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Respect it and you can – like Richard Soult from 4X4Explorer.co.nz – do the Waikaia Bush Road in a day. Take liberties though, and it can bite.
On a recent route logging trip around Otago with my father, I was keen to have a fresh look at the Waikaia Bush Road to check its condition. I hadn’t been there for several years, and not since 38 4WD drivers got stuck in a snow storm in May 2016 and needed rescuing, leaving their vehicles behind. This is not a track to be taken lightly as the weather can change extremely quickly and rain can make the mud holes deep and an easy trap for the inexperienced or solo explorer. In May 2016, over one metre of snow fell in a few hours, leading to an overnight and significant rescue. I had heard that the track had been recently bulldozed and was currently in good condition. Being a solo explorer in my unmodified Toyota Prado, we waited for a good weather window and gave it a go, quite prepared to turn around if we met anything that could involve us getting bogged in.
My father, the previous owner of the Prado but with zero off- road driving experience, had come along as video/ camera man. A couple of days earlier we had been on the Serpentine Road and with my father driving, things were going well until we came across a short boggy section. We stopped and got out to identify a safe line. Happy that we would get through easily, I set up the video camera and starting filming. My father on his approach, got the front wheels stuck in a rut and instead of stopping and backing out, gunned it and within seconds was at a 45 degree angle on his side, with both axles spinning. This led to a t wo hour walk to get cellphone coverage, a call to the local garage 50kms away, a six- hour wait and a very large invoice... With this freshly in mind, my father was more than a lit tle bit wary of tackling a route with such a reputation.
To the Obelisk
We left the main road and headed up to the Obelisk on the Old Man Range. The weather was great and the views were stunning. From here we headed south to gain the Waikaia Bush Rd. I’ve no idea why its called a bush road as at nearly 1400m, there is no bush at all... The reports had been correct and the going was good. The few mud holes that we encountered were reasonably shallow and the base was solid. On a ridgeline nearby, we saw what I assumed to be a local 4WD club out for the day. With tension rising, my father asked me why they needed a convoy of ten vehicles and we were on our own. “Just a Sunday day out for a local club,” I replied, secretly wondering if we would get through. We started our descent towards Piano Flat and came across the famous Stone Steps. We stopped and walked the steps before my father was assigned to photographic duties and I drove the Prado down without difficulty. From here, the going was an easy gravel road with some steep drop- offs, but nothing technically difficult.
We stopped while passing through the lower forested area and gathered some firewood for the evening. On arriving at the Piano Flat campsite, we were amazed. This campsite, whilst being easily accessible by car is remote! The grass was cut to cricket pitch standard and is right next to the Waikaia River. If it had been warmer and we had arrived earlier in the day, the swimming opportunities would have been awesome. On a fine day in March, we had the campsite to ourselves and had a very enjoyable evening around a campfire in one of the many fireplaces provided.
As we sat there with full stomachs and a glass of wine, we reflected on what had been an amazing day on the hill and I was again thankful to have a 4WD. Whilst the Waikaia Bush Rd gave us a great day out, I would caution everyone thinking about attempting it to be extremely cautious of the weather. In the wet, this route would easily become much more difficult and would definitely require several vehicles or the ability to self- recover. My advice, save this route for a nice sunny day and don’t take any chances. There are nearly 800 routes and multiday expeditions throughout New Zealand, complete with route notes and GPX files available on 4X4Explorer.co. nz. Join today and get out there 4X4Exploring!
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Looking south down the Old Man Range from the Obelisk.
Views opening up as we approached the Obelisk.
One of the several mud holes encountered.
End of a great day 4X4Exploring.