Story and photo by Paul and Amanda Berry
Again, keen to share our love of the South Island in our adopted country with other like-minded four-wheelers, we went about organising our fourth consecutive self-drive four-wheeling Safari which started on December 27 2016 and ended for most, 18 days later in January, 2017.
We were again surprised by the number of applicants, this year 67 truck crews applied, but we could sadly only accommodate 16 trucks, with that number already pushing the limits of sanity.
And so it was that at 06H45 on the morning of the 27th December 2016, we assembled at the meeting point at Spring Creek, eager to ‘give this thing legs.’
With three truck crews back with us from last year’s Safari, introductions to the first timers were made, and drivers’ briefing covering driving etiquette, safety, radio frequencies etc... etc., as well as route changes was held.
Sadly, due to the Kaikoura earthquake, Blind Saddle on Muzzle Station had to be omitted, but I had already worked out an alternative route, with our participants not missing out on any four-wheeling.
Our alternative route was going to take us through the Molesworth and up to Scotties Hut in Edwards Pass. However The Molesworth was closed suddenly due to (what we now believe was) a ‘Ghost Slip’ somewhere near Isis Bridge. None-the-less, an ‘alternative to the alternative route’ was quickly formulated.
With all loaded up and the sweet smell of diesel fuel in the air, we set off in convoy to the northern end of the Rainbow Valley. On crossing private land and reaching Lake Tennyson, we stopped for brunch before tackling the in/out track of Maling Pass.
After a cup of tea on the shore of the Waiau River, we headed back up Maling Pass and entered Edwards Pass to overnight at Scotties Hut. On entering the coded locked gate at Edwards Pass, the crew in the only petrol engine truck on the Safari, a red Toyota 2L Surf which we affectionately named the ‘Fire Engine,’ informed us that they were very low on fuel and would meet with us in Hanmer Springs the next morning after filling up and obtaining extra fuel cans. With all in agreement, we settled into our camping for the night on the flats around Scotties Hut.
Approaching Hanmer Springs, radio calls were sent out to reconnect with the ‘Fire Engine’ as planned and once located, they were back in the convoy heading towards Lyndon Road and Glenthorne Station.
With our dues paid, the key was obtained to enter the Harper Track to overnight at the Pinnacles. The trip up the Harper River presented us with fantastic river crossings and boulder navigation work.
On arrival at the Pinnacles area, a suitable piece of earth was selected close to fresh running water and our camp was set up. That night much socialising was done and many a long yarn spun.
It was here that we were to learn that Graham Williams, known to New Zealanders as the ‘Bush Poet,’ was a passenger in one of the trucks from the Hawke’s Bay area. (His stories and poems entertained us for the duration of the Safari). Unfortunately, it was also discovered that two crews did not seem to gel with the group cohesively and the unpleasant task of asking them politely to break away the following morning fell upon me.
On waking, we parted ways with the two crews amicably bringing our number to 14 truck crews. After crawling our way back out of the Harper River, we entered the Wilberforce River, with by the end of this leg, 32km of river and boulder work, crossing the main estuary approximately 13 times, then making our way around Mt Oakden to meet with the road at Mt Algidus.
From here it was the tar seal run to Fairlie, to overnight at our first Holiday Park on the trip. Some truck maintenance was done on a few rigs, clothes were washed and a few cold ones consumed while reminiscing over what had been a fantastic day.
This took us over Black Forest Station, dropping down onto Lake Benmore. A group photo shoot was held on the Dam wall and we headed off to Omarama to refuel. Regretfully, our ‘Fire Engine’ crew heard Otematata and disappeared in the wrong direction. (This was going to become a pattern over the Safari with this crew as they were somewhat directionally challenged).
After a 1.5 hour delay in Omarama, we finally reunited with the red Surf and headed into the West Omarama Saddle to set camp for the night next to the Manuherikia River.
Some of the trucks ventured to the highest summit closest to our base for a little more exploration of the immediate area. This was once again proof of the multiuse tracks still to be explored on further trips.
We left our overnight camp and headed on down the Manuherika River, crossed next to ‘Broken Bridge’ and hooked onto Home Hills Runs Road to connect with SH85 on the way to Ranfurly.
Being New Year’s Eve, we opted for a shorter day and set camp at the local Holiday Park in Ranfurly. Some of us decided to take a drive to the Danseys Pass Coach Inn located about 20km NE of our location on Danseys Pass for afternoon drinks.
The hotel is worth a stop in, steeped in gold mining history of the area as well as heaps of very interesting memorabilia. As the sun set on 2016, and Ranfurly could never be accused of being the ‘entertainment mecca of the world.’ we all assembled back at the Holiday Park for a group BBQ and more beverage refreshments.
