Each summer David Coxon’s 4WD club supports a number of council and club activities by leading trips and providing seats for members of the public.
I always try to take part in these activities since, as well as supporting the club in enhancing our relationship with various councils and other agencies, I am getting the pleasure of visiting areas I don’t often get to, in the company of people for whom the whole 4WD experience is often an adventure.
Belmont Hills Sunset Trip
The Greater Wellington Regional Council ran two sunset trips this year, with about thirty people on each. The trips were a short ramble through the Belmont Regional Park, which is normally a walkers-only park, before heading to the Belmont trig, hopefully in time for the actual sunset.
This year, for the first time, we started at a parking area at the northern end of the park, with the first section being a steep but well-maintained power line track from the main road up to the main ridge. Near the top we joined the walking track that takes an even steeper route up from the car park, and the road faded out to a marked track across grassy paddocks climbing to the aptly-named Boulder Hill. This is a high point on the ridge that is scattered with large boulders, making an interesting foreground for the panoramic views across the Hutt Valley, and a good place for our first stop and leg stretch.
With everyone back into the right vehicles, it was then a short and scenic run with some interesting driving as we followed the narrow walking track across the paddocks to access a formed road and head through the park.
One of the many old Second World War ammunition bunkers set into the hills was an opportunity for another stop and a quick talk on the history of the bunkers and the challenges of preserving at least some of them.
We then followed formed roads south through the park to connect into the Old Coach Road, a now disused part of the original Wellington Regional road network. We exited the park for a few hundred metres before another gate gave us access to the formed road up to the trig station at the southern high point of the park. With perfect timing on both occasions, we got to the trig just as the sun set, giving us a double score of amazing sunsets.
By the time we got back to the cars it was almost dark so, despite the enthusiasm
of the drivers for a night drive through the park, the return trip to the parking area was via the Hutt motorway.
Te Kopahou Reserve
Te Kopahou Reserve is in the hills above Sinclair Head on Wellington’s South Coast. This very steep and hilly terrain has a network of good 4WD tracks looping between the hills and the valleys, with enough challenge to make for interesting driving, and some superb views across Wellington and out over Cook Strait.
Unfortunately for us 4WDers, the narrow tracks with some very long, steep drop-offs in places mean that the area is normally restricted to walking use only, and only available to us by very special arrangement.
There were two trips this year, one for the Botanical Society and on run by the Wellington council, and I was involved with the Botanical Society trip. The Botanical Society members were mainly older people who arrived fully equipped with heavyduty tramping gear, hiking poles and back packs. They were obviously very fit and used to walking long distances over rough terrain in search of rare plants.
This time, my passengers enjoyed the ease of being ferried from one rare plant site to another while spotting and discussing an amazing variety of plants seen on the side of the track. I was soon lost in a maze of Latin plant names. At each of the sites us less botanical drivers had a very pleasant break to enjoy the views and the sense of remoteness from the bustle of Wellington, while the BotSoc members roamed the hillsides looking for that elusive plant.
The day ended with the BotSoc hosting a very welcome afternoon tea at a local café for the drivers. It was much appreciated.
This trip was organised by the council to take members of the public over private farmland from the Wainuiomata coast to Ocean Beach on the Wairarapa coast. The trip started with a short run from the coast road across some paddocks with a short, steep climb onto the main farm track leading to the airstrip overlooking the Wainuiomata River valley. We stopped at the airstrip for everyone to enjoy the view in clear and not particularly windy conditions.
Moving on we continued climbing up the ridge, with my passengers being amazed by the views and impressed at the ease with which the vehicles were handling what seemed to them to be almost impossible terrain.
After another scenic break at a high point on the ridge, we dropped down the other side of the ridge on some narrow and steep tracks, often with nearly sheer drop- offs, finally reaching the Orongorongo River and a well-earned coffee break.
Part two of the trip started by crossing the Orongorongo River, a new experience for some passengers, before a scenic but less adrenalin-inducing run around the coast. We had planned to take a side track that threaded its way through the coastal boulders to a seal haul- out, but were thwarted by DOC’s newly installed bollards – on a track that could only be accessed through a locked gate on private property!
