From the Control Gates at the outlet of Lake Te Anau, the Kepler Track skirts the shoreline of Dock Bay, passing through beech trees sporting a colourful array of lichens, mosses and other small plants. Easy travel leads to the campsite and shelter at Brod Bay. The serious climbing begins beyond, through the forest and onto the slopes of Mt Luxmore.
Zigzags help ease the gradient, but it’s still a steady climb, passing limestone bluffs at one point before finally emerging onto the tawny tussock tops. Luxmore Hut is just 30 minutes away, perched on poles with a commanding view over the South Fiord, and the Murchison Mountains. If the weather remains good, it’s worth scrambling up Mt Luxmore (1472m), or visiting the nearby caves (take a torch).
The track then sidles around the side of Mt Luxmore, with a short side-trip to the summit, so you get a second crack at the highest point on the route. Beyond, the ridge narrows before reaching Forest Burn Shelter, one of two shelters on this tops section.
The sense of going deeper into the mountains strengthens as you head west, with the sinuous South Fiord probing into the heart of Fiordland’s central mountains. The track alternates between sidling around knolls, and following the ridge directly, and Hanging Valley Shelter makes a convenient place for a break before the descent into the Iris Burn.
The steepest descent of the track leads down into the Iris Burn, which drains the heart of the Kepler Mountains. Iris Burn Hut occupies a clearing in the beech forest, with a view of Mt Tinsley. A 20-minute walk leads to Iris Burn Falls.
From the hut, the track follows the true left of the Iris Burn down a glacier-carved valley. At one point, there’s a view of a landslide that occurred in 1986, leaving a huge scar known as Big Slip. The track follows the burn all the way to the shores of Lake Manapouri, which it skirts to reach Moturau Hut. The hut has a pleasant outlook over the myriad islands of Lake Manapouri, some shaped like beehives. On a calm day, it’s a place of tranquillity and birdsong.
An enjoyable side-trip from the main track leads to the six-bunk Shallow Bay Hut, one of the park’s older and smaller huts, near the mouth of the Waiau River. This river links Lake Te Anau with Lake Manapouri, and the remainder of the Kepler Track more or less follows its upstream course back to the Control Gates.
On the way, the track passes a sizeable wetland, where a boardwalk and viewing platform offer views of the Jackson Peaks and the extensive stands of forest on the surrounding flats. After crossing the Forest Burn, the track reaches a large footbridge spanning the Waiau. This offers the option of finishing the track at Rainbow Reach. Trampers wanting to complete the whole Kepler circuit continue on for another 2-3 hours on a well-benched, easy section of track that follows the true right of the river.