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!
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.
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.
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.