If you are not afraid of exposure and have experience hiking steep and difficult trails, this is without a doubt New Zealand's most challenging guided trek. Once the grassy flats of the Wilkin valley are left behind there are no more huts or crowds. You will not find a better way to experience the stunning alpine scenery of New Zealand, surrounded by unspoilt forests, alpine meadows, huge waterfalls, alpine lakes. Private campsites provide a “real New Zealand” backcountry hiking adventure.
This route requires good fitness, balance, coordination and a good head for heights. Much of this route is off any prepared track so the terrain is uneven, there are numerous unbridged and unavoidable side streams and rivers to cross, steep rocky hillsides to scramble up and down, and long days.
Rabbit Pass links the Wilkin Valley with the Matukituki Valley in the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park
“The moment you head onto the pass and the whole East Matukituki opens up in front of you. It's a staggering view from what was previously a somewhat enclosed environment. The thrill of climbing the waterfall face would be a close second.”
Rabbit Pass is located in Mount Aspiring National Park, part of the Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. This four day alpine crossing links two of the region's major river valleys. 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 day pack.
C = confirmed to run
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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 hiking 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 but your pack will be considerably lighter without sleeping & camping equipment.
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. 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 and 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 meet with transport and guide at 8:30 a.m. and travel 45 minutes to the small village of Makarora. Here we board a helicopter and fly into the heart of Mount Aspiring Park. A leisurely walk along the river flats of the Upper Wilkin valley brings us to the Top Forks Hut. The afternoon is spent exploring this marvelous area.
6-7 hrs 500m ascent 500m descent.
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 or two three wire bridges to cross the East Matukituki and Kitchner Stream, especially when the rivers are high. 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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