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|Touring New Zealand 2000 - part 4|
We continued North from the Catlins hoping to see more rather more of the wildlife than we had seen so far this year with first stop at Oamaru where one can watch the Blue Penguins come ashore at dusk and march across the roads to their nesting grounds. This continues throughout the year even during the moulting season although the numbers are reduced. The safest way to be sure of seeing them involves paying to watch from some stands which is what we did. There are special lights set up which are supposed to be in a part of the spectrum the Penguins are less sensitive to so they are not unduly disturbed whilst one is watching. It has given me an interesting task in colour balancing the few pictures I took.
On the way to Oamaru we stopped at Moeraki to see the boulders on the beach - they again need pictures to appreciate them fully but I will try. The boulders vary in size from half to two or more meters and are gradually being eroded from the mudstone cliffs by the sea. They are apparently separation concretions formed when minerals crystallise in all directions round an organic nucleus. Further erosion exposes an internal network of veins of crystalline appearance in a softer grey stone. They have to be seen to be believed as they just lie on the beach like the results of a giants game of marbles - some perfectly smooth, some showing deep veining and some broken open to show a fascinating internal structure. Other concretions in the area have been found to contain the bones of extinct marine reptiles including a seven metre plesiosaur.
The Sculpture Symposium the following day also needs some pictures to do it justice. Oamaru has a local quarry which produces a soft store - a bit like Bath stone - which is ideal for carving and every year they hold a symposium which is attended by sculptors from round the world, each of whom are supplied with the stone to carve. It lasts for a month in the local park and one can watch the various works being helped to escape from the stone. We were there with about a week to go so many of the pieces were well advanced but one could still watch the various stages and techniques from chain saw to chisel. Most of the works are out of blocks a meter or so square so the foreign participants and most of the locals sell them at a massive auction at the end. We saw a similar symposium in Wellington last year which also used stone from Oamaru - it is worth keeping ones eyes open as we spent a very pleasant hour or two watching.
The carving gave us late start and the weather had at long last improved a bit so we headed for a DOC camp site on the edge of the mountains near Geraldine at Waihi Gorge. It was the place we started camping and it still has pleasant memories for us. The site was nearly empty by mid February and was, to our surprise, full of sheep presumably to keep the grass down. They were no problem provided one selected carefully where to put the tent and it was delightfully quiet with only the sound of steady munching in the foreground and the cicadas in the distance. Waihi Gorge is also almost free of Sandflies and is on the edge of a stream with a couple of small swimming holes although even Peter did not partake this time. There are also lots of fireplaces for barbecues.
The weather this year has not been as good as usual and our itinerary has continually been changed to try abortively to head to the best conditions. We therefore decided to cross to the West Coast over Arthur's Pass which is a delightful trip in fine weather either by car or on the Transalpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth. We were less fortunate and had a lot of showers and often the mountains were weather in cloud - in some ways it made them even more impressive. We stopped at various points including The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve which we had completely missed in the past. The reserve sits amongst spectacular limestone outcrops with views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges. It contains a 362 metre long cave which is one of the most outstanding natural features in the Canterbury region. To quote DOC "the open country is ideal for picnicking and gentle short walks while going through the limestone cave is a cool adventure" what a refreshing contrast to the normal approach of a government agency. Their information boards positively encourage people to go through the cavern whilst offering sensible advice. We will probably have a go next time and make sure we have some extra waterproof torches and suitable clothing - they say the water level can be up to waist level at one point and you have to climb a 3 metre waterfall on the way out however they state that if care is taken, fit but inexperienced cavers can go through.
