MY HIGH COUN­TRY JOURNEY

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While most High Coun­try Jour­neys’ ‘Grand Slam’ tours leave from Blen­heim and take in the Molesworth, con­ve­nient for North Is­landers, I pick up this six-day/seven-night tour des­tined for Cardrona in Han­mer, and heave-ho into a group of 14 ad­ven­tur­ers from three Is­lands ( I in­clude Wai­heke, that’s me). There are five ‘civil­ian’ ve­hi­cles in the line-up; Isuzu Max, Mitsubishi Pa­jero, Nis­san Pathfinder and two Toy­ota Hiluxes. In re­gard to body pro­tec­tion, most have Nudge bars and that’s it. High Coun­try Jour­neys’ premise is to travel from ‘Sta­tion to Sta­tion’, through a net­work of pri­vate sta­tion and con­ser­va­tion land tracks. Travel is mostly via ‘lanes’ and tracks oth­er­wise used to muster and move stock and ser­vice these huge South Is­land sta­tions rang­ing from 5,000 to 25,000 hectares. Those ‘on tour’ com­mu­ni­cate via R/ T ra­dios supplied by HCJ. These R/ Ts rapidly be­come a comic stage – “Yeah, there’s a left turn com­ing up”, “Right”; “Make a U-turn,” “I’ve seen plenty of ewes turn.” Oc­ca­sional “ve­hi­cle pass­ing”; Se­ri­ous “I’ve got stuck on a rock, over”; In­struc­tional “Low low, keep your foot off the brake,” ”Use some jan­dal”; Over-rid­ing “Shut the gate.” Later there’s com­men­tary and con­ver­sa­tion and here is the true South­ern di­alect. Sur­names and sta­tion names re­lated in time and space, cor­po­rate and DOC own­er­ship, ten­ure re­view, char­ac­ters and mis­ad­ven­tures, par­ties and haunts. The well man­aged op­er­a­tions with good healthy stock are soon pointed out as blood­lines and farm­ing prac­tices are dis­cussed. Oc­ca­sion­ally a farm may be passed in si­lence, the cold shoul­der on the R/ T more per­va­sive than the lazy April breeze ( too lazy to go round ‘ya).

River Cross­ing Day 1.

From Han­mer we trav­eled through to the back of Hawar­den for morn­ing tea in the mag­nif­i­cent gar­den set­ting of the MacDonald Downs home­stead. It’s one of many chances we have to meet a gen­uine sta­tion fam­ily and get a chance to learn about farm­ing and fam­ily. Bill bought this sta­tion with the prob­lem “we had no money.” His off-the-cuff sug­ges­tion of not nig­gling on the pur­chase price and pay­ing hold­ing fees for a few years led to a hand­shake be­fore the tea was cold, and Bill “had to get mov­ing.” The next ad­ven­ture of the day was to cross the Okuku River as we headed into the top end of the re­mote Lees Val­ley, where af­ter an ex­cel­lent lunch with Rob and Julie Stokes of Ri­chon Sta­tion we con­tin­ued down the val­ley ex­it­ing near Ox­ford and then over Porters Pass past Lake Lyn­don into the Lake Co­leridge Sta­tion coun­try. From here we ex­plore the Wil­ber­force and Harper River ar­eas, the re­gion of Mt Al­gidus and its iconic sta­tion, sub­ject of the clas­sic tale of re­mote High Coun­try sta­tion life – Mona An­der­son’s A River Rules my Life (1962, re-re­leased 2017). From the Co­leridge Power Sta­tion we looked across the Rakaia River to the next day’s track. In guid­ing through this high coun­try, you have to be a lo­cal to know it. Noel (Stanger), our guide for the first cou­ple of days, gave me few per­sonal in­sights. Be­sides that he had spent a life­time in the high coun­try fenc­ing and mus­ter­ing, in­clud­ing own­ing and run­ning sta­tions, I gleaned that he ”sold a horse trekking busi­ness,” ”kept an aero­plane in that shed” and via an­other “was the face of the Marl­boro Man, Aus­trala­sia.” Per­haps I could have guessed that a man rooted in the High Coun­try would mas­ter the means to get around it.

