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!

NZ4WD - - ADVENTURE - Story and pho­tos by Bill Ryan.

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!

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.

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