My partner Kristina and I are both mountain enthusiasts. Because we live in the Czech Republic, a country which is indeed beautiful, but does not have any high mountains, we travel almost every weekend into Austria, Italian or to the Swiss Alps to enjoy the still unspoiled pure nature and the outdoor pursuits we love.
Every now and then, we also travel a little bit further beyond the borders of Europe, suffering in the thin air of South America’s highest summits, discovering the vast wilderness of Central Asia’s Pamir mountains or struggling with culinary specialities in India.
A special place
New Zealand holds a special place in our hearts, having fallen in love with the nature and atmosphere of this far-off land on working holidays past. Last year we decided we wanted to return and enjoy its splendour once more, and in a different way, attempting to climb some of the country's highest mountains.
Now, you may have recognized our obsession with the mountains, but how does the old Landy fit in, you ask?
It is not hard to guess, it was my, not Kristina's idea. Endlessly watching old Camel Trophy videos can do that to you, resulting in the inevitable, a classic boyhood dream which I tried to fulfil.
Browsing Trade Me every day resulted in a few promising offers but it was not untill just two days before our flight from Europe that I finally got in touch with an owner of a Series IIA 1961 Land Rover in great condition.
Despite its age the old Landy was in a great shape and having been kept in a garage and maintained properly and regularly, there was no reason for hesitation. So we did the deal for a vehicle which would be our home for the next quarter of a year.
To prepare it for our trip we removed the original benches and fitted a DIY bed into the back which also served as a storeroom for our 90 kg of equipment and food. And after just three days, we were ready to set off for our back country adventure.
A tough familiarization
As I am sure you can imagine the first kilometres were a tough familiarization with the comfort of travelling in a 55-year-old truck. Leaf springs, limited speed and unlimited noise. So much so that we could not even speak to each other even though we were sitting half a metre apart.
Then came the rain. We quickly realized that the car is not waterproof in any case, and that the manually operated wipers may be stylish but not really practical. After the first day and 300 kilometres, we were wondering how we would survive the next three months. Even our enthusiasm was slightly overwhelmed by our doubts.
As the days went by, we gained confidence in the abilities of our car as well as ourselves.
For a start we managed to climb our first serious mountain in your country, Mount Brewster above the Haast Pass, in early spring conditions. As we were struggling with an icy exposed summit ridge, we realized that the altitude is not a clue to estimate the mountain difficulty in New Zealand.
Despite being only 2500 metres above sea level, Mount Brewster is technically harder than many European peaks of four-thousand metres. Another lesson we learned was that the weather is absolutely crucial for successful ascents, and therefore checking the forecast became our daily routine. All our plans were forged according to cyclones and anticyclones.
When a low pressure came from Australia, we were forced to aim for the lower hills of Central Otago, where the weather was milder and the forecast more promising, opting for easy hiking and gentle four-wheel-driving.
Having no experience in the latter, our excitement was huge even when driving through a small puddle. However, overcoming few tiny obstacles resulted in growth of our courage and confidence.
Christmas Eve on Mount Footstool above Mount Cook village was particularly pleasant and enchanting, and climbing Mount Madeline in the Darran Mountains near Milford Sound represented really wild experience. Just the approach to the bivouac spot took us ten hours of hard tramping.
The highlight of our trip was most likely the successful attempt on Aoraki/Mt. Cook, which we made on December 29, where we encountered magical weather and had the whole mountain just for ourselves.
During our unforgettable journey, we did not explore unknown places, nor did we pioneer unclimbed mountain routes. We also did not charm anyone with our off-roading feats or car repairing abilities. But that was not a purpose of this trip.
We simply wanted to enjoy it, which we did. A lot. We also learned a lot – about nature, about vintage cars and also about ourselves. Thank you Ben for all that! And last but not least, thanks to all supporters, who kept their fingers crossed for our success.
To read every story in the August 2017 issue of NZ4WD go to Ziniocom (July 21) or purchase your own hard copy at the Adrenalin store.