It’s a real 2 for the price of one deal. Some of the most stunning camping spots in the country, most of them freedom camping for self-contained vehicles, and then some true South Island off-roading up to the end of Lake Ohau Road, and onto the Hopkins River Track.
We’ve had a go at both, first the Hopkins Valley with the Geyserland 4WD Club on its second South Island expedition a couple of years ago, the McKenzie Mayhem trip, then staying at DOCs Round Bush Camp for a couple of nights following last years Kurow Off-road Racing Enduro.
If getting away from the crowds is your thing, and why wouldn’t it be, then the Lakeside camps could be your idea of paradise. The region’s website lists a number of reasons to go there, cycle trails, tramping, skiing, fishing, and the like, but during our break away the only things on the lake were webbed feet powered.
We could have had any of about 10 lakeside freedom camping sites to ourselves, but decided to pay the DOC fees for Round Bush because it kept the afternoon sun the longest.
Even then we only had a young French couple in a camper van for company, about a km away at the other end of the camp. It didn’t seem too crowded!
Turning off State Highway 8 at Clearburn, about 14km South of Twizel puts you on a great scenic South Island Road for 20km to the Lake Ohau Scenic Village, then hit the gravel for about another 8 or 9kms, depending on where you choose to stop.
It’s an easy cruise up the side of the lake, getting a bit narrow in places, but was in pretty good condition and didn’t cause the caravan any problems. We were tempted to head further into Temple Valley Campsite, but our guide book warned that poison was regularly laid in the area, and advised against taking pets in.
Before we get too many comments about taking Jess, the traveling cat into areas like this, we keep a close eye on her, and she has been brought up surrounded by birds and other animals and doesn’t worry about them.
What she does wreak havoc with are rats and mice, so we figure she does her bit for pest eradication. She is locked in at night to prevent her practicing any nighttime hunting skills she may normally develop.
We keep thinking we should set up her own Facebook page to share her adventures, from off-road racing to trials and winch challenges, she has seen them all.
Anyway, from whatever campsite you choose, just continuing along Ohau Road takes you past the Lake Ohau Quarters, and its historic cottage, that dates back to the 1850s and the original settlement of the area by pioneers from England and Scotland.
From there the road follows Temple Stream, through Huxley Gorge Station, and Huxley Lodge, before meeting the Hopkins River, and eventually the Hopkins Track.
The track provides easy 4×4 access up to Monument Hut, the first of 3 DOC huts in the River Valley. From there the 4wheeling becomes a little more challenging as you head up the river, with the usual entertaining stream and river crossings, till you cross the river at Red Hut.
The track becomes a bit more obvious for a while after Red Hut as you continue upstream, but finally peters out opposite the Elcho Hut where the rocks just get too big and gnarly to bother going any further, and DOC request 4x4s don’t travel any further up either the Huxley or Upper Hopkins Rivers to preserve their traditional tramping environments.
Up around the Elcho Hut, and more so Red Hut, are some great overnight spots for Rooftop Tent and the more adventurous camper trailer people.
It’s superb up there, but you may be sharing it with hunters and trampers who have walked in from the end of the road carpark.
For us day-trippers, it was a great lunch spot: a couple of hours in a Canterbury High Country paradise.
And the really great thing is that there are still hundreds of spots like these, both camping and 4wheeling we have to explore. Our next goal is up the other side of the lake, and on to the Dobson Route.