Tuesday 25 February 2014

Fangorn Forest...

.....Silverlode River &  Nen Hithoel. If you are a LOTR fan you'll probably know these names from Middle Earth. We know the area where these fictional places are located as the Mavora Lakes and it's where we are headed today for two to three weeks.

Mavora Lakes, there are two; North & South are located at the end of 35kms of gravel road. The road leaves SH94 about half way between Mossburn & Te Anau in Southland and winds it way through the Mararoa River valley. We've not been to the lakes before but from all accounts it is a stunningly beautiful area. We'll be staying at the DOC camp which is located between the lakes. We'll also be launching our Takacat inflatable for the very first time, on the north lake only of course, there's a ban on powered boats on the south one.

Looking at my road map I am fascinated to see that just before the lakes another gravel road branches off and continues over mountains & passes for what looks like miles to finally arrive on the shores of Lake Wakatipu & ends at the famous (in NZ) Walter Peak Station. The station sits on the opposite shore to Queenstown & the well known steamer Earnslaw is usually the way goods and people visit.  It's probably 10kms by boat across the lake from Queenstown but I bet at least 200+ kms by road. While at the lakes we may just have to do a little tiki-tour to explore further.

We will be out of cellphone range while we're there so this will be my last blog post for awhile but have no fear, I shall have a few to post on our return to civilization.

We didn't leave Athol yesterday as originally planned. David had spent all day Sunday cleaning the dust off & out of the ute after our epic 4WD safari on Saturday. He felt he needed a day of rest (but has pottered about all day) & I also wanted to complete the 4WD blogs so we delayed our departure. And it was lucky we did, it blew a gale from early morning with plenty of very strong gusts, our new neighbours towed their caravan down from Wanaka and had the front window of the van broken by the wind.

Before we leave this morning we will be calling in to stock up at the "Vege Shed" which is just down the road, apparently it sells very tasty lamb & venison too. There are not too many options for fresh meat & vegetables between here & Mavora Lakes so we'll take full advantage of what's on offer. I just love their building (an old woolshed) & how it fits right into the environment.

Signing off for now, somewhere "Out There" in the wop-wops (Kiwi speak for out the back of beyond)

Monday 24 February 2014

What Happened Next......Nokomai 4WD Safari

Another couple that we became friends with on the safari were Bob & Linda, they were staying in their tent at the campground where we were. They'd come over from Reefton on the West Coast especially for the 4WD trip. After we saw their Pajero with all the ropes & chains & other 4WD gear we were a little worried about taking the Ford Ranger but Bob assured us we'd be fine. He also told me that 4WD enthusiasts call our vehicles "shinies" & a "shiny" trip is an easy one. Famous last words aye Bob? ;)

Here's the link to the story so far.

Bob & Linda were following us on the last leg & at a stop Bob had told David that after passing through the deep bog he needed to wash the mud off his radiator. So when he took a left turn down Roaring Lion Creek instead of crossing it like the rest of us, we knew what he was up too.

But as we crossed between the two rivers, he disappeared out of sight & it was only the roar of voices & the rush of people to the edge that alerted us that something had happened. When we got to the edge of the next crossing it all became clear. Bob & Linda had driven off the end of one river and into a deep hole where the other one met it. I think the pictures tell the story.....

Bob attaching tow ropes, Linda stayed put. I thought she also stayed very calm, she told me afterwards that she had her handbag held high in one hand to keep her cellphone dry and her camera held high in the other.

Unfortunately when the tow vehicles tried to pull them clear they pulled them deeper.

The back filled with water drowning all their camping gear, food & clothes. Later I saw their two large white clip lid storage containers with all the food inside, both were filled to the brim with water, everything inside was soaked & had floated to the top.

These guys tried to weigh down the side so the Pajero could be pulled up and over the steep lip.

But that didn't work, first one tow vehicle, then three failed to move it.  The shouts rang out "Bring more" Bob shouted too "Hurry up, get a move on!!!" or words to that effect.

As more of tail enders arrived they gathered to watch proceedings from the other side.

Five vehicles were now attempting to pull the Pajero out- three at the back & two at the front pulling the back vehicles. Still no luck.


"FLOOR IT......." Still no luck, just a little closer but with the back deeper.

And then the heavy artillery arrived with a powerful winch & a snatch rope.

And out Bob & Linda popped, 30 minutes after taking a dive. And out poured gallons of water when they opened the doors.

And to much applause Bob took a bow!