Another good example of the differences between DOC and most UK bodies came at Arthur's Pass DOC office where we stopped to pick up the full information leaflet on the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve that I have been quoting from. A staff member Joseph Hullem was giving a short talk on Mahinga Kai which loosely translated from Maori means special food places. He gave a fascinating and instructive description of how food such as Mutton bird was collected, preserved and transported. The trek for the brief Mutton Bird collection could be 800 kms for some tribes and up to 250,000 of the fledglings of the Sooty Shearwaters were taken each year - a fully sustainable cull. He also described the Maori traditions for collecting shellfish such as Paua with the old having priority on the spring tides when the best are exposed, whilst the young and fit had to duck dive for theirs.
There were a number of exhibits of the baskets used for preserving and transporting the various foods and an example of a local reed canoe. He ended by showing some shellfish he had collected for the talk including Pipis and Mussels both being far plumper than we have ever found. We had a long and interesting discussion before and after the talk on how to collect and cook them. He invited those attending the talk to sample the shellfish, raw of course, but there were not many takers. We tried the Pipis which are perhaps better raw than cooked when they get tough but I prefer Mussels cooked and Pauline refuses to eat them raw. Pipis are perhaps safer for the inexperienced to eat raw as they never have any parasites. We also learnt that wild mussels often have a small Hermit Crab living in their shell which keeps them clean and free of any parasites - we did not dare to tell him we had recently been rejecting mussels because they contained them! Both should be collected on the outgoing tide as they only feed on the incoming tide and can be contaminated with sand which makes them gritty to eat whilst they are well flushed of any contaminants on the outgoing tide.
The Maori cooking techniques used seemed to depend very much on the use of hot stones and the preservation on the sealing in with fat. Or example birds were plucked, draw and quartered then each quarter had a stone heated in a fire put on it to cook it, the stones being changed as needed. The birds were cooked and stored in containers made from hollowed out bull kelp or gourds and the hot fat from the cooking sealed in the meat so it would keep for months and sometimes up to two years. Some of the feathers were put in the top both as decoration and as an indication of what was in the containers which were protected and carried in individual woven flax baskets. A Maori women would be expected to collect and carry about 80 birds each weighing 250 gms on the return trek.
These days Mutton Bird is more usually preserved by salting, a technique introduced to the Maori by the early Whalers. They first need to be boiled briskly for 45 minutes in plenty of water and then the water changed. They are then simmered with some vegetables preferably including some of the traditional ones such as Kumara and, of course, some herbs. Mutton Bird is very greasy and an optional addition step is to grill the birds at the very start just long enough to get some of the fat to flow and then start the boiling. The fat is good as a sandfly (and everyone else) deterrent and sounds preferable to the another DOC suggestion of 50:50 Dettol and Baby Oil mixture.
In discussions we were also told the best way to cook shellfish, especially when camping. One should preferably carry a piece of corrugated iron to put over the camp fire and the shell fish are simply cooked by placing them in the corrugations, wait for them to open and immediately remove them, just as one does when boiling. A little garlic butter can be added if required. This techniques is good for Mussels, Pipis and all the smaller shellfish such as Periwinkles which are cooked open end up until a bubbling/foam appears on the top when one lifts out the "lid" and pulls out the flesh - we can not wait to find some corrugated iron and a pile of wood!.
We stayed at another Top Ten in Greymouth - a town with little to offer other than being in the right place - and the same the following night after trip up the coast and through the spectacular Buller Gorge to Richmond, near to Nelson, another staging post before the final part of South Island in Golden Bay - we had not really intended to go to Golden Bay but the Marlborough Sounds did not appeal when we saw the Weather Forecast. As you can see the West Coast was shrouded in low cloud and rain - which accentuated the scenary but not so good for camping.
Golden Bay and Tasman Bay are on the North East tip of South Island and have the best and most sheltered beaches on South Island. They are separated by the high ground of the Abel Tasman National Park. At the furthermost tip there is an enormous sand spit - Farewell Spit - stretching 35 kms out to sea providing a sheltered bay about 45 kms in diameter. You could just drive the whole way from Nelson through Tasman Bay past the Abel Tasman Nation Park and on up through Golden Bay to the end in half a day. This makes the area an ideal end point (or starting point from the Ferry at Picton which is another 2 hours from Nelson). The pictures were taken on the way back from the Abel Tasman Memorial.
