Molesworth Station in the South Island’s Kaikoura Ranges offers wonderful high country scenery from public roads open for only part of the summer. Driving through the country’s biggest farm was a great way to get familiar with a new vehicle during a trip north.
I had previously driven the Wairau-Hanmer Springs Hydro road through the western side of Molesworth Station but had never been through the Acheron Road on the eastern side until they opened it earlier this season than in previous years.
At 180,787 hectares, Molesworth Station is the largest farm in New Zealand. It is made up of the former Tarndale, Molesworth and St Helen’s stations, which were taken over by the Crown in 1938 when the original run holders walked off. Molesworth is today administered by the Department of Conservation (DoC) with Landcorp Farming Limited responsible for the farming operations under a lease arrangement that allows farming, conservation and recreation to go hand in hand.
Due to the high country nature – altitude ranges from 550 metres to over 2100 metres – and with the adverse conditions that can prevail, access is limited to the summer months, usually from Labour weekend to Easter Monday or the second Sunday in April (whichever is later).
I had been considering the purchase of a new (to me) Range Rover in Christchurch when I read that the access through Acheron Road had, for the first time, opened in late October. This was a great opportunity to purchase the vehicle and take the long way home, especially as I would take my father, Colin, who had never been to the South Island in all his 80 plus years.
The opening of the Molesworth station tipped the scales enough for me to say yes to the vehicle purchase, and plans were made to fly down and see some of the southern countryside on our drive north. I hadn’t seen the vehicle but had a good friend inspect it for me; the vendor, Lisa, was very helpful in pointing out the little problems that a 10-year-old vehicle can potentially have – but the price was right.
After leaving Christchurch we visited Springfield Service Centre where Terry cleared and reset the air suspension fault, which suggested any problem was just a height sensor. Happy with the vehicle, the road trip could begin.
We headed out over the Southern Alps through Arthurs Pass and Otira to Greymouth and Reefton before going back over Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs. The intention was to travel the Wairau Hydro Road up to Lake Tennyson and reach Island Saddle, the highest publicly accessed road in the country at 1,347 metres. We would then return to Hanmer Springs for the night before heading north on Acheron Road the next day.
From Hanmer there are two ways ‘over the hill’ to Molesworth. The main route is Jacks Pass to the west or Jollies Pass to the east, which is described as a 4WD track and unsuitable for cars. We took the Jacks Pass for the trip up the Hydro Road to Lake Tennyson, which follows the Clarence River. This road is open all year round on the Molesworth end but there is a locked gate at the northern boundary where it passes through onto Rainbow Station. The Rainbow section is usually open from late December through to Easter, with a toll of $25 per vehicle; it is the more challenging of the two roads and it was too early in the month to pass through.
Either way you have to remember that travel is at your own risk and that there is no cell phone coverage or breakdown service. You need a full tank of fuel and a good spare tyre; and be warned: some vehicle insurance policies may not apply.
We pulled over on Jacks Pass to take in the scenery and I discovered a puncture. My first thought was to wonder where the jack was kept, plus I would need to locate the key for the locking wheel nuts. The vehicle had been well looked after, with everything where it should have been, and the wheel was soon changed. Not seeing any sign of damage we retreated to Hanmer Springs to pump up the tyre, thinking it might have just popped the bead. Pumping it up soon revealed a small cut in the sidewall of the front tyre.
What was that about having a good spare tyre? I didn’t want to buy a new one as I had already purchased and arranged to pick up ‘new’ wheels and tyres in Nelson. I wanted to keep going as the day was moving on and I wanted to get Dad up to Island Saddle at least. So we headed back over Jacks Pass again.
As you follow the Clarence River you have the St James Conservation area on your left and the Boddington and Crimea Ranges on your right. For Colin, the steep, bare alpine ranges were something new. The other observation that fascinated Dad was the yellow flowers from all the broom that covered the Hanmer Range on the southern side of the Clarence River.