There is no doubt that the South Island is the place for New Zealand 4 wheel drive adventures.
This is the place for superb scenery and adventures aplenty for all tourists, hunters and 4 wheel drivers.
It was our second day of a New Zealand 4 wheel drive adventures, on a trip organised by Steve Beston of NZ 4×4 Treks and Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours, when we were introduced to some of the best and most challenging of tracks on Dalrachney Station.
Dalrachney Station, jaw-dropping first of our New Zealand 4 wheel drive adventures
Dalrachney is not far from Omarama and in common with many station properties of New Zealand’s South Island, the station includes mountain heights reached only by rough tracks across steep treeless slopes.
Dalrachney’s first such track is visible from the main road as it zig zags across the steep-sided peak on its way to the top. Our travelling group could see that they were heading for challenging adventure.
It was a great time to take a deep breath, select low second and keep the momentum going as the vehicles clawed their way upwards. In our trusty hired Hilux we handled the first switchback quite easily – the second was not so easy and we needed another go. Fortunately, Steve was there with instructions and encouragement, more power was applied and all the vehicles were safely around.
After the hairy experience at the second switchback, the third was negotiated more easily and the group continued the climb to a level spot where all the travellers could safely stop to take in the magnificent view, which included the main road below that we had left earlier that day.
The track now continued along a ridgeline and across the grassy plain of the mountain top before finally reaching a hut, perched just under the top of the mountain. This was a good opportunity for a welcome morning tea stop.
After the break, the group headed down to the valley below, but this part of the track was very tricky, rocky, narrow and steeper than the track up, with more switchbacks to negotiate. Once more Steve was there to direct, with instructions on one very tight switchback that required a technical manoeuvre to negotiate.
Finally, all were down into the valley, but now there was a muddy ditch to manoeuvre across. After some hiccups it was onto the Lindis River for some lunch and a period of quiet and calm reflection.
St Bathans Range
The next one of our New Zealand 4 wheel drive adventures over the St Bathans Range was a complete contrast. We followed the Cluden Stream for awhile, and then found ourselves climbing steadily, but not as steeply, through tussock grass plains to the top of the range. The scenic views opened majestically as we climbed higher. Once again mountain peaks and fertile river valleys could be seen in every direction.
The vegetation was of tussock grasses, mosses and wild Spaniard which looked pretty, but was spikey to the touch. The vegetation was complemented by schist tors, reminiscent of scenes from Lord of the Rings.
Steve lead the group to a valley with a babbling brook and musterer’s hut. As it was sheltered from the strong, cold winds it was a great spot for lunch.
The track continued over the St Bathans range across sweeping high plains decorated with more groups of schist tors.
Gold was discovered at St Bathans in 1860. Most of the old buildings have been restored to their original condition. Many of these buildings offer accommodation including the Vulcan Hotel (reportedly with a haunted room) and the Police Station.
There is a lake right on the edge of town, which was carved out of the white rock by miners searching for gold. Mining was only halted in 1934 as the sides of the pit were getting too close to the town. The huge hole was allowed to fill with water to form the lake which is now 168 metres deep.
Dinner was in the Pub that night, where the home cooked meals went down very well with the travellers.
From St Bathans Steve lead the group to Cromwell, passing the Clyde Dam, New Zealand’s biggest dam, on the way. We headed through the rich and fertile river flats of the Clutha Valley to another private property.
The first part of this day’s adventure was through a vineyard, but grapes were soon replaced by more schist outcrops and stunning views. This track passed over the Pisa Range, the highest point of our 4-wheel drive adventure in New Zealand at 1963 metres (over 6000 feet). From the heights we could see Lake Dunstan, Mt Aspiring, Treble Cone and Lake Hawea.
The weather was fine today with the sun sparkling on a peaceful mountain tarn where we stopped for lunch.
The road down to the valley below passed through the world class ice road testing facility where the top vehicle and tyre manufacturers test their products in controlled conditions under extreme temperatures.
From there it was down to Cardrona for our stop that night at the historic and picturesque Cardrona Hotel.
You can see all the adventure in our new DVD Wild Southern Land: New Zealand’s South Island.