Snatch Straps! Schist Slide! Stag! Day 2:

Stun­ning views of Rakaia, We’re on our way up the south bank, to take a pri­vate side track loop into the Black­hills area. This turned out to be the site of the most in­for­mal of tyre tests, with a small hill with mid-length grass and mud at the en­try. The Bridge­stones, “tried and true” 250s on the Mitsi made it up af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a side­ways flail at the start. The canopied Toy­ota Hilux was the star on Maxxis AT-980 Bravos. A few ve­hi­cles had to have a snatch strap as­sist. While on the sub­ject of tyres it should be noted that low pro­file tyres, such as supplied as stan­dard on many ve­hi­cles such as Range Rovers, are a no-no on these trips as they are ex­tremely sus­cep­ti­ble to side­wall dam­age on sharp rocks. Af­ter car­ry­ing on up­stream we had lunch on the banks of the Rakaia amidst the stun­ning panorama look­ing up into Mt Ar­row­smith and across to Manuka Point sta­tion where Noel once farmed. Af­ter lunch we pass through Glen­fal­loch Sta­tion, and crossed a huge ‘mov­ing fan Schist slide). This is a stun­ning drive and to cap it off just be­fore we trav­elled through the bound­ary with Lake Heron Sta­tion a 12

pointer Stag passed across in front of the lead ve­hi­cles

Be­yond words Day 3:

Af­ter cross­ing the Ran­gi­tata River on High­way 72 and check­ing out the huge ir­ri­ga­tion stor­age dams we vis­ited Mt Peel Sta­tion and the re­cently re­stored Church of the Holy Innocents: This also gave the Mitsi time to duck into Ash­bur­ton to sort out a small diff lock mal­func­tion. We then fol­lowed the Orari River through the Orari Gorge and Blue Moun­tain Sta­tions out to the Fair­lie Basin. A show-stop­per at the end of the day was the track up to Clay­ton Sta­tion Airstrip with mag­nif­i­cent views of basin caps, a play of light and shadow at dusk. Un­able to cap­ture the emo­tional, sense and vis­ual awe of the view, hopes are fixed on the ‘Drone’, the prized toy of one of the party. That night we stayed in Fair­lie, at a dream of a home­s­tay. Any­one for green beans and ba­con; potato gratin off the Aga, car­rots from the gar­den, roast veges, corned beef, topped with a swirl of warm mus­tard sauce from a large enamel, stove warmed, jug? Eaten in sur­rounds that take your in­ter­est, with ru­ral views that take your breath away?

McCaw, Macken­zie. Day 4:

Our fourth day saw us head into the Macken­zie Coun­try via the Macken­zie and Burke’s Passes to lunch be­side Lake Ben­more with its spec­tac­u­lar views through to Mt Cook. From here it was then through Black For­est and Te Akatarawa Sta­tions on the equally spec­tac­u­lar Py­lon Track which runs be­side the lake to the Ben­more Dam and Otem­atata. Af­ter a visit to the Te Aka wool­shed it was on to the Kurow area. The night’s home­s­tay again pro­vided hos­pi­tal­ity plus and was up the Haka Val­ley di­rectly across from the McCaw’s farm (where Ritchie grew up). As to the leg­end of Macken­zie and his dog, to­gether the pair opened up a huge un­known tract of graz­ing land. Un­for­tu­nately, Macken­zie was ac­cused of sheep steal­ing and his demise was due to his faith­ful sheep­dog iden­ti­fy­ing his mas­ter in court... the red haired Scot was so moved to see his mate, he was moved to tears. Case closed!

