Written by Mark Wilson of NZ Hikes...
When visiting the upper reaches of the large valleys near New Zealand’s Main Divide, most choose to tackle the challenge on foot. For owners of modified Suzuki Jimnys, the challenge is one for the vehicle.
Once again I was back in a loaded Suzuki Jimny heading west, and this time it was a little bit different as we had company. Mr NzJimny is a member of the Canterbury Recreational 4WD Club, and the club had got permission to travel through Erewhon Station to access the Clyde River, and then continue further to the remote Lawrence River.
I was really excited to finally get into terrian I had looked at it on maps for years, due to many trips around the Hakatere Conservation Area. The forecast for the day was grim, and Adam and I camped out the night before up the Potts River, so we could start the day close to Erewhon Station.
An early-ish start had us dropping off the unnecessary camping get back at the crib in Lake Clearwater Village. This task was made interesting by the very heavy rain falling at the time, and as we unloaded the last of the gear we could hear the rumble of The Canterbury Recreational 4WD Club over the sound of the heavy rain.
We joined the seemingly endless line of 4WD vehicles, and over the radio we could hear the club members chatting about the famous Black Panther that supposedly wanders these hills. As we rolled along the gravel road in the rain I could see from the massive line of vehicles behind us from the passenger seat of the Jimny, I knew we were in for a very interesting day.
The lead 4WD vehicle checked us in at the entrance to Erewhon Station, and then we made our way through the moraine mounds of ‘Jumped Up Downs’, and then out on to the wide expanse of the Clyde Riverbed.
It was here that the group stopped to prepare their vehicles and to let air out of the tyres for more comfortable travel in the rocky river beds. There were at least 20 trucks, with most of the classic makes and models. As the valley was echoing with the sound of tyres hissing, the 4WD yarning began.
Once the crew was ready the sounds of hissing tyres became the roar of petrol and diesel combustion, and we began to bounce our way over to the true right of the Clyde River. The journey across the valley was rough, but nothing we hadn’t experienced before, and once on the other side we picked up a good track we could cover ground quickly.
Opposite the entrance to the Lawrence River, we crossed back over, and passed the recently renovated Erewhon Station Hut. We were now in the Lawrence Valley, and it is a very impressive part of New Zealand’s backcountry. The group drove together as far as the track up to Hermitage Hut (about halfway up the Lawrence Valley), and it was here we stopped for lunch with a view.
After lunch some of us headed a little bit further up the valley until the rocks were just two big to bounce over (even for the mighty Jimny), so we turned around and began the long drive out of the valley. The lead vehicle decided to have a go at the true left of the valley for our escape route, and this side of the valley gave everyone’s suspension (plus our necks & backs) a good work out, as we went in and out of the many braids of the Lawrence River.
Even back in the Clyde Valley the forward travel was slow and bouncy, and at one stage one of the 4WD’s managed to get stuck while negotiating sandy ground near the Clyde River.
Eventually we arrived back at Jumped Up Downs (west entrance to Erewhon Station), and then sadly it was back on to the smooth and boring roads back home to Christchurch. Being the only Jimny on the trip meant it got a lot of attention from the other drivers, all interested to see what the little truck could do. Amongst the other ‘big trucks’ the Jimny never missed a beat, and I’m positive out of all the vehicles in the group that day, we used the least amount of fuel!