The Gillespie Pass and Rabbit Pass alpine traverse is widely regarded as New Zealand's hardest guided trek. Following the main divide of the South Island this route is surrounded unspoilt forests, alpine meadows, huge waterfalls, alpine lakes and views of the highest peaks, including Mount Aspiring. Even though this trek is challenging, there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. No heavy packs needed, accommodation is a combination of beautiful mountain huts and our private campsites.
This route 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 unavioidable side streams and rivers to cross and steep rocky hillsides to scramble up and down.
Extending from Makarora Township to the confluence of the East and West Matukiuki Valley, the Gillespie/ Rabbit Pass route is the longest guided trek in New Zealand.
The impression given of the level of difficulty was very accurate. It was just right for me - sometimes demanding but not exhausting. The precautions on the potentially dangerous areas were absolutely great - I never felt at risk. George was very hands-off at other times but we were experienced walkers, so I think he judged it pretty well. I'd highly recommended this Wild Walk to anyone who's after a spectacular walk and fit enough to do it. The best tramp in NZ? Would do it again in a heartbeat. Superbly organised with the food and gear stashes.
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 utlised exploring the alpine scenery of the Upper Wilkin area. Overnight gear and a delicious menu is provided at our private camps so all you carry is a light pack. You only carry your own personal items, lunch & snacks each day and a sleeping bag & mat for the first 3 days.
Pack 35-45 litre Weight 6-9kg
C = Confirmed Departure
* = Rabbit Pass section of trip subject to conditions - in mid Dec there is still a chance there may be snow on the pass, in April chance of snow or ice
No problem. We only need 2 people to confirm a trip, so if you're already a group of 2 or more, let us know your preferred dates and we'll see what we can do.
To enjoy your Gillespie/Rabbit Pass trek you need 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 an 6-9Kg pack. Hikers should be able to maintain a slow but steady pace for long periods of time. You will only be carrying your own gear plus sleeping bag (no tent or food and no sleeping bag after day 3).
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 experieince 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. 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.
This is a remote backcountry trip so you need some experieince 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 that 10km can be more tiring that days we travel considerably more distance.
We pick you up at your accommodation and depart for the Young Valley. 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.
7 hrs 650m ascent
The track winds its way up the valley sidewall under the awesome East face of Mnt. Awful. This is really an Alpine Paradise. The climbing ends at Gillespie Pass and one of the great view points of the Southern Alps.
6hrs 550m ascent 550m descent
It is all down hill today. The track meanders through the beautiful Siberia Valley and then plunges steeply to the Wilkin River where your mountain hut awaits. Here we get resupplied by jet boat so fresh vegetables are back on the menu! From here on sleeping bags are supplied at the campsites so we no longer need to carry sleeping bags and pads.
5 hrs 650m descent
Following the Wilkin River the track gradually rises until reaching the 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
We leave our packs behind for a day trip to Lake Castalia. 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.
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 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. Pickelhaub Camp 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
Waking to 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
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 farm land just before we meet our waiting transport back to civilization and a hot shower.
5 hrs 500m descent
This video provides practical demonstration of the common equipment and clothing required for hiking in New Zealand.
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