Dansey’s Pass Day 5:

Af­ter turn­ing in­land past Dun­troon and cross­ing over the Kakanui Moun­tains via Dansey’s Pass it was fol­lowed by an ex­cit­ing climb to ex­plore the Mt Buster

Gold­fields, which at just over 1200 me­tres (4000ft) were once the high­est in NZ. We then climbed up a track on a snowy Mt Kye­burn for a late lunch in the chilly breeze with its stun­ning views of the sim­i­larly snow-clad Hawk­dun and St Mary’s Ranges. It was here that once again the Drone was set aloft this time go­ing AWOL in the stiff Man­iototo ‘breeze’ at over 1600 me­tres ( 5500ft). Tip; set your drone to re­turn ‘home’ at 20 per­cent bat­tery which, hap­pily, was the case here. From the top of Mt Kye­burn we then dropped down onto the Man­iototo Plain and the his­toric gold­fields town of Naseby for a spot of curl­ing, stay­ing at the his­toric Danseys Pass Ho­tel.

Man­iototo Day 6.

On this our final day we ex­plored the Man­iototo ( which lit­er­ally trans­lates as ‘plain of red’, whether it was the leg­end of an an­cient bat­tle or tus­socks glow­ing in the sun is un­sure) be­fore trekking up the Rock and Pil­lar Range for morn­ing tea at a mus­ter­ing hut with stun­ning views over the lower Man­iototo Plain and right through to the Re­mark­ables. We later met at a his­toric shear­ing shed for a chat with lo­cal iden­tity Jim Hore of Stone­henge Sta­tion. The story goes that his grandad got the pick of the runs in a bal­lot for re­turned ser­vice­men by draw­ing ( lucky) num­ber 13. Stone­henge was so named be­cause a rock for­ma­tion on the sky­line of the Rock and Pil­lar Range re­minded an English­woman of home. In the af­ter­noon it was then over the Rough Ridge via the Dun­stan Trail through many gate­ways with huge schist rocks as strainer posts, an­other trib­ute to our re­source­ful pioneers, be­fore a quick trip up and over the Dun­stan Moun­tains then drop down through Bendigo Sta­tion, the home of ‘Shrek’ the leg­endary merino wether.

Just do it!

It is not a mi­nor point that the food was good enough to set aside the ques­tion of “am I hun­gry?” Ac­com­mo­da­tion such as ‘Gun­yah’ fea­tured in NZ House & Gar­den, the Cardrona and Danseys Pass Ho­tels plus a mov­ing feast of very com­fort­able farm stays was also first rate. This trip was so good that at the final din­ner of the tour at the Cardrona Ho­tel all par­tic­i­pants in­di­vid­u­ally thanked High Coun­try Jour­neys’ chief guide and op­er­a­tor John Mul­hol­land for the ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time, each with their dif­fer­ent high­lights most with the same themes – the stun­ning scenery, meet­ing gen­uine ru­ral peo­ple, the awe­some ac­com­mo­da­tion and meals and all grate­ful for be­ing part of a smaller tour group. We were re­ally pinch­ing our­selves that, thanks to High Coun­try Jour­neys' re­la­tion­ships with the sta­tion com­mu­nity, we got the chance to travel on the mag­nif­i­cent, his­tor­i­cal, pri­vate land of the South Is­land’s High Coun­try. To take your 4WD on tour check out the web­site high­coun­tryjour­neys.co.nz 513 Bar­neys Lane, R.D.1, Ran­furly 9395, Otago, New Zealand ph + 64 3 4449703, Cell 0272288152 or email info@ high­coun­tryjour­neys.co.nz

Track on Blue Moun­tains Sta­tion.

Road sign at the start of the Thomp­sons Track.

Schist Slide on Glen­fal­loch Sta­tion.

Ve­hi­cles on the ‘Py­lon track’

Cross­ing the Okuku River.

View of the ‘mov­ing’ Schist fan.

Trip end at Cardrona.

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