One of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” the Kepler is a 60km hike through the Fiordland National Park.
While it is quite long and challenging, dangerous even in bad weather, the trailhead is easy to get to and the views are stunning throughout.
It begins in Te Anau, just a 45-minute walk from the town centre and a 5-minute drive away. It is very popular and huts are set up throughout to provide shelter to trampers along its path. I did this hike twice, once during peak season and the other in the off-season. Accompanying the cold, I discovered the second time around that so much had changed since my first tramp through the Kepler. Here are some differences I noticed from peak to off-season.
Peak-Season to Off-Season
- No gas stoves in the huts – you have to bring your own (adds weight!)
- Fewer people hiking, though also less body heat in the huts (brrr)
- Much colder and more layers are needed, specifically wool leggings and hardcore socks. A down jacket is a must-have!
- Running water in the huts is shut off – brushing of teeth or cleaning is all done outside
- There is no Warden – Wardens are great, they are live-in hut dwellers, they can radio to town for emergencies and they also get weather updates. Without their guidance, you need to plan ahead, check forecasts, and always bring clothing for every type of weather.
The Journey: Peak-Season
The first time I hiked the Kepler was Easter break. I was with three other international students, all from the States. The weather was beautiful and we took two and a half days to complete the hike, sleeping at the Luxmore and Motorua huts. While we didn’t see too many people on the trail, the huts at night were like popular resorts they were so busy.
We played cards and ate udon noodles with sesame seeds, soy sauce and vegetables. I experienced a funny moment when I met 5 other Canadians in the Motorua hut. Most were travellers, but one had moved to New Zealand to become a vet and had no intention of returning home anytime soon.
We ended the trail tired, our legs heavy. My hair felt so dirty – it had tangled into natural dreadlocks and was as coarse as the moss growing on trees around us. We raced in our cars back to Te Anau, where we somehow snuck into the communal bathroom in a hostel and used their showers.
The Journey: Off-Season
I did the hike the second time around with my pal Chanel who had been visiting from Canada. Though it was colder then, we were prepared. We carefully planned our meals to avoid unnecessary weight. Our meal plan consisted of almond milk and cereal for breakfast, veggie sausages, quinoa, carrots and onions for dinner and avocado, turkey and hummus sandwiches for lunch. We did the hike in two days, an exhausting 9.5 hours of hiking each day.
The first day was completely clear. The sun was even out as we walked along the mountainous ridge and down into the forest.
When nightfall came we pulled out our headlamps as well as the rum, for the night was cold and we were losing stamina. We realised it was probably not the best idea as we were stumbling downhill with tiny, dull lights that illuminated only a spec on the trail. Exhausted we got to the Iris Burn hut, cooked a fierce dinner, drank more rum and effortlessly fell asleep. We were up early for another 9-hour day of hiking. The day was mostly flat or slightly downhill and through Fiordland lush forest. At the end of the trail we were numb, probably smelly and slightly delirious, but smiling all the same.