Saturday, 4 November 2017

Molesworth- Part 1; The Road In


Well, no need to tell you I'm behind again in my blogs, but I thought I'd do the Molesworth blogs first because I know there are a few people eager to read about our visit to the Crown owned high country Molesworth Station; the largest farm in New Zealand at 180,787 hectares.

Under the stars
The Molesworth Station/Acheron Road has been on our 'must do' list ever since we started this journey and in fact we have been foiled in our attempt to drive it three times over the last couple of years. Being a high country road and subject to weather, especially during winter, the road is only open from Labour Weekend in late October through to Easter weekend/April each year. 

The road was closed due to high fire risk the first time we had it planned, the 2nd time we had to drive straight past to attend a family gathering and the third time the Kaikoura earthquake closed the road. 

We very nearly didn't make it this time either when a flood washed out the approach to the Clarence River Bridge at the Hanmer Springs end of the road. But, as luck would have it we (read I), only wanted to join the dots and we'd made it to the Clarence Bridge a couple of months ago while in Hanmer. That was a fluke as well, you may remember, we delivered a car to the bridge for a couple of kayakers we met in the snow out the back of Hanmer. And as you'll find out in due course there was very nearly a fourth time.

Anyhoo enough of my prattling on, let's get on with the road trip, we had 100kms to travel down the Awatere Valley and seventy of them were on gravel. Caravans, buses and vehicles over 7 metres aren't allowed on the actual Molesworth/Acheron Road but you can take them to the Cob Cottage DOC campground at the start and explore the road in your tow vehicle or 'toad'.

World famous Marlborough vineyards line both sides of  road for the first 30kms and then the brilliant yellow of the invasive broom takes over for a short time...

...until the seal runs out and we decide to stop for a very late lunch before we tackle the gravel. Blairich Reserve is one of two designated campsites along the valley, it's beside the river with a basic toilet and several areas to park. Although it was more like a track through the willows down to the river (David had some fun and games turning the rig around when we ran out of track) but in the end it was very pleasant in the cool shade under the brilliant green of the new willow leaves.

The road follows the Awatere River for most of the way, as we weave our way into the high country, climbing over bluffs, winding around hills and then dropping down into small valleys where farm buildings are tucked into sheltered corners. Occasionally we get a reprieve from the dust where the road has been sealed as it passes by a farm homestead or there's a sharp climb. Cattlestops are a regular occurrence; a good keen eye is needed to watch for wandering stock (or kamikaze sheep who burst out from under the matagouri scrub just as we're passing).

There are spectacular views of the river and rapids flowing through this gorge... we navigate through a particularly narrow section of the road high above, where it looks like a slip has taken some of it out at some stage (perhaps the 'quake?); the rock slide reaches right down to river below.

Other than the constant dust swirling behind us...

...the road is generally in good condition, although having said that, there were a number of rough patches. 

I was excited to see dozens of Marlborough Rock Daisies clinging tenaciously to the cliff faces along the road, most of them with buds ready to burst into flower. Marlborough Rock Daisies, while plentiful in their habitat are only found in Marlborough.

After what feels like forever (for David anyway), we reach the halfway mark- it's 54kms to the Hodder Bridge which was built about 80 years ago and has been recently re-strengthened.

The bridge crosses the Hodder River (which flows into the Awatere) and has its headwaters in the Chalk Range, near Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, New Zealand's tallest mountain (2885m) outside the Southern Alps. 

Tapuae-o-Uenuku is a sacred mountain to Maori and is the prominent snow capped mountain that can be seen from many places as you travel along the coast in Marlborough. The mountain was shrouded in cloud on our trip down the valley but look, I prepared one earlier for you (actually later, I took it on the way out six days later). Mt Alarm(2877m) is in the middle and Mitre Peak (2621m) on the right (no not THAT Mitre Peak, this one is actually taller).

The second designated camp site in the valley is on the southern side of the bridge; a large flat grassy area with a nearby long-drop loo. 

We continue on, passing a few abandoned homesteads and crossing numerous smaller rivers and streams that feed the Awatere. 

I can see that the road winds it's way up the side of the hill ahead of us, a hill that actually turns out to be a mountain, although Mt Upcot is pretty small at 1031m.

This section of the road is full of corrugations and a more than steady climb.

It's very narrow and rough and I'm getting tossed about inside the cab as I try to take a photo...

And it's a long way down as we climb higher and I attempt to take a shot out the window...

Until we finally reach Upcot Saddle, where we stop and check inside the van (a first for us). It's all ship-shape and not for the first time, David comments on how good the suspension is in the 5th-wheeler, it seems to travel much easier on rough roads than the ute and it's occupants who feel every corrugation and pothole.

I walked back to a vantage point overlooking the road we've just come up to take a photo.

We're now in 'big country' with gigantic hills and deep valleys and we still have 30kms to travel. We pass several grand entrances to high country stations and across the valleys can see farm buildings, shelter trees and the brilliant green of cultivated land below the rugged slopes of the ranges.

It's about now that we're both starting to feel a little dust weary and it seems the distance left to travel isn't getting any shorter. We're averaging about 35-40kph and as I always say, one gravel kilometre feels like two, and by my reckoning we still have 40kms to go!!

The bridges are also getting a little more rickety...

Finally we reach a gate and the good people of DOC must know how we feel, they've given us a kilometre reading just to rally us along. Not far now, just 20kms....I mean 10kms. You can start to breathe easy again David (literally as well), we're nearly there. 

And look there's snow on the mountain ahead of us...

We're in the mountains now, the Inland Kaikoura Range now backs the Awatere River and the scenery is stunning.

We're passing through Muller Station, a farm that borders Molesworth on many boundaries. And the river is still a prominent feature, although smaller and with hundreds of brilliant green willows lining its banks. What a spectacular sight they would be in autumn. 

Finally we arrive at the gate into Molesworth Station, exactly four hours after turning onto the Awatere Valley Road (that includes all snack breaks and photo stops).

Just a few metres further on we catch our first glimpse of the historic Molesworth Cob Cottage. This will be our backyard for the next few days, the DOC campground surrounds the cottage.  

To be continued.... Part 2


  1. Oh Blimey! That narrow road looks very scary. I would not want to be towing a rig along there. Thanks for sharing the experience!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and yes I don't think I'd like to be towing anything either. It was lucky we didn't meet any trucks as one of us would have had to back up in some places.

  2. Thanks for the great photos. We did this trip a couple of summers ago and I sure was surprised that the road to the gate was sooo long and ended up being some of the narrowest and most spectacular of the whole trip through to Hamner. big country from the cobb cottage onward!

    1. Yes, the road in is by far the worst part of the journey; it's just as well the scenery makes up for it! Thanks for your comment, enjoy the rest of the Molesworth blogs.

  3. We haven't been through the Molesworth in ages so it was great to see your lovely photos - brought back wonderful memories.
    As an aside we have just returned from a month in Canada and the United States. Seeing your great "rig" reminds me of the many similar ones we saw on our travels. Came across a 'yard' of them for sale. There were literally hundreds - both new and used of many makes and models.
    Looking forward to the next few days catching up on your adventures you've posted while we've been away. Thank you Shellie for the fantastic journey which we are all taking vicariously with you!!

    1. Pleased that you have enjoyed reminiscing on your trip through Molesworth. It sounds like you've had a wonderful time in Canada & the States and yes we've seen photos of those sales yards. It's hard to believe that they can actually sell all those RVs. Thanks for your lovely comments and enjoy catching up on the blogs.

  4. What a beautiful part of NZ.

    1. It sure was, mind you it's not hard to find beautiful scenery all over the South Island.


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