We went straight up to Golden Bay from Richmond in heavy rain and low cloud - no super view this time over the area from Hardwood's lookout (750 metres) after the climb up from Tasman bay. We stopped instead to go into the caves at Nagarua where they run tours every hour. The caves are well worth the time spent and give some understanding of the area. You also see some Moa bones from a Moa which fell into one of the many vents leading down into the caves. The caves are normally quite dry but after the days of heavy rain there was quite a lot of water which enhanced things even more - fortunately not so much that it prevented pictures. They are happy with flash pictures but not video - too many tourists were falling over trying to film whilst walking and looking through the viewfinder! They accepted my combination because the flash is visible. It is interesting how much more sensitive the video/digital camera technology is over film - I could not only take using the few 100 watt bulbs but also the flash must have been penetrating for 20 - 30 metres. The only problem is getting enough light for the autofocus or messing about manually - at least is has lots of options.
The next point of call was Pupu Springs. The springs are accessed through another of DOC's interpreted forest walks which is very interesting in its own right as there are early pictures of the area when it had been cleared by Gold workers and the various stages of regeneration are brought out. The Springs themselves are the largest in New Zealand and big on a global standard. There are a number in individual springs but the most impressive come out of a bed of sand in a lake of crystal clear water and you can see the sand being thrown up by the incoming water giving them their nickname of the dancing sands. There are also giant periscopes giving an underwater view of the springs - a must to visit but put on your sandfly repellent if you intend to stay still to take pictures for long. The area is also a sacred Maori area.
The area was also a Gold mining area and Golden Bay got it's name from the early rich discoveries and the first gold rushes in NZ rather than the golden sands on the sweeping beaches as now thought by most people. Not at lot remain although there are some good Goldfield walks one of the best being also at Pupu. We did it last visit and it takes you up to and along one of the old water races that brought water at high pressure (a 130 metre head to power the gold extraction - it involves a vigorous climb before the long walk along the channel which hangs on the steep hillside. After the gold field was exhausted the race was restored in at the start of the century and power a small hydroelectric plant, which remained in operation into the 0950s by which time it was the smallest plant connected to the grid. It has recently been once more restored by enthusiasts and can be seen in operation some days. An interesting few hours if you have it to spare.
There was also Goldfields at Aerere with walks which we went to look at but the roads were so flooded that we could not get through to the area - we will try again in the future.
We also had a look at the Golden Bay Machinery and Settlers Museum at Rockville, a few kilometres off the main road and close to the other worthwhile set of caves at Te Anaroa which we did not go to this time. The Museum has a lot of interesting early machinery and some steam engines which are occasionally steamed. It is run by volunteers and is not very well presented at present so is more for the enthusiast - it is however only a donation ($2 suggested) so it is worth a quick look. We found some interesting old pictures showing some of the Gold Mining and Coal Mining in the area as well as spending a happy hour looking at farm machinery, early diesel engines and tractors. The exhibits of "household/settlers" items seems to be in the process of being reorganised and can be seen but is in disarray. There is a complementary but very small museum in Collingwood also run by (the same??) volunteers which has better displays of the typical early settlers rooms.
We stayed at a camp at Collingwood in a Fisherman's cabin - the cabin was as rough as any we have used (but see update below) but in the right place at the right time and the rest of the facilities were fine even if a little old - there were even nice touches like a table cloth on the table in the kitchen and a separate sitting room. It was right beside the river delta and would normally have good swimming and beach but the flow would have been too much for most swimmers whilst we were there. Previous years we have used the excellent site a few kilometres North at Pakawau. NOTE - We returned to the Collingwood Camping Ground in 2012 and it is now under new and friendly management who have transformed the site and we had an excellent kitchen cabin ($60) which had a beach view for a night. It was large, two linked rooms, well equiped with full linen, pictures on the wall, microwave fridge and TV and a small shetered deck. We then transfered to their 'house' often used for school parties at a discounted price as the kitchen cabin was only available for one night - we were rattling in a house cabable of taking 11 people which even had a dish washer. The normal site kitchens and other facilities are good with a well equiped library internet etc. The owners did most of the setting up twenty years ago then moved onto other things but have returned and rescued it. It shows how things can change and it is now definitely our favourite in the area.
