It’s 6am on a Saturday, and I'm awake. For once, the reason I’m not sleeping has nothing to do with my seven month old daughter - which believe me is kind of a miracle. No, today the baby is with the grandparents and I’m headed to Siberia, partner in tow.
Okay not the Russian province (I tend to have a penchant for dramatics). The Siberia I mean is located just outside of Wanaka, within the Mount Aspiring National Park. It's beautiful and wild and utterly remote. Accessible only by eight-hour hike or 30 minute flight in a tiny fixed-wing plane (no prizes for guessing the option we took), the valley is a tumble of native rainforest, glaciers, rivers and towering mountains. It’s two most prominent peaks are aptly named Mt Awful and Mt Dreadful - and from what I've been told they’re equally awful and dreadful when climbed.
A loop through the park before touch-down is spectacular and otherworldly. Snow-capped mountains give way to sheer scrub-lined cliffs, grassy yellow plains and the turquoise waters of Lake Crucible - It’s New Zealand like you've never seen it, and there's simply nowhere else like it.
Exiting our tiny craft, there are several accessible walks to do - including Rabbit Pass, widely known as New Zealand's hardest hiking trail. Siberia Hut is also only ten minutes away and some hikers choose to overnight here and venture back up to Lake Crucible on foot. After seeing it from the air I’m almost tempted, almost. But tales of grueling hand-over-foot climbing tips me the other way - I'll take the soft option thank you very much.
Lucky for us, there is a soft option. A leisurely two and half hour walk through native beech forest followed by a jet boat ride out (because why hike 8 hours when you can catch a ride on a jetboat?) definitely more my style.
We start by stripping off. Our shoes that is. Crossing a glacial river isn't how I usually like to begin my mornings, but it's a small price to pay for the magic on the other side. And really, it is magic. The hike follows the river to the forest entrance and I feel dwarfed by the sheer scale of the valley surrounds. The only sound comes from nature and there’s no one to be seen for miles (well, except for the two german backpackers that were on our flight in, but by the time we dried off from the river they were gone) once inside the trees it’s an undulating climb to the top of the pass. If you've never been in a rainforest, I highly recommend you take some time to experience it. Everything is covered in a thick coating of bright green moss, even the ground! All along way are hidden waterfalls and still pools and many, many native birds including Kakas, Wood Pigeons and Fantails. If you're an avian fan, then this corner of the world is well worth a visit.
The top of the pass opens up for brilliant view of the mountains and would be the perfect place for a lunch break. We didn't end up stopping however because I may or may not have eaten my entire lunch before we got into the forest. The remaining track is a steep switchback to to the Wilkin River below, followed by a lazy walk along its banks to the jet boat pick-up. While we wait for our boat, (more of a back-country water taxi really for it picks up hikers all along the way) I’m literally swarmed by sandflies, the only downside to the whole trip. Three words. BRING. INSECT. REPELLENT. Finally the boat arrives and it's a quick turnaround to get beyond the bloodbath. The river is impossibly clear and often trout can be seen below the surface. Our driver tells us we have to go fast (which is fine by me) because the river is braided and very shallow. Luckily for us, a jetboat only needs 4 inches of water to run in. After an exhilarating 10 minutes we pop out the head of the valley and catch a final glimpse. It’s only another 15 to civilisation, along the Makarora river. As we disembark, we see some hikers emerging from their eight-hour slog. They're covered in head-to-toe mud and look a little worse for the wear - I have to say I don't feel one bit of regret for taking the easy option. I mean, I love a good New Zealand adventure as much as the next girl but really, I'm more of a glamper than a camper.
While this remote valley isn't quite the real Siberia, you can see how it got it’s name. Wild, isolated and stunningly beautiful it should be top of your bucket list next time you travel. The soft option, or ‘Siberia Experience’ that we did gives you both a touch of luxury and a taste of the wild - in my opinion the perfect mix. However if you do want to go all out and hike in for 8 hours, it's ok, I won't hold it against you.
The Siberia Experience departs from Makarora, a 45 minute drive from Wanaka. Allow 4-5 hours for the whole trip. Georgina paid wholesale rates for this experience, and was under no obligation to write this article.
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