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ULTIMATE Guide to Hiking the Kepler Track, New Zealand

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Recently I completed one of New Zealand’s Great Walks -the Kepler Track. In this blog, I’ll tell you all about my experience hiking the Kepler Track, New Zealand including tips and info to help prepare if you plan on doing it for yourself!

The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The Great Walks get their name and fame based on how scenic they are and how well maintained they are by the Department of Conservation (DOC). After hiking the Kepler Track for myself, I can easily see why it is included as one of the Great Walks!

The Kepler Track is a 60km (37.3 mi) loop in Fiordland National Park, starting and ending only a 5-minute drive from the town of Te Anau. So, not only is this track beautiful but it’s also easily accessible.

Hiking the Kepler Track was the first of the Great Walks Dan and I embarked on when we lived in New Zealand. Just last week we headed off on what would be a four-day adventure and our first multi-day hike of the season.

This blog is all about our experience on the Kepler Track along with some tips and tricks about when is the best time to do this hike, staying in the huts vs camping, what to know before booking, the cost involved, and how to book.

In addition, we also cover alternatives to hiking the full loop which includes going with a guide to some more easily accessible viewpoints or opting for a day hike on part of the trail. If you plan on hiking the Kepler Track for yourself, then this is your ultimate guide!

Table Of Contents

    General Info About the Kepler Track

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    The only way to get the best views is to go hiking!

    Where does the Kepler Track start?

    The Kepler Track starts 5 minutes outside of the town called Te Anau on New Zealand’s South Island. There is a large parking lot where the trail starts and it is marked on Google Maps.

    Where does the Kepler Track end?

    The Kepler Track is a loop and therefore, it ends at the same parking lot where it began.

    How long is the Kepler Track, New Zealand?

    The entire loop is 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) long. Most people hike the Kepler Track over 4 days, however, it can be done in less time too.

    Where do you stay along the Kepler Track?

    There are Department of Conservation (DOC) operated huts and campsites. These must be booked and paid for in advance.

    How many days does it take to hike the Kepler Track, New Zealand?

    Most people complete the Kepler Track in 3 or 4 days.

    How difficult is the Kepler Track?

    The Kepler Track is a moderately difficult hike. Although the track is well-maintained there are some steep sections as well as a trail on a ridgeline.

    Best Time of the Year to Hike Kepler Track

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    Epic views on the Kepler Track

    Now the stereotypical answer to this question would be to say during the Great Walks season (October to April) which is the most popular time of year to hike the Kepler Track. This is because the Great Walks season is during the summer time so many people do it during this time for the warm weather and most ideal track conditions.

    That being said, many locals find the shoulder season during the fall to be their favorite, the reason being is that the weather is still nice and there is less rain than there is during spring, and of course, it’s not as busy and also cheaper during this time.

    Self-guided Day Hikes on the Kepler Track

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    If you hike the Kepler Track early in the season you might see snow!

    Before getting into the full-length version of the Kepler Track I quickly want to point out the best shorter alternatives. Day hikes on the Kepler can be great if you don’t have the time, gear, or just aren’t into multi-day hiking but still want the chance to see some stunning views!

    Day Hike to the Luxmore Hut

    The best day hike on the Kepler Track to do is up to Luxmore Hut and back down. The Luxmore Hut trail is 13.0 kilometers (8.1 miles) and takes most people around 4 hours to complete. From the Luxmore Hut, the views are amazing, which is why I think that it is the best day hike option on Kepler.

    To make this day hike the most straightforward as possible, I recommend taking the water taxi both ways as it’ll make the hike more doable and easier…plus you get the boat cruise! Simply take the water taxi departs from Te Anau and goes across to Brod Bay where you will begin your hike. This will eliminate the extra time it would take to hike from the parking lot to Brod Bay and then begin to hike to Luxmore. You can book your tickets here online.

