2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge

Thursday 28 November 2013, 2:41PM
By Susan Ibbotson


Of tough men, long skirts and bronze shoes

The Kepler Challenge has been a fixture on the New Zealand racing calendar for 25 years. The inaugural race (planned to be a one-off) was organised to honour a Fiordland outdoor legend.

In 1988, the Te Anau community was looking for a way to commemorate the centenary of the re-discovery of Milford Track by Quintin McKinnon (re-discovery as it is thought that a similar route had previously been used by Maori to gather greenstone from Milford Sound). At a public meeting it was decided that funds be raised and a statue be erected to honour Quintin McKinnon.

McKinnon’s discovery made it possible for people to walk relatively easily and safely through the lofty Fiordland mountains to Milford Sound via the famous Milford Track, later proclaimed to be the “finest walk in the world”. Only a few years after his discovery, McKinnon started guiding people on the Milford Track. A surprising number of men and women completed this trip in those pre-Gore-Tex times of ties, hats and long skirts. Access to Milford by road only became possible in 1953 when the Homer Tunnel was completed.

McKinnon’s venture was the beginning of the tourism activity in this area, today worth millions of dollars, and as somebody’s put it; “until the rediscovery of McKinnon Pass, Te Anau slumbered on the edge of the unknown…” McKinnon himself unfortunately went missing, presumably drowned, on Lake Te Anau in 1892.

Amongst many other fundraising events the (then) Fiordland Athletic Club decided to organise a race on Milford Track, which proved too much of a logistics nightmare. Instead they turned their attention to the Kepler Track, which was being built to relieve the pressure on the two Great Walks in the area; the Milford and the Routeburn Track. The Kepler Challenge name was chosen to express the fact that this was to be a race/challenge for all, not just the professionals and semi-professionals.

The race was run on 17 December 1988 with 149 runners competing. By then the Kepler Track was completed apart from 3km above the Luxmore Hut, which meant part of the course was run through virgin tussock. It was meant to be a one-off fundraiser but the response to it was such that the committee decided to continue to hold it and it has been run every year since then - it is now firmly established as the premier mountain running event in New Zealand. A shorter, gut-busting “sister” race was established later: the Luxmore Grunt is a 27km run up to Luxmore Hut and down again.

The first male and female runner to reach the Luxmore hut, earn a special prize, the title of the “King and Queen of the Mountain”. The veteran runners say that in the men’s field the King of the Mountain never goes on to win the Kepler Challenge…

The race trophy, a bronze running shoe, is a cast of the type of shoe used by Russell Prince, the winner of the first race.

In previous years the field, 450 in the Kepler Challenge, 200 in the Luxmore Grunt, has filled within a week of the entries opening in mid-winter. In 2006 the registrations went online for the first time and now the field fills in just minutes, demonstrating the popularity of the Kepler Challenge in New Zealand and abroad. The first race was also a successful fundraiser and today visitors are greeted by a lakefront statue of Quintin McKinnon, gazing upon his beloved Lake Te Anau. Following in this vein, several people who complete the Challenge in recent years have done so as a means to fundraise for worthy causes.


Current Race Records

Kepler Challenge (60km)
4:37:41 - Phil Costley (2005)
5:23:34 - Zelah Morrall (2003)

Luxmore Grunt (27km)
1:52:30 Phil Costley (2008)
2:04:18 - Shireen Crumpton (1998)



Kepler Challenge

This event has been held annually since 1988, and as in previous years the route follows the 60km Kepler Track, one of the Great Walks in Fiordland National Park. The ASICS Kepler Challenge is the premier mountain run in New Zealand.

An easy 6km warm-up along the lake shore from the Control Gates on Lake Te Anau is followed by a steady 8.2km climb through native beech forest to the bushline and on to Luxmore Hut at 1085m. From the hut the course undulates across the tussock tops, ascending to 1400m and offering spectacular views of the South fiord of the lake and the Fiordland mountains. This is followed by a knee crunching descent to Iris Burn Hut via a series of steps and steep track sections, and then a journey down the Iris Burn Valley to Moturau Hut on Lake Manapouri. From there it is a 6km run to the last checkpoint at Rainbow Reach, and then the home straight undulates gently along the Waiau River from Rainbow Reach back to the Control Gates.

