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.
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.