On this trip to the South Island, nothing seemed more appealing to me than a solitary trip into the back country. All the way out there – all alone – into the wild. To me such a trip feels like a last resort for modern men. Don’t you sometimes feel that urge to escape this complex, hypocritical world to choose a rather basic alternative of life in form of nature. To exchange a hectic business world, social pressure and bad television program with wonderful wide landscapes ,an overwhelming amount of time to think and most importantly this certain peaceful silence of a mountain top that will can give you such a deep feeling of satisfaction as barely anything else.
So it’s not really surprising that my most wanted thing to do on this trip was to make a multi day hike all by myself. And since I spent the Mt. Aspiring trip with the wonderful Lara, the “Young Valley / Wilkins Valley Traverse” should it have been. From the beginning on, this hike was my personal highlight anyway and always planned as a biggie.
The Young Valley / Wilkins Valley Traverse – An overview
The Young Valley / Wilkins Valley Traverse is a quite interesting trail, since it offers some variations, different landscapes and obstacles.
The whole track consists of several parts, that I will describe a little bit in detail here:
- Makarora – Blue Pools (not on the chart): The track starts in a little Town called Makarora, at the north side of Lake Wanaka. From there you have to walk alongside of the road, till you can cross the strong Makarora River towards a popular tourist spot called the “Blue Pools” where the most people stop hiking and turn around.
- Makarora Flats: Once you are on the other side of the river you walk towards the entrance to Young Valley where you have to cross some plains called the Makarora Flats. You follow the river through wide and flat grasslands.
- Young Valley Forest: Entering the valley mainly means entering the forest that flanks the river upwards. The path is rugged and you will cross countless little streams.
- Young Valley Flats: After the first forest part you will enter a wide grassy landscape that is quite similar to the Makarora flats and a welcoming change to the never ending forest.
- Upper Young Valley – to Young Hut: After crossing a bridge you’ll enter the forest again that will lead you up to Young Hut where most of the travelers stop hiking and rest for the next day.
- Young Valley Head – Foot of Gillespie Pass: Past the hut, the track gets remarkably steeper wriggling up to the last bit of Young Valley, that joins with the path up to Gillespie Pass.
- Gillespie Pass: Between the Mountain Top and Young Valley lies over 600 difference in altitude and makes this an demanding climb. Once you passed the top the track that is leading into the Wilkin Side of the track is much gentler, that makes the decent longer but easier.
- Siberia Valley: Siberia Valley joins the Wilkins Valley with Gillespie Pass and offers a side track to Crucible Lake. Following the valley south used to bring you to Siberia Hut which burnt down in early 2011 due to an gas explosion. Forced by this event wanderers are forced to freedom camp or take the long walk to Kerin Forks hut, that lies at the junction between Siberia Valley, Wilkins Valley and Jumboland that leads one further west towards Rabbit pass, a very demanding track that is not recommended without proper climbing gear.
- Wilkins Valley / Kerin Forks: The walk through Wilkins Valley is supposed to be quite similar to the Young Valley one, yet it is expected to be closer to the Wilkin River and therefore one can avoid the tedious forest track as on the Young side. The real challenge here is the river itself. After patterns of heavy weather the river can become increasingly bigger and close otherwise available paths. A crossing of the river is not always possible due to its strength.
- Wilkins River / Makarora River estuary: Once one left the valley behind you have to follow the estuary upstream the Makarora River, which is a strong river by itself that can be treacherous after heavy weather. Follow the river as good as possible north till you can see Makarora on the other side of him.
- Makarora River Crossing: Last but not least you have to cross the Makarora River, that will be quite deep in some parts, so expect that water could possibly reach up to you hips. Usually it is not recommended to cross alone, so choose very carefully where you would like to cross the river. After that you will be back in Makarora, where a hot cup of tea will await you.
Let’s get started
Quite a substantial walk right? Yet quite fascinating. I thought I was well prepared for this trip. Had enough food, detailed charts of the area, the weather pattern was fine (at least at the beginning) and I lowered my backpack weight by 5kg before I started, because I left a few unnecessary things at the hostel in Wanaka. Yes, I even had a ride into Makarora with the lovely Maria, who I met at the hostel.
The first thing you do, when you go on such a hike by your self, you’ll tell the Department of Conservation (DOC) by filling out a letter of intention that you can get at any DOC Office. In case you get lost, they will freaking find you. But don’t never ever forget to tell them that you came back from a trip safely, otherwise they will send their hounds of rage (lawyers!) after you.