Roaring Lion Creek nearly swallowed you up Bob! It was the icing on the cake of a fantastic day for all the "shinies & newbies" along with the seasoned 4WDers that had gathered to watch, shout encouragement & instructions. We did feel sorry for them though. After a bit of tinkering the Pajero failed to start & instead of heading home to Reefton, they had to be towed back to Lumsden. What an end to their weekend.

The safari, beginning at Nokomai Station and ending at Roaring Lion Creek, was 50kms in total and we had a fabulous time & thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the trip. It was an amazing opportunity to see part of New Zealand that not many people get to view.

It was getting late when we finally drove back out onto the Nevis & headed home back down the section of road that we'd already travelled twice earlier in the day. But this time I got David to stop so I could get some of the ute crossing a ford. 

Once past the gate at the top of the range where we had exited Nokomai on the first section of the safari we were on a part of the road we hadn't travelled before. The sun was low in the sky & provided some spectacular colours on the amazing scenery up on the top of this range. This is looking towards Nokomai Station and way down in the valley below is one of the tracks we followed up earlier in the day.

Garvie Mountains

The views on the other side of the range were just as spectacular, a patchwork quilt of  browns & greens in the fertile valley below. This is looking towards Kingston & the bottom end of Lake Wakatipu.

And historic ski hut on the Nevis Road, just above Garston.

Oh how I wished we could have stopped for longer here so I could have clicked more "considered" landscape shots but after a long day we were keen to move along. We'll just have to return to the Nevis another time.

Looking down the valley towards Athol where we are staying, with Mid Dome back left. Below Mid Dome is where we began our journey following the river into Nokomai Station. Round Hill is on the right.

And finally we are at roads end.

Next stop, the Garston Pub for a cool drink & a shared seafood basket! A great end to an epic & incredible day.

Click on this link to see more photos from the safari on Flickr, I will be adding quite a few more to the set in a few weeks. We are heading to Mavora Lakes for 2-3 weeks where there is no cell phone reception which means no internet & also no blog posts until we resurface.

Hidden Valley 4WD- Nokomai Station

After a heavy but sort lived burst of rain on Friday night, Saturday morning dawned bright & clear much to our, & I bet the organisers, relief. A sign at the main road pointed us in the direction of Nokomai Station & the start of our 4WD Safari.

A cloud of dust announced each vehicle's approach as we lined up in a paddock beside the Nokomai River. And with each new arrival we (and I know others) gave a sigh of relief, most of us were "shinies", & also newbies to doing 4WD safaris. There were a good mix of people, families with children including toddlers, single guys with friends, a good number of couples, retired couples & groups of older men. Fifty six vehicles in total were taking part, a good turn out for the fundraiser.

Our day started well with the first announcement calling David &  I up to receive a prize (a dozen beer & a bottle of wine) for being the ones to travel the furthest to take part in the event; "all the way from Tauranga!". We felt a bit of a fraud being that we left Tauranga  nearly five months ago, but it's still our mailing address and that was what was on the entry form. And we enjoyed the benefit of people making us feel very welcome during the day; we met some lovely people & had a good number of laughs.

We were welcomed onto Nokomai Station by the station manager, Hamish who also gave us a brief history on the station. The station is approximately 38,000 hectares and has been in the hands of two families (Camerons & Hores) during it's 150 year history. The Station run 20,000 ewes & 900 head of cattle & have 7-8 staff including the cookhouse chef. Much of the back country is under snow for 10 months of the year, the sheep were there at the moment but would be shifted to the front country at the end of March (which will have recovered most of its growth over summer). They will also be meeting the rams at this time.

During our trip we would be climbing to over 5000 feet  (we were already at around 900 feet), following the Nokomai River up the "Hidden Valley" then climbing up onto the Hector Mountain Range, down into the Nevis Valley & back up onto the Garvie Mountain range. The Nokomai Valley has a rich gold mining history & we were told to look out for relics from the small town that used to be situated far up the valley. Late in the 19th century there were over 2000 people living in the town complete with a Bank of New Zealand, hotels & other shops. In fact we failed to see anything. Mind you, the landscape took all our attention.

And with that we were away, in no particular order but with instructions to give the vehicle in front plenty of room so it could carry out any necessary "manoeuvres" & keep the vehicle behind in view at all times. This would stop a line of vehicles heading off on the wrong track.

Remember to click on the photos if you'd like to see a bigger version.

There were three Ford Rangers like ours in the group, we happened to be behind one on the first section.

The Hidden Valley, Nokomai Station

"Brown's cows"

Our first rest stop, a chance to see how everyone has been doing & for a few to make a beeline for the nearest bush.

The first major climb & a back up of vehicles as each one waits for the one in front to clear.

