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Know Your Limits

A lot of us can be pretty “gung ho” and once we’ve set our minds on an objective, we will do anything to achieve it. We’re as guilty as anyone. We hate being defeated and having to turn around, particularly if we’ve driven a long way to get to where we want to be.

Knowing your limits is different when it comes to 4WDing because it’s not only your limits as a driver but also the range and capability of your vehicle.

Range is a very important point. We always carry an extra 20 litres of fuel with us in the truck in case we, or someone in our party runs out. The golden rule in New Zealand, with the vast distances that we have to travel, is to always fill up when passing a petrol station. The further you drive down South the greater the distances between fuel stops and the prices tend to increase with every town you pass. It’s very tempting to drive through, hoping that the next town will be cheaper…

We’ve never run out of fuel, but have had to cut a few trips short because we were on the limit and chose caution. Keep your tank full and carry extra fuel, is a good rule to follow.

Weather plays a key role. All routes have a Grade. These Grades range from 1, gravel road to 5, normally highly challenging with multiple technical sections. Grades are extremely subjective and depend largely on the weather. Like a rock climbing Route Grade, the Grade given to any particular Route is the Grade of the Crux or most difficult section. This will typically be a river crossing. Routes will almost invariably become harder after sustained precipitation!

There has been a lot of comment on social media about the gradings that we have applied to various tracks with many people saying that our Grade was too high or too low. We accept this as it is all highly subjective.

There are a good number of examples of this and perhaps the best known is the crossing of the MacCaulay River. On a low river day, this crossing is easy and doesn’t require a snorkel. However, when the river is up, it can present a formidable obstacle and the signs when you approach, state this quite clearly. If the river is up, you will not only require a snorkel but excellent river crossing skills as well.

Any track that has a clay base will change very quickly after rain. There are many examples in Central Otago and around Reefton, where a straight forward Grade 3 can easily become a Grade 5 after or during a good down pour. The Clarence Valley is also a classic example. On a dry day, the track, with its high altitude views is pure magic. After rain, however it becomes a bob sley run with massive drop offs. In fact Muzzle Station won’t let you in during rainy periods.

We’ve had a few scary moments on tracks with big drop offs where, despite the mud tyres, we were sliding across the track. The solution has always been to find a suitable turning place and retreat with no shame.

So, the message here is to always have a full tank of gas and anticipate the conditions that you are going to potentially meet, making sure that these are well within your limits as a driver and those of your vehicle. No one ever won a prize for getting stuck in a river or falling off a long drop off!

It’s always safer to err on the side of caution and come back and drive the Route again in more suitable conditions. The track and mountains will always be there. Just give them the respect that they deserve!

As always, we hope that you’ve enjoyed reading, maybe learnt a bit and we look forward to seeing you out on the tracks!

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