Daniel Murphy is one of the lucky ones – he’s managed to turn his passion into a day job.
As one of the Directors of Hiking NZ, he enjoys motivating people to get out and explore the wilderness, and although much of his work is based at the office, he looks forward to one special annual trip with some of his oldest friends. This year they headed to Gillespie Pass for three days of stunning views, a little bit of rain, and some excellent company.
I met some of my oldest friends through hiking.
I have such great memories of my teenage years when one of us would talk our parents into lending us a car (they were very trusting) and we would be straight out the school gates on a Friday afternoon to head for the hills. The sense of freedom that came with being in the wilderness with your mates was just awesome.
25 years later, and hiking has become a huge part of the close bonds we have formed. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to go for a good hike once a year. For many of my friends, it’s likely to be the only hike they do for the year, so it’s something we look forward to.
A three-day Gillespie Pass hike in Mount Aspiring National Park was on this year’s agenda. Being June, we didn’t have high expectations of the weather, so we prepared for the worst and hoped we would get lucky!
There was a bit of rain on the first day, but nothing too bad – we were just happy to have our raincoats. We started at the Haast Pass so we could cross the Makarora Bridge on the Blue Pools track. The jet boat service that operates from the river was out of action, so we opted for the 7km walk over a waist-deep cold river crossing. It took us about seven hours to get from Blue Pools to Young Hut – due to our usual procrastination in the morning, we hadn’t actually started until 11am, so the last hour was in the dark.
Day two was the crux day – up into the Young Basin and over the Gillespie Pass. The climb was steep, but it was well worth the effort. The sound of sheets of ice falling off the bluffs across the valley were like gunshots ringing out and really added to the atmosphere. We ploughed and floundered through waist-deep snow on the pass and descended into the Gillespie Stream. It was a glorious twilight stroll once we arrived into the Siberia Valley. We got to Siberia Hut just after dark, and soon had the fire crackling away, with the whole valley glowing in the moonlight. A perfect end to the day.
It was such a serene environment – we didn’t come across any other people at all on the track, so it was incredibly peaceful being surrounded by the most jaw-dropping mountainous surrounds and waist-deep snow. We spent the night in the Siberia Hut – a well-earned rest.
The next morning kicked off with a nice two hour stroll to the jet boat pick-up point opposite the Kieran Forks Hut. We had arranged for Harvey Hutton of Backcountry Helicopters to pick us up in his Squirrel – we all had planes to catch so an extra five hours of walking was not an option. While waiting for the helicopter, we watched a slightly confused Chamois in the river bed – he was heading our way but he must have caught a whiff of us!
Overall, it was a fantastic trip – a classic multi-day that you just have to do. Winter certainly adds it challenges – but it would be great to do in the long days of Summer. The side trip to Lake Crucible is well worth it if you have the time (we did not on this trip).
Travelling on my OE made me realise just how lucky we are in New Zealand with our wilderness areas like this. People are so amazed at what we have here, the diversity, the huts, and how uncrowded it is on the tracks. Although a large part of my job is based in the Hiking NZ office, I always try and save a few trips for myself. It’s really rewarding taking people hiking here and encouraging them to get out of their comfort zone a wee bit!
We flew into Queenstown Airport which is about two hours away from the Blue Pools Walk. We stayed the night in the Cardrona Hotel in Wanaka, then the next morning we left the car at the Haast Pass/Blue Pools track end while we were on the hike – note that in summer you would cross the river downstream and could park it off the road at the more secure designated carpark.
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