|Off to a good start: snow sheets the top of the Raglan Range.|
From a North Islander’s perspective, the Southern Safari does not start well: a 60km drive to a damned pine forest? The grumbling ceases as the convoy works its way ever higher, as the slushy track gives way to something firmer and far more interesting. The pines of the Leatham Forest are being left behind and the scenery is becoming suspiciously sub-alpine. It suddenly looks promising and as our mud tyres begin to bite into snow, it’s clear that the Marlborough 4WD Club guys are taking us somewhere very special to kick-start the two-week off-road safari that will end in Bluff.
South Island clubs in the New Zealand Four Wheel Drive Association have been planning this marathon trip for ages, and the 30 places were quickly snapped up. What better was to see some of the best of the South Island’s back-country? It’s not so much a north-south off road odyssey as a series of off road experiences connected by some highway and byway driving. It’s attracted a wide range of vehicles and beyond the inevitable muster of Safari-Patrols and Land Cruisers there’s an assortment of Land Rover Defenders, a strong turnout of Jeeps and even a Jimny with some thoughtful mods and a competence well beyond that suggested by its size.
We’ve come to the top of the Raglan Range, some 4500 feet above seal level, in the old money, with views in all directions to keep the photographers in the group happy. Far below snakes the Wairau River, like some long piece of tattered, shimmering silk. The second half of the day, closer to river level, is taken up exporting the nearby Manuka Island Forest, a pretty block with some exceptional tracks, one of which claims two windscreens, a roof rack and sundry assorted scrapes, a warning that although the Southern Safari is not meant to be “hard” it is nevertheless unforgiving of inattention and driver error. The South Island is 840km long, give or take a click or two. Right now, Bluff looks a long, long way away, with lots of adventures to play out along the way.
Rating the day (out of 5)
Raglan Range Track
As a driving experience 3.5
As a scenic track 5
Manuka Island Forest Track
As a driving experience 4
As a scenic track 3
|The Jimny tackles a water crossing in the Manuka Island Forest segment.|