Walking along Young River in Young Valley

Gillespie Rabbit Alpine Traverse

Trek Summer
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from $3600NZ
8 days
Trekking experience
Backcountry Experience

The Gillespie Pass Circuit and Rabbit Pass alpine traverse are widely regarded as New Zealand's hardest guided tramping tracks.

The Gillespie Rabbit Alpine Traverse crosses Rabbit Pass and follows Gillespie Pass Circuit through Mt Aspiring National Park. Following the main divide of the South Island, this guided tramping tour is surrounded by unspoilt forests, alpine meadows, huge waterfalls, and alpine lakes. Even though this guided trek is challenging, there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the breath-taking alpine scenery. Accommodation is a combination of beautiful mountain huts and our private campsites.

This route traversing through both Gillespie Pass and Rabbit Pass in an alpine environment requires good fitness, balance, coordination, and a good head for heights. Some of this route is off any prepared track so there are numerous unbridged and unavoidable side streams. This trek involves river crossings and steep rocky hillsides to scramble up and down.

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Day One

Aspiring Guides preparation & safety meeting, NZ

We pick you up at your accommodation and depart for the Young Valley (close to Makarora River) to begin the guided Gillespie Rabbit Pass Alpine Traverse tour. If the rivers are high, then jet boat access to the start of the track is provided. The Young Valley is a wonderland of dense native forest and high peaks. The trail steepens and climbs steadily to tree line before reaching Young Hut.

7 hrs 650m ascent

Day Two

River crossing on Gillespie Rabbit Pass Alpine Traverse

The Gillespie Rabbit Pass Alpine Traverse winds its way up the valley sidewall under the awesome East Face of Mount Awful. This is really an alpine paradise with hanging snowfields and waterfalls galore. The Gillespie Circuit Track passes through open meadows that after 3 to 4 hours leads to the Gillespie Pass. The steep track winds up and up (and up) ending at Gillespie Pass and one of the great viewpoints of the Southern Alps. It’s pretty impressive with Mount Alba and Mount Awful dominating the skyline. Two hours downhill and you'll reach the Gillespie stream, before heading further down to the Siberia Valley and along the flats to stay at Siberia Hut (or camp if the hut is full).

6-8hrs 870m ascent 985m descent

Day Three

Hiking in NZ Alpine Valley, Gillespie Pass

The track meanders through the beautiful Siberia Valley and then plunges steeply to the Wilkin River, which is then crossed to access Kerin Forks hut. Here we get a nice short day to recharge and take in the scenery, perhaps a quick swim in the river and comfy night in the hut.

2-3 hrs 300m descent

Day Four

Gillespie Rabbit Pass Alpine Traverse river crossing

Following the Wilkin River along the Wilkin Valley Track, the track gradually rises, until reaching Top Forks. This area is one of New Zealand’s treasures with outstanding native bush and hanging glaciers. The track alternates between forest and open river flats. Top Forks Hut has a wood burning stove and views that are hard to believe.

7 hrs 300m ascent

Day Five

Couple by Lake Castalia, Mount Aspiring National Park, NZ

We leave our packs behind for a day trip to Lake Castalia along the Wilkin River North Branch (towards Newland Pass). The track is rugged with plenty of stream crossings and boulder scrambling. Some may prefer a shorter day or just a rest day to swim and admire the world class views.

7 hrs 500m ascent 500m descent or a rest day

Note: if the weather forecast is good, your guide may decide it is of benefit to head over Rabbit Pass early on this day rather than wait for the next. In this case you may spend an extra day at Pickelhaub or Aspiring Discovery Camp, or you may head out of the Aspiring National Park a day early. The last day would then be a day walk from Wanaka.

Day Six

Scrambling up waterfall face, Rabbit Pass, NZ

An early start gets us up to Waterfall Flat. It is not hard to imagine where it gets its name with torrents of water pouring of the surrounding Southern Alps cliffs. The improbable scramble up the Waterfall Face leads to Rabbit Pass. We clip you into a fixed hand line for 60 meters to give you confidence on the trickiest part of the route. A long descent through native herb gardens is a magical end to an exhilarating day. The evening ends at Pickelhaub Camp, which is an expedition type setup with a cook tent, table and chairs with smaller four person tents to sleep in.

9-11 hrs 900m ascent 650 descent

Day Seven

Couple relaxing at Aspiring Guides Camp, NZ

Waking to the sound of icefalls crashing off the towering Pickelhaube mountain, we have a leisurely breakfast before heading down the upper East Matukituki Valley. Even with no track the going is easy through this isolated scenic valley, though expect many unbridged river crossings that make this route impassable during and immediately after heavy rain. Once we come to the magnificent Bledisloe Gorge the climbing begins again. From open river flats, through ancient forest and up to the alpine. This is a big climb, and many find this more challenging physically than the technical crossing of Rabbit Pass the day before. We camp at our incomparable Aspiring Camp with the same comfortable set up as the night before.

