Written by Mark Wilson of NZ Hikes...
When tackling New Zealand’s rugged mountain terrain in a 4WD it is important to have a quality vehicle. Within a few hours of driving, you can find yourself in some of the most remote places on earth. With only a small amount of off-road driving under my belt I have always assumed to gain access to remote areas you need a big lifted truck with a snorkel. For a ‘small truck’ the Suzuki Jimny will go anywhere any ‘big truck’ can go, and I was about to find out that there aren't many places the determined little beast can’t get to.
This trip was the first time we (The People of Aotearoa) had been released out of our homes after five weeks of Covid-19 Lockdown, and We had had a discussion about seeing how far up the Rangitata River’s southern bank we could go. Even the drive into the area via the Rangitata Gorge Road is jaw-dropping. Happiness flows into the adventure senses as you get your first view of the vast reaches of the huge Mesopotamia High Country Station, and the first good look at the Rangitata Riverbed.
The fact that we didn’t get this view on the drive in didn’t matter didn’t as this was the first time we had been aloud out of our homes for 5 weeks.
We crossed over a major braid of the Rangitata a couple of times, before the slow grind over numerous massive sidestream washouts up to Growler Hut. We were now into the mountainous Havelock River area, and we could see that we weren’t the only ones in the valley, with the lights of multiple groups of 4wd vehicles slowly plodding their way up the valley coming up to the hut.
We quickly had a feed (steak on the BBQ!), and after chatting to the first group that got to the hut, we pushed on further into the valley. Me with a tent and Adam sleeping in the truck, means we can set up camp anywhere, and in the dark we eventually found an excellent campsite high on a terrace beside Camp Stream.
By morning the cloud had cleared, and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise, as we cooked up an epic feed for breakfast at our frosty campsite. We could now see up the Havelock Valley, and looking at the map we decided to go further and see how close we could get to Mistake Flats Hut. We'd only traveled 5km, over four hours and many, many times, especially at Carneys Creek, we were forced to turn back to find another way through the jumbled maze of riverbed rocks. The area was hit by a huge storm a few months before, and a lot of the 4WD track in the upper valley had been washed out. At times we had to stop and manually make our own track by moving the bigger rocks.
We slowly picked our way through the riverbeds until we got to a stunning waterfall, and another very inviting terrace to camp on. We went up to inspect the terrace, and as we drove amongst the long tussock, suddenly the truck came to a halt as it was wedged up on a large rock. At times, as Adam tried to get off the rock, the truck was on three wheels, and just as we were starting to think what’s plan B, he somehow wrestled the Jimny free. We felt we should leave this spot and look for another place.
The location we finally agreed on was well worth the extra driving, as there were epic views everywhere. The centrepiece of the grand view was Mt McMillan (1883m) standing guard over Mistake Flat Hut only a couple of kilometres away.
To make sure we had a quality fire to match the incredible area, we put the Jimny to work and gathered large pieces of wood on the roof, and transported it back to our campsite. And yes, the fire was epic!
The stars put on show, and the display of the Milky Way made for some incredible photography of our one night home in the Havelock.
We were up early-ish the next morning, shaking off the frost and packing up, knowing we had to somehow get back across the rock maze at Carneys Creek. We made our way through the washout via a different route, and got to within 20m of the track to Mesopatamia, but we were stopped by a wall of rocks and a fast flowing Carneys Creek. We had to turn back and retrace our steps for a good 45 minutes before picking a completely different place to get back on the track.
After negotiating Carneys Creek, we knew the rest of the way was pretty straight followed, and we stopped for a brew at Camp Creek near where we camped on the first night. To our luck we were just in time to see a couple of Microlight Aircraft take off from the small airstrip at Growler Hut into the bluebird sky.
Once back on sealed roads we had time to reflect on our adventure, and both of us were amazed about how far up the Havelock we had traveled. Any doubts I had about the Jimny were gone, and even before getting home we were planning the ‘little trucks’ next adventure...