There’s one adventure in Wanaka to end all adventures. One that is a fairly well-kept secret and pretty epic too. And it combines all of my favorite outdoor things in one, are you ready?
I’ve been meaning to tell you guys about this for a while now, but haven’t found the words until today when I rediscovered all of my photos from the Siberia Experience.
2 days of hiking, flying and jetboating in one of the most beautiful corners of New Zealand – Mt. Aspiring National Park outside Wanaka.
Now that was an adventure!
When most people come for those classic New Zealand mountains around the Southern Alps, they’ll head into Mt. Aspiring in the west Wanaka side up the Matukituki River. Here’s where some of the best and most accessible views in Wanaka can be found.
But if you are looking for some adventure that is a bit further off the beaten path head in the opposite direction on the road to Makarora and Haast Pass an hour outside Wanaka. This is the other side of Mt. Aspiring and in some ways is even more wild and epic than down the Matukituki.
In the itty bitty town of Makarora, so small if you blink you’ll miss it, there’s heaps of adventures waiting to be had.
It was a hot summers day when I headed out of Wanaka with friends to Makarora to start the experience. We tossed our overnight packs into a tiny yellow fixed wing plane and took off before I even realized.
The best parts of Mt. Aspiring National Park from the Makarora side are deep in the park. It’s a very boring 8 hour walk in and out of the main valleys along a sandfly infested river bank which most people decide to skip by either flying or jetboating in and out.
Saves you time and energy, for sure!
We started with a scenic flight which looped along the huge mountains and hanging glaciers with more waterfalls and alpine turquoise lakes than I could even imagine.
This was the New Zealand everyone imagines. Trust me, you want to see it from the air.
As we looped around the mountains I could have spent all day in the skies marveling at my favorite landscapes, getting to see a different side of the mountains where I’ve started to call home. But before long we were coming in to land in a grassy yellow field.
Most people do the Siberia Experience as a day trip. Fly into the Siberia Valley, hike for a few hours along a good trail towards the river along the mountains before catching a jet boat out back to Makarora.
For me that has to be one of the best day trips you can get in New Zealand.
But if you have a little more time and are feeling adventurous, you can do what I did and stay out in Mt. Aspiring for two days. Fly into the Siberia Valley, walk a few minutes to the Siberia Hut, drop your overnight packs and take a small pack with you and hike out to Lake Crucible before heading back to the hut for the night, then walking out and catching the jetboat back to Makarora the next day.
*It costs $15 to stay at Siberia Hut. You can buy a hut pass at the local DOC office in Wanaka. It’s first come first serve and is fairly busy in summer.
After we watched the little yellow plan take off, we grabbed our packs, crossed a little river, and walked over to the Siberia Hut to drop them off and grab a bed for the night.
Then we set off to Lake Crucible.
I had heard whispers of this lake once or twice since moving to Wanaka and was dying to get there myself.
Like most hikes in New Zealand, the “walk” to Lake Crucible is a bitch. To put it kindly.
Beautiful and terrible, that’s how I would describe so many of the hikes in New Zealand.
The first hour is flat (thank god for that) and you get glimpses of the towering Alps, with the glaciated Mt. Awful on one side and Mt. Dreadful on the other. As it turns out, this walk would be both awful and dreadful in equal measure.
But before I run away with my negativity, I will say that is was also ridiculously beautiful and satisfying and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is outstanding and I don’t say that lightly.
Pic by @AnnnieGirl
I don’t know how many rivers you cross between the Siberia Hut and Lake Crucible, but I’d say it’s a lot. I think it was four, and of course you have to cross them on your way back out too. No bridges. In New Zealand, bridges are for the weak.
River crossings can one of the most dangerous parts of hiking in New Zealand, so definitely check with DOC about the conditions if you want to hike around any of the tracks around Makarora (because they all basically involve river crossings) and if it’s been raining a lot and they are raging at all, murky and fast, turn around. Someone is swept away in these rivers around Mt. Aspiring at least once a year.
If you have good weather like I did, most of the rivers don’t go past your knees.
Pic by @AnnnieGirl
It wasn’t long before I was left behind and I ended up doing the trail on my own. I’m a slow hiker because I like to stop and smell the flowers (literally), take tons of photos, listen for birdsong, and sometimes I even take naps and read in the valleys. I really enjoy being in nature and taking my time.
I am also pretty unfit and breaks are awesome.
As usual in New Zealand, once you hit the forest at the bottoms of the mountains, the trails get hard. In fact, I’d say the hiking motto here seems to be why mark a switchback trail when you can go straight up.
Huffing and puffing for an hour or so through the beech forest, the trail then flattens out as you head up towards the lake before one last steep scramble up to the top.
All in all considering it was completely vertical the whole time, I liked it. It’s also been a while since I’ve done this walk and the pain is probably been dulled in my memory.
I rate trails in New Zealand on how much I have to use my hands. I remember using my hands in the forest since you are basically climbing tree root ladders straight up and again at the last section to the lake. Could be worse for sure, I think it took me just over 3 hours. It gets a 6 out of 10 on the hand-usage scale.
And when you finally get to the top of the ridge with a view down to the lake, my oh my, did every second become worth it.
Lake Crucible will knock your socks off, it’s a stunner.
With waterfalls cascading down, neon blue water, glaciers at the top and an iceberg or two floating in the water, it looks unreal. Like something out of a fairytale. It makes the big hike all the more rewarding.
We spent ages hanging out, watching the ice crash down from above and trying to pluck up the nerve to jump in the frigid water. Only my friend Annie was brave enough.
By the time we got back to the Siberia Hut, the sun was setting I was absolutely dead tired. You know when you are so physically tired it’s almost as if you were drunk in your memory of that time. Drunk tired, that’s what I was. I was way too tired to photograph the stars that night and I can’t really remember what that hut looked like.
The next day was another clear beautiful morning and I walked out leisurely for a few hours to the meeting point along the river where the jetboats collect you. That is the normal trail people go along when doing the Siberia Experience and it’s stunning, wide and mellow. No hands are required.
I arrived with heaps of time to kill before the boat arrived, and dozed in a meadow along the crystal clear blue river.
The rivers around Makarora are just stunning. Clear and bright blue, you can see straight to the bottom and see all the trout and fishing swimming around. They are also shallow and braided so you need a fast jetboat to get around them, so much fun!
I got to ride with a group of older kiwi women who were down as part of an intense tramping club 4 day mission and it was just amazing to hang out with them for just a little while. It’s so inspiring to me and I hope I am half as tough them when I’m their age. Life goals.
All in all the Siberia Experience is one of my favorite little missions around Wanaka. It was worth being sore for a week after. For. Sure.
Do you hike? Have you heard of this walk before? Have you done something similar while traveling? Spill.