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Touring New Zealand 2002
The last part ended saying campsites beckoned but should have also said that storm clouds were building. A small depression stalled over South Island and we had days of fine penetrating rain and camping seemed quite undesirable so our journey featured rather more New Zealand "Heritage" than was originally planned.
We landed at Picton and we stopped off at the DOC office before leaving - the visitors section is not in town but is on the left as you leave the dock area. It was barely 1030 as we left Picton and, despite the weather, stopped at a Dairy for a typical, and huge, New Zealand Ice-cream. Dairies are not quite what one would expect from the name - they are more like an English corner-store selling most provisions and, most importantly, usually have big cabinets with 20 or so different icecreams which you typically have a couple of huge scoops of for between a dollar and a half and two dollars. Tiptop is the most common and perhaps the best manufacturer and the first one to try is Hokey Pokey with small crisp pieces reminiscent of butterscotch but that does not fully do it justice. Dairies are often sited on roads as you leave towns and you can just pull in and sit at their outside seats or tables.
Our plan was to drive straight from the ferry to Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine area, which has some of the most famous vineyards in New Zealand. They include Cloudy Bay whose Sauvignon Blank has become a cult wine with strict rationing in most wine shops, that is if one can ever find it. We went first to another favourite vineyard - Alan Scott - which not only has excellent and award winning wines (which you can sometimes get in the UK) but also has a very good vineyard restaurant called the Twelve Trees after the trees that shade it for an excellent meal.
Rather than fill the Touring Guides up with the same information each year we have a separate web page at New Zealand Wines. The ultimate objective is to bring together our favourite (and best?) vineyards to visit - I plan to choose between 8 and 10 spread over North and South Islands and the major areas for review. South Island candidates include Alan Scott, Cloudy Bay, Pegasus, Gibbston and Rippon. North Island Esk Valley, Morton and Crab Farm are obvious with Matua, Selaks, Mission, Church Road, Montana's Reserves and many others competing for a place.
After lunch we only made it as far as Kaikoura - a good staging post but one of the few areas where tourists do seem to get exploited. Petrol stations without prices charging 12% over the prices published by the petrol companies and motels $15 - $20 more than one would expect. People go there for Whale watching and swimming with Dolphins which is another form of exploitation of the environment and wildlife. We are happy when Dolphins come to play with us round the boat but have observed them being hunted and herded with young by trip boats in other areas which is less than acceptable. Certainly on the occasion Pete swum with Dolphins at Kaikoura a couple of years ago the Dolphins had no interest in playing and disappeared as soon as anybody got in the water.
We however found a motel with a full frontal sea view where we could see why people had bee waiting for three days for conditions to abate sufficiently to get the boats out. It must be really bad as they took us out two years ago in mountainous seas to the extent that people were being seasick whilst swimming and one person was so ill they had to be taken to hospital when they got ashore.
One good thing about Kaikoura is the Crayfish which are caught alone the coast and can be bought from roadside stalls down route 1, cooked and ready to eat. Kaikoura is, in fact, a Maori name "To eat Crayfish"
We continued from Kaikoura on to Christchurch, the major town and entry point to South Island. We found a motel close enough to walk to the centre of town with big quiet unit with separate sitting room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom and private patch of garden for $71 (including a discount for a Golden Chain Card - always ask for a discount, even the AA or a Jason is often a good enough excuse.
The hotel is called the Adorian and owners very friendly and helpful - in particular they told us the phones were OK for Internet access and let them for a nominal charge - no huge mark up on toll free calls here. You also need to watch some of the fancy new digital phone exchanges which can destroy your modem. We never checked at the Camelot but if they are computer safe it would be an extra selling point for business customers.
The rain continued in a way almost unknown according to the locals. It actually turned out very well as we ended up discovering a lot of what is described in NZ as "Heritage" which we had missed before. It all started with a visit to the Lyttelton Timeball, continued at the Steam Tugboat Lyttelton, followed by a morning at the Ferrymead Heritage Park before returning for a trip on the Lyttelton. In total two days disappeared and even then we had only had time to sample a small part of Ferrymead where a number of separate "preservation" societies share the site. Every visit was similar and very typical of NZ - what started as an enquiry or expression of interest led on to detailed tours and discussions taking several hours from enthusiastic, active and knowledgeable volunteers who were delighted to spend hours showing us round behind the scenes and giving fascinating insights we would never have otherwise obtained.
