New Zealand - Mount Aspiring National Park: hike the gillespie pass circuit
Duration: 4 days/3 nights
Distance: 58 km (36 miles)
Elevation gain: 9,000'
Trailhead: Blue Pools Trailhead or Young Valley Access 2.5 km north of Makarora
The Gillespie Pass Circuit was by far my favorite experience in New Zealand, and it has grown to be one of my favorite hikes of all-time. The hike is pretty challenging. The trail is rough and steep, but it is also wildly rewarding with stunning views of mountains, crystal clear streams, an impossibly blue lake, and waterfalls.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP on the gillespie pass Circuit
Are permits required? You do not need permits but if you are going to be spending the night at the huts along the route (Young Hut, Siberia Hut, or Kerin Forks Hut) you will need to buy backcountry hut tickets at a Department of Conservation Office before you head out on the hike. The tickets cost $15/person. However, you cannot use backcountry hut tickets for the Siberia Hut. You must book reservations for the Siberia Hut online ahead of time using this link: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/book-online/?op=departme75&pid=10648. The hut warden at Siberia Hut will ask for a copy of your booking receipt, we showed our email confirmation as proof of payment.
How to get to the trailhead: The Gillespie Pass Circuit has a few different options to start. The first option is to start from the Blue Pools Trailhead, 8 km north of Makarora. From the Blue Pools Trailhead hikers cross the Makarora River using a sturdy bridge before linking back up with the Gillespie Pass Circuit at the start of Young Valley after a few kilometer hike paralleling the river and the road. This is the option we chose.
The second option is to ford the Makarora River about 2.5 km north of the town of Makarora. There is a signpost that designates access to the Young Valley on the left side of the road. You can park there and hike toward the river and find your own crossing. However, this is not a feasible or safe option when it has been raining (as was the case during our visit). The Makarora River is typically pretty docile but a day or two of heavy rains will transform into a raging river.
The third option is to book a jetboat drop off with Wilkins River Jets. This is the easiest option, as it takes just one 10-minute boat ride to take you to the start of the trek and you don’t have to complete a river crossing. However, this option costs $25/person and it doesn’t run every day.
How to get back to the trailhead: If you ford the Makarora or take the jetboat on the way out and way back, this hike is a full loop. However, if you park at the Blue Pools Trailhead this hike doesn’t quite make a full loop. Since we were pressed for time on the final day of the hike (we needed to drive to Aoraki/Mount Cook) we booked ourselves a jetboat to pick us up from Kerin Forks Hut and take us to Makarora for $115/person. Wilkins River Jets actually sent us a helicopter to get us instead! Once we were back in Makarora we were still 8 km from our car. We tried to hitch a ride—and I know hitchhiking is a reliable means of transportation in New Zealand—but no one was picking us up! So I ran the 8 km back to our car.
When to go: During the summer months, January - March are best.
The Crucible Lake day hike from Siberia Hut is a must do. The hike takes approximately 3 hours each direction and has a few stream crossings, so I recommend booking 2 nights at Siberia Hut so you can spend an entire day hiking to and enjoying Crucible Lake.
Heavy rains can make stream crossings along the route dangerous, take extreme caution when attempting this route during inclement weather.
This is an “Advanced Tramping Track” according to the Department of Conservation and is only suitable for: “People with moderate to high level backcountry (remote areas) skills and experience, navigation and survival skills required.”