” The first part of the journey, I was looking at all the life.”
I was merry to be out there. It simply felt good. Straight from the beginning the walk was so various. The first part to the Blue Pools was a nice warming up through the forest, till I reached the Makarora Flats that have a certain feeling.
Lower young valley
The overall distance to the top of Young Valley must be around 20 to 25 kilometers from Makarora. It would be much less without the Detour to the Blue Pools but there you go. I’d say that 40% of the track are in the wide fields, while the majority lies within the woods and in much steeper terrain. The lower young valley is the more gentle part where the river has already form into a steady, fairly wide stream.
Unfortunately it is not really easy to make breaks on this track because the most parts are poised by those nasty sandflies, the bane of the South Island. In Maori History it is said that God brought those little buggers into the Southland that people don’t forget they are still on earth, despite the incredible beauty exposed by this area. Each bite of those bastards will remember you of it, that’s granted.
And it is such a shame, looking at such great plains like the Young Flats.
Upper Young Valley – Things are getting tougher
Every long trip has its toll. And the longer this trip went, the obstacles got harder. After leaving the flats behind, the track gets steeper and more and more rugged. Instead of having a good path you simply follow orange poles tucked in between rocks. Thanks to the countless streams you have to cross, you are mainly crawling over debris and other things.
But not only the track got more demanding. The weather pattern deteriorated more and more with the progress of time and beginning with the late afternoon I had to face rain, that won’t stop till the next morning. Rain that should make things a little bit more interesting than expected.
When the night sets in – darkness crawls right up your shoulder
As far as I can remember, I reached Young Hut around 4pm. It was pouring down the sky, and secretly I was wishing that I could stay in the warm hut tonight, but doing so would have been a stop way too early, since it takes another two hours to the valley head, a head start that I didn’t want to miss the next morning. Besides I was prepared for freedom camping anyway.
The valley head lies on some kind of a plateau that can be reached via a steep climb. Nothing too serious when you are in a fit state, but after more than 8 hours hiking and lots of rain, this got a little bit harder than usual. Additionally, it got dark. So when I think about it, a responsible decision looks different, but I wanted to make it up the valley and heck, I knew I can make it.
Dark forest are odd places, especially during rain. The darkness seems to be strong like a black hole that even the light of a two strong torches was not able to break through that powerful alliance of rain and the night. Where are those god damn orange poles? As long as you are careful everything is alright, but leave traces in cases you choose a wrong path.
Man, this was a really thrilling part of the track. It certainly kept me awake.
The Plateau – Some rest at last, sort of.
An hour or so later, I was able to leave the darkness of the forest behind me and to enter my final destination, the valley head plateau. Fortunately there was a little rest of light left in the sky, so that I was able to see the outlines of the mountains and some very close objects. As far as I could see, the land was barren. No trees at all, only small bushes and grass, lots of rocks and in between the mighty Young River. Together with some strong winds he screamed at me in ear deafening volume. Could I be exposed to nature anymore?
Although this weather was a pain in the ass, it made me feel happy at the same time. Wasn’t it what I was seeking for? Nature bare bones. Raw nature. This is my sort of holiday.
I knew I had to cross a last bridge over the Young. After that I should have been able to find a place to rest. Unfortunately it is not the easiest to find a proper rock the will make a good shelter when you don’t see anything at all, despite artificial light.
First I thought I have found a proper one, where I could lie my bivouac bag down, but that one was already occupied by rabbits. Damn, you can hardly imagine how scary even rabbits can look like when you put your torch around a corner and all you see is the reflexion of some blueish twinkling eyes. Bastards.
But with some luck I was able to find a suitable place behind a bush covered rock, where I got my sleeping bag and other stuff out to prepare my place for the night. Sadly enough, the rain got heavier, so that I was not able to get proper protection to sit outside by bag, meant I hurry up to get my gear sorted and protected from the elements.
Then, I crawled into my waterproof sack, to see if it can cope with such conditions.
Apart from the fact that it suffers from heavy condensation and that it is slightly cramped it is actually a good alternative to a tent. My sleep could have been better, but also much much worse. I guess, in combination with a tarp, I could be totally happy with it. But that’s something to consider for the next time.
The sun in rising… and day 2 will take an unexpected turn. More in Part 2
So let’s call it a day. A hike that takes more than 9 hours should be enough. Tomorrow we will look at the next part of the journey. But for now, a few more pictures. This story already got quite big.