The Lyttelton Timeball station is one of the properties owned by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that we joined many years ago - it has reciprocal rights with the UK National Trust which we find useful in the UK. Accurate timekeeping is an essential part of navigation and finding the Longitude was not solved fully until the invention of the chronometer in the latter half of the 18th century. The accuracy of the chronometers was essential to navigation (1 second error corresponds to about 460m at the equator) so they had to be checked whenever possible and visual signals became an important feature of many ports.
The visual signal was often a Timeball which was dropped at a known time. The first Timeball was built at Greenwich in 1833 and gradually others were built around the world. The Lyttelton Timeball, built in 1876, was the third in New Zealand and the only survivor. It is now one of only a small number still operational in the world. The Lyttelton Timeball Station is unusual in that it has a dedicated castle like building built of Oamaru limestone and local Scoria (volcanic stone) sited so it is visible from all of the port and most of the town. From 1876 to 1934 a ball dropped from the mast at 1300 (sometimes 1530). The mechanism was from the German firm Siemens Bros. and the astronomical clock was from Edward Dent and Co of London. The operational use was discontinued in 1934 when it was replaced by radio although the use of flags form the same site used for notifying the arrival of ships continued till later.
We arrived at 1200 and spent time looking round and examining the mechanism and clock, both of which are completely accessible. We spent some time talking to the volunteer looking after the Timeball and were entranced by the kitten Lucky which he has brought to the Timeball Station. He was most helpful and informative so we decided stay to on watch it being set up and dropped at 1300.It used to be solenoid operated by the clock, then by a telegraphed signal from Wellington. Currently, due to problems with original gutta-percha wires, it has to be hand activated.
We were the only people present and he took a long time explaining and demonstrating the mechanism and we were allowed to film the whole procedure which was very useful. The most surprising thing to us was how slowly the ball descended. It is 1.5 m diameter and takes 8 seconds to descend the 3 m. This is because it is supported on a piston in a cylinder which has a tap which can be adjusted to change the descent rate and avoiding damage when it gets to its inflated rubber stop. The ball is original, hollow, weighs 50 kgs and after a hundred years is quite badly dented.
We never found out the name of the gentleman who took so much time with us - we only know he used to be a marine surveyor and still spends some of his time as engineering officer on various ships as well as the voluntary work for the Historic Places Trust. We latter found he is also involved with the Steam Tug Lyttelton. Many thanks if this ever reaches you.
We then went down to the harbour and looked at the Steam Tug Lyttelton. It is still fully operational and does regular Sunday afternoon cruises as well as specials for weddings, business functions etc. We had planned to go to the Weka Express on Sunday and had booked lunch to follow at Pegasus. We therefore asked if we could go aboard for a quick look. It turned out to be far from quick and Ron Taylor gave us complete conducted tour. We spent a long time talking to him and gained all sorts of undocumented information. We were so impressed that we cancelled our existing plans so we could go out the following afternoon on the harbour cruise.
The weather was far from good and there were only 22 passengers plus the 12 crew, the minimum needed to operate her safely - four in the engine room, two on the bridge as well as crew for handling mooring etc. She probably has one of the best qualified crews almost regardless of size in the world and often has four with full skippers tickets as well as the now increasingly rare engineering staff with steam tickets. it does not need to said that they are all volunteers operating and maintaining this lovely old ship.
The Lyttelton was built by Ferguson Bros. of Glasgow and was sailed out under her own steam in 1907 taking 69 days - the 6 stops for bunkering took 15 of those days. She remained in service for over 60 years and shortly afterwards the preservation society was formed. A year of work was required to recommission her and to add the extra equipment needed for her to obtain a Marine Department Passenger Survey Certificate.
She is 124' long and 25' beam and is powered by two twin compound steam engines each of which is rated at 500 HP although they did significantly better on her commissioning trials. They each drive one of her twin screws and are supplied by four boilers. Her bunkers hold 32 tons of coal and she consumes half a ton per hour at full power. She was designed to be capable of salvage use and is fitted out to a standard we found surprising with very well appointed accommodation for the officers which now provides a luxurious saloon for passengers (max 150). There is a small on-board museum with a number of interesting marine artefacts, most unfortunately not from her operational life.
We had an excellent trip out to heads and back despite less than ideal weather. Pete spent a long time down in the engine room. The engines have not even needed a rebore yet and bearings are inspected and adjusted every 5 years. The boilers have had new tubes 5 years ago, a major but routine operation. We both went up on the bridge and Pete was allowed to stay whilst she was, extremely elegantly, brought back into the wharf against a very strong crosswind. Overall a superb afternoon on a gloriously and beautifully maintained classic ship - may thanks to Ron Taylor and all the others who spent so much time talking to us. It is surprising she is not better know and advertising is perhaps deliberately kept low key to restrict her to enthusiasts.
