I was planning this trip for some time, the preparation was done but the weather was not suitable, the track is very challenging with many unexpected obstacles. The Waikaia Bush road or Whitecoomb road goes from Fruitlands to Waikaia through private farmland and later through DOC land. The road is much easier if you start by Fruitlands and continue to Waikaia. We took Waikaia Bush Road the access is just around the corner by Shingle Creek coming from direction Fruitlands.
On the first 8 km are few farm gates to open the road is in a very good maintained condition. After the last gate DOC land begins and the road is not maintenance, the road is filled up with rain water which could be front wheel deep or only few inches, but the mud in the paddle is very soft bike is drifting from one side to the other, most difficulty is the tyre marks from 4WD cars which can’t be seen at all, then relay to your luck to get through. I cannot recommend to try riding around the paddle, the ground is very soft as well and the tussock very thick. I drove through all paddle it was very slippery. After I managed the last paddle the road got rockier with wash outs, I decided to drive in the washouts which are not very deep, but without any mud, the tyre had a reasonable grip too. On the next section I experienced a lot of rock steps which remained me more riding down a staircase than anything else. The steps were as high as 40 cm and super slippery covered with a very thin layer of mud and gravel. It is possible to camp beside the track and the scenery is very beautiful, there is a swamp on top of the range too. After the 4WD club stuck in May 2016 the last part of the road (on the Waikaia site) has been improved a lot, there are no wash outs or gaps in the road. It is extreme slippery in wet condition. I put on a brand new Heidenau Scout 60 tyre I have had to work very hard to keep my bike on track.
Near Skippers Canyon by Queenstown is an other beautiful remote 4wd road called The Branches Road. Historically Skippers Canyon was the main area for gold mining in the late 1880, At first was Skippers Canyon Road build and few years later begun the building of The Branches Road. I rode both roads many times and both roads are a great adventure all the time, special on a Adventure bike. Before you reach turn off to Branches Road you have to ride Skippers Road which is at some sections a very scary road, the road follow few hundred meter above Skippers Canyon River, there is even not even enough space for two cars to pass each other, I need to watch out all times for dust clouds which where man made by buses or 4wd trucks, that I could look for a safe passing area to pull in. After I reached the rock fall area there is the turn off to the Branches Road to the right into the forest. The road is very exposed, sandy and rocky; what make to ride my bike much more difficult. As soon I reached the first hard right turn I saw a statue which is overlooking Skippers Town and upper skippers canyon, it was said that the statute is looking for the luck and safety for the gold digger.
From that point on the road get more spectacular than Skippers Road before. The road is more exposed and the cliff is getting higher than on the first part on Skippers Road. The excitement get more and more the further I rode down the road, I passed many fords which where not to difficult to pass, due the luck of rain, one of the Fords was just wheel deep but very big rocks where in the drive way a steep sand ramp was to drive up straight after the ford, my bike begun to swing from right to left, but I got my bike back under control with out coming off it.
Further down the valley I found a green area in middle of an forest which I juice to camp for the night, as a farmer told me it must be the historic supply house on right side of the river, it is the only access to the left side of the river by using a flying fox too, the flying fox is in top condition and get used nowadays. We started pitching up our tents and light up a bone fire. But as soon the day light faded away, little blood sucking animals which we call sand-fly’s make our pleasant first stay very unpleasant. But any way; we didn’t break down our campsite and enjoyed our BBQ and our night. In Early morning hours some animals where running around my tent I have had no idea what kind of animals that could be, after one of them attacked my tent I went outside and checked out the situation. Surprisingly there was no danger at all, there where many rabbits playing and running all over the green, one of them must slip and roll over and bounce back from my tent. It was a great experience to sit on the side and look at the rabbits, what a great start into the day, it was so peace full, around us.
After Breakfast we continued our adventure ride to Branches Station, one section was more challenging, rocks as big as footballs; drifting sand in between them make the passing more difficult. That part is only passable by low water of the river, on a bike. That is the only part of the whole road which can make the ride an obstacle. After our success full passing it was easy going until Branches Station. Many confusing notes where at the entrance to the station. We dried to find the farmer to get permission to go further up the private road, the farmer was so kind to give us permission to continue our ride, he recommended to take the steep gravel road up to the top of the hill. From there we would get the best panorama view over the whole valley. Once more a steep climb smaller and tighter serpentines than ever before, may more suitable for a small 4wd car than for a full loaded adventure bike, we went that far already and no one of us want turn back with out that promised view, it must be a gradient of 45 degree, tough, no way back… keep going and don’t look back down.
The view was incredible, stunning, mind blowing and overwhelming. The only big disappointment was I didn’t ask for permission to camp at this location. We took the same way out of the valley as we took in, every ting seems to be easier than before, but wasn’t. We stopped at the original Skippers Home State to take a close look of the well maintaineced cottage, historic tools where hanging outside and where displayed inside as well, an old iron bed was on the far end of the room the fire place was nicely set up with pans and kettle.
May Queenstown is called Adrenalin capitol of New Zealand, definitely Skippers Canyon and Branches Road is Adrenalin capitol of Queenstown.
There is one more good rule on those roads, the road is not suitable for camper vans at all, and if some one rent a car, this is one of New Zealand roads which the rental company exclude any insurance. In the whole valley is no cell phone coverage, if a break down happen it make it very difficult to find fast help by phone, more likely it is a long walk back to the entrance of the road to make the needed call. Even than it is not certain some one pick you up due the difficulty and danger of the road.
The Branches Station is a high country farm with 90 000ha of farmland, Sheep and cattle are the most livestock which is on the farm
There is a chance to stay at the branches by one of the farm houses , which is called Stockman’s Camp, to experience that unique and pure, untouched environment cost its price.