An increasingly popular track an hour north of Wanaka, the Gillespie Pass is normally a 3-4 day walk, but thanks to a ridiculously long day two (10 hours of walking, up 1,500m and down 1,600m) plus a cheeky helicopter ride I managed most of it in basically two days, including side trip to the stunning Lake Crucible (teaser second photo below, will cover in a separate post).
Day one started with a beautiful rainbow over Lake Wanaka before we drove up toward Haast.
We reached the small community of Makarora, where unfortunately the weather turned as forecast for the worse. It made for a particularly bracing ten minute jet boat ride up the Makarora River to the mouth of the Young River, saving a 7km walk from Blue Pools, a bargain at $25.
Had a very wet and rather cold morning, mainly wandering through bush, which at least provided some shelter from the elements. Out in the open of the valley was wetter but actually more enjoyable, filled with atmosphere and waterfalls.
The bridge over the Young was very welcome, if unusually high off the ground on one bank.
It was followed by a very steep section with endless tree roots to clamour up, which at least offered increasingly good views of the canyon.
At one point the there had clearly been a slip, with only a couple of precarious footholds left in the bank between safe passage and sliding down into the ravine below.
Another great DOC bridge beckoned, over some impressive rapids.
It was great to finally get out of the bush and enjoy the sunshine and views down the valley.
Young Hut is a relatively new (2006) and practical 20 bunk hut, though as the afternoon and evening went on more and more people turned up. We eventually topped out at more than 30 people, thankfully some had brought tents.
At 6pm it was like the lights had been switched off, though there were no lights in the hut, as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. This would be a very dark place in winter.
Final piece of excitement for the day was one guy’s seemingly broken gas stove which spectacularly caught fire and kept burning. He knocked it off the worktop to the floor, I kicked it toward the back door, and some quick witted person put a saucepan over it which finally extinguished the fire. Makes you realise the risk, being in a wooden hut in the middle of nowhere…
The morning start felt steep on the legs, walking over some cool tree roots while continuing up the valley as the sun started to filter in.
As the sun started to peak over the mountains I started the steepest part of the track, up toward the Gillespie Pass.
Taking photos of the increasingly good views provided a good excuse to rest my legs.
The effort to get to the 1,600m pass was worth it for the 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, along with some snow in summer.
The snow was more like ice though on the descent, though I was glad to be coming down this way rather than going up as the Young Valley side (the one I walked up) is far steeper.
Finally reached the tree line, and soon after the rather lovely Gillespie Stream.
The Siberia Valley was absolutely gorgeous and a delight to wander along to the Siberia Hut (far more inviting than it’s name suggests), if something of a dash to get a bunk. If I had arrived 15 minutes later I would have missed out, this is a popular spot.
The original plan was to head out to Top Forks Hut (a side trip from the normal circuit) for a night and see more lakes, but we decided to cut this trip short based on the weather forecast so we could guarantee getting out ok.
Getting out ok we certainly did when we found out that a helicopter out of Siberia Hut back to Makaroa was only $85, compared with a jet boat ride out from Kerin Forks Hut (2-3 hours walk away) for $110 (with the same company).
So a great trip ended with an exhilarating ten minute helicopter ride up by the 2,150m Mt Turner and down Tiel Valley, with a stomach turning manoeuvre to get a better look at animals high up on the hillside, before landing back in Makaroa for our next adventure.
9 thoughts on “Gillespie Pass Circuit”
What company did you book the jet boat ride with?
Wilkin River Jets