    Water taxi departures: 8:30 am, 9:30 am, or 4.30 pm (check the website for the most up-to-date information).

    Of course, you don’t have to take the water taxi, and can instead park at the main parking lot and hike to the Luxmore Hut from there. The water taxi just cuts off a couple of kilometers, which is ideal for those looking for a shorter day hike option.

    I must also warn you that hiking up to the Luxmore Hut isn’t easy by any means. It is pretty much uphill the entire way! With that said, it is a beautiful hike and very rewarding when you reach the top.

    Day Hike from Rainbow Reach to Moturau Hut

    If you want an easier day hike on the Kepler Track, park at the Rainbow Reach parking lot and make your way to the Moturau Hut on Lake Manapouri. This hike is about 6 km (3.7 miles) long return, and pretty much completely flat. You’ll start by crossing a suspension bridge before making your way through beech forest. The trail eventually brings you the stunning Lake Manapouri, where you can continue to Moturau Hut before turning back.

    Although you won’t see those panoramic views that you get from the Luxmore Hut, the walk is still beautiful and Rainbow Reach is actually a Lord of the Rings film location – bonus!

    Guided Day Hikes on the Kepler

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    Guides provide so much info!

    If you prefer to hike a part of the Kepler Track with a guide, there are a couple of great tours that you can choose from! On a tour, your guide will provide tons of info about the area, plus all transport and logistics are sorted out for you.

    Heli-hike to the Luxmore Hut

    This guided Kepler Track Heli Hike is a mix of air and land making it the perfect option for those who are short on time, don’t want to hike the grueling uphill portion, and love scenic views! A helicopter will take you up to the Luxmore Hut, and from there you will hike back down with your guide.

    While a bit pricey, flying over Lake Te Anau and landing at Luxmore Hut is definitely a unique way to start! Once you’ve landed you will hike down the well-maintained scenic trail until reaching the sandy beach where you will take the water taxi back across the lake. You will start in the morning and get back before dinner time, expect the tour to last 8 hours.

    Rainbow Reach and Lake Manapouri Guided Hike

    Kepler Track Boat and Hike – Another great option perfect for Lord of the Rings fans or families with younger children. This tour is also significantly cheaper than the heli hike but I will preface by saying if you truly want the most iconic mountain views on Kepler Track this tour may be a bit underwhelming as you will not hike up to as high of an elevation, so don’t expect panoramic views.

    The pros of this tour are that you will see LOTR filming locations on the boat ride to the peaceful Lake Manapouri and still get to take an easy bush walk on part of the Kepler Track. This option is one of the shortest (around 5 hours) and easiest tours on the Kepler and you get to go across a cool suspension bridge and see the beautiful scenery around each bend.

    Getting to the Start of the Kepler Track

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    It is most common to come from the town of Te Anau which is only a 5-minute drive to the parking lot where to Kepler Track begins. Park at the Kepler Track parking lot just past the visitors center on Golf Course Rd. Since the Kepler Track is a loop you will return back to the lot once completed.

    If you want to cut off a few kilometers your other option is to take the water taxi from Te Anau. This taxi takes people across the lake from town directly to the trail. It is a good option but you’ll need to organize transport back to town after you complete the track (or take the water taxi back too.)

    Staying in Huts vs Camping on the Kepler Track

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    The kitchen area in the Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track.

    We recommend staying inside the huts as it will make for the most enjoyable and comfortable experience possible while on the Kepler Track. There are also designated campsites at almost all of the huts except one (more on this later). To make sure you can stay in each of the huts or campgrounds as you go you will need to reserve your spot by booking well in advance.

    The three recommended huts on this hike are the Luxmore Hut, Iris Burn Hut, and Moturau Hut. If Moturau Hut is fully booked Shallow Bay Hut is a more unknown option you can swap it out for that is a few kilometers past it.

