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 off-roaders 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 off-roading was booked solid almost before registrations opened.
On the Monday morning, with the entrants divided into two groups, Blue, that’s us, and yellow, we headed out with our leaders and trail crew, to climb Mount Buster, in the Ida Ranges, and explore the ‘Buster Tailings,’ the remnants of NZs highest Gold Mine.
As a huge contrast from the Schist Rock Highlands, and Glacier Moraine Valleys, Mount Buster is Silica Sand. Yep, beach sand, at 1200m above sea level.
Back in 1863 a couple of prospectors discovered gold in that sand, and the Mount Buster Gold Rush began. As with all these alluvial mining operations, sluicing created massive environmental damage, and the results are still visible today, at the Mount Buster Tailings, and nearby Kyburn Diggings.
The plan was simple, climb up to the Tailings, take in the views, and then follow a 4WD track on a loop of the neighbouring highlands.
Part one went fine, we climbed up what had been a well-formed track, that hadn’t seen much maintenance for a while – into low cloud and thick fog. Scratch the views we thought.
As we crossed the creek that marks the boundary into the Oteake Conservation Park, we passed a large, rather imposing hut. This hut is privately owned. The area was originally held by syndicates of local landowners, the most well-known being the Soldiers Syndicate. After the Land Tenure Revue, a huge amount of the area was taken back by the Government to be managed by DOC and named the Oteake Conservation Park. In 1996 the MT Ida Syndicate still used some for the unimproved tussock country on the Ida and Hawkdun Ranges as summer grazing for their sheep after the lambs were weaned, then mustered off in a huge mob just before the winter snow.
Tracking through the tussock on the way to the Tailings the only views were the truck ahead, and the one behind, and the spectacular patterns of the very heavy dew on the vegetation.
Then, just as we arrived at the Tailings, it all cleared, to a stunning, crystal clear, Otago blue sky. And the views!!!
Looking back across the Maniototo Plains we are treated to what makes Central Otago. Huge skies, huge country, tussock, mountains, gold, and total isolation.
We were reminded a couple of times by trip leaders Laszlo Kaminszky, and Joe and Marion Thomas, to stay on the track, and off the Tailings.
Sadly, the most dramatic parts of the Tailings have been badly cut up by previous visitors in 4WDs and (mostly) trail bikes, and there is pressure on DOC to eliminate motorised access to the area. Trail bikes are already banned!
It was one of the best smoko stops I have experienced.
From the Tailings, our leaders made an ‘on the fly’ decision to forgo the planned loop, and head for Hut Creek Hut for lunch.
This then becomes an in and out trip. Hut Creek Hut is almost at the end of the track, a pretty easy tussock drive, with more stunning views, except for the last Km or so. The descent into Hut Creek, and climb back out, “becomes a bit four-wheel-drivey-ish”, according to Laz.
As always, the days 4 wheeling ends back at the camp with a bit of time for socialising before dinner is served. This year the local St Johns School is raising funds catering for us. Packed lunched each day and man sized dinners for the first 3 nights. Cooked at the campground and eaten outside while enjoying the long twilight.
As the evening moves on, the topic of discussion turns from today to tomorrow, the Big Hut on the top of the Rock and Pillar Range.
And that’s another story!
PICS BY DENA PLUMRIDGE & JOHNNY MAC STORY BY JR
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF COLIN RICHARDSON
A Recipe for 4WD Happiness.
By Marion Thomas
Take approx equal parts of Nissans and Toyotas, add a handful of Jeeps,
a sprinkle of Mitsubishi and Range Rover, and a pinch of Landrover.
Mix all together carefully in a large Maniototo basin.
Gradually, over 5 days, add nuts and raisins, fresh fruit,
crunchy muesli bars, and a bread roll.
Give the mix a good shake up every day while adding dust and fresh
A little diesel smoke adds depth of flavour.
Bake slowly under a hot sun.
Refresh the mix each evening with BBQ and beer and laughter.
Rest quietly overnight.
Smother with Southern hospitality and serve daily!
At the end of the 5 days gently break apart and send to many destinations
all over NZ.
Take photos of the mix at all stages to look at and reflect on at your leisure.