South Is­land Part 1

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story and photos Gary Cooper

Last month reg­u­lar NZ4WD con­trib­u­tor Gary Cooper talked about how to plan a 4WD ad­ven­ture. And now this month we’re off to the South Is­land!

At last it was time to load the FJs and head south. Both had been fit­ted with Foxwing awnings with zip-in side walls to en­sure we had plenty of un­der­cover area in case of rain ( we hadn’t heard about Cy­clone Cook pay­ing us a visit yet). To make the most of our time we de­cided on an early start so we could drive to Welling­ton and catch the 5pm sail­ing across the ditch the same af­ter­noon. To make the trip to the West Coast more in­ter­est­ing af­ter a sup­ply shop in Pic­ton, we drove through the Molesworth Sta­tion and camped at Lake Ten­nyson next to some crazy bik­ers who had just driven Honda Cub scoot­ers through Rain­bow Sta­tion and were head­ing out the next day via the Molesworth. Those roads would be hard work on small skinny tyres. We were pay­ing lit tle at­ten­tion to the 1,100m al­ti­tude un­til the next morn­ing when we awoke to a glo­ri­ous High Coun­try day and frozen drink bot­tles! Rain­bow Sta­tion road was next, of course pay­ing the re­quired $ 25 ac­cess fee. This pops you out close to the south­ern end of the Nel­son Lakes close to St Arnaud or Lake Ro­toiti; it’s an easy scenic drive that doesn’t re­quire low range but is much more in­ter­est­ing and en­joy­able than the tar­mac. Af­ter a quick cof­fee it was time to head north west to­wards the Howard Val­ley and the Porika Track. En route we saw sig­nage to Si­mons Track so did a quick check of the Topo map loaded on my tablet and de­cided on the de­tour; we ended up driv­ing up the river bed cross­ing the Porika stream sev­eral times which de­liv­ered the per­fect place for lunch. Af­ter lunch, and some­what too re­laxed driv­ing slowly up the river bed, the front of the FJ dropped quickly and started dis­ap­pear­ing into deep wa­ter and soft shin­gle ( Note: a timely re­minder to check ev­ery cross­ing be­fore en­ter­ing). With a quick flick of the rear locker and hastily chang­ing the trans­mis­sion to the R po­si­tion I quickly re­treated, not want­ing to be the first FJ stuck on the first day. I shouldn’t have wor­ried as Greg in his green FJ man­aged this task very com­pe­tently just a cou­ple of hours later by neatly park­ing in a very soft swamp. The Porika Track takes you down to Lake Ro­toroa. It’s a bit steep and rocky in parts, but noth­ing chal­leng­ing. We then did the Brae­burn Track from Lake Ro­toroa to Murchi­son. This isn’t a 4WD track but a

well-formed shin­gle road, but did sat­isfy our quest to try and avoid the tar­mac where pos­si­ble; we ran out of time to start the next track as we had planned, so camped at the Lyell DoC camp­site for the night in the Up­per Buller Gorge some 35km south of Murchi­son. Next, we were tack­ling what is known as the Iron Bridge to Den­nis­ton track ( or al­ter­na­tively the New Creek to Den­nis­ton 4WD Track). This drive is fan­tas­tic, so af­ter con­tact­ing the West­port DoC of­fice to con­firm ac­cess re­quire­ments we were off. This road was built to ser­vice the power lines and has a few river cross­ings; the only one that can be chal­leng­ing af­ter rain is the Mack­ley River ( oth­er­wise the cross­ing is just a slow boul­der hop across). The road passes through a se­ries of forested hills and val­leys as it tra­verses the Mt Wil­liam Sad­dle onto Bur­nett’s Face be­fore fi­nally ar­riv­ing at the his­toric coal min­ing area of Den­nis­ton. Den­nis­ton was one of New Zealand’s most pro­duc­tive coal mines. In 1895 it pro­vided the largest ton­nage of coal in the coun­try; how­ever, as part of this achieve­ment they had to solve the chal­lenge of get­ting all that coal down a very steep slope some 500m be­low them to­wards the coast. Good old Kiwi in­ge­nu­ity re­sulted in a self-act­ing in­cline pow­ered by grav­ity, ba­si­cally loaded wag­ons were sent down the slope bal­anced against empty wag­ons that needed to be re­turned to the top to be filled again. The plateau has very good in­for­ma­tion pan­els that ex­plain the life and his­tory of Den­nis­ton along with the en­gi­neer­ing feats of the in­cline and the hard­ships of life dur­ing this time. I must con­fess that I man­aged to get FJ stuck whilst en­joy­ing the drive to Den­nis­ton ( To be hon­est, some­where it shouldn’t have been pos­si­ble if I had been pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the road ver­sus the scenery) which re­sult­ing in me need­ing to use my winch, un­for­tu­nately or luck­ily de­pend­ing on how you look at it at the ex­act same time we bumped into some very friendly mem­bers of the Manukau 4WD Club do­ing a re­con for a fu­ture club trip, so af­ter some mockery and friendly ban­ter about my abil­ity to park in­ap­pro­pri­ately, I re­ceived some as­sis­tance and we were on our way again. Af­ter vis­it­ing the sports store in West­port we re­ceived a tip about a good 4x4 track and free camp­ing spot so we were off in search of a new ad­ven­ture, how­ever just as the track started get­ting gnarly a very

large tree had fallen across the track re­sult­ing a care­ful re­v­erse back to a suit­able turn­around point, but it was worth the try. Af­ter los­ing some time we de­cided a night in a dry and warm Reefton cabin was the best op­tion con­sid­er­ing that the fore­cast was for very heavy rain and we wanted to leave early in the morn­ing so a pub meal ac­com­pa­nied by a beer or three was very en­joy­able. We drive up to the Big River Set­tle­ment in the morn­ing. This road twists through one of the most in­tact min­ing ar­eas on the west coast past sev­eral his­toric places and mines that can be ac­cessed by short walks such as a re­stored wind­ing en­gine shed, a mini pop­pet-head, the re­mains of Tin Town, and sev­eral mine shafts. The drive is slow, rocky and full of blind bends that re­quire a lot of con­cen­tra­tion but very sim­ple 4wd wise. By now the rain from Cy­clone Cook had re­ally started to set in so we opted to stay at the Ika­matua Pub as it was close to the start of the next track be­ing Napoleon Hill and the Waipuna Caves which we had al­ready ar­ranged per­mis­sion to ac­cess via pri­vate prop­erty the next day. How­ever, our plans changed af­ter speak­ing to the land own­ers in the morn­ing who sug­gested that once we were in the gorge there was a risk of flash flood­ing due to all the heavy rain and if this hap­pened we would have no exit pos­si­bil­i­ties. Their ad­vice was to wait it out, this is a good ex­am­ple of why lo­cal knowl­edge can be very im­por­tant, so af­ter check­ing the fore­cast we de­cided to head south and make this rainy day a pro­duc­tive drive day in­stead. Key Tips. It will take longer than you think, so plan for ex­tra time and be flex­i­ble with your itin­er­ary. Have elec­tronic Topo maps on a GPS de­vice ( We also had Hema Maps, to show camp­sites). Hav­ing two ve­hi­cles meant we could be flex­i­ble and move fast. Get as much pre-ap­proved/ar­ranged ac­cess as pos­si­ble in ad­vance.

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