I was told to stand in the middle of the Ranfurly Motor Camp and turn through 360degrees.
“See all those Peaks and Ranges,” said Greg Carroll from the Otago Recreational 4WD Group, “well we are going to get you to the top of all of them by the end of the week!”
And they did!!!
The third OR4G Safari was the Maniototo Muster, based in Ranfurly the last week in February, and attended by just on 60 offroaders from all around the country, and a pair of friends from Australia.
These trips have gained a massive reputation over the 5 years since the first, and the week of offroading was booked solid almost before registrations opened.
Day 4 started with the usual promise of blue skies and sunshine, but by the time we reached that days highest point, the Microwave tower at the top of Little Mt Ida, it had become cold and windy, quite a change from the stunning weather the organisers had put on to date.
The day had a different format from earlier in the week as well. The entire group left Ranfurly together, passing through Wedderburn in a long convoy, before dividing back into our usual groups.
With the other group heading off towards the Mt Ida station, we followed Joe and Marion onto the Pylon track over the rough Range, and down into Oturehua and the time capsule that is ‘Gilchrists Store’. Oturehua is a step back into Otago’s past, with over 60% of the buildings being original. When it was time to head out, it took a while for our leaders to round everyone up.
From the village, it was just a short run down the road to the lunch stop, and guided tour of Hayes Engineering historic works and homestead, which was built, and expanded, between 1902 and 1914, and much of it still operates as it did back then.
These days a 3HP electric motor powers the series of pulleys and belts that run the machinery set around the dirt-floored workshop, replacing the original windmill, then Pelton wheel that originally provided the power. Shears, punches, lathes, drills, and grinders were all on-site, and still operational.
Again we saw the special feature that makes up the Otago Four Wheel Drive Recreational Group trips so special. Joe had arranged for Ken Gillespie, one of the site maintenance engineers, to come in to give the groups a special tour, with live demonstrations of the machinery in operation: belts, pulleys, and all.
Ken and Joe have been mates for over 20 years, you just can’t beat the local knowledge and contacts this club brings to these trips. It’s certainly not just about the off-roading.
The star of the displays in both workshop and homestead was the chain grab wire strainer, first designed and manufactured in 1924, and still in production, unchanged, today.
The depth of history in this place is staggering. Ernest and Hannah Hayes moved onto the site about 1887 (the café is a recreation of their original sun-dried brick cottage), and whilst Ernest set about building the plant, Hannah set about selling the products.
By the late 1800s, she had cycled hundreds of miles, in full skirt of course, on Otago’s gravel roads, while her twelve-year-old daughter looked after her 8 younger siblings. Arguably New Zealand’s first traveling saleswoman!
At its peak, the factory employed eight engineers; the store still holds over 3500 moulds and patterns, all still in ready to use condition.
Then there is the house, and the Pedal Car garage, with the Pedal Car, dated 1938, still housed in it.
Between Hayes and Gilchrists, let alone the other original buildings, Oturehua is worth a trip to Central Otago in its own right.
Some of us seemed to forget we were there for the 4-wheeling. We were a bit late leaving for the afternoon loop!
From Hayes, we returned to Wedderburn, and from where we had separated earlier, crossed the Otago Rail Trail, and headed up Ida Valley, to Little Mount Ida, and the Microwave Tower that provides the communication link for the area.
At 1050 metres, the tower site provides the days’ spectacular views we were promised, but it is dwarfed by the real Mount Ida, a few kms to the North, at 1695m.
The name Ida is somewhat prominent in the area, Mount Ida, Little Mount Ida, Ida Ranges, Idaburn, Idaburn Hills, etc, etc. Got us thinking… Who was Ida??
To our utter amazement, and bemusement, Joe and Marion didn’t know. Neither did anyone else, we checked!
In the end, it was all left to David Green, a senior historian at Manata Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, to provide some clues:
“According to my copy of Wises New Zealand Guide, the peak, range, burn, and lake are named after either Mt Ida on Crete (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Ida) or Ida’s Tower in Bamborough Castle, Northumberland, northern England. Wises gives A.W. Reed’s Place Names of New Zealand as its source for this info. The name was probably bestowed in the 1850s by the Otago Provincial Surveyor, John Turnbull Thomson (https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t97/thomson-john-turnbull).
A little more digging suggests that the Cretan Mountain may be named after a Greek Goddess, while ours is named after an early English King (yes King). ‘Ida the Flame-Bearer’ was the first of the Norman Kings of Bernicia and in 547, yep 1500 years ago, laid the first timbers of the stockade that became Ida’s Tower in Bamburgh Castle, on a site that had been occupied for over 10,000 years.
Following the defeat of Harold by William the conqueror in 1066, the castle eventually became a royal stronghold, until it was finally destroyed in 1464 during the Wars of the Roses. After centuries of withstanding every kind of armed assault, it became the first castle in England to be destroyed by cannon fire. The castle has been rebuilt over the centuries, and still stands today. Including Ida’s tower!
Back on four wheels, we were then taken on a big loop through Mount Ida Station and its neighbours, (access arranged by Mount Ida Station) around the back of The Raggedy Range. Mount Ida Station boasts the highest point on Otago Rail Trail, close to the farm stay, the original 1920s farmhouse refurbished for the role. Our route up the ridge onto The Raggedy Range followed the Station boundary.
At one point we were overlooking the Home Hills Run Road, with a panoramic view into the film set of Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog. Unfortunately, there were no signs of Benedict Cumberpatch or, sadly, Kirstin Dunst, but the trip organisers were quick to point out one of their club members was employed on the set.
The day of infinite variety came to an end as we dropped down Coal Pit Road, and returned to Ranfurly the way we had come.
A feature of OR4G musters is the final night banquet, this time hosted by the historic Ranfurly Hotel, and MC’d by club president Graeme Thompson.
Sponsors were thanked, food and beverage was consumed, Jeeps were maligned, and tales were told… Sorry, we are not telling, what happens on safari stays on safari!!
During the night we were promised something different again for day 5, a bit of off-roading, some very personal local history, and more of the big sky country that has been the real highlight of the Maniototo Muster. We will have it all for you very soon!