7-8 hrs 100m descent 400 ascent

Day Eight

Man lying by river “Send Help” written in sand

It is the last day of the trek, and we all know what that means, that’s right: pancakes, whipped cream and blueberry jam. The trail down to the valley floor winds through tall beech forest with Mt. Aspiring dominating the view. Excitement comes in the form of 2 three wire bridges to cross the East Matukituki and Kitchner Stream. Gradually the track opens out into farmland just before we meet our waiting transport back to civilization and a hot shower.

5 hrs 500m descent

NB: Please note that this itinerary is a sample only and the actual itinerary may vary at the discretion of your guide. Weather, conditions and personal ability and needs may make changes necessary or advantageous to the participants.

The Gillespie Rabbit Pass Traverse is located in New Zealand's Mount Aspiring National Park, part of the Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

This eight-day traverse links three of the region's major river valleys, crossing two alpine passes. This area is spectacular, surrounded by high glacier covered peaks, waterfalls, and lakes. This is home to many other rare and endangered species including the Kea, the World's only alpine parrot.

Our professional guide will ensure your safety as we explore this remote and seldom visited area. The crossing of Rabbit Pass is a challenging alpine crossing requiring good conditions to safely ascend and descend steep and exposed terrain. Prolonged periods of bad weather may prevent the crossing in which case the time is utilised exploring the alpine scenery of the Upper Wilkin area. Overnight gear and a delicious menu are provided at our private camps so all you carry is a light pack.

Pack 45-55 litre Weight 10-12kg

To enjoy your Gillespie Rabbit Pass Alpine Traverse you will need to have excellent fitness and some prior specific training may be required.

This means being used to hike for 6-8 hours a day on multiple consecutive days, ascending and descending up to 1000 vertical meters in a day whilst carrying a 10-12kg pack. Hikers should be able to maintain a slow but steady pace for long periods of time.

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For the majority of the Rabbit Pass route, there is no formed track so the footing can be unstable and hikers need to be good on their feet and be comfortable on rough or slippery ground (you will not encounter deep mud).

Recent experience on rough 'off-track' terrain including steep hills, scree and boulders is recommended.

During the crossing of Rabbit Pass there are sections with significant exposure to falling so you must have good balance and not be afraid of heights whilst using small footholds, handholds and ledges to ascend the pass. On two sections of the crossing, a rope and harnesses are used for safety. Experience scrambling, rock climbing or abseiling is not required but useful.

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The Gillespie Rabbit Pass Alpine Traverse is a remote backcountry trip, so you need some experience of multi-day trekking, camping and be comfortable in a range of weather conditions.

Track times and distances in New Zealand can be deceiving. The tracks in NZ are quite slow progress compared to other countries. The nature of the terrain means that you seldom get long stretches of fast travel. There are unbridged rivers and streams to cross, steep ascents and descents, loose scree, or exposed drops. Do not be deceived into thinking that days with short mileage will be easy, days that we travel less than 10km can be more tiring than days we travel considerably more distance.

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Frequently asked questions

All our treks are physically demanding though our small group size means that you can go at your own pace. The fitter you are, the more you will achieve, and the more you will be able to enjoy the experience. Some experience walking on rough terrain is also the key, the better you are at this, the more efficiently you can travel, and the less energy you will expend.

All treks will have some degree of up and downhill, but on those that cross alpine passes (such as guided tours in Gillespie and Rabbit Pass), you can expect steep sections of around 500m vertically up and down. The advantage of these trips is that, due to the stocked camps, your pack weight will be light. On our more remote treks without serviced huts or campsites you will be carrying food and overnight equipment, so specific training with heavier loads (around 15 Kg) will help.

Most of our mountaineering ascents are conducted on a 1:1 basis, so no problem there.

For all other group climbing, skiing or trekking trips, we have a 2 person minimum number to operate a trip. If you are travelling on your own, try to organise your itinerary to match up with the dates scheduled for the course or trip listed on our website.

If you can't join a trip on our scheduled dates: then you have two options:

1. Book a private 1:1 trip for any dates you wish or we can book you as a single and we will try to match others to your dates.

2. If we cannot find at least one other person for the dates you want, one month before the start date we will give you a full refund or offer you an alternative trip 1:1 for a fewer number of days.

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Everything went like clockwork. Adam was non-judgemental & happy to share his knowledge so that my skills improved....read more

Colin, New Zealand, Gillespie Rabbit Alpine Traverse

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