The Wilberforce River, Canterbury, NZ
Written by Mark Wilson of NZ Hikes...
Due to the success of the adventure into the Havelock Valley, the mighty Suzuki Jimny was loaded up again, and this time a mission into the Wilberforce Valley.
Since the first successful trip into the Havelock Valley, we had added additional shelter in the form of a large marquee shelter. This would provide good shelter for any future rain, and also will be very good at keeping the winter frost off my tent.
Due to us departing Christchurch late the sun was setting by the time we had driven up and around the Rakaia Gorge. The late start meant we were treated to an incredible sunset, and then an equally amazing moonrise as we drove through the small hills and around the small lakes in the Lake Coleridge area.
It was dark when we got to the Wilberforce Canal, and our plan was to find a spot out on the riverbed to set up our camp for the first night of our mission. After dropping down to the riverbed from the Canal road and crossing a small braid of the Wilberforce River we found a good flat area, and then set up camp for our first night.
The night was still and clear, with an insanely bright full moon, and we enjoyed a bit of star gazing before retreating to bed.
Just over an hour after heading to my tent I was woken by the sound of flapping Gortex, as very strong winds were thrashing the side of the tent. I poked my head outside of my tent to see the opposite of the peaceful and still night we had enjoyed earlier. I was still a little bit sleepy but after a few refreshing blasts of wind I realized that the marquee tent was halfway through the takeoff procedure with the legs 5 feet in the air and the tethering ropes straining under the power of the wind.
At about this time Adam realised things weren’t going to plan outside, and together and with freezing hands we partially dismantled the marquee, damaging it slightly but not losing any pieces. After sorting the marquee we then stowed as much as possible under the truck out of the wind. Frozen and cut in half by the wind, we both jumped back into our mobile bedrooms, and then began the intense job of surviving the night.
We survived the night, and after round two of packing up our gear in the savagely strong winds, we continued west in the warmth of the Jimny, as the first spots of rain appeared on the windscreen.
We bounced our way along the rough track up the riverbed, and were both very pleased with the speed of forward progress we could achieve, when compared with the tediously slow pace of travel in the Havelock Valley a few weeks before.
A random track marked with a large orange triangle took us up away from the riverbed, following Fanghill Stream up to Fanghill. The hut is a private Glenthorne Station mustering hut with a ton of historical charm inside the corrugated iron walls, completed with a classic concrete slab floor and old school canvas bunks. We stopped for a cup of coffee in the awesome little hut, and then topped up the hut’s wood supply with a successful first test run of the new chainsaw.
The rain returned so we headed deeper into the forest of Fanghill Stream, and found a perfect sheltered spot amongst an area of beech forest. We set up camp just in time, as the rain started to thunder down, but we were dry and happy in our brilliant mobile shelter.
The temperature dropped, and it wasn’t long before the rain turned to snow, and it would remain snowing for about ten wintery hours. We spent the day enjoying the snow, and getting some very cool photos of a freshly white painted landscape, as well as getting a fire set up for the approaching chilly evening. After a while the snow built up enough in the forest canopy to provide us with shelter even outside of the marquee shelter.
The snow had eased by the evening, and we flooded the valley with the smells of steak and spuds, as we cooked a huge feed on the BBQ. That night we had a brief moment when the full moon lit up the valley like it was day, and then it began to snow again.
It’s fair to say that the second night was a million times more enjoyable than the first night, and my tent didn’t flutter at all during the calm winter night.
An early-ish start had us shaking the solid frost layer off the tents, as we packed everything up after breakfast. Now it was time to jump back into the Jimny and crunch our way over the fresh snow back down to the Wilberforce riverbed. The snow covered landscape was an incredible sight to behold. We took in the views of the Wilberforce Valley, and then started driving east, back towards the canals.
We found a far quicker route back out of the valley, and we were out past the campsite from night one in only a couple of quick hours.
Once again the ‘little truck’ had taken us into land usually reserved for ‘big trucks’ and hikers. The Jimny is an epic mission vehicle, and it wouldn’t be long before the mighty Jimny was back in the mountains...