    The one hut that is a bit tricky is the Luxmore Hut (the first one). There is no option to camp here and it costs $68 NZD for a night ($102 NZD for international visitors) not to mention that it books up FAST. However, there is a way around it if you must.

    Freedom camping is highly discouraged on the Great Walks, in an effort to preserve the areas. With that said, you are (technically) allowed to camp for free without a booking as long as you are over 500 meters from any trail. With that said, given the rough landscapes, it would be very difficult to find somewhere to set up your tent in most areas. If possible, just book the campsites!

    How to Book the Kepler Track

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    If you want to stay in huts on the Kepler Track you need to book your bed well in advance!

    After choosing your dates there are a couple of important things you will need to know in order to book the Kepler Track.

    Firstly, the time of year will determine if you are required to make a booking or not. During the Great Walks season, which typically runs from the end of October to the end of April, you are required to reserve in advance which you can do here from the DOC’s website. If you haven’t got one already, you will need to make a booking account and use their online booking system.

    Secondly, spots fill up fast so ideally, you will want to book as soon as the new season is released which is always during the first week of May. Each Great Walk has a different release date, it may vary slightly but you can search for them here in the media release section.

    Note: In the off-season huts and campsites are first come first serve but you will need to keep in mind that the offered facilities will be reduced (no running water, gas, etc.).

    How Much Does it Cost to Hike the Kepler Track?

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    You will most definitely see a couple of Keas if you spend the night in the Luxmore Hut.

    The Kepler Track is technically free to hike. Like all national parks in New Zealand, Fiordland National Park is completely free to visit. With that said, if you want to spend the night at designated campsites and huts you’ll need to pay nightly fees.

    The price per night is dependent on the season, during summer which is the Great Walks season (end of Oct – end of April) you will obviously pay the most while during the shoulder season you will pay a cheaper rate. New Zealand residents will also pay less than international visitors and there are also different prices for adults vs children.

    You can see the exact price and details for each of the huts and campgrounds by clicking on each of them below:

    What to Pack to Hike the Kepler Track

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    Be sure to bring food and cooking equipment!

    Clothing

    • rainproof jacket
    • rainproof pants or fast-drying pants
    • thermal leggings
    • a couple of pairs of socks
    • clothing for warm weather
    • clothing for cold weather
    • and light-weight clothing
    • sturdy hiking boots
    • comfy shoes/sandals for around camp and the huts
    • a good hat

    Other

    • high-quality hiking backpack (50-60L)
    • backpack cover (to keep your stuff dry in rain)!
    • sunscreen
    • bug spray/repellent
    • personal toiletries-personal medication
    • sunglasses (polarized is best for on the water)
    • garbage bags
    • waterproof Ziploc bags
    • food for the entire trip. Consider easy hiking meals, lots of  snacks like nuts and candy, high protein and high carb meals
    • cooking equipment including pots, utensils, bowls, etc. Huts have gas cookers during the Great Walks season, so a cooker would not be required.
    • waterbottle
    • water purification tablets or water bottles with a filter
    • headlamp
    • first aid kit
    • hiking poles
    • Sleeping bag – even if you’re staying in huts you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag!

    Camping gear (if you’re camping):

    • A tent
    • sleeping mats
    • gas cooker
    • gas bottle
    • camping pots and pans

    The Ideal Kepler Track Itinerary

    There are a few different ways to go about hiking the incredible Kepler Track. We ended up taking the most popular and recommended way to see it all which is on the full loop hike over the course of 3 nights and 4 days. But it can also be done in the opposite direction or completed even faster in just 3 days.

    Below we will be giving you our rundown of the standard way to hike Kepler Track and what each of our days and nights looked like so if you are thinking about doing it for yourself and just want to know what to expect, keep reading!

    Day 1: Parking lot to the Luxmore Hut

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    The first part of the trail is flat and the forest is beautiful!

