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The High Life: Kepler Track, New Zealand

Score iconic Kiwi scenery without lining up.
NOV12HUT_Wall_Kepler_445x260Kepler Track, New Zealand (David Wall)

Be thankful for the crowds along the world-famous Milford and Routeburn Tracks. The more trekkers flock to them, the better your chances for solitude on this lesser-known neighbor. The 37.3-mile, four-day Great Walk Loop in Fiordland National Park shares the stunning scenery of Milford and Routeburn: surreal forests of twisted beech trees, where crown ferns carpet the ground and moss dangles hair-like from every limb; tussock ridgetops with views of steep mountains; and sprawling lakes. But since it doesn’t share the crushing demand of the other two hut systems, your chances of snagging a peak-season (October 1 to April 30) reservation are much better. 

A 2,900-foot, 8.6-mile ascent to the 54-bunk Luxmore Hut (BYO food, sleeping bag, and eating gear; gas cookers provided) on day one rewards you with a deck panorama of Lake Te Anau and killer sunrises and sunsets over the mountains. Make the 10-minute side hike from the hut to the closest of approximately 30 Luxmore Caves, filled with stalactites and stalagmites; you can venture into them for about 100 feet. Check the forecast posted early by the hut warden on the morning of day two; target the best weather window (early or late) for the nine-mile alpine crossing to Iris Burn Hut, both to maximize the scenic payoff and because the route is completely exposed to wind and storms. From Luxmore Saddle, make the 200-foot detour up 4,829-foot Mt. Luxmore for the trek’s best viewpoint of the lakes and peaks stretching for miles. Highlight: Beyond Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter on day two, you’ll walk a spectacular 1.2-mile, knife-edge ridge dividing Lake Te Anau from the Iris Burn river valley. 
 

Season Mid-February through March for the best combination of solitude and mild weather

Map/guide Parkmap 335-09 Kepler Track ($20 NZ; spotnshop.spotakiwi.co.nz); Lonely Planet Tramping in New Zealand ($22; lonelyplanet.com)

Get there Begin and end at the control gates at the south end of Lake Te Anau.  

Cost/info $54 NZ/person/night (under 18 free); reserve a few months in advance for December and January (other times, space is often available two weeks in advance); Great Walk Pass required; doc.govt.nz

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