Griff Rhys Jones takes on Makarora's Siberia Experience
Griff Rhys Jones is one of Britain’s most beloved comedians, TV presenters and travel writers. Following a hiatus of thirty-five years, Griff recently returned to New Zealand for a theatre tour, after which he and wife Jo took some time to explore the South Island - where the highlight of their NZ adventure was in the small community of Makarora.
Makarora is a forty-five minute scenic drive from Wanaka on the main road to the West Coast. The settlement lies on the boundary of Mount Aspiring National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Area – and offers visitors easy access to a region of spectacular wilderness. As Griff later explained to readers of his travel column in The Daily Telegraph, “It tugged at me. I need to go back”!
Griff was to discover the wilderness of the Siberia Valley on a half-day adventure known as the Siberia Experience which incorporates a scenic flight, hike and then jet-boat safari.
Beginning with the dramatic flight over the towering mountains and glaciers of the Southern Alps, Griff then touched down on a remote grass airstrip in the heart of the National Park which he has since named ‘Siberia International Airport’.
The next stage of the Siberia Experience was one of the most memorable for Griff - crossing the chilly waters of the Siberia Stream to the hiking trail on the other side. According to Griff, the glacial chill of the water turned his feet "meat pink!" However, all thoughts of cold feet were quickly dismissed as Griff settled into the three hour walk and began to take in the grandeur of surrounding landscape.
“My goodness, our short walk was remarkable”, recalled Griff. “The clouds. The green of the beech trees. The river water which remained azure blue. A high, enfolding world hung with lichen, dotted with huge boulders and running with water tumbling down steep cliffs… I ended up suffering from waterfall exhaustion, scenery fatigue!"
A steady walk on a well-formed track first lead Griff through alpine meadows, then into lush native beech forest before emerging on the river flats to rendezvous with the jet boat for the exhilarating ride back to Makarora.
“At 70kmph we twisted through the shallows of outspread skeins of water. At times, we seemed to hunker down and almost fly uphill”, Griff later said. “Kiwis always seem to take the wilderness with a dash of extra bitters. It all feels on the good side of risky!"
Griff described the Siberia Valley as one of the most beautiful places he’d ever visited and expressed great affection for the locals that had hosted him on his visit to Makarora. “These are no ordinary woodsmen”, he quipped, “These are hyperactive service providers”!
Whilst Griff later told readers of the Daily Telegraph that, “New Zealand is not really a place you can ever ‘do’ with certainty”, in Makarora you will certainly find plenty to do. The Siberia Experience with it’s spectacular flight, wilderness walk and adrenaline-fuelled jet boat ride will tick plenty of boxes on your NZ to-do list.
But be warned, as Griff maintains, “I fear you will always want more..."