112 Days on the Road
So there seems to be a 4×4 obsession in New Zealand. Already, we have been boosted up a mountain in a 4×4 buggy in the Forgotten World Highway’s Ghost Town, we have whizzed around a Taranaki farm, and we have sped over sand dunes in Wanganui. Today, we are taking to the wheel ourselves and we… just… can’t… wait!
We drive our not-so-adventurous campervan just 10 minutes out of Greymouth, the central hub to the wild West Coast, down to the appropriately named On Yer Bike! It’s unmissable from State Highway 6 with its collection of buggies, quad bikes and some sort of tank-like vehicles parked in a semi-circle, begging motorists to pull over and have a ride.
In the On Yer Bike shop, cafe and quilting shop (yes, we too often associate rampaging quad bikes with quilting), we meet our hosts Sue and Mike. Mike is going to be our guide through the 16km+ tracks that he has put together over 19 years!
Preparing for the mud!
After a quick coffee at the cafe and a look at the resident lambs, one wearing a dog coat and the other one wearing an extra fleece jacket, we get ourselves dressed up in preparation for the elements!
Mike takes us to a large changing area with the walls lined with bright yellow coats and overpants, gumboots, hair nets, gloves and helmets. We dress all in yellow, Laura with a red helmet to look like a New York firefighter, and Robin with a helmet saying: “Fearless”. Nice.
Learning to drive our own buggies
We look the part but are we going to drive the part? Mike sets us up on a single-seated 4×4 buggy each. They drive just like a car, but when appropriate, Mike will tell us when we need to hit the four-wheel-drive switch, when we need to hit low gear, high gear, etc. The only thing is, Laura hasn’t even driven a car in almost three years.
Now that we have established which peddle is brake and which is accelerate (your questions are so reassuring, Laura), we are ready to hit the 4×4 tracks!
Setting the pace (fast)
Mike goes first setting the pace and giving us an idea of where to aim our wheels. The rest we can enjoy!
The first part of the trip goes over farmland with a few small dips and gravelled sections with shallow water to get through. This gives us a bit of time to get used to the buggies, which are pretty easy to drive… until we get to the more complicated terrain.
Stuck in the mud
A shallow river runs alongside the muddiest track we’ve ever laid eyes on. Mike had told us there were some muddier sections that needed a bit of gravelling, but he thought we might be able to handle this deep muddy ditch. Hum, famous last words.
Because Laura is driving like a grandma and often lacks common sense, she misses where Mike put his wheels in through this muddy section… As you probably guessed, she gets the buggy stuck. Not even the four-wheel-drive can save her!
Soon enough, with a push from Robin and Mike, we get out of our pickle only to realise Robin is stuck too. (Oh my God, is this one of those days where we are really bad tourists)?
Right, is everyone out of the mud? To be fair, it’s hilarious and shows that you actually do need a bit a skill to get through tough terrain in these vehicles! It is also a good example of how keeping speed is important (we’re talking to you, Laura)!
By the end of the riverside track, we feel like we’re really getting the hang of it just in time to delve into the bush. We burst through this incredibly mossy native forest, the tracks becoming rocky and easier for the vehicles to grip. We are having an absolute blast being able to drive through such an awesome landscape ourselves. It’s the first time that Laura is actually enjoying driving (there was a reason she hadn’t drove for three years). Can we just travel New Zealand in a 4×4 buggy from now on?
SOMEWHERE IN THE FOREST, SOME CRAZY 4X4 TRAILBLAZERS…
Next up is Mike’s favourite bit, Cave Creek. A small rocky stream flows through the forest in a ditch only big enough, well, to fit a single-seat 4×4 buggy through. And guess where we are going?
With the creek walls towering over our heads and our buggies just making it under fallen trees, we can see why this creek mimics a cave. Man, these vehicles can go just about anywhere!
Power to the peddle
Once we’re out of the creek, the track steadily ascends uphill with a few puddles to blast into, sending water flying everywhere!
“You’re going to have to put four-wheel-drive on, get into high gear, and keep your speed!” Mike warns us for this next bit. It is an uphill deep muddy section. Bring it on!
The boys speed up the hill, Robin’s vehicle that is now in front of Laura, absolutely covers Laura in thick mud as it gets started. She has now acquired a few freckles.
Foot to the floor, we power up the hill, slipping from side-to-side. Don’t stop, don’t stop! Even the adrenalin is kicking in – anything to get us up this hill, Goddammit!
By some sort of miracle (or pure skills, we like to believe), we make it up the mudslip of a hill! Amazing!
Wash your own buggy
The rest of the forest track is still pretty muddy, but we’ve got this now. We can handle it, even the gnarlier sections where there’s a bit of a drop into a stream below us.
Emerging from the forest, we were once yellow in white buggies. Now we are brown. How the hell is Mike going to clean these things? Well, he is going to get us to do it.
Puddles of fun and river crossings
The rest of the track dips into pools of water that engulf the wheels, yet we are still keeping some speed to catch up with Mike, so the water is washing over us too. This is the most fun we’ve had washing a vehicle!
The final dip is literally driving across a river, then up, around and back down the river. Did we mention how these vehicles can go through just about anything?
New muddy freckles
Back at the changing rooms, we peel out of our muddy clothes, Laura’s face getting the face mask of its life right here now that the mud has dried on. To be honest, she wants to keep the mud on. It goes to show what a day she has had (and makes her look pretty badass).
Back at the backpackers
We thank and say goodbye to the guys at On Yer Bike, and drive the underwhelming campervan back into Greymouth to the Noah’s Ark Backpackers. Robin’s making fancy brie pasta tonight!
Join us tomorrow where are back on the road to Hokitika, the home of greenstone, driftwood and mind-blowing sunsets!
Muddy great fun in 360 degrees!
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See you tomorrow!