. There is a large car park here with 50 spaces where you can leave your car or camper for the duration of the hike, free of charge.

If you don't have a car or transport, you could try to hitchhike (very easy and common in New Zealand) or walk to the control gates from the visitor center in Te Anau. This will add 1 hour to your hike, following the edge of Lake Te Anau before arriving at the control gate car park.

Tip: Alternatively, if you don't want to walk or hitchhike, book a boat transfer to Brod Bay (best option), or a shuttle bus (less convenient).

Kepler track day 1 brod bay campsite track

My Experience Hiking the Kepler in 3 Days

For the purpose of this guide, I will be detailing a 3-day itinerary in an anti-clockwise direction that I took.

This follows the generally recommended and most popular hike itinerary for the first two days, while finishing the hike by combining the last two days into one.

Originally, I had packed and planned to hike the Kepler in four days. However, after overestimating the length, we decided to push on and finish the hike in three.

The reason for this is that from the Iris Burn Hut back to the control gates, it is very flat, with little to no incline. So, if you're generally fit, you should have no trouble finishing this section in a single day.

However, if you'd like to finish the hike in 4 days instead, then I'd recommend camping near the Shallow Bay Hut. You are able to freedom camp here for free! Some blogs and sources online mention that you still have to pay the hut fee. However, after speaking to the DOC, I can confirm that this isn't the case for campers at the Shallow Bay Hut.

Grayl water filter bottle

Get Clean Drinking Water on Your Hike

I take the Grayl GeoPress Purifier Bottle on every hike and use it as my go-to source for filtering water all over the world. I've even used it to drink tap water in India!

Compare how the GeoPress stacks up against the best water bottle filters on the market.

Day 1: Kepler Track Carpark to Luxmore Hut

  • Distance: 14.6 km
  • Elevation gain: 810 m

The official starts at the Kepler control gates marked in the map above. From here, there is an information shed and toilets as well as a freshwater tank to fill up your bottles.

The track follows the shore of Lake Te Anau for several kilometers. This section is pleasant and is a good warmup for the upcoming climb. After just over an hour, you should reach the Brod Bay campsite.

Tip: Hiking all the way to Luxmore Hut from the control gates is rather long. Instead, if you want to save time you can begin at Brod Bay by taking an affordable boat transfer from Te Anau.

Kepler track day 1 brod bay campsite track
Kepler track day 1 brod bay campsite track

From here, the track begins to climb gradually through a beautiful beech forest. This area is known for its large native bird population, so keep an ear out for their calls.

The climb from Brod Bay campsite to the Luxmore Hut is gradual and not too steep. However, you will gain over 800 metres of elevation before finally breaking out through the tree line.

Tussock plains hiking near the luxmore hut on the kepler

It's a great feeling as you enter the rolling tussock plains. Here you'll get to witness the first views of Lake Te Anau from above, as well as Mt Luxmore and the rest of the Kepler Track as it winds its way along the rolling ridges.

The Luxmore Hut is roughly 30-40 minutes from the treeline.

Luxmore hut, kepler track
Scenic views from the Luxmore Hut
Kea bird on the kepler track

Luxmore Caves

The Luxmore Caves is a short side-trip from the Luxmore Hut that only takes about twenty minutes return.

It's definitely worthwhile checking out if it hasn't been raining too much. The limestone cave system burrows deep under the tussock plains, with several small tunnels and a small running stream.

Luxmore caves
Exploring inside the Luxmore Caves
Luxmore cave on the kepler track
There's well-maintained access into the caves

Camping Near the Luxmore Hut

I had spoken to the DOC and other hikers in New Zealand who told me that camping near the Luxmore Hut was one of the most popular ways to avoid paying the expensive hut fees and lower the overall cost of the hike.

Of course, if you have the funds, staying at Luxmore Hut is a great experience. It's one of the most scenic huts on the South Island and a great place to catch up with other hikers. The money also goes towards wilderness conservation, so it is money well spent.

However, I think it's important to note there are many hikers who would prefer to hike self-sufficiently or those who simply can't afford to pay these fees on a budget. I believe that nature is for everybody to enjoy, and shouldn't be only accessible to those with enough disposable income. Luckily, it was possible and legal to camp near the Luxmore Hut, as long as hikers were prepared, knew the rules, and were committed to camping sustainably.