On the grounds of continuity I have deviated slightly from chronological order and missed out a fascinating morning at the Ferrymead Heritage Park, in particular with Dave Newman from the Aeronautical Society who spent several hours showing us the work the society is doing to restore and preserve a DeHavilland Mosquito, or more correctly to make use of the parts from 2 ex RNZAF Mosquito aircraft to build one for display. They were part of a fleet of war surplus aircraft purchased from the RAF, the majority of which were stored, the rest active in 75 squadron. The two at Ferrymead were owned by farmers in Pigeon Bay and Omaru and used for storage. They are in surprisingly good condition after being in the open for many decades.
It was fascinating to be able to see how the Mosquito had been constructed - the fuselage is a plywood and balsa laminate, overall about an inch thick. Parts of the airframe were water or otherwise damaged so one could see all the details of how the laminations were laid up with the ply at 45 degrees to the balsa. The wings again used laminated skins, in this case with plywood either side of approximately 1 inch square spruce stringers separated by about 2 inches. There were also more major spars in spruce. Interestingly the ply skins were screwed at 2 inch spacing to the spruce - they obviously did not want to entirely depend on the glue or perhaps it was to aid fabrication. Both the wings and fuselage were finally covered with doped canvas.
In the evening it was finally dry enough to walk round by the Avon - no punts and stream was running at a brisk walking pace. We ate in the Riverview restaurant at the "Oxford on the Avon" - an unlimited buffet which had an excellent select of Thai food as well as all the more conventional foods in nice setting - 5 courses for $17.95 did not seem bad value.
As we were preparing to leave the next morning we heard on TV that there had been 86mm of rain a few kms away at Akaroa causing floods, washed out roads and loss of water supplies - it seems conditions are unusual and the lows still circulate over South Island. The rainfall has already exceeded the highest recorded for 50 years.
Next night was at Fairlie, a little short of Tekapo which gets very busy - we had rung ahead and discovered all the cabins had gone at out favourite camp site by the lake so it seemed sensible to stop when we found a good value Top Ten site. We then on to Tekapo whilst there was a break in the weather. The mountains were covered but the lake still had the magnificent pale blue colour from the glacier water with lots of finely ground rock in the glacial melt water. Tekapo lies in MacKenzie country, a vast basin of golden tussock grass with the lake at 2,300 feet above sea level, an area known for sheep. Maori were the first to venture into this area. In 1855 James MacKenzie, of sheep stealing fame, found the pass used by the Maori opening up the area which now bears his name. The Maori name for the lake comes from Taka, sleeping mat and Po, night.
We went into the tiny and very beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd which has a plain glass window over the altar with a stunning view of the lake and mountains - far better than any stained glass. I use this picture taken in 1999 for Xmas cards. The Church was built in 1935 and is now interdenominational and as well as regular services it does a good trade in Weddings, 90 last year and almost one a day this year. The vicar even arranged one at a weeks notice for two Australians who had suddenly decided to get married at short notice whilst we were there. The builders of the Church were instructed that the site was to be left undisturbed - even the matagouri bushes surrounding the building were to remain. Rocks which happened to be on the lines of the walls had to remain. The stones for the walls had to be procured within 8 kms of the site, were to unchipped and left in their natural condition. The original wooden shingle roof has however had to be replaced with slate.
Dave, who we met two years ago was on duty and we had along talk that evening and also the following morning when we stopped again to look at the lake which had changed complete different colour to what we had ever seen before - an effect of the lighting.
It was then on towards Queenstown as we a town seemed a better bet in the rain. We followed the Bullock Heritage Trail which wove from side to side of the min road following some of the canals which form part of the Hydroelectric schemes which power much of South Island. We stopped at the Salmon Farm to get smoked salmon to save for tea. It was then on to Omerama, the major gliding site in New Zealand which recently held the world championships. Our old Twin Astir ex demonstrator used to be here after in was imported by Justin Wills. He was present and we had a long talk - he now spends 8 months of the year in NZ.
Pete got a flight in another Twin Astir, unfortunately just as the conditions were dying and storms were flashing and banging there way in. The first 15 minutes were still a good indication of what the conditions and mountains could be like although Pete felt very rusty after 15 years! In another of those coincidences of life it turned out that one of the Brits in the clubhouse after I flew was Sid Gilmore from Husbands Bosworth, one of our first customers for and Astir when we used to import them to the UK - 2 people we knew in about 25 we met during the afternoon.
