11 August 2014 / Vehicles
Omarama might be world famous for its gliding, but if you want to truly appreciate the sheer scale of the peaks that frame this incredible part of Otago, take one high country sheep station, add one Land Cruiser 70 Series and head for the hills.
It’s strange how a landscape can differ so dramatically depending on where you place yourself within it. Standing in the sun-drenched Waitaki Valley on a spring morning, looking up at the surrounding grey-blue hills, the string of peaks that effectively separates Canterbury from Otago looks peaceful and benign.
Half an hour later, in the company of Ben Omar Station owner Ginger Anderson as we make our way at a fair old pace up gravel tracks in his Land Cruiser 70, the landscape takes on a different demeanour; tougher, rockier, certainly much more vertical...
Thing is though, the guy behind the wheel knows every square inch of this place like the back of his proverbial. His family has been farming these peaks since the 1920s when his grandfather took up the block of which we’re traversing a small part, after it was carved out of the bigger Benmore Station during World War I.
“The family ties go back further than that though,” Ginger tells me. “My grandfather was head shepherd here going back to the mid-1890s. Obviously the horse was king back then and even in more recent times we’d still rely on horse and foot in equal measure
“My father was of a generation where you’d only ever take a vehicle over flat ground – not up into the hills. As a result, when it came time for me to take over the property, there weren’t any four-wheel-drive tracks at all. We’ll still walk some sections even today because they’re so steep, but the vehicles will get us into most places.”
The vehicles Ginger’s referring to are a couple of Land Cruiser 70 Series single cabs he and son John Anderson use day to day. When Ginger took over running the 21,000-acre (8700-hectare) Ben Omar Station, he bought his first Land Cruiser – a three-speed FJ40. And I discover he’s never looked back since.
“We’ve had Land Cruisers ever since 1970. There really isn’t anything else in its class when it comes to working this sort of environment.
“If you’re putting men and dogs into them and heading into the hills,t hey’re peerless. They have a heap of power and good ground clearance too; there’s no flash stuff hanging off them that’s likely to get knocked off. Because, believe me, this terrain doesn’t muck around with regard to that. Five minutes in, you’ll find out whether your truck’s designed to take the knocks or not,” he smiles.
With a mob of sheep numbering between 11,000 and 12,000, along with 400 beef cattle, the Andersons rely on machines that will get them as far as possible into the backblocks of the station, especially during the muster when the team of three becomes a team of seven or eight.
As a helpful illustration, I’m treated to an awe-inspiring view as we make our way to the top of a craggy outlook – one that affords a panorama of the entire Waitaki Valley floor. Perhaps even more incredible and somewhat humbling an experience, though, is to look up and see peaks within the boundaries of Ben Omar Station reaching higher still.
Ginger reckons that with the new 4.5-litre, V8 turbo diesel on board, he very seldom has to go into low range, even when the going gets tough.
“Because there’s a lot more power on tap, we use High Low most of the time; there’s a heap of grunt there.”
As if to prove it, we lunge up the track to the promontory at a good speed, Ginger deftly controlling the 70 Series through unseen divots and gnarled folds in the landscape he’s no doubt passed over countless times before. Intuitively he knows when to step on it – making full use of the V8’s 151kW spread of power – and when to ease off and let the Land Cruiser’s huge reserves of low-range torque (430Nm at 1200rpm) see us through rutted breaks.
At the top, he lets three working dogs out of their dog box on the back of the Land Cruiser for a bit of a run. Having trialled dogs since he left school, Ginger’s a champion dog trialler with many wins – even taking out the first series of that old Kiwi television favourite, A Dog’s Show, back in 1977. Today, with son John, he runs around 25 working dogs on the station; about average for a property of Ben Omar’s size, Ginger reckons.
“It’s not the quantity though; it’s the quality,” he adds.
You get the feeling that adage applies just as succinctly to Ben Omar Station’s farm vehicles too.
It’s been a privilege to get up here into the hills and to spend a short amount of time with this hardy station owner. Softly spoken and self-deprecating, Ginger comes across as a gentle sort. But I realise within a short space of time that, in this terrain, with its sheer topography and fickle weather, backing yourself and your decisions is key to success and survival. There’s no time for second guesses, or men and machines that can’t go the distance.
I can’t think of a more worthy proving ground for Toyota’s mighty Land Cruiser than right here.
Article by Cameron Officer
Believe Magazine. Issue 9