Here's an update on the rules:

Basically, the New Zealand law regarding this permits freedom camping for anybody, as long as they are 200 metres from a regular track or 500 metres from a Great Walks Track. As a Swede, this is similar to our "Allemansrätten"– which is a responsibility, not a right.

That said, with the recent communications with the DOC, I don't recommend that anybody freedom camps near the Luxmore Hut. However, for those who are already committed to doing this, I have left my personal account in hopes of offering my perspective on how we did it safely and sustainably.

Camping at luxmore hut
Our camping spot near the Luxmore Hut (more than 500 metres from the hut)

Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut

  • Distance: 18 km
  • Elevation gain: 580 m (1040 m descent)

Day 2 offers by far the best views for the entire Kepler Track. Following on from the Luxmore Hut, the Kepler Track works its way around the bluffs and climbs close to the summit of Mt Luxmore. The track here offers views of small alpine tarns scattered along the vista.

Kepler track in three days
Day 2 of the Kepler Track leads into beautiful alpine environments

Side Trip to Climb Up Mt Luxmore

You'd be crazy not to make the short 5-10 minute ascent up to Mt Luxmore! The Kepler track is literally right below the peak and if you're lucky enough to get good weather, the views are spectacular.

Mt luxmore summit
Mt luxmore summit hike

Amazing Views Along the Alpine Sections

The views of Lake Te Anau and surrounding mountains get better as the day progresses. Soon after Mt Luxmore, you'll see the track atop the jagged ridgeline beyond.

Keep your fingers crossed for good weather and enjoy the views! Make sure to stop and take it all in.

Hiking the kepler
Lake te anau frm the kepler track
Kepler track lake te anau

Descending to the Iris Burn Hut

After a few hours of climbing and descending the ridges, the track steeply descends back down into the bushline and into the Iris Burn forest.

This section is very scenic, with flowing rivers and small cascading waterfalls along the track. There are also several bridges with impressive views. Warm your knees up for the 800-metre descent back down to the Iris Burn campsite.

Remember, this area is the only place where you won't have a choice in the matter of paying for a site. You'll soon realise why. The surrounding forest is thick and lacks any viable clearings to pitch a tent.

Kepler track

Kepler track bridge

Side Trip to Iris Burn Falls

After pitching our tent, it was time to go check out Iris Burn Falls. We braved the sandflies and pushed on for a freezing but refreshing swim at the deep pool underneath the waterfall.

The waterfall is roughly 15m in height and cascades in a "horsetail" shape. In high season, most people staying at the hut come here to wash off the sweat and dirt and relax after having completed the two most difficult days of the trek.

Tip: Don't leave any food in your tent. The Iris Burn campsite is known to have dozens of mischievous Kea birds that come at sunset to wreak havoc. One of the hikers had his whole brand new tent chewed to bits while he was at the falls. There is a resident DOC staff member at the Iris Burn Hut.

Iris burn falls kepler track

Day 3: Iris Burn Hut to Control Gates

  • Distance: 33 km
  • Elevation gain: 50 m (200 m descent)

We considered ourselves lucky as we woke up with no tent holes from mice or kea. However, the weather had turned on us on the 3rd day. With rain forecasted for the rest of the day, we quickly packed up our soggy tent and cooked breakfast underneath the undercover cooking area.

Again, this final day of the Kepler track is long but flat, with only small sections of incline. Besides the incredible podocarp and beech forests, there is also little that warrants a stop.

Kepler track lake manapouri

After a few hours, you'll reach Lake Manapouri. There are several trails that lead to beachside access where you can relax and enjoy lunch.

From the Moturau Hut, the track continues on to follow the Waiau River, past the Rainbow Beach Bridge and finally arriving back at the control gates.

Lake manapouri on the kepler track
Lakeside stop at Manapouri

Of course, this day is going to be the longest. However, since it's so flat, it's definitely possible to complete this section in a single day.

At any time you can make the call to camp at the Shallow Bay Hut for free. You could also check if there is space at the Moturau Hut, however, you usually need to book in advance.

Moturau hut kepler track
Moturau Hut

Optional: Stay at Shallow Bay Hut

To stay in the Shallow Bay Hut, you will need a $5 unserviced hut pass. You can purchase these from the DOC visitor centre in Te Anau.