Although the afternoon had been scorching the clouds were brewing up along with the winds as we approached Queenstown. We were very glad we had called ahead and secured a cabin as by now it was again pouring with rain when we arrived at 2000. The cabin was simple - a box with steel beds a small chipboard table and one chair but we had everything we needed in the van or the communal facilities and it was only five minutes walk down a 1 in 3 hill to the lakeside and town centre.
One of our main reasons for visiting Queenstown is the Earnslaw, a steam boat which has been serving on lake Wakatipu continuously since 1912 and as I write this I hear here horn in the distance announcing her arrival. We tried to book onto her for a trip across lake Wakatipu for dinner at Walters Peak station the next evening - we were unfortunate as they had a private party but there was space the following evening so we opted to stay an extra day
To some Queenstown is the essence of New Zealand - the centre of the adventure sports NZ has become known for with bungy jumping, rafting, parachuting, parascending, hang gliding and jet boating to name a few. It is a place you really have to visit but much of what it is best known for is not what brings us to New Zealand - yes we have been on the Shotover Jet boat rides (which are an incredible experience in a rather theatrical way) and we have watched or participated in some of the other activities. It is however thronging with tourists unlike almost any other town in New Zealand. It is also one of the few places where one worries about leaving things or bad behaviour, mostly we regret to say from Europeans. Last visit all our food was stolen from the communal fridges two nights running.
Despite everything said above we come through and stay for a day or two every time in South Island because it is a good base for many things we do enjoy. There is the superb old steamship the Earnslaw still running as smoothly and silently as when she entered the water nearly 90 years ago. There is the magnificent scenery round the lake looking across to the Remarkables and all up the road to Glenorchy, one is close to the Goldfields with Arrowtown, Kawarau Gorge and the Bannockburn Sluicings. Lastly and not least there are several of the Otaga vineyards within an easy drive.
We spent the first day with a visit to Gibbston Valley winery for lunch, excellent food and wine including some exceptional sweets. A small scale cheese manufacturer on the same site as Gibbston. We went and had a look and purchased a small cheese which looked like a camembert but turned out to be very disappointing. It had a paper thin white coating which tasted like paper and the inside showed no sign of any penetration from the outside despite good words on what they were trying to achieve. Even the lowest quality cheese in a French supermarket would be vastly superior. It is true that the NZ cheese manufacturers start from a big disadvantage that they have to use pasteurised milk but even so this was a very pale imitation - they can only improve with experience and it could be they are just rushing their first cheese out of the door so it might be worth sampling in a year or twos time.
More generally on NZ cheese it a bit of a barren land compared to Europe partly because of pasteurisation but adequate cheeses can be turned out with pasteurised milk. The best cheeses are the cheddar style cheeses which are often matured for 18 months or longer and those Vintage cheeses from Anchor (available in UK) and Mainland are as good as any un-rinded cheddar and better than most. White cheeses do not compare favourably although after a week or two to forget they make a change. Only one cheese really makes the cut to compete with the best and that it is the Kapiti Kikorangi Blue which stands on its own taste against the other classics, Stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola and much better than Danish Blue.
We were sufficiently disappointed that we stopped as we were passing the following day and found that they had opened so recently that their first milk delivery was on Dec 12 2001 so it was not really kind to assess cheese we had bought on 16 Jan 2002!
Surprise surprise, it started raining part way through lunch at Gibbston - we were out of doors but under a huge umbrella. We abandoned thoughts of visiting goldfields involving long walks and instead went to Arrowtown with it's restored Chinese settlement on the banks of the river Arrow where Gold was found in 1862. The small group who first discovered the gold brought out over 200 pounds in the first 4 weeks before others tracked the and it down and started another gold rush.
Arrowtown started life as an obscure church settlement but with discovery of Gold in 1861 growth was dramatic and within three years the population of the area grew to 30,000 making it the foremost province in New Zealand. The fall was just as rapid in 1865 and the population plummeted as miners left in their thousands for the newly found Westland Goldfields.
This greatly concerned the Otago business community and shopkeepers and led to the provincial council inviting and paying for Chinese miners from Victoria, Australia to come to Otago. The numbers eventually grew to 5000 and one of the major settlements was close to Arrowtown on the banks of the Arrow. This settlement has been extensively restored and forms part of the Otago Goldfields Park which has many interesting sites spread throughout Otago.
This visit we dodged from hut to hut as the storms came through giving us a good feeling of how they must have lived. There are several DOC Goldfield walks in the area. In 2000 we attempted several but found they were marked (fairly correctly) as washed out - we tried several routes as out and returns and after paddling our way through streams and climbing over fallen trees were forced to give up on the first but at least ended up climbing to 800 foot or so giving nice views back over the area on the second before returning. Eventually we will get nice weather in Otago!
