Plan­ning ‘the big trip’

Keen to do your own big trip? Reg­u­lar NZ4WD con­trib­u­tor Gary Cooper of­fers his thoughts on how to plan a 4WD ad­ven­ture!

NZ4WD - - ADVENTURE - Story and pho­tos by Gary Cooper.

Hav­ing just re­turned from a 19-day 4WD ad­ven­ture to the South Is­land ( or rather the ‘Main­land’ as we were of­ten told), I thought it would be worth­while shar­ing how we went about plan­ning the trip and get­ting per­mis­sion for ac­cess where re­quired. My next ar­ti­cle will fo­cus on the trip – which in short was fan­tas­tic. So here are some key learn­ings to help any­one else plan­ning such an ad­ven­ture.

From small acorns

Like a lot of things in life it all started at the pub one af­ter­noon over a cou­ple of beers. A mate and I had been dis­cussing a longer 4WD camp­ing trip to the South Is­land for a while and we fi­nally reached the point of say­ing ‘OK let’s just book the ferry, lock in some dates and start plan­ning.’ Smart­phones were de­ployed, the ferry was booked... now we just had to tell our bet­ter halves. My only ad­vice here is per­haps tell them first! Next step was to get hold of some 4WD guide­books and do some on­line search­ing for tracks and routes. We soon had a list of tracks, far more than we could pos­si­bly drive with our lim­ited time so we cre­ated a draft itin­er­ary to get some idea of what was pos­si­ble in the time frame. An­other les­son learned was that plan­ning to do more than one track a day even if they were close proved op­ti­mistic as de­lays hap­pen or travers­ing tracks takes longer than you ex­pect; es­pe­cially if you end up get­ting stuck a few times, want to ex­plore, or if your camp­site is fan­tas­tic, why rush off to the next place? Sim­ply en­joy the mo­ment.

Some R& R along the way

You can’t avoid the tar­mac al­to­gether but our plan was to try and get of­froad as of­ten as pos­si­ble even if it meant a longer and slower route. Again, one of the many lessons I learned from do­ing the big lap around Aus­tralia a few years back was that mak­ing camp and mov­ing the next day ev­ery day can quickly get very tire­some and be­come more like work than a hol­i­day. So the key is to fac­tor in some breaks for re­lax­ing, read­ing, fish­ing, hunt­ing, walk­ing, etc, ba­si­cally what­ever takes your fancy, to en­sure you have a hol­i­day and some R& R along the way. Even if this means you have to see less or con­cen­trate on a smaller area, your trip will be much bet­ter for it plus this will al­low for the ‘lo­cal knowl­edge’ fac­tor. For in­stance, we were of­ten told about a track or camp­ing spot by lo­cals and had the flex­i­bil­ity to take ad­van­tage of this lo­cal knowl­edge. To that end we found that the lo­cal sports, hunt­ing or fish­ing shops in the small towns were very help­ful so we made a few changes on route to in­cor­po­rate this new in­for­ma­tion.

High sea­son

We timed our trip so we could still drive the Molesworth and Rain­bow sta­tion roads be­fore they closed as nor­mally the Molesworth is open from the Satur­day of Labour Week­end to Easter Mon­day or the sec­ond Sun­day in April, whichever is the later date. As part of your plan­ning make sure you are aware of any planned road clo­sures. We also lever­aged our net­work and met with a cou­ple of peo­ple that had re­cently done a very sim­i­lar trip and asked for their ad­vice on track grad­ings, which ones were bet­ter etc. This also proved very help­ful and we ap­pre­ci­ated them tak­ing the time to meet us. A num­ber of the tracks we wanted to drive re­quired lo­cal con­sent or pay­ment of an ac­cess fee to cross pri­vate land. Where we had this in­for­ma­tion we made con­tact be­fore we left to make sure we had all the facts and were do­ing ev­ery­thing with the ap­pro­pri­ate per­mis­sion. Th­ese lo­cal con­tacts proved in­valu­able as we ended up do­ing our trip dur­ing

Cy­clone Cook, and lo­cal knowl­edge on river lev­els was crit­i­cal as a cou­ple of our planned routes needed to be changed due to the very real risk of flash flood­ing or im­pass­able rivers leav­ing us stranded.

Ask first

For ac­cess if you are in any doubt ASK first, treat it as part of the ad­ven­ture and al­low time for this ex­plor­ing, be po­lite and flex­i­ble if re­quired. Re­spect any sig­nage say­ing pri­vate prop­erty even if your map shows the road is pub­lic – al­ways check first. Some­times we had to go to t wo or three sta­tion houses or find some shed in the back pad­dock to talk to the owner and only once we were de­nied ac­cess, ev­ery other time we were sim­ply given per­mis­sion. On a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions, in fact, the farmer jumped in his 4WD and showed us the way, plus you get to meet some in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters! Of course it goes without say­ing that you need to re­spect the fact you are on a work­ing farm or pri­vate prop­erty by leav­ing all gates as you find them and by stay­ing on the des­ig­nated track; ba­si­cally tread as lightly as pos­si­ble so as not to ruin ac­cess for any­one else in the fu­ture. I hope this gives you some in­spi­ra­tion to plan a longer 4WD trip. It’s a great ad­ven­ture and as much about the peo­ple you meet as it is about the tracks you drive.

On-site at Big River.

Ready to cross Cook Strait.

Topo maps on dash-mounted Tablet.

FJs parked up for lunch stop after morn­ing river cross­ing.

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