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Serpentine - Roxburgh to Chatto Creek: March 2023

via Lake Onslow, Serpentine Church and Poolburn Reservoir

Report by Leigh Harris



The day didn’t start well – I left my wallet behind and had to double back, so was a little late. Found out the hard way that the rookie mistake of being the last to arrive is you end up with the task of writing up the trip report!


That said, the month didn’t start well either. I’d broken my leg skiing in Canada 10 days prior, so my partner Shaune would get to do all the driving.


Seven vehicles met up at Roxburgh and we headed north towards Lake Onslow. A reasonable dirt road easily driven in a regular 2WD, its views nevertheless traversed eye-catching iconic, smooth, Central Otago glaciated tops of around 1000M. Mostly farmland it was solid tussock country with merinos, a few cattle and electricity transmission lines.


While “It’s a bit roady” was an early comment, the track began to give way to deep ruts, some of which were too narrow for the Raptor and its extra 12cm width. The trip also exposed my new purchase for being a bit lower at the diff than I was aware of (mental note to get bigger tyres). After a successful tug out by Johnny that christened his virgin long snatch rope, and egos only just intact, we re-joined the crew to press on to the famous Serpentine Church for lunch.


Built in 1873 for £100, this historical cutie is famous for being NZ’s highest ever church building. A wooden plaque inside is inscribed as follows:

“The minister being late, the congregation of miners after waiting for some time, went down to the hotel for refreshments and drank deeply to keep out the keen July air, keener than ever at this altitude. The service opened with a well known psalm and an encore was demanded by the congregation. The preacher after expressing very strong disapproval, went on with the service, which was however abbreviated and 'Not many services were held because of the small number of inhabitants, and the difficulty of access.'”


We were joined at the lunch stop by another group of 4WDers loosely connected to the Central Otago club.


Setting off on in the general direction of Poolburn Reservoir, our crew partook in a fair share of uphill 4WD dancing, with more than a few wheels spinning in thin air. Unfortunately we found ourselves on the wrong side of a fence and locked gate, and had to backtrack to the Church.


The back side of the Remarkables cut a distinctive contour in the distance and trip leader Dave Phipps pointed out they were equi-distant from our current position and the west coast of Fiordland.


Shaune and I AGAIN found ourselves literally wedged in a very deep rut. This time it was Raymond’s winch to the rescue.


The Poolburn Reservoir and increasingly dramatic rock formations progressively came into view and then it was time for another group vehicle photo stop by the dam.


From there it was all downhill, literally, and a fantastic day out was ultimately consummated by seven trip participants at the Chatto Pub, a mere 8 hours after leaving Roxburgh!


As always, big ups to those who put the time and effort in to facilitating an incredible experience for all, with special acknowledgement of course to Dave. And 10 points to Johnny for the entertainment value generated by his 12-volt pie warmer, and the associated tales of a $70+ bill at the bakery en route to Roxburgh.


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