    Knowing that the first day was only about 6 hours of hiking, we didn’t start until almost 11 am. We had a hearty breakfast before checking in at the DOC office in Te Anau. The clerk gave us our “tickets” for the huts and campsites we had booked along the way and reminded us to bring insect repellent and a lighter.

    We were excited and nervous about our first multi-day hike of the season. We didn’t know what kind of views to expect or the condition of the huts and campsites. But what we did know is that it had been raining, a lot lately, and we were worried that every day we would end up being poured on!

    Related Read: There are so many different road trips you can take in New Zealand but the road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is one of the best!

    Parking lot to Broad Bay

    We started walking in the rain. The first section of the trail goes from the parking lot to the Broad Bay campsite/boat deck. This section is flat with a wide and easily walked trail. It is about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) in length.

    If you wanted to cut off that portion of the trail there is a water taxi service from the lakefront in Te Anau straight to the Broad Bay campsite.

    For us, we started at the parking lot and walked this flat section to Broad Bay very quickly. We thought to ourselves “if this is how the rest of the hike is then it will be so easy!” But, just as soon as those thoughts crossed our minds, the trail headed upwards.

    Broad Bay to Luxmore Hut

    This next section of the trail is, to be frank, long and steep and boring. Climbing through the same forest as before as you tackle switchbacks up for 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) straight – it is tiring and grueling!

    However, once you pass the treeline you are able to see some incredible views. From this point, it is only another 40 minutes or so of hiking along the ridgeline before you reach the Luxmore Hut (one of the most luxurious huts in all of New Zealand!)

    Just as I started to think “where is this hut already”, I turned a corner and there she stood right in front of me!

    It took Dan and me 4.5 hours in total to hike from the parking lot to the Luxmore Hut. We were going at a steady pace but stopped frequently for short periods of time for snacks and photos.

    Night 1 – The Luxmore Hut

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    We found this amazing view only 10 minutes from the hut!

    The Luxmore Hut is really luxurious considering it is a hut in the mountains. It has two bunk rooms, flush toilets, a massive kitchen, and views that you have to see to believe. It is comfortable and well-maintained. I was thoroughly impressed!

    We arrived around 3:30 pm and had time to relax, get our beds set up, and enjoy the view before we went on the short 10-minute walk to the Luxmore Caves. To me, the caves weren’t spectacular but definitely worth the 10-minute walk it took to check them out.

    After the caves, Dan and I made dinner (we often eat pasta on our hiking trips) and then headed out exploring for sunset. Luckily for us, the sunset was incredible, and exploring around the Luxmore Hut was easy. The bare ground makes going off the track very easy and the views are incredible!

    Booking the Luxmore Hut: You must book the Luxmore Hut online in advance to stay there. However, the Kepler Track is often fully booked. Plan in advance especially if you want to hike the Kepler Track in the summer months!

    Day 2 – Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut

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    View from the Kepler Track of Lake Te Anau.

    Not knowing what to expect for the day, we headed off around 9 am. The weather was ideal for us, with blue skies and only a bit of wind.

    Walking along the ridgeline

    Within only minutes of starting on the trail after leaving the Luxmore Hut, we realized how lucky we were to have good weather on this particular day. The trail was all above the treeline with views of Lake Te Anau and the surrounding mountains. The clear blue sky let us see mountains for miles. Needless to say, this portion of the hike took way longer than necessary as we were stopping what felt like every 5 minutes to take photos. Every view seemed better than the next!

    Water is limited along this portion of the track so be sure to fill your bottle at the Luxmore Hut before you depart and bring plenty. It is a difficult trail exposed to elements with several steep climbs. A hat and sunscreen will also come in handy on sunny days and windproof/rainproof clothing during not-so-ideal weather.

    There is a side trip to the summit of Mount Luxmore. It is only meant to be 10 minutes each way but I reckon it takes longer. Dan and I took this side trip just to be able to say we actually summited Mount Luxmore, but to be honest, the views from atop are no better than those from the trail. It is steep and rocky and I’m honestly not sure it’s worth the climb.