This hut is definitely not up to the standard of the regular with mosquitos and sandflies being a big problem. However, it does offer shelter from the elements if you need it.

I'd prefer to camp next to the hut for free, where there are a few cleared areas, since that way you can block out the mosquitos. Of course, this will only apply for those looking to do this hike in four days, not following this Kepler track 3-day itinerary.

Kea bird at the luxmore hut
Kea bird on the Kepler Track

Optional: End at Rainbow Beach Bridge

If you want to finish early, you can also call it quits at the Rainbow Beach Bridge. This cuts off over an hour of the hike back to the control gates.

In saying that, you'll need to either leave a car here or organize transport from the bridge back to Te Anau or the control gates regardless.

FAQs About Hiking the Kepler Track

Should I walk Clockwise or Anti-Clockwise?

While it's possible to do it both ways, I'd highly recommend doing it anti-clockwise since that way, you'll have the biggest climbs on the first day, as well as ensuring that you'll have the epic views on day two in front of you!

Where Can I get a Kepler Track Map

Map of the kepler track route

I recommend buying a physical map from the Te Anau Visitor Centre. Below is an approximate map of the Kepler track route. During Great Walks season, you will have no trouble finding your way.
This is because there are usually many other hikers and the track is always well-maintained and marked.

Can you do the Kepler Track in 2 nights?

Yes, I hiked the Kepler Track in 3 days and 2 nights (for under $40) by staying near the Luxmore Hut and camping at the Iris Burn Campsite.

Is the Kepler Track worth it?

After hiking all over the world and many of New Zealand's Great Walks, I can honestly say that the Kepler is by far one of the best hikes I've ever done. Everyone raves about Milford but truthfully this one is incredibly underrated, with amazing alpine sections, beautiful beech forests, and fewer crowds.

Is the Kepler Track safe?

The Kepler Track is very well-maintained by the DOC and you'll find hut staff at each of the huts. That said, conditions change quickly in these alpine regions and the DOC doesn't recommend people to hike this outside of the Great Walks Season unless they are very experienced, prepared, and well-equipped.

Is there water on the trail?

During the Great Walks season you'll find clean running water at the huts. Alternatively, there are freshwater sources along the trail each day, including streams and rivers such as the Waiau River, the streams near Brod Bay, and those in the Iris Burn Valley.

Yeah, this is New Zealand but it's still always a good idea to treat or boil water from natural sources before drinking. Read my guide to water bottle filters for hiking.

How Do I Get to the Trailhead?

The start point for the Kepler Track loop is at the control gates near Te Anau. There is a large car park with 50 spaces where you can leave your car or camper for the duration of the hike, free of charge. If you don't have a car, consider hitchhiking, walking from the visitor center in Te Anau, or booking a boat transfer to Brod Bay.

Can I Hike the Kepler Track in Winter?

Yes, but it is only recommended for fit, experienced, and well-equipped hikers. In winter, the track can be icy and covered in snow, requiring alpine and avalanche safety skills. Always check for track closures and safety information on the DOC website.

If you have any up-to-date information for completing the Kepler track in 3 days, help other travelers out by leaving a comment below. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me personally, or leave a comment.

For now, if you're looking for more South Island travel guides and blogs, you'll find them in the list below.

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Veronica

Monday 6th of February 2023

Hi guys, must confess that your itinerary just amazed me! Loved it! Have a question - I booked an Iris hut campsite as the only one during Kepler. Received e-mail with several informations and one of them is the fact, that I should (they wrote "must") check-in in Te Anau Info centre the day before to collect tickets (?) .Did you guys have to do it? Quite afraid, that won't see smile after "freedom camping" plan for one night.. Thanks for inspiration! Veronica

Olly Gaspar

Monday 6th of February 2023

Hey Veronica,

The DOC is pretty chill with freedom camping as long as you aren't breaking any rules. They'll likely just tell you to minimize impact and ensure you take your rubbish with you etc.

Ashleigh Radsyn

Sunday 13th of December 2020

Hi Olly, thanks for the great itinerary! Judt wondering what month you did this in?

Olly Gaspar

Monday 14th of December 2020

Hey Ashleigh,

I hiked the Kepler in February :)