This later unsurprisingly resulted in some very mediocre dancing which for most, more resembled someone having an electric shock, than that of anyone having any rhythmic moves.
As the countdown to midnight began and the clock struck 12, we sang the mandatory Auld Lang Syne, wished each and all God’s Speed for 2017 and headed off to bed.
Having had a late night previously, and knowing that there would be a few jaded bodies, we started this day a little later. We headed to Naseby, and up Mt Buster, past the diggings for lunch at Tailings Hut. This is another well-presented Hut, which can sleep eight with comfort and would make an excellent reprieve from any inclement weather.
From here we descended into Boundary Creek and up onto Mt Ida. The ever-changing steep gradients, be they up or down, kept us challenged and interested. We again took a stop, this time at Mt Ida Hut for a look-around before continuing over Walking Spur on the Hawkdun Range descending into Johnsons Creek for afternoon tea.
As the day was ending with the sun on the horizon, we decided to return to the holiday park in Ranfurly to overnight in preparation to the next leg of the trip.
With after six days of setting up and breaking down camps, traveling together in convoy, and getting to know each crew’s idiosyncrasies, we found that the group of Adventures had become efficient in the task at hand and we could get moving a little quicker in the mornings.
Leaving Ranfurly we headed further south, connecting with the Old Dunstan Trail to our first stop at the Poolburn Reservoir. From here we headed out to find Serpentine Church at which we stopped for brunch.
Leaving Serpentine, I remembered from past Safaris, that there was a very unforgiving bog some one km from the church and advised everyone to avoid this by taking the high track around it.
Unfortunately, the crew in the Ironman truck missed that message and drove smack into the trap. After jostling the truck forward and reverse a few too many times, insisting that a tow was not necessary, the front left drive shaft let go and sheared clean off.
As the design of this truck dictated, a sheared side shaft meant that the front wheel, together with the complete hub, had more sideways movement than the flutter of the NZ flag on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge in a brisk breeze.
This, therefore, was a terminal failure, and no amount of ‘bush mechanic’s ability’ would keep the wheel steady without having parts brought in from, in this case, Tauranga.
A decision was made, therefore, that the Ironman rig, together with two other trucks, would stay back on South Rough Ridge Hill, drive to Dunedin Airport to collect and return with the new bits for repair to the truck.
We estimated total turnaround time at three to four days and arranged a meet up around Cromwell further into the Safari, meaning that we were suddenly reduced to 11 trucks still willing and able to continue.
Leaving Rough Ridge, we headed even further south on part of the Old Dunstan Trail, taking a right onto the Lammerlaw Range to soak up the flowing hills of the Lammermoor Track.
With daylight eaten by the Ironman rig’s fatality, some urgency had to be applied to getting us over the Lammermoors and down Gardiners Track towards Lawrence before nightfall, as a night up on the blustery Lammerlaw Range was not a comfortable proposition.
On reaching Glendhu Forest and the start of Gardiners Track for the decent into Lawrence, we found that the forest roads, including Gardiners Track, had been locked off for timber felling operations and although we were still in Public Holidays and no immediate felling was taking place, every legal exit to take us off the mountain was inaccessible.
With no daylight left and very little fuel, to back track over the Lammermoors was not an option. Miraculously, I remembered from past motorcycle adventures over parts of this area, that a Landcorp Station is situated on the northern end of the Forest and with permission to cross, would get us onto Mountain Road and by a roundabout route down into Lawrence.
With mobile phone reception in that area, we Googled the station’s number and contacted the manager to gain access over the Landcorp property. With this successful, we arrived in Lawrence at around 9.00pm, found accommodation where we could, and settled in for the night after an extremely challenging day.
Leaving Lawrence at 08H30 we headed north towards Roxburgh taking the dirt roads over Millers Flat. After a brief stop at Lake Roxburgh, we continued up to Fruitlands and left onto Symes Road which over a very short distance wound its way up onto the Old Man’s Range and an altitude of 1682 meters above sea level.
We headed to the Obelisk Rock where a hot beverage was enjoyed in blustery cold weather. From here we turned to meet with Waikaia Bush Road along the crest of the range. After encountering many window height bogs, we arrived at Potters Hut where a lunch was enjoyed.
Not wasting too much time, we continued through bog after bog, getting stuck and winching/ pulling trucks as they fell foul to what seemed to be mud from hell until we finally started the decent to Christies Hut and the beginning of Canton Road. The descent was in itself an experience, as heavy rain turned the mud surface into a ski slope, where the only way to safely get your rig to the bottom was to have the wheel’s hook into a rut and hang on for the ride.
Once at Whitecombe Creek, we found a suitable spot and set camp for the night. The crew in the Fire Engine, not happy with the specific spot we chose to camp, decided to head off deeper into the rough only to snag their rig on a very unforgiving bolder that later proved to have bent his front drive shaft. With rain pouring down, we cooked tea and snuggled into our respective tents without much inter camp visiting taking place on that night.
