IntroductionThis excellent circuit for experienced parties provides spectacular mountain scenery, alpine vegetation and river valleys filled with silver beech/tawhai. You can also do a side trip to Crucible Lake.
You should only do Gillespie Pass Circuit if you're experienced with river crossing skills. All river crossings on this Circuit are challenging. Multiple fatalities have occurred in rivers on this track in recent years. Be aware rivers can become impassable after rain. Tents should be carried.
The circuit is not recommended during winter months due to snow, ice and avalanche risk.
The circuit can be walked in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. This description begins from the Young/Makarora confluence.
Makarora to Young Hut
Time: 6 to 7 hr
Distance: 20 km
Access to the Young valley is signposted on the left, 2.5 km north of Makarora.
Cross the stile and follow the orange poles to the junction of the Young and Makarora rivers. Do not attempt to cross the Makarora River if:
- there has been heavy rain
- the river is high, or
- you are unsure.
Trampers have drowned attempting this crossing. If Makarora River is too high to cross safely, there are three options
- wait for the river to drop
- take the Young River Link Track, or
- use a commercial jetboat.
Once across the Makarora, follow Young River on the true left to a swing bridge at the junction of the North and South branches (3 to 4 hours). The track divides after the bridge, and the Young Forks campsite is 200 m upstream, with an open shelter and toilet which campers are encouraged to use.
The track to Young Hut (550 m) continues downstream to cross a grassy flat then enters the forest on the true left of South Branch, just beyond the junction. The track climbs steeply for 100 m and then sidles through a series of unstable slips to reach Stag Creek. From here, it’s a steady climb to Young Hut.
Camping is not allowed around Young Hut. The cleared area is a helicopter landing site.
Young Hut to Siberia Hut
Time: 6 to 8 hr
Distance: 12 km
Climb 1 hour to the bushline, cross the bridge over the upper Young and follow the valley floor for about 20 minutes until you reach the start of the Gillespie Pass track on your left. This is usually the last water source until well over the alpine pass, so fill your water bottles before leaving the valley.
The track climbs steeply alongside a rock bluff onto a snow-grass spur that, after 3 to 4 hours, veers off to the left before the pass and climbs the ridge to a height of 1600 m. From here, there’s an impressive view, with Mount Awful dominating the skyline.
This section is snow covered in winter/spring and should only be attempted during these times by parties with alpine and avalanche experience.
The track descends steeply before sidling down through a series of snow grass basins. Take care as snow grass can be very slippery when wet. The track enters the forest on a small predominant spur and leads down to Gillespie Stream. The track continues down through the forest, sidling above Gillespie Stream before descending in a series of zigzags to Siberia Stream.
On the valley floor, it’s an easy 1 hour walk to Siberia Hut (630 m).
During high rainfall an unnamed creek two minutes from Siberia hut can become uncrossable.
High above Siberia Valley, nestled under Mount Alba, is Lake Crucible, an excellent day trip from Siberia Hut. Go up the valley flats to Crucible Stream where after initially crossing Siberia Stream the track enters the forest on the true left. The track then climbs a narrow spur, sidles around to a river crossing, and comes out on a snow grass flat.
Follow the pole markers in the upper basin and go up the flat to the lake. In Crucible Valley, between May to November, there is risk of avalanche debris crossing the track. The tiny rockwren/pīwauwau can often be seen among the large rocks at the lake outlet.
Camping is not allowed in Crucible Basin because of its fragile alpine herb fields.
Siberia Hut to Makarora
Time: 7 to 8 hr
Distance: 26 km
Siberia Hut to Kerin Forks Hut
Time: 2 to 3 hr
Distance: 7 km
About 30 minutes down from Siberia Hut, travelling on the true left, the track to the Wilkin Valley enters the forest at the southern end of Siberia Flat. It sidles above the Siberia Gorge to descend in a series of zigzags to the Wilkin River (7 km, 2 to 3 hours).
Kerin Forks Hut (340 m) can be seen 400 m downstream from the Siberia Stream/Wilkin River junction, at the western end of a large flat on the other side of the Wilkin. To access Kerin Forks Hut and the upper valley you must cross the Wilkin River which can be uncrossable following rain. If it has been raining or rain is in the forecast, consider how this will impact your ability to return across the Wilkin River.
Kerin Forks Hut
Kerin Forks to Makarora – SH6
Time: 4 to 5 hr
Distance: 15 km
The track from Kerin Forks follows the flats on the true left of the Wilkin river and enters the forest at the bottom of Dans Flat. The track from here the track is rough in places.
When you reach the Makarora River, cross with care if it is safe to do so, watching for soft sand, then continue out to the main road to Makarora Township via Wilkin Road. Crossing the Makarora should only be attempted by parties with river-crossing experience. Be prepared to wait if the river is too high to cross.
The Gillespie Pass Circuit can begin from either confluence:
- the Wilkin/Makarora River, or
Either starting point can be reached by jet boat. The Young River Link Track (7 km, 1 hr 30 mins to 2 hr) offers a swing-bridge crossing of the Makarora River, removing the need for one of the two Makarora River crossings.
Note that there is no public access along the true right of the Makarora between the Wilkin/Makarora confluence and the Young/Makarora confluence.
Parties taking the Young River Link Track will still need to cross the Makarora at the Wilkin confluence, or take a commercial jet boat, to complete the circuit.
It's possible to fly by plane or helicopter out of Siberia Valley or catch a jet boat from Kerin Forks. All transport needs to be pre-arranged with the transport providers – the hut ranger at Siberia Hut can't make bookings.
The weather can change rapidly in New Zealand. Hypothermia is a real risk even in summer. Be prepared by having warm, waterproof, windproof clothing and the appropriate footwear. Whiteout conditions caused by snow or low cloud may be present. Check the Mount Aspiring National Park weather forecast – NIWA website.
Natural dam hazard: A dam that formed in the Young valley North Branch in 2007 still poses a potential risk to trampers. We recommend you avoid the Young Valley during periods of heavy rain. If heavy rain starts during your trip, do not camp in the valley floor and move through the valley as quickly as possible. Watch for any unusual or rapid rises in water levels and move to higher ground if necessary.
Crossing rivers: If you plan to cross an unbridged river, you must know how to identify an unsafe river, and where and how to cross safely. You should also be prepared for being unable to cross.
If the river is flooded, you cannot find safe entry and exit points or are unsure it’s safe, do not try to cross. Turn back or wait for the river to drop - this often takes a few hours after rain, so be ready and pack emergency shelter and extra food.
A river is unsafe if there is:
- discoloured water
- debris in the water (such as branches)
- water flowing faster than walking pace
- movement of rocks in the water you can hear
Learn more about river safety on the NZ Mountain Safety Council website.
Be avalanche alert
This area has terrain that can produce avalanches that cross the track, usually from May into November. View avalanche information and the terrain rating for this track.
No visitor centre in Makarora
Watch a video to prepare
Watch the NZ Mountain Safety Council video to prepare for the Gillespie Pass Circuit.