When you think of adventure, there are only a few vehicle marques that really spring to mind but when you add in some British prestige, there can be only one: Land Rover. Alright, two if you add in Range Rover.
For over sixty years, this outstanding brand has been behind some of the most challenging expeditions we have sought to attempt, it’s raced across continents, climbed mountains and crawled over virtually all the wide range of terrains our blue planet has to offer. It really has gone ‘Above and Beyond’, which is a perfect segue into their latest adventure.
The Land Rover Above and Beyond Tour has been created to give clients and potential clients alike, a taste of just what this impressive SUV is capable of, off the tarmac. At a series of events globally, guests are invited to experience what it’s like to take the prestigious, normally mild-mannered vehicles and have them navigate seemingly impossible situations by taking drivers well outside their regular comfort zones. This year, the Asia Pacific Tour culminated with a grand final in New Zealand and I was invited to join the very privileged guest list.
Our four-day challenge began at Terrace Downs resort near Christchurch. It’s five-star accommodation with a highly respected golf course, all set in the shadow of the Southern Alps that we would soon be scaling. With overseas guests aplenty, our stay (and the tour’s commencement) included a traditional Maori greeting and haka, a sumptuous dinner and a lavish suite to rest our heads. Let’s call it a prelude to a storm.
With breakfast behind us, we were introduced to our rides. Twenty or so, sparklingly clean, Land Rover Discoveries and Range Rover Sports shone in the morning sun, but rest assured, they would not stay that way. Mounting up in our assigned Disco, we headed for them there hills.
Downforce NZ had created a route to Millbrook Estate in Queenstown that would be taxing for both SUV and driver. It would be a ‘progressive’ drive that would begin softly and, quite literally, climb.
Stage one, was an 87km drive along dusty, low grip gravel. It circled the lower end of Mount Taylor and finished at Lake Heron Station and certainly offered little concern for the big SUV. Next came an off-road loop that ran along a rocky riverbed to the north of Lake Heron homestead. The off-road (to raise the Disco’s skirt) and low-range modes were engaged and we dipped our toes into the water and the experience alike. Lunch was held at the homestead, delicious Fairlie South Island pies were consumed along with a bit of greenery.
“Tekapo is stunning and if you have never been, I strongly urge you to. The cold turquoise water is fed directly from the Southern Alps and is awe-inspiring.”
With confidence building, we set off towards Isolation Bay, located beside Lake Tekapo. It was a near-200km journey that included some glorious South Island scenery (not a cloud in the sky), more rugged terrain (including a few small hill climbs) and had us pass through Geraldine and Fairlie (of Fairlie pie fame). Lake Tekapo is stunning and if you have never been, I strongly urge you to. The cold turquoise water is fed directly from the Southern Alps and is awe-inspiring. We camped (yes camped) next to the water in Isolation Bay and at night, gazed at the stars.
Next morning, with camp broken down and breakfast out of the way, we headed near 80km south to Black Forest Station, next to Lake Benmore. Another dusty, gravel road but something we were beginning to get used to (car and drivers).
Our first big climb. Tight, rutted and dusty trails had us winding our way up 10-degree hills. Now, this may not sound a lot, but when, as the elevation increased, you’re looking out the driver’s side window at unsurvivable drops, let me assure you, your concentration level is heightened. We essentially hugged NZ’s largest man-made lake, Lake Benmore, but from a very lofty position. The view from the top was something special; expansive and simply marvellous. In good old-fashioned ‘what goes up, must come down’ terminology and with downhill descent mode engaged, we made our way to NZ’s largest hydropower station for a bite to eat, a change of vehicles (we moved into the Range Rover), and the chance to calm our nerves.
Next stop would be St Bathans and the ‘haunted’ Vulcan Hotel, but not before travelling along the Oteake Conservation Park trail and crossing the east branch of the Manuherikia river. Thankfully, it wasn’t at full flow and the luxury SUV’s large wading depth barely noticed.
The night’s accommodation was split all over town, with some of us even spending the night in ‘Jail’ (by their own volition). I’m not sure whom spent the night in the Vulcan’s room number one, but the ghost of Rose didn’t join us on the next leg.
Our last driving day had us heading for Leaning Rock/Haehaeata Hill. As it turned out, our hill climb the previous day, paled into comparison. At 1,653 metres, it overlooks the Clyde River, Cromwell, and as far as I’m concerned, most of New Zealand. The trek up to the top had been heart racing but only for those of us behind the wheel, the Range Rover felt like it could climb twice the height and double the 14-degree incline. While admiring the breathtaking view, Land Rover had one more surprise up its sleeve and the distinctive pulsing sound of helicopter rotors gave it away—they’d treated us to a flight over Cromwell.
I have to admit that the final leg to Millbrook Golf resort was a bit of a blur. I’m sure it involved some steep descents and rugged terrain but I was still buzzing from the climb and flight.
Dinner the resort that night was quite literally a chance to congratulate all involved plus ourselves. It had been a magnificent experience that showcased New Zealand in all her glory and proved how effortless the vehicles coped with the terrain. The tour really went way ‘Above and Beyond’ my expectations and when it comes to the Discovery and Sport, well, they really do have adventure down to a tee.