Wilkin-Young Circuit, South Island, New Zealand

This is one of my favourite hikes on the South Island. It’s a nice mix of river flats, forest, mountains, waterfalls and meadows. The tricky part is crossing the Makarora River which can be impassable during or right after rain. If the river is too high, there are also the expensive alternatives of getting a ride on a jet boat or riding a helicopter into Siberia Valley.

The two parallel valleys, Wilkin and Young, are linked by crossing a high pass and through the hanging Siberia Valley. The trip can be lengthened by traveling further up the Wilkin Valley to explore another little side valley and its tarns, or by going through the notoriously dangerous Rabbit Pass which joins with the East Matukituki Valley. Rabbit Pass is a difficult route in good conditions but very dangerous in wet weather as the route traverses along steep tussock grass that is very slippery when wet. Several people have died attempting the pass, so don’t take it lightly or dismiss the ranger’s warnings. After hearing about a fellow that died there earlier that season, I decided not to try it.

The river crossings in this area are hazard that should be taken seriously. I got swept downstream a ways while trying to ford the Makarora River but luckily managed to swim the rest of the way. The rivers rise surprisingly fast during rain (which can be very intense on the South Island) and could wash you downstream quite easily, even in water that doesn’t seem deep. If in doubt, wait it out and make sure to bring extra food because you might get stranded on the wrong side of the river for a few days. If you are in dire straits, there is a radio in Siberia Hut and it is sometimes manned by a hut warden. Some people take a helicopter into Siberia Hut and it’s possible to catch a cheap ride back (approximately $20) if the helicopter has room.

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