On 13 December we started off on our drive through the Molesworth Station Road – not sure what to expect and our vehicle is just on the 7m max length permitted through the private section of the road. Main issue could be ‘bottoming-out’ with our rear overhang when exiting any fords but others who have driven the road say they didn’t have any trouble so don’t think we will either.
At the top of the hill from Hanmer Springs, the road has joined up with the Clarence River which has its source in the hills near Lake Tennyson in the west. We are now driving northwards along the Clarence River Valley – saw a number of canoeists on the riverbank – lots of rocks and rapids so looked like great fun. Area very scenic with high hills and the broom all in yellow flower.
We also saw a number of cars parked up and anglers trying their luck for trout in the deeper slower flowing pools. One enthusiastic fellow even showed us a photo of a 6 pounder he’d caught here…but not today!
We crossed over the Clarence River Bridge and entered the Acheron DOC camp area around lunchtime. The private section of the Molesworth Road starts here. You can only drive through from 7am-7pm and there is no stopping overnight until you reach the DOC camp at the northern end about 60km further on.
We found a nice spot to park-up near to the Historic Cobb Cottage and there are other camping areas on the river terraces. A volunteer camp host is stationed here and at the northern end of the road – the lady came around to say hello and says they usually stay a week and are required to drive through each day to check that travellers are not in any trouble on the road. This is also a lengthy Cycle Trail and there were quite a few intrepid ‘peddlers’ around…it’s a long, long way from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs!!
We are staying here for the night to have a look around and will set off again tomorrow morning. Besides the weather forecast is great for tomorrow whereas we were still experiencing a really cold wind and the occasional squally showers.
The Historic Acheron Accommodation House, built in 1862-63, was open to view and has been fairly well restored. Lots of reading inside explaining how the building was used and constructed (mud and dung walls, thatched roof). The cottage now has an iron roof over the top to protect it but from the inside you can still see the original thatching.
The signboards give lots of information of life of the travellers and drovers that passed through the area up to 1932.
Went for a 30min walk up to a lookout behind the camp which had a good view down the river valley. The Acheron River joins up here with the Clarence River and it then continues all the way to the east coast to flow out to the Tasman Sea north of Kaikoura. Rafting trips 4-5 days long start here out the east coast – that would be a real adventure considering our elevation, the river passes between the Inland and Seaward Kaikoura Ranges and has to ‘go down’ somewhere(?) to get to sea level.
Woke up next day to a cold 3° but glorious day so onward, through the gate and feeling good that we are about to do something that has been on our ‘bucket list’ for some time. We are now driving along the Acheron River Valley and the river often stretches ahead of us like a blue ribbon on the landscape.
The Molesworth brochure was very helpful in finding all the historic points of interests along the way – it was written for north-south travel and so were the roadside signposts – without it we could have easily driven past something interesting.
Lower Acheron Suspension Bridge: built in 1945 by Christchurch University Engineering students. Replaced an older dilapidated one. Used to move up to 15,000 sheep across the river.
Pig Trough Suspension Bridge: one of three built by the NZ Electricity Dept in the early 1980’s to access pylons located away from the road.
Severn Rock Shelter: again lots of signboards to read about the historical access routes and the tough life led by the early packmen and musterers in the area.
Isolated Flats: road descends down a ‘saddle’ and crosses a 250 hectare flood plain of the Acheron River. There were areas here of Blue Borage plants in flower and beehives nearby – honey collected from them apparently has a very delicate flavour which is much sought after. I must admit I have never seen ‘borage’ honey for sale anywhere.
Wards Pass: up and over a narrow and winding pass to the summit of 1145m. A gate at the top where we arrived to find a lone girl cyclist holding the gate open for us to pass through. She was very out of breath and pleased to have the prospect of a downhill section to follow. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that there were still a few hillclimbs for her before she reached Acheron DOC camp.
Fords…what fords? We only passed through one that had a bit of water in it and the others were bone dry. There was only one at the bottom of a dip that would have carried a bit of water in wet conditions but the sides were not that steep so we could not see how it could have caused any issues to vehicles even longer than us.
