An Unexpected Journey

Yesterday was a warm Saturday afternoon in late autumn. During the week, we had found another possible rural property, this one in the valley of the Okuku River, one of the tributaries of the Ashley River in North Canterbury. About 3:30 in the afternoon, we left where we are staying, drove out there, stopped at the bridge to walk the puppy (more on her later) and were on our way back around about sunset.

This is where things got interesting. I was driving, as I usually do on family trips, and when we were in the village of Loburn and about to turn right to go to Rangiora and so eventually back home, Grace asked me to turn left instead. It was about 5:00, and late afternoon was giving way to sunset.

We headed up the valley, a pleasant green space mostly occupied by small farms. We passed one or two more farms and blocks for sale and made a note to look them up later, and through Loburn North and on to White Rock, which we think got its name from a stunning limestone outcrop, now an active quarry and lime works but still with the rock face clearly visible to travellers. We wished we had brought our good camera with us. Note to self, do so in future.

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The route over the Okuku Pass and through Lees Valley. We made it approximately 40% of the way before our path was blocked by the Okuku River.

The last few houses petered out, and we headed up towards the Okuku Pass. We climbed on a narrow gravel road through mixed pine and beech forest, and up into subalpine tussock and matagouri. At this point, we hoped to follow the road through to Lees Valley, coming out near the Ashley Gorge and the town of Oxford.

Coming down from the Okuku Pass, the road became more challenging and the countryside more isolated. Descending down a series of hairpin bends, we came upon a murky stream of uncertain depth that blocked our path. We tried to go around on what appeared to be a dry weather route, and the bank was too steep for our car. We were just considering turning around when another car (not a four wheel drive or SUV) came along and drove calmly through the ford. The driver said he was just going for a drive, but seemed a little lost and asked us if the way would take us back to the main road. Thinking he meant the main road at Oxford, we said it would and set out after him.

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The crossing of the Birds Eye Stream, the first of many fords we encountered on our journey.

For the next half hour or more, as darkness fell, our impromptu convoy drove through a starlit landscape of barren hills, punctuated by the occasional farm gate, somewhat more frequent fords over the small streams that drain the hills, and various animals (mostly rabbits and hedgehogs, but also two horses). Finally, we found our way blocked by what we think was the upper Okuku River, still a substantial stream and impassable to either of our vehicles. After some work to get out of the gravel riverbed typical of Canterbury’s braided rivers, we turned around and went back the way we had come under the dim light of the rising new moon.

The following clip is a typical ford crossing in our people mover. You can hear Grace practicing her poise and dignity while Stargazer cheers us on from the back seat.

We were a little concerned for our travelling companion, a road construction worker, who said that he was low on petrol and furthermore that one of his tyres was flat, so we took care not to lose him as we drove back. It was now well after 7 p.m. and he would have to make it to Rangiora, the nearest town by road with a 24-hour service station (or, for that matter, any service station). Seldom has a sealed road and the sight of the distant clustered lights of a large town been more welcome than when we came back over the Okuku Pass and down into White Rock.

Not long after that, our lost companion (who had been trying to make it to Waiau in far north Canterbury, accessible via a quite different road) pulled over, saying that his tyre was so flat as to be unusable. In a strange injection of modern city slicker technology into a country setting, we performed a field tyre change by the light of a smartphone (we, naturally, carrying a jack and a wheel spanner with us at all times). We finished the day’s adventures by escorting the gentleman to the nearest petrol station, taking a hungry and weary family to McDonald’s, and returning home for a long sleep.

We still don’t know all of why Grace was led to feel as though turning left at Loburn, instead of right, was the thing to be done. But for us it was an opportunity to learn more about trusting God, help someone in need, and have a family adventure. We also learned that there is a limit to the remoteness we’re physically and mentally equipped for as yet, a valuable lesson as we consider our next steps.

~ Victor

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