Looking back down the Nokomai Valley, it was climbing up this ridge on the left that we had our first issue. We were number five in the line, the rest had gone through, but we couldn't get over a deep stony rut in the steepest part of this section. After 4-5 attempts I got out to direct & encourage David through it, once he floored it & kept it up, it was up, over & away. He then remembered the "lock the diff" button on the dash & from then on the Ranger drove like a dream. Many of the following vehicles also got caught on it & we know of one couple that had to be towed through.

Out with the shovel to patch a repair to the rut, but it still caused problems.

As each vehicle made it to the top, we pulled up to watch the proceedings.

And then it was away again.

The scenery was starting to get "big"

One final steep winding climb & through a station gate and we popped out onto the infamous Nevis Road at the top of the Hector Mountains.

We headed north down into the Nevis Valley & along the relatively easy Nevis Road for 5-6 kilometres. After the track we'd been on, & other than a few fords, the Nevis felt like a main state highway!

A hut beside the Nevis River.

A few kilometres later we turned onto a large flat expanse of tussock & spear grass, this is where the Nevis River meets the Roaring Lion Creek. We stopped at the junction for lunch.

One of the organisers had towed a trailer, containing the two port-a-loos, all the way in over the lower half of the Nevis Road. I chuckled at what I imagined the look on the faces of people he passed on the way in would have been. Maybe they thought he was afraid of getting "caught short" or he was "travelling in style". Anyway it was a great relief (no pun intended) to have them there, there were no bushes for as far as the eye could see!

See that track running off up the ridge in the background, remember it, we'll be coming down it later in the afternoon.

After lunch it was back down the Nevis Road and through the multitude of fords on this section. This time we were in the middle of the pack & following the other Ranger, our new friends Peter & Leanne!

It was here that we came across our first vehicle coming the other way; a car no less. Back at the beginning of the Nevis Road (or end if you are travelling north to south) there is a sign saying no cars, 4WD only. I guess these people thought they'd manage, & I suppose they did, but probably only because there has been no rain for awhile & the day was hot & sunny. The look of surprise on their faces as we passed made us smile. They must have wondered where on earth all these vehicles had come from, it's single lane & they kept pulling off to let us past. And not much further on another vehicle was heading towards us, this time a 4WD ute, they had the sense to pull over & wait for our convoy to pass.

Once through the valley & before the climb back up the Hector Mountain range we turned in through a gate and back into Nokomai Station. It was here that we had our first taste of deep water, or should that be deep muddy water, a narrow bog! We'd been warned that it was coming up and at lunch many vehicles had taped tarpaulins & black polythene across their grills so water wouldn't enter their air intakes. The Ford Ranger didn't need to though, the intake is the highest in the range of popular utility brands, just a little lower than the windscreen.

As we climbed I was able to lean out the window & shoot others as they came through the bog. I see that there were three motorcyclists waiting to pass our group too. The Nevis was obviously very popular on Saturday.

The guy at the end here is either checking his vehicle hasn't overheated; the covers were on for quite a distance before we got to the bog, or he decided to attach his just before going through.

We're now climbing up onto the Garvie Mountain Range, the views were spectacular in all directions. 

Looking back down the ridge

And looking up the ridge as the line of vehicles snakes it way up, over and through ruts, rocks & a few boulders on the track.

Waiting on top for everyone to arrive safely.

I walked(ran) back up to the top to catch the last of the vehicles coming up the ridge, the wind was cold and blustery, there was no mistaking that we were on top of a mountain range. Looking back down to the Nokomai Valley where our safari started. As I passed a vehicle a guy leaned out & asked me if "Tauranga had views like this?" There was no denying, it most certainly doesn't! :)

Once everyone had caught up, we were away again, many taking up new places in the line. This was great for me as a photographer, my photos have different vehicles in them & the further back we moved the longer the line of vehicles got in my photos.

Amazing landscapes in every direction- that isn't a rock in the photo, that is a boulder the size of a small house!

Snow hardy tussock, bright green mosses & plants with tiny little white flowers covered the land.

Vehicles travelling the Nevis Road. 

And finally we arrived at the top of the ridge that was behind us at lunch. This is the Nevis Valley & far below is Roaring Lion Creek & the Nevis River. The public Nevis Road can be seen running through the centre.

Little bursts of dust can been seen on the road below as the lead vehicles finish the descent.

Two final river crossings and we're back to our lunch area.

But with one more surprise in store for us, & him........to be continued-  Part 2 (click the link to find out what)

More photos from this section of the safari here-  Flickr- Nokomai Station & Nevis Valley