We did not see any sign of stock on the land until after Wards Pass but that was understandable as we had not seen anything remotely ‘grazeable’ further back. The hills were bare and even in the valley alongside the river the grass was so dry that it ‘crackled’ when you stood on it. No cow in their right mind would want to be there! The only real ‘greenery’ we saw was from introduced Briar Rose bushes which are covering big areas, quite prickly but have a pretty pink flower.
There were a few walks of varying difficulty along the way but as I’ve had a ‘dicky’ knee I didn’t feel up to doing even the shortest one to a lookout (3hrs return). I didn’t hear any protest from Neville either when I suggested giving it a miss.
We arrived at the Molesworth DOC camp around lunchtime – it took us 3 hours to drive through which included all the stops we made to read the information panels, opening and shutting gates and to take photos.
There is another Historic Cobb Cottage in the camp that was built in 1866. Not as well preserved but interesting all the same.
The current Molesworth ‘working’ Station is out of bounds but you can do a 10min walk up a hill from the camp which overlooks the station buildings and a signboard indicates their purpose. Many of them are listed as ‘historic’.
Molesworth is the largest ‘farm’ in New Zealand covering an area of 180,787 hectares. It was taken over by the Crown back in 1938-1949 when four runholders walked off the land. The combined Stations once ran around 95,000 sheep and the land was suffering overgrazing by sheep and rabbits and repeated burning of tussocklands. The land has gradually been nursed back to health with careful management, including rabbit control and replacing sheep with cattle.
Up to 10,000 Angus and Angus/Hereford are now run as they have the most resilience to the harsh climate of dry summers and harsh winters.
Today the Molesworth is administered by DOC with Landcorp Farming Ltd responsible for the farming operations under a lease management agreement (end of the history lesson!!)
We left the DOC Camp next morning – location of the northern gate that is locked to prevent traffic attempting to drive through over the winter months. We were still driving Molesworth Station for some time – a few more gates to open and shut. This area is where we saw the main herds of the station cattle grazing – the land is certainly a lot more fertile here. Most of the cows had healthy looking calves and we also come across grazing sheep that are apparently kept for ‘dog tucker’.
We finally crossed the Molesworth boundary (last gate) and then drove through the neighbouring Muller Station lands for a while – lots of sheep grazing this area. Muller Station is renown for producing fine merino wool.
The road is now following the Awatere River but this time we are elevated and the river runs through picturesque gorges below. Stopped several times to take photos.
There is a picnic area beside the Hodder River Bridge a good place to stretch your legs. There is also ‘anglers access’ to the river if you fancy a walk.
We saw a cloud of dust in the distance so pulled over to let the approaching motorhome go past. It didn’t arrive so we figured they’d pulled over too, so we moved on. Sure enough we came across them on the side of the road. We stopped to say thanks and of all the flukey co-incidences it turned out to be my Brother’s nextdoor neighbours from Whakatane. The last people we expected to see on such a remote road. We had a good laugh and photo stop of course.
We eventually found ourselves back on tarseal as we got closer to SH1 and after 200kms or so of dusty and occasionally corrugated gravel it was very welcome. Also driving through miles of vineyards again so felt like we were back in civilisation.
Our overnight stop was at the Blairich picnic area 13kms short of SH1 – not a very pretty area but OK and we were ready to stop and rest up. Surprisingly we even got Internet service there, so were able to check our emails and catch up with the world again.
During the evening two groups of cyclists joined us for the night, they had come from Blenheim that day. There were no taps around and as we had plenty of water on board we offered them some of ours. Before they set off for Molesworth camp in the morning they duly appeared at the door with containers of all shapes and sizes to be filled. I didn’t envy the long hot ride they had before them. They asked if we would mind disposing of their rubbish bag for them seeing as we were heading for Blenheim and it would be 3 days before they got to Hanmer Springs to be rid of it. We were more than happy to do so and it was pleasing to see that these tourists were being so environmentally responsible.
We arrived back in Blenheim on 16 December – the Molesworth journey completed. Reckon we brought a lot of it back with us through judging by the quantity of dust inside the exterior stowages and coating the outside of the motorhome! (Hmmm I don’t do ‘outside’ cleaning duties).