“A challenging circuit spanning two major valley systems via a stunning alpine crossing.”
— Almonzo Wilder
The Gillespie Circuit is a spectacular two to four day route that traverses the Young and Siberia Valleys in Mount Aspiring National Park. A climb over stunning Gillespie Pass joins the two valleys, and an optional side-trip to Crucible Lake
makes for a truly remarkable tramp.
Features: Birding — River/Creek — Views — Waterfall — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Need to Know
The Young and Siberia Huts can be used to avoid carrying a tent on this walk.
The Makarora River can be challenging to cross at both ends of the walk. At low water, it can be forded near its confluence with both the Young and Wilkin Rivers. However, the river is likely to be uncrossable on foot after rain or during times of snow melt. To enter the Young Valley at the start of the circuit, the Blue Pools Trailhead offers an alternative bridged crossing of the Makarora River and trail connection to Young, but adds 7km of walking and the need to walk or hitch along Highway 6 to get to the trailhead. Alternatively, a jet boat ferry service can be arranged from Makarora town for reasonable cost.
The circuit as described here ends at Kerin Forks, where jet boat ferry service can be arranged ahead of time for return transport to Makarora. The alternative is an unremarkable 15km run out the Wilkin River Valley, with a ford of the Makarora River at the end.
Not generally run, this route is still noteworthy as a difficult hike. Get out there and try it!
The Gillespie Pass Circuit is a popular but challenging tramp in Mount Aspiring National Park. The walk starts at the town of Makarora, where you'll need to negotiate a crossing of the Makarora River to get to the mouth of the Young River - see 'Need to Know' for details.
The track heads up the Young Valley on the true left of the Young River. The going is generally easy through beautiful riverside forest and meadows as far as the bridge at Young Forks, where a campsite with an open shelter and toilet can be found. Beyond this point the going slows as the valley steepens considerably. A beautiful bridged crossing of Stag Creek is a highlight of this section. The Young Hut (20 beds, no reservations), which is comfortable and modern, is in the forest about an hour below treeline.
Above the hut the walk climbs steeply to the Young Basin, a spectacular cirque dominated by the glaciated Mount Awful looming above and wildflowers in the meadows. For those not staying in the hut, campsites abound in the Young Basin.
After a beautiful and fairly level walk through Young Basin a sign points the way up to Gillespie Pass. Here the trail leaves the valley and climbs directly up a steep spur to the ridgeline above. There is no dependable water above the Young Basin, so load up before the ascent. After an approximately 500 meter climb, the trail finally tops out at Gillespie Pass, where awesome views extend in all directions, and give your first glimpse of the Gillespie and Siberia Valleys below. Look for kea, rock wrens, pipits, and chamois in this alpine landscape.
The track meanders along the ridgeline for about a kilometer with non-stop vistas before descending steeply into Gillespie Valley. At the bottom of the valley, near the confluence of Gillespie and Siberia Streams, a beautiful wild campsite is tucked beside the trail. Just beyond in the Siberia Valley, look for the signed intersection with the Crucible Lake
Track, which is an outstanding side trip (allow 6-8 hours return).
The Gillespie Circuit continues down the Siberia Valley, where the Siberia Hut (20 beds, no reservations) is reached about 45 minutes from the Crucible Lake
junction. This is a comfortable hut situated below a waterfall where a ranger is usually on duty. There are beautiful views and nice tent sites scattered around the area. Downstream from the hut, the track follows Siberia Stream through open meadows before entering a quiet forest and descending to the Wilkin River. Here signs point the way to the jet boat pick up location, or it's possible to walk down the river some 15km back to Makarora town.
Flora & Fauna
Forested sections of the walk are home to some interesting birds, including Yellowhead, Long-tailed Cuckoo, Yellow-crowned Parakeet, Rifleman, Tomtit, and more. Blue Ducks can be found on any of the waterways - check the upper Young River, in particular. Above treeline look for Rock Wren (historically found near Gillespie Pass), Kea, and Pipits.