We should have known better. We’ve had some very heavy frosts down at sea level this past week & we’ve also listened to some dire weather forecasts for the mountain areas of the South Island. But it was a stunning day once the initial chill disappeared & we really did want to head back to the Kahurangi National Park again and walk the track to Mt Arthur Hut which we missed on our last visit.
The secondary slip that we’d squeezed through the last time had been cleared but another small one had come down in it’s place and the road was strewn with rocks and rubble which we crossed easily. A bit further on and we could see a smattering of snow on the peaks and it started appearing on the side of the road in the shade of the bush, nothing that would cause any trouble.
And then suddenly around a bend we came across a car stuck in the middle of the snow. Well I say snow but at this stage it was mainly solid ice on the tracks and slurry on the edges. Two young guys were kicking and scraping the tracks behind their tyres & were very soon able to back down, without sliding, onto the gravel and turn around further back down the road.
We pulled on past once they got free and David continued on up the road, me walking & slipping & sliding after him. I figured because I was a bit anxious, David didn’t need me beside him oohing & arrrgghhing. By now it was near impossible to turn around; the road very narrow, the sides thick with snow with a near vertical drop off on the right. The only comfort was that there were plenty of trees down there to break any fall.
As David disappeared around the next corner I thought he’d stop at the next gravel patch to wait for me but he pressed on. It was a steep & slippery walk to catch him up.
As I approached another bend I could hear voices ahead of me and around the corner was another car that had come to grief. It had slid off and hit the bank, thankfully on the right side of the road. A father and his two very young girls, who thought it was a great adventure. They’d walked to the top to build a snowman and were now gathering their gear together. One of the girls told me “Mum was going to be very mad when she found out. We stay with Dad at the weekends & now we are stuck!” Out of the mouths of babes.
We couldn’t help free the car but said we’d pick them up on the way down. The father had decided they’d walk back down the road until they found someone that could bring a tractor up and tow them free. It was about 7km and very steep to the bottom of the mountain but they must have found someone as we failed to see them when we returned.
The snow was getting deeper but the Ford Ranger was managing very well, David kept it just off the tyre tracks that were ahead of us. The compacted tracks had refrozen into ice while the snow on the edge provided a bit of grip. Very near the top we came across an abandoned scooter. Who in their right mind would have come this far on a scooter I ask you!
Finally the road levelled out a little and we knew we were approaching the carpark. And what a difference it looked from the other week, thick snow covering the whole car park. And just one other vehicle parked up.
Going by the tyre tracks there had obviously been a few vehicles up here or one going around and around the snow covered shrub in the centre, trying to flatten it a bit.
Even though it looks quite lovely in these photos, it was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing a gale across the mountain tops so we made the decision not to do the walk and head back down. We also knew that had we gone on the walk we’d have been all the time worried about the drive back down. The afternoon sun would have melted some of the snow and it may have refrozen making it a lot more slippery later in the afternoon.
Snow capped mountains replaced the rainbows we saw on our last visit.
So after a quick photo shoot & toilet stop (not to change undies either ) we headed back down the road. It was quite scary but David put the Ranger into low-low range & engaged the Downhill Control feature. He inched his way through keeping away from the iced up tracks in the centre and hugging the right as much as possible. He found the hardest part was keeping his foot off the brake and having total faith in allowing the vehicle to do it’s job. We slipped just the once and the anti skid brakes kicked in, giving the wheels a few quick release bursts to keep them rotating. There was a big sigh of relief when we finally eased our way out of the last of the snow.
And while we probably should have turned around (not that that was an option once we got into the snow proper) we now have a lot more faith in the Rangers capabilities. And perhaps we’ll invest in a set of snow chains before next winter.
We’ll also have to add the Mt Arthur track to the “when we return” list as we’ll be heading off to Golden Bay soon.