The next point of call was another well known waterfall at Wainui Falls which were a two hour round trip walk from the car park and includes on of the suspension bridges often found on walks. Wainui is at the end of the sealed section of a side road that goes to the top of the Abel Tasman National Park from Takaka. We stopped at Takaka for an inevitable ice-cream, the DOC office for a fascinating discussion ranging over many topics with a visiting senior member of staff and a quick look round the museum which has a lot about the Dutch visit by Abel Tasman which gave the area its name. Returning from the falls we stopped at a lovely little beach at Tata where Pete finally got his first swim of the trip - the whole of Golden Bay is very sheltered at the sea was like a lake - the motion, you could not call it waves, were a few cms in amplitude and for a change it was a dead calm so it was quite warm even if it was gently raining. Pete said he refused to leave South island without at least a single swim even if it was raining.
We then continued and pulled up to see if there were any cabins at the camp site at Pohura and there was one of those strange coincidences as there was a chap sitting on the bench a couple of metres away and Pauline got out and said hi Peter - it was Peter Adkin who Pauline had worked for 12 years before in DTI. We knew he had also taken early retirement and was spending quite lot of time in NZ in the area but had not expected to just bump into him. The camp site was full but Peter Adkin introduced us to the manager of the store who had a Batch which he let us have for the night. We had a fascinating evening learning about the area from Peter and his wife - they seem to know everyone in the area in the fishing and farming community and gave us some interesting insights we would never have otherwise had.
We now know a lot about the cultivation of Mussels and Scallops. Mussels are mostly grown on ropes and the best are wild in as much as the spats (tiny mussels) are collected on frames set out elsewhere and transferred to the farms and attached to the ropes suspended on frames suspended under a series of floats. Scallops are mostly dredged and the commercial used areas re-seeded with cultivated spats. We can see why they come back for 4-5 months every year. Many other people come back to the area on holiday year after year with their boats and tents to go out and dredge for Scallops - one person comes back to the camp site to the same pitch and has been doing so for 57 years and many families and marriages continue the links built up over the generations - we have observed and refereed to the same sort of thing in other areas on previous trips.
We will certainly go back to the area for a longer time in the future and rent the Batch again if it is available - it was very well set up and was not at all what we had thought of as a Batch, being fully equipped with absolutely everything you would find in a normal house. The whole area is usually fully booked out over the Christmas period and even in mid February the good camp site (another Top Ten) was fairly full so it is worth booking ahead - we would also recommend the batch - contact Mike and Barbara Hargrieves at the Pohara Store, Takaka NZ (quote us if you want).
After our enjoyable stop at Tata Beach it was time to head slowly towards Picton for the ferry to North Island. The weather finally turned and it was blue skies at long last so we stopped to take pictures at the Abel Tasman Memorial which show just how sheltered the whole Golden Bay area is (You saw the pictures above) . We stopped again at Kaiteriteri which has a nice but popular beach where we lazed and topped up our tans for a pleasant three or four hours. It was low tide and Pete found a rock covered in nice plump Greenshell mussels and collected enough to make a lunch with loaf of brown bread - we did set up the stove behind a rock and boil them as we are still not convinced about eating them raw. It was then the drive through Nelson and on to Picton for the ferry and North Island where we will take up the next part.
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 26th September, 2001
Update re Collingwood Camp Site: 24th Ferbruary, 2012