The world-famous Kepler Track offers stunning views and an opportunity to participate in New Zealand's conservation efforts
Nestled in Fiordland National Park, there lies a place where one can venture through New Zealand’s variety of ecosystems and terrains. Hikers can meander through the sand along the sparkling waters of Lake Te Anau to Brod Bay; wind uphill through limestone bluffs and a dense forest that opens to vibrant views of the national park stretching beyond and trek down through a gorge and lowland beech tree to arrive in wetlands teeming with wildlife, ranging from blue ducks to bats to kiwi.
The Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks located two hours from Queenstown in Te Anau, offers hikers this surreal experience. The circular 60-kilometer track (37 miles) was created in the late 1980s for adventurers lacking a lot of prior hiking experience.
Visitors travel from across the globe to explore New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. Great Walks are spread across New Zealand’s north and south islands, providing hikers a premier range of diverse and spectacular scenery, boasts the Department of Conservation. From active volcanic landscapes on the East coast’s Tongariro Northern Circuit (43 km, 25 miles), to the Luxmore Caves on the Kepler Track, the Great Walks offer treks teeming with landscape and wildlife unique to New Zealand.
“The Kepler Track was chosen because it’s near Te Anau, so it’s sort of a tourism venture, but also because of the variety of scenery and wildlife for people to see,” Kate Hebblewaite, Senior Ranger and Community Supervisor for the Department of Conservation, explained.
Overnight huts are strategically placed throughout the walk. The distance between huts is achievable by the average hiker, taking around five to six hours at a gentle pace.
“It’s not designed to knacker anybody out or make them get to the end of the day and wish they hadn’t started,” Hebblethwaite said. The rangers encourage hikers to do the track in three days, staying at a hut each night.
While beautiful views and fascinating wildlife along the track are abundant, stoats and rats are eating away at native bird species at an alarming rate.
As hikers roam through a sea of ferns, they’ll likely stumble upon wooden boxes, seemingly out of place in the undergrowth. These traps, baited with eggs, are in place to save the bats, kiwis and other native species.
Within the Department of Conservation and the local community, an intensive monitoring of traps and population numbers takes place.
“There has been a noticeable rise [in native species numbers] over the last 10 years,” Hebblewaite noted. “It’s been really significant as a direct result of the pest control operations that are in place.”
Hikers from all over the globe can provide assistance in the conservation of the track. “There are a variety of measures that people can do to help us in conservation,” Hebblewaite said.
Hikers can keep an eye out for rats and stoats while on the track, as observation is paramount to conservation efforts.
“If you see a creepy crawly that really looks quite nasty, let us know,” Hebblewaite stated. “It’s always good to have that information. Come in here if you see a stoat or a rat or a mouse or something, as it means there are thousands in that area.”
If hikers don’t have the time to complete the entire track but want a view of the mountaintops, a day hike to Luxemore Hut provides stunning views.
“You can cheat [to get there faster], you can get a water taxi from the wharf here, over to Brod Bay, which cuts out about eight [kilometers] (4 miles), ” Hebblewaite explained.
A hike up to Luxemore Hut and back takes roughly eight hours. The water taxi goes at half past eight in the morning and is available upon request throughout the day.
Rangers remind visitors that conditions on the track can change quickly. Kepler is designed for the average hiker; however, checking the weather and track conditions is vital, as swift water, heavy fog and avalanches do occur.
Hebblewaite is partial to summer hike conditions, but states, “even during winter, people can go out and do a one-day walk really safely and have a great time, it’s just tailoring what you want to do to the conditions.”