Report by Martin Cheifetz
Firstly, a big thank you to Dave Phipps for organizing an excellent day out. For an assortment of reasons ranging from the dramatic (serious knee injury) to the mundane (too many competing obligations), this was my first 4WD trip in over a year, and I was really keen to get back out there.
Secondly, I understand that our fearless leader Mr. Phipps, forgot to register for his own trip, earning himself a nomination for the Dipstick Award.
We had a good turnout at the Big Fruit Car Park, and it was nice to see a mix of familiar and new faces and a nice assortment of vehicles. The lineup was Geoff McRea (new member on first club trip) with Linda McRea – in a shiny new Defender; Anton Gredziuk in his Pajero; Dylan Johnson (new member on first club trip) – Surf; Johnny Stevenson with son Jack in the beefy Hilux; James Bundy (new member – first trip as a driver – mint old style-Defender; Dave Phipps and Emma Jackson in the mighty 80 series Landcruiser and your author in his Amarok in the tail-end Charlie position.
After a thorough safety briefing and radio check, the instructions were: "Make a right out of the car park, and we'll meet at the bottom of Schoolhouse Road in Bannockburn" Naturally, half the vehicles go right, and the other half go left and then right. It turns out that the vehicles making an immediate right were stopping for fuel. Had they stopped for fuel BEFORE turning up at the Big Fruit, THEY would be writing the trip report (I believe this was both Defenders and the Hilux), but I digress.
After waiting for cheating, late fuel-filling slackers at the first checkpoint, we left the tarmac in our rearview mirrors, commenced our daily duststorm and proceeded up the Schoolhouse Road to the entrance of the Carricktown Track, where we stopped for the airing down ritual.
For those of you who have not driven it, the Carricktown Track is an excellent gateway to the hills of Central Otago. It has a bit of everything. Steep climbs, switchbacks, a few challenging off-camber turns, drop-offs, lovely views, a few deepish ruts, and the whole thing can get pretty slick if wet.
So yeah, the ruts. While the Amarok is very comfy and powerful, clearance is a real problem, and I quickly bellied out. Anton did some impressive, expert reversing down the track to serve as my winching anchor point, and Recovery #1 was a straightforward affair. Thanks Anton.
Drive, drive, drive, a few gates, gorgeous scenery, and then Dave warns the convoy: Ok, you don't need to follow me, but the right side is far more challenging than the left. A few of the braver souls stayed right. Those of us who are old enough to know better puttered off to the left. Our new member Dylan was the first to crack. Suddenly, we hear a slightly panicked, "Uh guys....I'm in a bit of a precarious situation here". Dylan was unexpectedly learning the fine art of driving on three wheels, and after the convoy inspected just how high a Surf can fly, we reassured him there was no imminent danger and encouraged him to let gravity do its thing. Dylan, slightly paler, emerged unscathed and more confident from his wheel-lift experience.
While Central Ogato was 25 C at river level, it was only about 13C at our alpine cruising altitude with plenty of snow. There was so much snow that even Dave and the mighty 80 couldn't smash through it, and we devoted at least an hour of our day to clearing a path forward. It was a reasonably good system. Dave's 80 was the battering ram. Anton turned his Pajero around and carefully snatched out the Landcruiser when it got stuck.....and everyone else shovelled snow to prepare for Dave's subsequent snow drift smash and land grab. Anton snatches Dave. Everyone digs. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. I'm pretty sure Anton drove an extra kilometer or two in his assorted recovery missions.
The only other vehicle to get stuck in the snow was the new Defender, but watching the video on our Facebook page, this was likely a case of the driver not knowing the capabilities of his new vehicle. No dramas for anyone else, and with a healthy dose of right foot, the low-hanging Amarok maintained enough momentum to ride across the top of the snow drift on its skid plates.
From this point onwards, the snowmelt and mud flew everywhere, and the drive was a highly
enjoyable exercise of camouflaging each vehicle to blend into the surroundings. Post-drive clean-up would be a time-consuming affair, but totally worth it after a great day out.
The highlight of the lunch stop was seeing how quickly Lord Stevenson transformed his Hilux from a beefy off-roader to a fine dining buffet. The overall highlight of the descent was a stop at Mitchell's Cottage on the Symes Road. If you've never been there, it's well worth a look, and it's easily accessible in any vehicle. It's a good destination for any of your Xmas holiday visitors if you're looking for something to do.
The vehicular highlight for me was the new Defender. This truck rolled right out of the showroom with no modifications on lowish profile road tyres and easily got through the trip. Given the stock standard wheel package, I'm very surprised we weren't fixing multiple punctures on the rocky Carricktown track. The new Defender's fancy electronics were more than capable of overcoming its "under-rubbered" wheels in the mud, snow and ruts. When the electronic wizardry works on these Defenders, they are very impressive vehicles! They look fantastic too!
After airing up on Symes Road in Fruitlands, the final stats for the day were 9hrs (total elapsed time), 58kms of driving from the Big Fruit to Fruitlands, Max Altitude of 1754m.
After the trip, I met my son in Cromwell, cleaned the mud off the glass and headed to the Old Lindis Hotel campsite halfway up the Lindis Valley. This is a very cool spot to spend the night. The following morning, we met up with club member Raymond Keys and enjoyed a charity fundraiser 4WD trip from the Forest Range Station over the top and finishing at Hawea Flat/Lake Hawea....which has about 1,000 more houses there now than my last visit five years ago. It was a full weekend, and it was great to be back out on the tracks.