Exploring New Zealand’s Siberia Valley
When the name “Siberia” is mentioned, most people get an image of the vast, cold, barren tundra of Russian Siberia. Many don’t know that New Zealand too has a valley named Siberia, nestled deep in the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park. One of 13 New Zealand National Parks, Mt Aspiring National Park is home to many impressive glacial valleys framed by tall snowy peaks and lush native forest. In Siberia Valley the crystal-clear Siberia Stream flows through the middle, flanked by wide tussock grassland carved out by the glaciers slow passage. It's a unique and spectacular place to visit for a day trip or overnight adventure.
How to get there
The Siberia Valley is accessed from the small township of Makarora, which is located a one-hour drive north of Wanaka. From Makarora you can either make the journey into Siberia on foot, or catch a ride on a jet boat, helicopter, or bush plane.
The Gillespie Circuit is a 4-day/3-night tramping track that includes a stay at Siberia Hut on its second and third nights. It takes 2 full days to walk to Siberia if travelling in the most common anti-clockwise direction, or one and a half days if tackling the route clockwise.
By jet boat
To take a bit of a shortcut, regular jet boat services operate from Makarora township to Kerin Forks, which is a pleasant 3 hour walk from Siberia Valley and saves a day of walking.
Alternatively, skip straight to the best bit and fly directly into Siberia Valley by helicopter or bush plane. There is a small grass airstrip right outside Siberia Hut, a unique opportunity for door-to-door service in the heart of the New Zealand backcountry!
The Siberia Experience
The ‘Siberia Experience’ gets you the best of all worlds. Start your day with a scenic bush plane flight, soaring over the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park and taking in the spectacular scenery from above. After landing on the grass airstrip outside Siberia Hut you have some time to either explore the upper Siberia Valley, or just sit back and relax on the balcony of the hut and take in your surroundings. Then it’s time to walk through the native bush, down to the Wilkin River where your jet boat awaits. The hike is a pleasant, mostly downhill 3 hour walk along a very well-maintained and well-groomed track (see the Siberia Hut to Kerin Forks description below). Upon arrival at the river, you will board your jetboat for an exhilarating, and incredibly beautiful, ride back to Makarora. With both a helicopter and jet boat ride and some of the best views in the country, this really is the ultimate day out in the New Zealand wilderness!
The Siberia Experience is included in our Pure South Tour and is one of our favourite activities in any of our tours. Get in touch with our friendly team of experts for more information!
Siberia Valley Walks
Whether you just want to spend the day, stay overnight, or even stay for several days to thoroughly experience the Siberia Valley, there are plenty of walking options. The best section for a day trip is to complete the Siberia Experience described above. Siberia Hut is a wonderful place to stay overnight and can be accessed either by flying in or taking the jet boat to Kerin Forks and walking up the track to the Hut. To truly experience the valley in its entirety, the Gillespie Circuit is the way to go, and we strongly recommend the side trip up to Crucible Lake!
Siberia Hut to Kerin Forks | 2-3 hours | 7km/4.3mi
The fastest and easiest way to access the Siberia Valley is to take a scenic flight from Makarora directly to Siberia Hut. From here it is a 3 hour, 7km/4.3mi walk to the jet boat pickup point at Kerin Forks. This section of track is maintained to a much higher standard that the rest of the Gillespie Circuit and is very achievable for anyone comfortable walking for a few hours. The walk begins with a short uphill section which leads to sweeping views over the valley, before gradually descending through the bush for the remainder of the walk until reaching the flat grassy banks of the Wilkin River. It is also possible to catch the jet boat to Kerin Forks in the morning, walk up to the Siberia Valley, and return to the jetboat in the afternoon if you don’t wish to fly into Siberia.
Staying overnight at Siberia Hut
Siberia Hut is located on the edge of the bushline and has spectacular views of the Siberia Valley. Whether you have flown in, walked in from Kerin Forks, or are completing the entire Gillespie Circuit, Siberia Hut is a stunning place to spend a night or two. The hut is a serviced 20-bed DOC hut and can be booked in peak season between October and April. There is also a campsite at the hut.
Crucible Lake Walk | 6-8 hours | 14km/8.6mi
If you’re spending more than a day in the Siberia Valley, a trip to Crucible Lake is a must-do. The return trip to the lake takes roughly 6-8hrs and is 14km/8.6mi return. The initial part of the hike is a cruisy valley walk, following the Siberia Stream along grassy flats. The track then climbs very steeply up a rocky and rooty spur and is a heart-pumping and challenging climb. Make sure to leave Siberia Hut early in the morning to ensure you give yourself sufficient time to tackle this walk and to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the impressive cirque that Crucible Lake sits in. Icebergs float in the lake the majority of the year making the lake a particularly spectacular sight. In the heart of summer these icebergs melt, and the lake becomes a welcome spot for a refreshing dip after a good climb.
Gillespie Circuit | 3-4 days | 58km/36mi
For a true Kiwi backcountry experience, tramping the Gillespie Circuit is incredibly scenic and the best way to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Mt Aspiring National Park and the Siberia Valley. The track takes 3 days, although the side trip to Crucible Lake shouldn’t be missed so most people spend 4 days. Crossing the Makarora River can be very dangerous, especially when in flood, so it is recommended that you take a jet boat across the river or take the Young River Link Track to access the Blue Pools Bridge unless you are very experienced, and the conditions are favourable.
Day 1: Makarora to Young Hut | 6-7 hours | 20km/12.4mi
From Makarora township you will need to cross the Makarora River on foot or by jetboat to access the start of the track on the other side of the river. Alternatively, start the Gillespie Circuit at the Blue Pools and follow the Young River Link Track. This adds 7km/4.3mi to the walk but is the safest option if you do not want to take a jet boat across the river. Once at the start of the track it is a 6-7 hour walk along the Young River to Young Hut. The track on the first day is not particularly difficult and there are only minor changes in elevation except for a short climb in the last hour to the hut, however it is a full day’s walk.
Day 2: Young Hut to Siberia Hut | 6-8 hours | 12km/7.5mi
The second day of this circuit is the most challenging. The track climbs steeply from Young Hut to Gillespie Pass where you will be well rewarded for your efforts with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the Siberia Valley below. Mt Awful and Mt Dreadful dominate the skyline and are much more impressive and pleasing to look at than their names imply! Make sure to only complete this section in good weather as the snow grass is very slippery when wet, plus you don’t want to miss out on the spectacular views from the top! You will then descend steeply to the Siberia Valley floor and enjoy an easy flat walk for the final hour to Siberia Hut.
Day 3: Siberia Hut to Crucible Lake return | 6-8 hours | 14km/8.6mi
This side trip is well worth spending an extra day to complete. You will be able to leave your overnight gear at Siberia Hut and enjoy a day of carrying only your essential day-trip items. The route to the lake is described above and deserves allowing a full day for the walk so that you have plenty of time to spend at the lake.
Day 4: Siberia Hut to Makarora | 7-8 hours | 26km/16.1mi
The first half of this day follows the same route as the Siberia Experience from Siberia Hut to Kerin Forks. From Kerin Forks it is a further 5 hours and 19km/11.8mi to Makarora following the grassy flats on the true left of the river. Once the Makarora is reached you will need to arrange a jet boat transfer across the river to Makarora township if you are not appropriately skilled to cross the river on foot.
The best way to enjoy a trip into the Siberia Valley is with an experienced and knowledgeable guide to show you all the best spots, and a team of experts to take care of all the details for you. Check out our Pure South Tour itinerary and request a FREE COPY OF OUR BROCHURE here.