Luxmore Grunt

The Luxmore Grunt; the 27km sister race follows the first section of the Kepler Challenge from the Control Gates to Luxmore Hut and returns down the same route. The field for this event has been increased to 200 runners, in an attempt to cater for the growing popularity of this race.

For more information about the track profile and map please refer to our website:


Names to watch this year:


Vajin Armstrong – winner of the Kepler Challenge for the last three years. Best time 4:55. Estimated time this year 4:49

Tony Fattorini – selected to represent Australia at the world mountain running champs in Poland Sept 2013, 3x 3rd place getter in the Kepler Challenge - withdrawn

Martin Lukes - was second two years in a row and third last year. He wants to go faster this year. This will be Martin’s 12th Challenge.

Grant Guise – 5th in 2011 in the Kepler Challenge, 1st in 2013 in the Canadian Death race.

Brendan Davies – current Australian ultra-runner of the year. -withdrawn

Christiaan Greyling - South Africa, represented South Africa in the 2013 World Ultra Trail Champs in Wales.

Rowan Walker – winner of 2013 Canberra marathon and winner of 2012 Auckland marathon.

Gary Melhuish – 5:25 2012 ASICS Kepler Challenge, set the course record for the 2013 Motatapu Miners race,

Bernard Robinson – 7th in 2012 Coast to Coast, 2nd veteran in 2013 Coast to Coast.

Kami Semick – 1st in the Beijing 100k 2012.

Ruby Muir – won last year in 5:37 after recent knee surgery. She wants to improve on her time this year.

Landie Greyling - South Africa, 9th woman in the 2013 World Ultra Trail Champs in Wales.

Shireen Crumpton – record holder in the Luxmore Grunt.

Jacqueline Gee - 2012 Luxmore Grunt winner.

Malcolm and Sally Law – of 7 in 7 fame.


Stuart Doyle - 2012 winner. Hoping to match or better his time from last year.- withdrawn

Joel Fletcher – 3rd 2012 Luxmore Grunt.

Troy McAllister – U19 elite triathlete, 2013 world triathlon champs, 2nd in the Grunt 2011.

Andy Town – previous winner of the Luxmore Grunt. Set the record in 1994.

Melissa Clarke - 2nd 2012 Luxmore Grunt. She represented Australia last year in World Mountain Running Champs in Italy last year.


Charity Runners

Each year the Kepler Challenge Organising Committee, offers runners the chance of securing their entry at a cost of $1000 each. Fifteen charity spots are offered and these are keenly snapped up every year. The money goes to a worthy, local Te Anau Basin organisation who have applied to the Committee.

This year the Organising Committee deliberated over many deserving causes, before deciding on the Fiordland Community Swimming Pool. The pool committee will use the funds to help with the cost of upgrading the facilities.

Overseas Runners

The event to be held on 7 December on the world famous Kepler Track in Fiordland National Park, is drawing competitors from around the world.

This year 80 people from overseas have entered the 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge race, covering 60km over the mountains between Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, and 13 will compete in the shorter Luxmore Grunt race.

The runners will compete in capacity fields of 450 athletes for the ASICS Kepler Challenge and 200 in the Luxmore Grunt.

These athletes have travelled from all corners of the world: Canada, Chile, England, USA, South Africa, Japan, Netherlands, and of course, our closest neighbours Australia.

Many of our overseas competitors have said in their profiles, that they are looking forward to further challenges in their running. I think they may find that, at the 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge.


To run this successful event each year, the Kepler Challenge Organising Committee calls on the help of over 200 volunteers. The volunteers help with all aspects of the race by registering runners, checking gear, manning drinks stations, race commentary team, record keeping and setting up and clearing the start finish area; just to name a few.

The locals are enthusiastic about this event and continue to turn out in force every year.


The New Zealand Armed Forces have been a vital part of the organisation of this event for 22 years. They set up and man communications which is essential to the safety of the runners and the efficiency of the event. The army also provide sweepers along the track to make sure no one is left behind. Some soldiers even run the track in full uniform.

What makes people come back, year after year to the ASICS Kepler Challenge?

No matter if you’re a spectator, volunteer, supporter or runner, everyone shares in the amazing feeling of achievement at the finish line.

The Kepler Challenge Organising Committee welcomes you to the 2013 ASICS Kepler Challenge.