It was supposed to be the weekend of the lunar spectacular, blood moon, eclipse, the sun and moon together in the sky on opposite horizons, and a Mars fly by.
A bit inland from our day’s destination, the Mackenzie country is supposed to provide some of the best stargazing in the world, so we were looking forward to a bit of astronomy on the short drive south to Waimate.
As it was, the cloud in the west obscured the eclipse, and the peaks of the Southern Alps in the not too far distance lifted the horizon too high to get the sun/ moon spectacle. But the superb views of the sunrise tinted peaks certainly helped make up for it.
Then the early morning start to get down to Waimate really came up with the goods for us, however, with a stunning sunrise over the Temuka river as we headed South to our meeting point at the foot of the track to the top of Mount Studholme.
There seems to be an unspoken rule in organising or leading a 4WD expedition: get to the highest place possible, and that was where we were always heading on the first day of the Otago Landrover Owners Club’s trip into Waimate Forest.
Mount Studholme, at 1086 m may not be the highest point in South Canterbury’s Hunter Ranges, but it is certainly the highest in the forest area — so that is where we were headed.
With the cell phone mast right at the top clearly visible from the departure point in Waimate itself, the destination was always obvious.
There is a relatively good (4WD only) public road access to the peak, but that was not going to be the way we were travelling. Armed with a permit, topo map, and set of forestry keys, we headed off to find the tracks and firebreaks that would lead, by a much more interesting route, to the summit.
In the event, however, with the weather looking a bit dubious, it was soon decided to head to the peak first, before the wind and cloud took over, and a handy forestry track or two led to the main road, and an easy climb to the top.
The view from the top is sensational in its own right, and worth a detour to check out for anyone passing through. It’s the only spot in the area that gives a full panoramic, 360 degree, uninterrupted vista from the coast to the Alps, North to the Canterbury plains, and South to the rugged Otago coast.
Following a few minutes of shivering in the snow under the mast, a few photos, and a discussion about the area, there was very little argument to the suggestion we find somewhere a bit more sheltered for the now much needed coffee break.
The tracks in the forest area are pretty well formed, but quite steep in places, with some fairly greasy clay patches to bring you back to reality at times, and by the end of the day’s circulating of the firebreaks and trails, most of the Non Extreme Tyred “lesser vehicles” had had to be recovered or winched.
We were even relegated to an easier bypass at one stage, to avoid a very steep descent that had even the drivers of the more capable trucks fairly focussed. “Not for the faint-hearted” was the verdict of those that completed the challenge!
In many places, the several hundred meter drop-offs at the edge of the tracks are a bit daunting. And with several blind, steep crests around the edge of the bluffs to traverse, it was easy to maintain that focus. The constant spectacular views were best admired as the truck stopped. It is very big country down here.
With a full days’ 4wheeling under their belt and the permit good for a return the next day, by the time 4pm rolled around, the group was back at the forest gate entry point.
As we were only there for the first day, we will have to wait to see how the club fared in their search for more challenges, maybe we will be able to source some photos from them.
Meantime, thanks to the Otago Landrover Owners Club members for letting us tag along for a great adventure, we hope we can join you again soon.