On breaking camp, it was decided that our next meet would be at Lumsden in approx. three hours to re-fuel before heading to the Nevis. Rigs departed as they were finished loading their gear and on heading down a very slippery Whitecombe Road towards Piano Flat, I dodged a fallen branch on the road and found myself nose down in a ditch. Even with 4-wheel-drive engaged, there was no getting out.
Had my winch been mounted on the back of my truck, I would have had a chance to extract myself from that location, but with the front mounted winch, it proved useless.
Luckily for me, I was not the last to leave our overnight spot and I knew help would soon be on its way. With a quick tug from Alex in another Safari, I was again mobile and with ears pinned back headed to Lumsden to fuel up and regroup.
Next was the Nevis and Carricktown crossings. Squally rain was again falling, and quarter way into the Nevis the temperature plummeted and rain turned to sleet which soon turned to snow!
As this passed and, although still very cold, we stopped for lunch midway in the crossing, and after being well fed and watered, we made our way over to Carricktown and down to Cromwell.
As the previous night was wet and cold, we opted for a holiday park in Cromwell to overnight, wash and dry clothes and gear and generally prepare ourselves for the next few days to come.
This was to be the day we were again meant to meet up with our Ironman rig after its crew had successfully replaced the sheared side shaft. Sadly, this was not to be, as we learned that although the repair was made as per schedule, on leaving Ranfurly to make our meeting time in Cromwell, the turbo on the same truck packed a sad and expelled the Ironman crew from any further participation in this Safari.
The two companion crews, who had stayed back to help on South Rough Ridge Hill, also decided to stay and help sort the new problem of the turbo. So, with time running out and the distance between us getting ever further apart, we said our farewells to the three crews for the last time over the phone.
Although disappointed for them that this had occurred, we have come to accept that these things happen on long Safaris such as this, and as long as my rig remains intact and mobile, my duty remains to ensure that the crews and trucks still able, get to experience what they signed up for, which is the complete Safari offered.
On departing Cromwell heading north, we turned off onto Bendigo Station, crossing over Thompsons Saddle detouring up an in/out track to summit Mt Moka. The views from up there were stunning and after a hurried cuppa, we moved on to brunch at the Blue Lake in St Bathans.
After spending about an hour at the Blue Lake, and some enjoying a quick swim, we made our way to the start of the East Omarama Saddle. On route, the only Jeep in our group, came to a sudden stop with a complete electronic failure.
After diagnosing that the main supply fuse had blown, arrangements were made to have one brought up from further south. The Fire Engine crew took it upon themselves to wait with the Jeep until mobile again and reunite with the rest of us in Twizel later that night. The remaining nine trucks continued through the scenic East Omarama Saddle and on to Twizel arriving around 4.00pm.
It was here that my truck was starting to show signs of exhaustion, with a blown rear shock rubber, temperamental locking hubs that seemed to disengage at will, and a dodgy front drive shaft universal.
Having a few hours up my sleeve and some daylight left, I contacted Warren at 4WDBits in Auckland and he arranged an overnight delivery of some of the offending parts to be receipted by the staff at Twizel Holiday Park.
We all found accommodation at the Park that night awaiting the late arrival of the Jeep and the Red Surf following the fuse issue. With my spare parts only arriving the following day around noon, and with us scheduled to leave early morning for Glen Lyon Station, I managed to do a ‘bush fix’ (which although not knowing at the time, lasted to the end of the Safari) to the shock and universal as well as added a spacer to the Locking Hub to keep the Safari on track.
With all 11 Trucks reunited, we left Twizel and headed up the side of Lake Ohau and onto Glen Lyon Station. With generous donations given at the Homestead toward the Westpac Rescue Helicopter charity by all as koha for entry to Glen Lyon Station, we proceeded up the Dobson River to the flats north of Grough Hut where we set camp for the night.
With time to spare, we dug a fire pit among the silver pines, lit a warm and inviting fire and circled the pit with chairs. Dinner and liquid refreshments were enjoyed while being entertained with more stories narrated by our ‘Bush Poet.’ With everyone satisfied with the day’s activities, we headed off to bed to further appreciate the quiet serenity of the vastness of the Dobson Valley.
Awaking to another day in the south, we broke camp and fare welled the Dobson, stopped in at Twizel to collect my parts then headed towards Tekapo. The Red Surf (aka the Fire Engine) blew a tyre on our exit off Glen Lyon Station and decided to have this, together with the bent front drive shaft suffered some days earlier, seen to at a service station in Tekapo, and reunite with us the following morning.
