One Photo, One Story: Trekking New Zealand’s Kepler Track

By Michael Lanza

After my friend Jeff Wilhelm and I reached the Luxmore Hut, where we planned to spend the first night of our three-day trek on the Kepler Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, we quickly decided there was no way we were just hanging out there for the rest of the afternoon. The sun was shining—which, in Fiordland, is rare enough that a smart trekker takes advantage of it: This corner of the world receives a mind-boggling volume of rain, up to about 400 inches a year, about 10 times as much rainfall as Seattle gets annually. So instead of resting, Jeff and I went for a hike.

Some 90 minutes of hiking beyond Luxmore Hut sits the 1,472-meter (4,829-foot) summit of Mount Luxmore, reputedly one of the finest views on the Kepler, a track already stunning enough to be included among New Zealand’s nine vaunted Great Walks. We lucked out: The skies stayed clear for our three-hour, round-trip hike from the hut, and I snapped this image of Jeff on the summit of Luxmore, in strong winds, with a sweeping views of jagged peaks stretching for many miles.

Hiking Luxmore that first afternoon turned out to a good call: We hiked that same route past Mount Luxmore the next morning in a driving rain, snow flurries, and limited visibility. But that’s Fiordland for you—a place where the weather is as wild as the land.

I’ll write about our adventure on the Kepler Track for Backpacker magazine, and eventually at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, you can read my stories about past trips I’ve taken in New Zealand and all of my stories about international adventures at The Big Outside.

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6 thoughts on “One Photo, One Story: Trekking New Zealand’s Kepler Track”

  1. Hi Michael,

    We just saw your short piece about your Kepler trek in New Zealand, and thought we’d check in with a few questions. You have helped us in the past with tent recommendations and logistical planning for our family trips on the Laugavegur Route and Teton Crest trips, and are our go-to source for family adventure ideas.

    My husband will be running the Auckland Marathon on November 1st, and we are planning to take the whole family, hoping to plan 12 days of fun on the South Island afterward. Have you taken your family on any of your New Zealand trips? Have you rented a van/camper there? We are looking for something like the Volkswagen Eurovan; small and compact rather than a large camper vehicle.

    We are slightly daunted by the depth of planning, as well as the unpredictability of weather and snow/high country conditions in early November. The Kepler Track is on the top of our list, as is the Routeburn. We are also looking at the Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park, for an alpine experience.

    If you have any insights for us around any of the above, we’d greatly appreciate it. Our kids are ages 10 and 12, and have grown up backpacking and climbing peaks around our Aspen, Colorado home and elsewhere. We’re excited, but not quite finding the type of info we need… more backpacker style, not standard tourist style.

    Many thanks!
    Best, Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca, nice to hear from you again.

      On my first trip to New Zealand, with several other Backpacker editors, we went in November and attempted the Ball Pass Route on the flanks of Mount Cook, but there was too much snow and avalanche hazard to safely go over Ball Pass. November there being the equivalent of May in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s usually still quite a bit of snow in the mountains. I’m not sure whether you’d be able to get to the Mueller Hut, but I recommend you get some advice from the guiding outfit we worked with on that first trip to New Zealand: Alpine Recreation, I recall that we rented a van on that first trip because we had several people.

      The Kepler is beautiful, I can say from experience, and the Routeburn is obviously world-famous. But they’re in Fiordland and Mount Aspiring national parks, where winters are long. Those tracks may still be snowbound in November. The huts are open and you could book them, but there’s a chance that conditions may either force or persuade you to change your plans.

      I have not taken my family to New Zealand yet (and they give me a hard time about it at every opportunity; I’ll have to make amends on that front as soon as I can!). I think I would prefer to take them in late summer or fall, when there aren’t as many people in the parks, snow isn’t a problem in the mountains, and the sand flies have tapered off somewhat.

      Given that you are set on your dates, I suggest you consider some of the lower-elevation tracks and parks, at least as backup options. The northern part of the South Island, as well as the North Island, are warmer than Fiordland and the southern mountains, although November is a wet month. See some ideas at this post:

      Good luck!

  2. Hey Mike-

    Finally getting around to looking at your pics from the Kepler- nice summit photo! Quit teasing us, when are you going to write the full story? We look forward to reading your take on the tramp we all enjoyed in February along with your report on the Dusky. Good to meet you and Kaizie on the Kepler. Hope our paths cross again- we might be passing through Boise enroute to Hood in June.
    Charlie & Kim

    • Hi Charlie and Kim, nice to hear from you and thanks for finding my site. I have to write a story about this trip for Backpacker first, then for my blog. Subscribe (the box upper left) and you’ll see it! Enjoyed meeting you both and let’s try to connect when you come through. I’m away a bit in June so give me a heads up in advance.