The bollards made even less sense given the track is also part of a national cycle trail with cyclists and walkers not being stopped by the bollards.
After lunch at the Stony Creek DOC Campsite the return trip was an easy and familiar run, apart from an easy recovery when one driver tried to give his passengers a thrill by going through a water-filled hole, and got stuck. We took a final run up the Orongorongo Valley before afternoon tea, and returned down the river bed to end a fun-filled day.
Last month’s suggestion of a distinct threat to the Coromandel’s Maratoto vehicle tracks on Department of Conservation ( DOC) land being shut down because of Kauri dieback, has sadly proved to be a fact, with that area now closed while DOC undertake an investigation to identify if Kauri Dieback has arrived.
I’d assume that if it is still unaffected then it will stay closed to minimise potential infection and if there is already evidence of Kauri Dieback, then DOC will keep it closed to avoid the risk of pathogen transfer elsewhere.
The latter course of action is probably now pointless given that the disease is already widespread, including Great Barrier Island and deep in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges where no vehicles have driven. Recent studies by Auckland University suggests that other native species are also at risk, including Tanekaha, so this disease may yet have wider impacts. At least we’re not being blamed for the rapid spread of the Australian ‘ Myrtle Rust’ which can kill Pohutukawa, Manuka, Kanuka and Rata. By early 2018 it had spread from Northland to Wellington.
During the past year I was actively involved in a project with the Auckland Four Wheel Drive Club to get an agreement with some landowners on the Coromandel to use some of their land for four-wheeling. It took many months of dialogue to get their permission. With agreements organised, there have been many hours and legwork ( literally) this summer to identify options for increasing the available routes for four wheeling.
The design of any new tracks and work on existing routes will need to incorporate water management systems to avoid the transmission of silt into waterways as a part of our agreement and efforts to make the area as sustainable as possible so that we can demonstrate that it can be done!
It has been a real journey of discovery, as a part of the area involved had once been the site of a mining ‘ battery’ with its ancillary services. As we climbed ridges in the bush, bits of that past history kept revealing itself with bit of light gauge railway track and occasional sleeper, along with a series of trenches and overgrown ‘ benched’ cuttings that seem to be for paths. One bit of clear evidence is the rusting remnant of an iron pipe found high on a ridge and entwined by tree roots. A similar section of pipe was found some years back about two kilometres away on the neighbouring property and it’s highly likely that both sections were once part of a water delivery system to the battery.
During March another discovery was made of an array of ‘stamper’ components that may eventually be extracted from their present location and reunited with the concrete remnants of the battery foundations as part of the ‘story’ of the area.
It will take quite a while to explore, identify and eventually clear a variety of practical vehicle routes on these private properties and essential that the lands are respected by everyone as private property. There’s no doubt that it will be tempting for some people to want to play on this land, now that there is no public land on the Coromandel to drive on. To minimise incursions some gates have been erected that the club hope will be respected, as it has been made clear by the landowners that unauthorised access will jeopardise the agreement.
I have to confess that the process of actually deciding where a new 4WD route will go across our crumpled topography on the edges of the Coromandel Ranges is a definite challenge. We now have huge respect for early road builders and surveyors who managed to define routes across such rough terrain. The books all talk of using sight-lines and inclinometers to evaluate gradients, they just forget that in our dense regenerating bush that sight may only be a few metres!
There is a strong temptation to use the shortest distance from A to B because of the costs of machinery and people’s time, when the best answer would be to work towards a longer route with less gradient ( easier maintenance) and more turns to add variety to the journey. Crafting new routes is going to be a journey in itself and take time, so there may be few more reports in future on how we’re going.
A briefing on the rare plants on the side of one of the tracks in Te Kopahou Reserve.
Afternoon tea on the Orongorongo River.
Following the walking tracks across the top of the Belmont Regional Park.
Enjoying the view over the south coast and Wellington Heads from the Orongorongo Hills.
Signs of earlier land use in the new Coromandel block.