The remaining 10 trucks carried on up next to Lake Tekapo and the Macaulay Valley to overnight at the Deerstalkers hut. Crossing the Macaulay River was easier this year, with the river level at a manageable height.
The trip to Macaulay Hut was largely uneventful and on arrival, the hut stove fire was lit, water for showers boiled and dinner prepared. Most crews found sleeping quarters within the hut except for the heavy snorers who were relegated to set their tents up outside. Happy Hour followed, with socialising, card playing and general activities being the order of the time.
Leaving the Macaulay Valley, we reunited with the red Surf as arranged in Tekapo and covered the tar seal run towards Lake Heron. With six of the 11 Trucks breaking off to do a little exploring of their own around the Rangitata River Area to meet with us again later that day, the remaining group reached Lake Heron and found a suitable place to camp overnight.
Somewhere in that mix, the Fire Engine was once again directionally challenged and was not present in either the Lake Heron group, or the Breakaway group. Knowing, although we had no mobile reception at the location we were at, and our radio calls were deemed unsuccessful in reaching them, they knew where we would be heading to from this point as all the GSP coordinates of the entire Safari was given to all participants on signing up, I was confident that we would meet with them again further into the trip.
With now 10 crews re united at the camp site at Lake Heron, the breakaway group was confident that the Red Surf was safe and simply decided to overnight somewhere else and was going to meet with us all the following evening somewhere in Arthurs Pass. After receiving this news and the worry subsided, we settled into another peaceful night on the shores of Lake Heron.
A 9.00am start saw us at Lake Heron Station, gain access to the private land and travel along the very scenic Lake Stream meeting with the Rakaia River and Glenfalloch Station. With more access obtained from the landowners of Glenfalloch, the track exposed great views of the Rakaia Valley and Rolleston Ranges.
From here in was on to the Rakaia Gorge, up Zig-Zag track, Coleridge Road, Homestead Road, before joining Arthurs Pass Road at Porters Pass. Our overnight stop was to be somewhere in Arthurs Pass, with some opting for Flock Hill Station, while others went further on to camp at Jacksons. The arrangement was to meet at the Lake Brunner Road turn off at 9.00am the following day.
As scheduled, the 9.00am meet was held, and the Fire Engine was back in the fold. They explained that they had decided to peel off and spend a day and night away from the group. Happy to have them back and safe, we proceeded to make our way around the west side of Lake Brunner, taking in some of the most overgrown tracks on the trip thus far.
Bashing our way up to and over Mt Fox where we enjoyed our lunch, we finally reached the relatively open track of Maori Gully Road that put us on track towards Napoleon Hill.
Approaching Orwell Creek, land access was gained and we headed over Napoleon Hill into Nobles Creek. This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful tracks on the West Coast, and a must do for any 4WD adventurer.
On exiting the Tunnels in the creek, an afternoon tea stop was enjoyed and the multiple exit river crossings followed.
It was on one of these crossings that the issues with my “disengaging locking hubs” reappeared and I found myself stuck in the middle of the river. Not realising that the hubs were disengaged, I reached out for a quick tow and was plucked from the water before I became too water-logged.
On reaching the tar seal at the end of the track, we headed to overnight at Reefton, where some camped and others took shelter in the Old Nursing Home now opened for affordable accommodation.
More truck maintenance took place, now with several rigs, although all relatively minor, showing signs of wear.
Another 9.00am start, all meeting at a coffee shop on the Main Street of Reefton. As this was to be our last day on the tour, a quick morning meeting was held on the corner sidewalk, intermittently interrupted by friendly local pedestrians stopping for a quiet banter.
At the gathering we learned that we were going to have to say an early goodbye to the Fire Engine, as overnight maintenance exposed a blown rear axle oil seal and wheel bearing.
Sad to see them left behind, we headed in the direction of SH6. Starting at the Burnbrae Track, with its lush greenery and spectacular streams we followed the Matakitaki River to Murchison where we refuelled our trucks.
From Murchison, we turned off at the Mangles River, following it together with very scenic areas through to Lake Rotoroa for a quick sand-fly infested lunch. After our lunch stop, we traversed the Porika Track and ended the tour at the intersection of SH63.
With Safari 2017 at its end, our final farewells were made, summarily exchanging experiences we had enjoyed throughout the trip. As Amanda and I headed towards Picton to meet our ferry, we drove in silence for some way, both thinking back over what was our best Safari to date, thanks in part to the crews whom attended.
We will be hosting another such Safari in 2018, this time from around the end January 2018 to around mid-February 2018. Should you wish to partake, you can contact either of us (Paul or Amanda) on 021 274 5617 to show your interest.
The plan this time, however, is to limit the trip to no more than eight crews. So get in first to secure your place.
To read every story in the July 2017 issue of NZ4WD go to Zinio.com (June 16) or purchase your own hard copy at the Adrenalin store.