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New Zealand Travel With 4x4 Trucks - 'Wheeling Half A World Away

Posted in Features on May 1, 2002
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No matter where you go for four-wheeling adventure, it seems like rain, mud, and rocks always manage to play a huge role. It's like that on most folks' home trails, and it's certainly like that in New Zealand, surely one of the most far-flung four-wheeling locations any American 'wheeler could find. One of the major 'wheeling events here is the New Zealand Fully Equipped Warn Challenge. And for the second time in the event's two-year history, a visiting Australian team took top honors. This year it was Kym Bolton and Phil Schott who won, driving a Nissan Patrol GU flat-deck.

Warn Industries Inc. and Fully Equipped, the local Warn importer, once again got behind the event with naming rights sponsorship, along with their considerable expertise gained in supporting similar events on a world-wide basis.

The event was held from November 2-4, 2001, at Lahar Farm, Horopito, at the foot of Mt. Ruapehu. The Lahar Farm, a magnificent farm and four-wheel-drive park owned by Brent and Noeline Bishop, is a 1500-acre property, approximately half way between Ohakune and National Park. The farm borders onto the Tongariro National Park and has Mount Ruapehu as its backdrop.

Bruce Hughes splashes his Nissan Patrol across a crisp little water crossing. He finished Third overall in the competition.

Although Lahar is run as a mixed sheep, cattle, and deer farm, Brent and Noeline have looked to provide a diverse range of tourism-related activities on the property. Under the Totally Off Road banner Brent provides off-highway tracks for those keen to try their vehicles. This is the location with the specially set-up sections for the second NZ Fully Equipped Warn Challenge.

Here's how it works: Each vehicle's crew, which consists of a driver and co-driver, must negotiate 11 stages over three days. The aim of the event is to complete each stage in under the DNF time and to avoid incurring penalty points for unsafe winching and vehicle-recovery practices, or for not following environmental guidelines.

Competitors would need to winch their vehicles in most stages to complete the event, reflecting real-life four-wheeling where recovery often is required to reach the final destination. On Friday, the first two stages were set to be done by the 28 competitors from New Zealand, and the one from Australia.

PhotosView Slideshow
Do the spotters get a workout? You bet.

The first stage was the prologue, called the Fully Equipped, a short run along a fence, a tight right turn to a small winch hill (according to the rules they had to winch here) along a gully. Then, using a pair of logs, competitors had to make a small bridge to cross a deep hole and make their way back into the finishing box. The times set on this prologue would divide the teams into five groups, with each fastest team as a leader of the group (fastest time leader of group A, second fastest time leader of group B, and onward to five groups with each five vehicles/teams).

Later that evening the first and only night stage during the event had to be driven. This was called the Hella Bat Out of Hell stage. This started at 11 p.m.; the last competitor started at 2:00 a.m.

But the next morning it was an early rise again for the next five special stages. Steep winch sections were set out here, and the clock for DNF times was running for the 28 competitors. The five teams of each five rigs started at a different special stage, and after finishing it they went clockwise to the next stage, circulating through this quintet of special stages. It turned out to be a long day. The weather included rain, sleet, and even a light dusting of snow, to make the conditions even tougher for the 28 competitors.

The ideal vehicle for a competition like this? Donald Preston obviously thought it would be a Jeep CJ-7. He and teammate Shane Cairns finished in Sixth place.

On Sunday, the last competition day of the event, five special stages again were set out by the organizers, and again it would be a long day. With the sun temporarily breaking through the clouds, Mount Ruapehu showed her beauty, but this was only for a short time. Again rain dominated the day, but the competitors did keep smiling.

The stages were set out nicely, especially the Warn Glory Hole. This was a tricky uphill bend where all competitors had to winch their vehicles uphill on a slippery grass slope, cross a hood-deep pond, and winch out into a finishing box. Not all teams completed this section. Most of them DNFed on the hill, while others had to DNF in the pond, just a few yards from the finishing box.

Another exciting special stage was the Exide Lahar Log Bridge, a steep downhill drop into a fast-flowing river, driving in the water across huge boulders, underneath an old log bridge to the other side of the bank. Here competitors faced a steep uphill approach into a tight forest section. They had to be careful to not hit the trees and damage their vehicles. They again crossed the river directly uphill and back into the finishing box. Some teams drove this section without winching, while others had to hook on the tree protectors and winch themselves out of this tricky situation. Some did make it in time, while others again DNFed.

PhotosView Slideshow

At the end of the afternoon, muddy trucks and tired competitors headed back to the campsite to clean up and attend the awards ceremony. Like last year, the victory went to the Australian team of Kym Bolton and Phill Schott in their well-prepared Nissan Patrol, the only non-New Zealand team in this second New Zealand Fully Equipped Warn Challenge.

But it was close. The top New Zealand team was composed of Roger McKay and Blair Irvin from Winton, driving a Toyota Hi-Lux flat-deck. This was this team's first four-wheel-drive competition, although they are a well-known rally team. Third place went to Bruce Hughes and Blair Howden and their Nissan Patrol LWB.

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