October 30, 2013

3. Southern Safari: The window of opportunity

Negotiating a little creek to get to the Mackley River crossing point.

Taking our window of opportunity.
The Southern Safari should be turned into a reality TV show, what with all the suspenseful build-up that's been going on, however unintentionally. In Murchison, the day ahead promises to be full of drama; how many will survive? Will carnage be wrought? One option is to go to Mike Dredge’s nearby farm, on which he has developed “challenging” 4WD tracks where, depending on the person you’re talking to, damage is inevitable/probable/highly likely. And if it’s wet, well it’s best not to even think about what might happen. Not unexpectedly, few of the Southern Safari-goers opt for the Dredge farm, choosing instead the Mackley Track in the Buller and a crossing of the river of the same name. But even this supposedly tame option is filled with awful dramatic possibilities. Rain is threatened; will we get there before the river swells and becomes uncrossable? Will those without snorkels have to be towed across, engines off? Even without rain, will the river be too high – there have been three fine days since the last heavy rain, but is that enough?

Like the Porika trail a few days ago, Mackley gives the early impression of being tame and hardly worth engaging the front wheels for. But like a good reality show, it has a surprise around the corner and becomes rough, steep, zig-zaggy and reveals sure-death drop-offs. The track starts roughly half way between Murchison and Westport, off Highway 6, and ends slap in the middle of the wonderfully moody and historically important Denniston Plateau, where the Department of Conservation has established a not-to-be-missed park that provides a window into the historic coal mining that pumped wealth into the West Coast. In fact, the Mackley has history around every second or third corner including, near its start, another DoC site with walks to important Lyell gold mining spots, including a small poignant cemetery with fenced plots, the perfect place for “one foot in the grave” photos. But will Southern Safari participants have one foot in the grave as they take on the raging waters of the Mackley River?

Actually they won’t. The approach to the crossing point is interesting and, to carry on with the reality TV theme, seems full of potential disaster. It’s reached by a steep-ish downhill, then across a rocky creek and up a bank with large rocks to snag almost anything. Then there’s a short rocky drive to the river entry point … and off they go. I’d have thought there would be some serious getting-stuck on parts of this route but it’s here that it becomes clear we’re riding with a very experienced group of off-roaders. Clay Nomads many may be, but there’s a combined 900 years of off-road experience amongst them. Or so it would seem. Oddly, a bit later on, crossing a creek that looked like it would be no problem, the recovery ropes have to some out, but the stuck vehicles are retrieved quickly and competently. Unlike most tag-along safaris, this one requires all participants to be club members, and it shows.

Call that a winch? Nah, THIS is
a winch: old mining gear at Denniston.
The day, however, does take its toll. There are tyre problems, one vehicle loses its low-range … fortunately, things that can be fixed without major problem. Having made the most of our window of opportunity, it’s now on to the caves on Napoleon’s Hill and the always interesting Noname Road.

Rating the day (out of 5)
Mackley Track
As a driving experience 2.5
As a scenic track 4

Jeep charges the bank.

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