WINTER WOOLLIES TAGALONG
It’s cold and there is always the possibility of snow... meaning August’s Achilles Radial Winter Woolies tag-along has always been one of the country’s most popular! This year’s new format two-dayer was no exception
The Achilles Winter Woolies trip was back on the tagalong calendar this year after a break due to the illness and passing of Craig Mott, one of the main organisers from the Desert Defenders Off Road Club. However, the team including Kandy Mott, Craig’s wife, were back for 2018 and the event was as popular as ever. While previous trips have mostly been through Karioi Forest and the western side of the military training grounds at Waiouru, 2018 would be on both sides of the training grounds starting off from the Waiouru Sports Club. The Desert Defenders Off Road Club ( DDORC) raises funds to support children’s charities through the Trillian Trek ( formerly The Variety Club Bash). Because it is registered under the Outdoors and Adventure activities regulations, the DDORC have to be audited every three years, and an auditor would be present checking the paperwork and procedures on Saturday. While they may have had a few nerves regarding the audit, there was no need as they passed and are all good for another three years. Essentially a one- day event on the Saturday, due to demand this year the same trip was run again on the Sunday to cater for the popularity from participants although there were several people who booked in for both days and were duly rewarded for it with t wo similar but very different days. While Saturday was a dull cloudy day with the odd scattering of snow on the grounds, especially up the side of Mt Ruapheu, Sunday was a really fine cloudless day. I don’t think I have ever been in the area on such a nice day in all the years I have been going there.
Saturday started off with a cooked breakfast for those who ordered the meal package, it was then line up on the sports field in groups for scrutineering. Vehicles were checked for recovery points front and rear and also the required basic equipment. Following a welcome and safety briefing, along with the Army’s required briefing on unexploded munitions ( known as blinds), we set off in an easterly direction into the training grounds along the Tarn Track and past the Urban Combat Village ( UCV), a village built out of shipping containers for military training before deployment to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is also around this area, together with Home Valley and Argo areas, that you usually get to see the Kaimanawa Wild Horses, and those towards the front of the convoy weren’t disappointed with some good photo opportunities. Morning tea stop was at the horse yards on the river flats of the Moawhango River where DoC rounds up a number of the Kaimanawa horses every couple of years to manage the numbers which at one stage reached as many as 1700. From the horse yards it was back on the road and back over the hills and down into another valley before looping around and down to the shores of Lake Moawhango for lunch. While most had the usual sandwiches and rolls the entrepreneurial ones teased the rest of us with smells of mutton, steak and even venison on the BBQ. During the lunch break many took the opportunity to take a closer look at the dam before we departed heading along the more muddy tracks as we made our way out to the Desert Road.
Crossing the Desert Road it was into the Rangipo Desert heading for the western side of Mt Ruapehu. For those on Saturday as we neared the upper reaches and the area now known as Mordor after it was used in the filming of the Lord of the Rings, there was patches of snow still on the ground. The snow was melted by the time Sunday’s participants got there but they at least got to see the snow-capped mountain peaks which were previously shrouded in heavy cloud. The terrain got more challenging as the day went on especially as we now headed in a southerly direction along the base of the mountain through gullies and bush areas to the big “play bowl” at Ghost Bush. The bowl’s steep sandy type soil area is where drivers challenge themselves and their vehicles getting up and down while others are content to sit back, enjoy their afternoon tea and watch the action. The bottom of the bowl is very rocky so you also need to pick your lines. On the Sunday there was a Toyota Surf giving a good display in an effort to climb the steepest and roughest part which resulted in wheel lif ts that eventually were the demise of a CV joint.
Getting later in the day it was back through alpine bush before heading out across the ‘ desert’ back towards the highway. There were a couple of rather muddy and churned up areas which saw an odd vehicle needing recovery assistance. Once back at the Whangaehu River we crossed the rocky river and followed some rather rutted and muddy tracks on the other side. There were couple of deep rutted water holes on the side of the ‘ track’ and the organisers had marked and taped off the first one to warn people from going into it. However they didn’t do the same on the second one which was almost immediately after the first and a couple just had to go in. Usually once the first was stuck in there the rest kept well away as it had a tendency to fill the vehicle with muddy water before it can be winched out. Care was needed to driving these tracks as in places the ruts were deep and washed out from the Army NZLAV armoured vehicles resulting in some vehicles getting stuck. There were always alternative escape routes but most were up for a challenge, resulting in many broad smiles across the faces and the rather dirty, mud splattered vehicles afterwards. Back out at the highway t yres were pumped up and goodbyes said while asking at the same time “When is the next one?”
Dee Smith applying a liberal coating of Waiouru mud to the Wrangler.
Kumeu’s Geoff Cottle making a splash.