Ailsa and I are home again, after our first real holiday (as in no fixed plans) in 20 years.
We left last Monday evening, and stayed with Ailsa’s sister Linda in Christchurch.
From there we made an early start, and went down to Geraldine, and caught up with Freddy and Juanita Bridgeman (on Fred’s birthday), then headed up to Fairlie, and over into the McKenzie basin. We took the first left, and then followed what the map said was the Hakataramea Rd. Looked like the last vehicle over that track was about 6 months prior. After bumping along for about 5 km, we got to a ford, which was quite deep, with quite a steep climb out on the other side – and were very glad to be in the Hilux with low ratio 4WD.
About 100m past that ford we found the real road, and it was a dusty back-country gravel road up and over the pass and down the Hakatarmea valley. Saw two dead wallabies on the side of the road (obviously shot by someone in the last couple of days, probably the previous night).
We came out at Kurow, then went down to Duntroon, and then up and over Dansey’s pass, and down to the Dansey’s pass pub – and spent a very comfortable night there, in the very old stone pub.
After dinner Ailsa and I went for a walk and took the pub dog (Jess) with us. She managed to give chase to a rabbit and a hare in our hour long outing, as we walked back up the road we had come down. About a km up from the pub we saw a couple of falcons.
Our initial thoughts were to go up the Old Man Range Wednesday and camp, but the weather forecast was for rain and southerlies, and at 6,000 ft that would have been very cold. So we changed plans and wound our way up to Skippers Canyon, with a detour to the Blue Lake at St Bathens; with Ailsa stopping to photograph every hawk she saw. We wandered up through Alexandra, Cromwell and Arrowtown (where I left Ailsa for an hour to go exploring while I went to Frankton to refuel). Then it was off up the Skippers Canyon Road, with large warning signs, of “dangerous road”, “No Insurance cover on this road”, “4WD only”, “Falling rocks” – all of which were true, and it was an absolutely spectacular road. We opened the sun roof, and Ailsa stood on her seat, and emptied 2 batteries on the camera as we slowly bumped our way for 4 hours through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever driven through. A couple of places she wanted to stop I wouldn’t, as I could feel my vertigo on the verge of getting the better of me, particularly when she asked me to stop the truck on the middle of a narrow wooden decked swing-bridge 300ft above the canyon floor below. I just said, “Sorry, no, I can manage if I keep moving slowly but I don’t think I can comfortably control the fear if I have to stop the truck and start it again on this swing-bridge.”
After coming out of Skippers we went through Queenstown and over to Frankton to photograph some ducks, then back down to Alexandra and stayed the night in a Motel.
Thursday morning had an early start, out to Fruitlands and up to the top of the Old Man. The cloud had not cleared as promised, and the wind was still blowing direct from Antartica at about 20 knots (with nothing higher between us and Antartica it was quite chilly). My new Jacket kept my body warm, but even with thick gloves, I couldn’t stop the pain in my fingers as they felt like they were freezing. So I mostly stayed in the truck while Ailsa spent about 3 hours taking close-up photos of rare and endangered herbs and mosses that formed a carpet about an inch high over most of the high windswept peneplain. We spent about 4 hours parked near a rock formation called The Obelisk, before the cloud lifted and we could see more than about 30 meters. With a bit of view, we decided to do what was marked as a loop 4WD track.
It started out rough, and got rougher.
By the time we had gotten about 3/4 of the way around, we found ourselves at the base of a fairly steep hill, with just enough mud on it to make all 4 tyres spin. After about 4 attempts, and having torn off the left rear mudflap in one slide backwards, it was time to break out the chains (for the first time).
The chains made all the difference, and we made it to the top, with only one patch where we momentarily lost traction.
After getting back to The Obelisk, and the luxury of a formed track, taking off the chains and stowing them, we headed off down the mountain, and around through Heriot to Gore, and a night with Ailsa’s bird photographing friend Glenda.
