99 Rivers revisited
After such an enjoyable time on the 2016 trip, genial guide, host and Master of Ceremonies Bill Ryan and friends decided to do it all again this year – with a twist!
By early March our summer has usually settled into its stride with long fine yet mild days and brilliantly clear and cool nights. The holiday season is largely over and the roads are wide open. 99 Rivers would again cover some 4,500 kms over 14 days and at last it was time to pack the recovery gear, the fold-away seats and coolers, check the oil and t yres and hit the road. We would be staying in motels and lodge accommodation every night and so in early March nine couples from both North and South Islands made their separate ways to the town of Dannevirke, the starting point of our journey and our first night together as a group. Handily located in the south- east of the North Island it makes for a convenient gateway to the remote and rugged coastline of the mighty Wairarapa, a vast and imposing swathe of land bordered by central mountain ranges in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east.
The plan was pretty simple: Make a beeline for the coast and hug it as close as possible all the way south to our jump off point at Wellington for the main southern leg of the trip. It sounds simple enough but a good deal of planning and seeking of permissions is required as large sections of the trail cross through iwi lands or private sheep stations. With the back seat of the Land Cruiser fully loaded with beer and wine I was well provisioned to dispense the necessary customary ‘ koha’ to ease the granting of permissions as we threaded our way south down the coast. Sometimes on formed roads, sometimes track, sometimes you make your own trail ( I’ll admit I got the group a bit lost on Day 1 and had to bluff my way a bit) but always the wheeling is good, never too extreme but often more than interesting. Fiordland aside, the Wairarapa boasts the lowest population density of any region ( unless you are counting sheep) and Akitio Station, Castle Point Station and remote Glenburn Stations provided some awesome and thrilling terrain .
Food ‘n wine
As luck would have it Day 3 saw us passing through Martinborough on
the very day of the world-famous Martinborough Fair. How convenient. I resisted the wines and produce but somehow managed to acquire from some clever artisan a 10’ x 3.5’ x 2” rimu timber table! Made – supposedly – from the recovered rafter beams of an old convent building and famously ‘ blessed’ by the Bishop of Wellington with the enthusiastic assistance of the Abbess... and you’re absolutely right, it ’s a long story ( as told by one of the team members) and one, perhaps, for another time! Organising eight other couples can be a lit tle like herding cats and a free morning in Wellington can be a huge distraction with places like Te Papa to see; nonetheless we all made it on to the Interislander ferry for the crossing to the South Island. Speaking of which, here’s a tip; take the ‘premium plus’ option on the ferry. On 99 Rivers we don’t slum it. The nasty earthquakes in November last year pretty much demanded we head west after landing in the South Island and following a night in centrally- located ski town of St. Arnaud we did just that. The Mackley River and Denniston Trail, long on my 4x4 trail bucket list, led us west and up and over to the Tasman Sea. Requiring a team effort, the main river crossing of the Mackley provided some excitement and entertainment with the boys diligently walking the crossing, identifying the worst immovable hazards and shifting those logs and boulders that could be coaxed aside.
Satisfied… and relieved
That night over dinner in Karamea we all felt a quiet sense of accomplishment as more than a few keen 4WDers have been thwarted by this river. Especially satisfied was Brian who had negotiated the trail in a new and completely stock Mitsubishi Pajero. Satisfied and relieved too was our brave Day Leader Peter who – having been nominated in his role due to his assumed previous experience – revealed he’d never actually made it across before. Next morning after a quick prospect for greenstone gems at Westport we were up and over the Main Divide via Arthur’s Pass into the Canterbury High Country for a very pleasant stay at Flockhill Station, then on to Glenfalloch Station at the headwaters of the Rakaia River.
Stupendous, magnificent, incredible – pick your own superlatives – but know that none will do these locations justice. Just go there – some time in your life.
More bucket lists get ticked
Spectacular mountain trails led us from Glenfalloch over to Lake Heron Station and on to Mount Potts for a very memorable night at a completely deserted lodge. Apparently the manager and his partner had up and abandoned the show the previous day. Luckily the well-appointed rooms were ready and there were beers in the bar fridge at the main lodge. We felt obliged to help ourselves – and so we did. Next day we cut a track to Erewhon Station at the head waters of the brooding and imposing Rangitata. This is a river not to be taken lightly and has awarded a wet miserable end to many an unwary or cocksure wheeler. But we were there on a perfect March day with the river in a benevolent mood and our crossing at the confluence of the Havelock, Clyde and Rangitata rivers proved no real difficulty. Another bucket list item ticked off. Group chemistry is important for sure and like a box of chocolates you never know what you’re going to get when you meet as strangers for trip like this. But I think maybe the shared passion for overlanding helps to qualify and narrow the selection. It also helps immeasurably to have a smooth crooning Maori, Vaughn ( Frank Sinatra) West, and his equally talented wife Denise along to cheer us and bring us out of our shells. With guitar and ukuleles they had us all laughing and singing like birds the whole journey. What a great bunch. So another adventure completed, bucket lists ticked, and other than a very minor scrape to the front apron of Brian’s Mitsi nobody suffered any damage. We who met largely as strangers parted as good friends vowing to do it again soon. All had a complete ball, became better singers and can now consider themselves seasoned overlanders. Roll on next summer. Or maybe winter? I mean why wait? Interested? Email me at kiwibill@ gmail.com
Honeycomb rocks on the Wairarapa Coast.
The girls coming up with a plan…
Geoff Butcher captured this stunning shot of a NZ Falcon at High Peaks Station.
Magnificent isolation of the mighty Rangitata.
Picking our way across the Rangitata.
Group shot overlooking the Rakaia River at Glenfalloch Station.
Slowly does it on the Omarama Saddle.
Traversing another scree slope – Glenfalloch Station.