Have you been dreaming of waking up surrounded by snow? We'll if you're in the north island, then there's only one direction to head... to the centre. Recently our buddy Ed made the hike from Taranaki across to the Central Plateau in his trusty Defender (which he's nicknamed Bernie), and lucky for you, he’s given us the full run-down of his trip. Have a read as Ed fills us in on one hell of a winter mission in the north, including some of his top tips on how you can do the same.
This adventure began with a simple idea. In typical NZ fashion it all started from a pre-pandemic campfire discussion with close friends where we asked “if we could go on an adventure anywhere in the world where would it be?'' After much debate, everyone seemed to agree on a road trip in our very own backyard. New Zealand.
The idea of Project Bernie was sparked. Little did I know it would take me through hell and high water to complete, but with a nationwide lockdown, finding time was no issue. An NZ road trip in a custom rig was the dream.
There is no better location than the Central Plateau for taking a reincarnated 1987 Land Rover 110 on its maiden voyage, a 1000km solo journey through some of the most remote terrain in the North Island of New Zealand, the perfect test and my most nourishing adventure to date. With -15degree nights, snow, rain, severe heat and at times a very sore bum, I walked away with a clear and refreshed headspace. I will not lie, comfort was stripped away... but yet was replaced with simplicity, wholesomeness and appreciation for my normal everyday living.
Feldon Fact #1:Don’t rush (a slow rig helps)
We left the day I finished Project Bernie, with no plan and no destination in mind. I was itching to get out of the workshop, the place where thousands of hours were spent working on Bernie. We hit the road. Packing all the essentials from West Supply, fresh produce from the garden, my camera, and enough tools to rebuild Bernie in the good chance it was to break down, we set off from Taranaki bound for Tongariro National Park.
We arrived in Ohakune with no hiccups, taking back roads the entire way. The aim was to go fully off-grid, take our time (didn't really have a choice), stop for coffee and enjoy the journey. The first two nights were spent nestled riverside, in some of NZ's natural forest, off State Highway 1. It rained for two days and two nights, these things you can’t plan for. I remember vividly the goosebumps I got each morning as I was perched in the Feldon, warm and dry with the pitter-patter of rain on the roof. These moments are what make it all worthwhile. These few days were spent exploring the local area, cooking good food, and reading. Slow & Simple.
At the start of the third day, the cloud had lifted slightly and it was cold…. very cold. Rumours were a decent dump of snow had settled on the Central Plateau. It was time to head up the Tukino Access Road and see how high we could get. I had permission from the ski field to stay up there and managed to source a key for the upper section of the road.
Feldon Fact #2: Make the little things, big things. Put time into those little things that put a smile in your face, whether it's making coffee or cooking up a feed.
For those that are yet to experience it, It really does feel like you are driving on the moon as you make your way up the road, (interstellar theme tune blasting). Surreal really. The higher we got, the denser the cloud got and before we knew it, Bernie was cutting trails through a few inches of fresh snow. As we went through the gate to the upper section of the road this was the last we would see any human for the next two days.
I was frothing, with an intense euphoria, cruising up the road and putting Bernie to the test. Unreal. As it started to snow, I found a place to camp and quickly set up the Feldon tent in the snow. I went on a small hike as the sky started to darken and the night opened up, with my camera in tow and took a few stills to remember this moment.
It was a moonless night and the stars were out, the only light pollution was the flares being sent up from the military base. Sleep was very much limited as the temperature plummeted to the point where the water froze instantly on the dishes I was washing. That night the Feldon tent held strong and once it was zipped all up it stayed surprisingly warm. I was eager for sunrise, at 5am I was out to get a time-lapse sorted, it was unbearably cold. Before I left for the ridge line which was a 1km hike away. I got the diesel heater started which was a life saver to come back to.
Feldon Fact #3: Pack for all conditions, there is no harm in chucking in an extra blanket!
The entire day was spent marvelling at the view, drinking coffee and relaxing. It was picture perfect. The next night was equally as cold and as the cloud packed in, rain began washing away all the snow.
The next morning the skies opened up once again, by mid-morning the Feldon was dry and we were ready for our next stop. I cruised down the access road in awe the entire way down. The next night was spent on the other side of the Central Plateau before we made out way back to Taranaki via The Forgotten World Highway. Another spot which needs to be checked out by all.
Feldon Fact #4: Lastly and most importantly, bring your mates. Fill the car with good people, it becomes far less about the adventure but more so with the people you share it with. This was my one regret.
There is a lot to be said for going on adventures, what I took away from this one, was to truly appreciate our comfort we need to know what it feels like for it to be stripped away. It wasn't comfortable, but it was epic. An adventure I will remember forever and repeat in a heartbeat. Preferably with company next time as setting up a tripod for every photo shoot was a mission in itself!
So there you have it, Ed's maiden voyage. Looking forward to seeing where Edward & Bernie end up next! All photos & words by the talented Edward Lawley. Thanks for the insight into the Central Plateau!