Friday Glenda had to work, so we decided to go up to the Mavora Lakes, but as we got there Ailsa decided she wanted to head up the Von valley. We had only gone about 1km up that road when she saw some swallows, and we stopped for photos.
As I waited on the far side of the bridge a Petrol Tanker came past then stopped, and the driver got out and slid under the truck. After watching him for a few minutes I walked up to see if I could help, and it turned out that a rock had been flicked up from the tyres, and had broken off two of the high pressure air lines from the pressure tank. Repair was not an option with the tools we had available (a good welder was required). The driver tried to turn around, got the truck exactly across the road, and the brakes finally ran out of air, and locked. He was stuck, road was blocked.
After about 20 minutes, we finally figured out a way to get enough air to the brakes to let him move, and he headed back towards cell phone coverage. But without any high pressure air, the suspension system wasn’t working, the mudflaps were dragging on the ground, and the tyres were rubbing on the tops of the mudguards. It was going to be a very slow and very expensive trip back to a sealed road.
Ailsa finally had enough of photographing swallows, and we headed off up the Von valley again. After about an hour, she had enough of that, and we turned and went back to the Mavora lakes, as was our original intent, just about 3 hours behind original schedule.
The lakes looked great, and at the end of the road, the map said there was a 4WD track to the hut at the top end of the Northern lake – so off we went – sunroof open, Ailsa and camera out the top. Low ratio, low gear, lots of holes full of water, and for the first 20 minutes or so they were all about axle deep. Then we came to one that was a bit wider than any of the previous ones, and I drove cautiously into it, and it seemed to level off at about axle depth like the others, but about half way through the front dipped down and next thing we had water over the bonnet (another first, chains the day before, now water over the bonnet – we must be real 4WDers). Several other “interesting spots, where there were steep drops into creek beds, and steep climbs out, where the long wheelbase of our Hilux meant a scraping of exhaust and tow bar, and all were successfully traversed.
By the time we got to the hut it was 3pm, and we were supposed to be meeting Glenda in Gore at 5pm, and it had taken us 7 hours to get there.
Ailsa was encouraged to stop taking photos, sit down, hang on, and off we went. A very bouncy trip had us back in Gore at 5:10.
We had dinner at Glenda’s then we headed for our property at the Catlins. After a slight detour for more bird photos at the beach at Fortrose, we arrived at our Samson Hill property where the road crosses the Waipati river at about 9pm.
We pitched tents, I dug a long drop, and the girls settled in for the night while I took my .22 and headed off up the hill. I returned just after midnight having shot 12 possums (and missed about 6 others).
Saturday morning we broke camp, in a heavy dew, and with the biddy-bids in full bloom – stuck to everything. The girls headed off to photograph birds, and I headed over to see if the Richard and Liz were home (the people we bought our block off 17 years ago). Richard was home, and as talkative as ever. My hour long planned visit got longer. Jessie came out about 10, Liz came home about 11, and I finally left about 12:30 (though Richard and I could happily have talked all day).
Ailsa and Glenda had left Lake Wilkie, and I caught up with them at Surat Bay (just past Pounawea) where they had been captured by the spectacle of a 10 day old Hookers Sea Lion pup, being zealously guarded by a big Bull Sea Lion.
I headed back into Owaka for some food and a cold drink, and while there spent 2 hours drying camping gear and picking biddi-bids out of everything.
The girls eventually had enough of the cute sea lion pup, and came back to town. Glenda headed back to Gore, and we headed for Dunedin and Ailsa’s parents.
The next two days were spent mostly with Ailsa’s mum and dad (Erena and Les) and staying a couple of doors away at HighBrae B & B. Then yesterday we drove home, stopping at Blueskin Bay to photograph wading birds, and Moeraki to see the boulders; then spending a little time with Jewelia in Christchurch before returning home to feed the dogs and start unpacking. Ailsa spent most of the travel time sleeping, while I listened to lectures on the history of Buddhism while driving.
Great to have a holiday, and great to be home again.
Only got to read about 50 pages of my book.