If you’ve lived in New Zealand for any length of time, chances are you’ve ticked off a few
backcountry adventures. After all, about a third of the country’s land mass is protected land,
and at least 10% is national park, so you don’t have to go far to find a wild and scenic patch
of earth to explore.
But once you’ve mastered your backyard routes and you need to step up the challenge,
what’s next? It’s time to get off the beaten track and away from the crowds of the Great
Walks, and one of the most prized routes for adventurous trekkers is Rabbit Pass, located in
a remote area of Mt Aspiring National Park.
Longtime mountain guiding outfit Aspiring Guides, based in Wanaka, knows the route well,
having led capable clients over the pass for more than two decades. A rigorous screening
process during the booking phase ensures that clients have the proper experience, fitness,
and footing to make the journey safely. It’s not a route for trampers new to the backcountry,
but its appeal draws queries from all levels of hikers.
“It's a remote part of Aspiring National Park and you really have the sense of getting away
from the crowds and into true wilderness,” says trekking guide Jessica Marriott. “It’s a
challenging trip, not to mention the scenery is absolutely stunning.”
So it’s basically everything that a keen Kiwi tramper is looking for - but those in the know
realise that “challenging” doesn’t just mean you need endurance.
“The trip involves more than just hiking,” Jessica notes, “It requires route finding, a good
head for heights, river crossing and scrambling skills. People need to be physically fit and
have the knowledge to complete it safely.”
The crux is, of course, the pass itself, which tops out at 1430m. An improbable scramble up
Waterfall Face is a feat in itself. The face is comprised of snowgrass, small footholds and
handholds, and significant exposure to the valley far below. The effort is rewarded with a
unique view of the valley below.
The descent provides a new set of challenges, as you follow a steep rock gully into the next
valley over and enter a new landscape of native herb gardens. While the most technical
aspect of the trip may be behind you, the journey’s physical challenges carry on. Once past
Bledisloe Gorge, the climbing begins again, from open river flats through ancient forest and
up to the alpine with views across to Mt Aspiring herself, before descending again and
winding through the forest back to river flats.
Aspiring Guides take four days to complete the traverse, starting with a flight into Jumboland
and hike to Top Forks Hut. They run a longer trip over eight days which includes Gillespie
Pass first. The eight day option is the ultimate backcountry experience, often referred to as
“New Zealand’s hardest guided hike.” This option has no helicopters, you simply take what
you can carry on your back and start walking!
In this sense, having a guide not only provides an increased level of confidence and comfort,
it also eases the pressure of tricky decision making and logistics. No need to worry about
having a vehicle at each end of the route. Having weather updates and contingency plans is
the guide’s responsibility, as organising great backcountry meals. The guides cannot,
however, keep your boots dry -- wet boots from side streams and river crossings is just part
of the NZ wilderness package.
Guiding rugged tracks is Aspiring Guides’ specialty, appealing to NZ’ers and visitors alike
with three to eight day itineraries that offer authentic backcountry experiences in unique
For Jessica and many guides, the reward isn’t just being in new landscapes each day, but
the satisfaction of taking people into places where they might never have gone without a
guide. For the Kiwi tramper who’s feeling restless on their usual trails and ready to push their
limits, the Southern Alps, with assistance and knowledge from local guides, might be just the
This article first appeared in the October issue of Wilderness Magazine.Back to News