4th February MOLESWORTH STATION
Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s largest farm, covering almost half a million acres with the country’s largest herd of beef cattle (up to 10,000 in winter) and also its most remote. At 900metres, it is the highest occupied year round homestead in NZ. The land is owned by the Crown and leased for farming.
When the Crown took over, the land was suffering from vegetation loss and severe erosion caused by overgrazing and repeated burning, but was then gradually restored to good health under careful management. A team of stockmen are employed who camp out with their horses and sleep in remote huts for days at a time.
The harsh environment of Molesworth is a one of extreme weather from scorching summers to snowy winters. Snow can fall at any time of the year and can cover the property for up to 8 weeks of the year. Access to the station is only possible from late December to early April when the Acheron Road is made open to the public. Eager for some more off-road adventures through NZ’s stunning landscapes after a fantastic drive through Clarence Valley, we just couldn’t miss the opportunity to drive through the iconic Molesworth Station.
We leave Kaikoura just before 10am following State Highway 1 north along the seal coast arriving at the turnoff around an hour later.
The 200km road turns inland past large vineyards providing amazing views of the mountains straight away. The road is paved for the first few kilometres and then as we begin to wind up the mountains it turns to gravel. It follows the crystal clear and bright blue Awatere River which winds its way through the valley, passing large cattle stations on route. Around 100kms in, soon after driving over the Hodder Bridge, we arrive at the Molesworth Cob Cottage built in 1865. We explore and go for a walk to take in the fresh mountain air.
The scenery is spectacular as we have grown accustomed to in New Zealand but the iconic high country reserve has a magical feel to it, being so isolated and sheltered by the magnificent Inland Kaikoura Ranges. The vast landscapes change from towering craggy mountain slopes then drops into wide river valleys and then down to tussock slopes with the altitude varying from 550 to 2100 metres.
Terminal moraines, hanging valleys and waterfall are all reminders of the region’s past ice ages.
Several major fault lines transect the property causing mountain uplift and more recently triggering landslides and rockfalls.
The road continues to wind around the mountains until we go over Ward’s Pass at 1145 metres, the highest point on our route. The pass is closed by snowfall for long periods. We drive down into Isolated Flat which is covered with tussock grasses and large white swaying flowers. Introduced blue borage grows profusely, the blue flowers attracting bees which produce delicately flavoured honey,
We begin to climb again, driving over Isolated Saddle with more fantastic views, eventually coming to the confluence of the Acheron and Clarence River.
The historic Acheron Accommodation House, used as a stop for travellers and stockmen and built in 1862 is the oldest building on the property. Small bridges are traversed as we drive along the valley floor.
We have a great view of Mount Augarde, named after a worker from nearby Helen’s Station. Mr. Augarde was courting Miss Gee who was living in the Upper Wairau. He had written her a letter and given it to ‘German Charlie’ to pass on. Charlie, however opened the letter to entertain various groups of men on route with its contents. On hearing this, Augarde shot Charlie and rode onto Red Gate where he shot himself.
Driving along the mountain ridge road with colossal mountains covered in vegetation surround us, we reach Island Saddle at 1350 metres. The landscape is stark and arid with a surreal beauty.
We reach the alpine resort village of Hanmer Springs via Jack’s Pass where we treat ourselves to some relaxation in the famous hot thermal springs. The complex has naturally heated thermal mineral waters of varying temperatures, some of which are spa-like, including a 42 degree sulphur pool. It’s a great way to end the day, but it’s not quite over yet….