Otago, South Island
High clearance vehicle
Before heading to the South Island for three weeks over New Years we compiled a list of places that we wanted to go and see. Right at the top of the list was Nevis Valley - a place that I had been wanting to go for the last few years, and that we somehow missed when we were down there last time.
The previous night we camped alongside Lake Wanaka and teamed up with Scotty ready to head off the next morning. Because we’d stayed north of the Nevis Valley we decided to head in the Cromwell end after a quick fuel up and coffee stop. Obviously you can head through either way - north to south offers some amazing views heading up and out of the valley though.
A short cruise down the road, the seal ended and we started the long climb up to Duffers Saddle; which I now know is one of the highest public roads in New Zealand. The views on the way up blew my mind - you can see forever from the top and I jumped out so many times to take more photos.
Once past the saddle I dropped the tyres down a bit to smooth out the ride and we set off down into the valley to explore the history of the area and what is possibly now one of my favourite drives in the country.
I know that people did crazy things for gold back in the day - but I’m amazed that so many people used to live out there given the conditions. I couldn't imagine spending three months of the year pretty much snowed in and with very little contact from the outside world. While not much has stood the test of time given the harshness of the environment, seeing the remains of the pub and the few small buildings left really sets in how easy we have it these days.
Once past the town I was surprised how quickly things went from a nice gravel road to a rougher track that starts feeling very remote. You get lost in a world surrounded by giant hills and giant skies as you follow the river bed for a long while. The feeling of being remote is hard to beat - we saw very few other people all day and had zero contactability with the outside world - there’s something special about that feeling that you just don’t get in everyday life.
The middle of the track is where the 4WD adventure begins. You'll need a little bit of clearance to get through and there's a few spots where it's a bit of a 'pick your own adventure'. In dry weather you shouldn't have any issues solo as almost all of the obstacles have another easier way around them - in the rain it could be a different story though. Given the lack of rain in the weeks leading up to us heading through I was surprised at the amount of water still around, it made for some sweet water crossings and fun little bog holes.
If you don’t have a snorkel on your truck it’d be worth jumping out and double checking a few of the deeper looking crossings and, if you’re not comfortable heading through them, finding the bypass track. Scotty is yet to get a snorkel on his truck and he decided not to follow us through some of the deeper holes - the Nevis Valley is a place where you really don’t want mechanical issues!
The further south we travelled, the greener and more lush the scenery became - it really drove home just how far we had actually travelled. We found out when looking at the maps later on that we’d crossed from Otago into Southland without even realising it.
We started climbing out of the valley in awe of it. The whole day was full of amazing views and cool places. Little did we know we were in for one more surprise though - a full vista of the hills surrounding Queenstown. We parked up for a few minutes to take it all in.
The track down to Garston bypasses a small ski hut that’s worth having a nosey at on the way past.
The Nevis Valley has to be in my top three trips we’ve done around New Zealand. The remoteness, the scenery and the length of it makes it pretty hard to beat! It was a day well spent and I can’t wait to head through it again one day.