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    Walking the ridgeline.

    Downhill section to Iris Burn Hut

    After you finish climbing along the ridgeline there is a steep descent down to the Iris Burn Hut. While this part is all downhill, it is long and boring. After having seen so many incredible views along the ridgeline, the hike through the forest seemed underwhelming.

    At this point for me, my feet were sore and so was my back from carrying my bag. I was just ready to get to the hut and this section just seemed to go forever!

    After about 6.5 hours of hiking with tons of stops, we made it to Iris Burn Hut and Campsite. While Day 2 was definitely the most scenic, it was also the most challenging – but definitely worth it!

    Night 2 – Iris Burn Hut/Campsite

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    All ready for a horrible night’s sleep

    Pretty much everybody who hikes the Kepler Track stays at the Iris Burn Hut or Campsite. It is located in the perfect resting spot for people walking in both directions and since there is also a campsite here, it is great for budget travelers.

    Dan and I try to save a few dollars whenever we can so we opted to camp instead of staying in the hut. Reflecting back on this, I’m not sure we made the right decision as we stayed in huts the other two nights and had to carry our tent, camping mats, and cooking equipment the entire way for only one night.

    Also, the sandflies at Iris Burn were a problem. They were everywhere and fierce. At least by staying in the hut, you would be able to escape them, when camping, you just had to take their itchy bites and deal with them.

    For locals, the price difference between staying in the hut and camping is just over $45 NZD per person, but for international tourists, the price difference is about $70 per person.

    At the campsite, we did have a water tank for drinking and cooking, as well as a shelter for cooking, picnic tables, and drop toilets. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but it did the trick!

    Day 3 – Iris Burn to Moturau Hut

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    The Moturau Hut is one of the nicest huts in New Zealand, plus it’s super easy to access!

    On day 3 we woke up late, and by late, I mean very late! Dan and I had a terrible sleep thanks to an allergic reaction I had to our bug repellent.

    After I went to bed the night before, I woke up only 30 minutes after with my eyes swollen shut, my lips puffed up, and my nose runny! Luckily, we had allergy medicine and that helped calm my reaction down enough eventually that I was able to sleep.

    Besides the allergic reaction, it was surprisingly cold that night which made it hard to sleep. We hiked the track at the beginning of November which is still spring in New Zealand, so cold weather is to be expected at times. We, however, didn’t have the right sleeping bags and froze!

    Once the sun came up and warmed our tent we slept like babies! Daniel randomly awoke at 9:30 am to an empty campsite and quickly woke me up. I assured him it was a short walk today and we would be fine. We packed up and ate breakfast and were on the trail by 10:30 am.

    The Trail on Day 3

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    Just hanging with the locals!

    The trail on day 3 was easy. It was about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of mostly flat ground through the forest. We stopped to have a cooked lunch this day and really took our time. Even with taking it slow, the whole trail only took about 4.5 hours.

    The trail passed over some rivers and through a couple of valleys. To be honest, there weren’t any noteworthy viewpoints – that was until we reached Moturau Hut.

    Night 3 – Moturau Hut

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    I wish we could relive this sunset!

    Moturau Hut was much smaller than the Luxmore Hut, but it was also very luxurious. We had flush toilets but they were in an area that could only be reached by going outdoors. There was a huge bunk room upstairs as well as two smaller ones downstairs. The kitchen was smaller than Luxmore Hut but was suited to the number of people.

    The views here weren’t as great as Luxmore but were very different and spectacular in their own way! Instead of mountain peaks, we had a beautiful lake to stare out at.

    The grassy outside was perfect for relaxing and the sandy beach as sunset put on a spectacular show over the lake. The ranger at the hut even did a presentation for us all about the area and its history.

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    The hut warden gave us all a speech about the nature and history of the area. It was super entertaining!

    Moturau Hut didn’t have the crazy mountain views like Luxmore Hut did but it was relaxed and beautiful in its own way. It was a great place to spend the final night of the hike and feel accomplished that we almost made it to the end!

    Related Read: If you’re a hiking junkie and visiting Queenstown you’ll want to read about the several must do day hikes in Queenstown!

    Day 4 – Moturau Hut to Rainbow Reach or the parking lot

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    At the finish line!

    Originally, we planned on walking the entire way to the parking lot where we started, but when we heard of the option of taking a shuttle from an area called Rainbow Reach, we couldn’t resist.

    The ranger at Moturau Hut explained to us that Rainbow Reach is 9 km (5.9 mi) closer than the parking lot and a shuttle costs $15 NZD per person. He also explained that there wasn’t anything particularly interesting to see on the last 9km, which was enough to convince us to take the shortcut. Dan and I had to drive back to Queenstown that same day so taking a shorter route seemed like a great option!

    We started hiking from Moturau Hut at 7:30 am. We knew there was a shuttle at 10 am and we wanted to ensure we made it with ample time. Not to mention, we wanted to take time to explore and take photos as well!

    The highlights of this day are Shallow Bay Beach and a wetland you walk through. At Shallow Bay Beach we could see Mount Luxmore in the distance and be able to reflect on just how far we had come.

    It was another day of flat walking, and by cutting off the last 9 km (5.9 mi), it was very easy and manageable.

    At 10 am, Dan caught the shuttle to the main parking lot and drove the van back to pick me up and two other friends we made along the hike. We did it this way so that we only paid $15 between all four of us! Rainbow Reach and the main parking lot are only a 5-minute drive apart from one another.

    And that was it, we made it to the end!

    Where to Stay in Te Anau (before and after the Kepler)

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    Photo Credit: Fiordland Lakeview Motel

    There are quite a lot of different places to stay including really nice caravan parks with rooms available at great prices. We stayed at the Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and it was great! But there are lots of other options too!

    Some great options for where to stay in Te Anau are:

    Located right in the town center this is the perfect choice for the budget traveler. They offer dorm beds as well as private rooms and have communal kitchen facilities and common spaces available. This a great social hostel – perfect for meeting other travelers.

    Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park (mid-range budget)

    This holiday park is where we stayed as it had budget private rooms as well as powered campsites (perfect for Daniel’s parents who were with us and had rented a campervan,) It is located just outside of town but in a very beautiful and peaceful area. There are tons of communal facilities and the park is kept very clean.

    Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments (high budget)

    If you want a beautiful, comfortable, and somewhat luxurious place to stay then this is it! Right on the edge of the lake, this motel offers apartments that suit couples or families. Every room has a balcony, WiFi, air conditioning, a kitchen, and there are BBQ facilities onsite!

    Kepler Track Review

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    The Luxmore Hut on the Kepler Track, New Zealand

    Hiking the Kepler Track was rewarding and beautiful and I would highly recommend it to anyone. After completing a few of the other Great Walks around New Zealand, I have to say that the Kepler Track was my favorite!

    The views along the trail are some of the best in all of New Zealand and the track itself is challenging without being too difficult.

    In fact, if you don’t have time to hike the entire Kepler Track, consider hiking up to the Luxmore Hut and back down on a day hike. This portion of the trail is incredible and I highly rate it.

    To me, hiking the Kepler Track is easily one of the very best things to do in all of New Zealand!

    Thanks for reading!

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    Dan and I on the Kepler Track, New Zealand.

    I hope our blog has helped you know what to expect from hiking the Kepler Track in New Zealand. It truly is an amazing trail and worth the effort!

    We are very passionate about New Zealand, and have written about a ton of experiences! Check out all of our New Zealand blogs, or even some specific nearby attractions like Milford Sound, the West Coast, or Mount Cook!

    Would you go hiking the Kepler Track? Does it sound like a hike you would tackle? Let us know in the comments!