The next day was also spent looking round old goldfields, the site at Kawarau Gorge which you have to pay to see but get demonstrations of techniques used and the Bannockburn Sluicings a little further beyond Cromwell where we had a picnic lunch under the huge fruit sculptures which publicise the town.
The final evening we took a trip on the Earnslaw to the Walter Peak station for dinner in the old colonial house - a good buffet style meal with plentiful food and a good carvery, with some of the best rare beef I have had for a long time, to the sound of their resident piano player. The meal was accompanied by a bottle of Chard Farm Closeburn Chardonnay from a winery which we have passed often but never yet been to. After the meal it was time to watching a sheep dog demonstration and sheering. Unfortunately the second of their huge bulls has died at the farm so their was no chance to persuade Pauline to again sit astride one as she did the 1000 kg Robbie a few years ago.
The Walter Peak Station is still very active and huge by UK standards running 15,000 sheep, merinos on the high country and peridales on the flatter parts, along with 800 cows. When they bring the sheep in the shepherds and dogs are now taken up by chopper to the top of Cecil Peak 1975 m and they use 15 dogs to bring them all in.
The next section is going to continues to feature Goldfields and Goldmining. The newsletters had a considerable amount of background at this point which has been moved to some new web pages on New Zealand Goldmining which has an introduction to Goldmining Techniques and Travels in various Goldfields with many more pictures than I have space for here.
The immensity of the Goldmining operations can be seen in early photographs and in the remains left at the major sites. Huge areas were washed away by hydraulic sluicing to reach the Gold. We have had a look at several of the better known Goldmining areas in the Otago Goldfields Park. A good place to start is the Kawarau Gorge where there is commercially restored site which does a guided tour which usually (water permitting) demonstrates a hydraulic monitor in operation and also a Stamper battery. Stampers are used to break down and release gold from quartz, rare in the Otago but common elsewhere. Both demonstrations are very well worth seeing - it is the only place we know where a Monitor still in use and one of only three with a Stamper and the only one which is still driven by water power from a Pelton Wheel (a form of very efficient high pressure water wheel). We watched the demonstrations and the explanations by the guide but broke away from the gold panning as we had tried that before and walked the well marked tracks past many artefacts and the big 'amphitheatres' left from the hydraulic sluicing. The site also has a replica of a Chinese miners village build as a film set. We have been there a couple of times as it is close to Queenstown and took time to go off the trails and look at the dams, water races and piping supply the Hydraulic Monitor and Stamper.
We went to the Bannockburn Sluicings (near Cromwell) and for the first time began to appreciate the scale of operations and the magnitude of materials removed. The full walk round the area takes about three hours so we only went part way but even so the scale of the faces were awe inspiring whole cliffs perhaps a hundred feet high and hundreds of yards across cut out of the hillsides making huge amphitheatres. Definitely a place to return to as we did not get to see any of the remains of the water races and dams.
Another first time visit in 2002 was to the Bendigo Gold field on a loop road off the road between Cromwell and Tarras. Here we saw some of the remains of deep mines and the Mattilda Stamper battery, unusual in Otago as well as the remains of two long deserted villages Logantown and Whelshtown. The visit was enhanced by meeting a group of vintage Riley enthusiasts who had brought some beautifully restored old cars going back to 1948. We left before them and found a Ford on the loop track challenging after the rains but slipped and spun our way over the slipper stones and hope they faired OK with their magnificent cars.
After regaining the main road it was only a short run to Wanaka where we found a tourist flat in a holiday camp - all the cabins had gone as had most of the motels as the storms once more started we had torrential rain in the evening and overnight. The Tourist Flat turned out to be an extended residential caravan on concrete blocks which had cooking, fridge, microwave, TV with 5 beds and could sleep up to 8 - not bad for $47 a night after deducting a 10% discount for one of the Kiwi Holiday Parks cards ($20 with $5 phone card built in) always check for deals!
The rain cut back a bit the next day and we went round town and Pauline spent 50 minutes Online sorting out her OU students in an Internet Cafe ($5). They were very helpful and also allowed us use of a telephone line for 25c a minute the following morning to collect our email and send out the long overdue newsletter.
It was then on to Rippon vineyard for lunch. Rippon has the most spectacular site of any vineyard we know - the view down over the vines to the lake with an island in the foreground and snow top mountains in the background. Rippon is the fifth and final choice of vineyard to visit for South Island and qualifies primarily because of the site. This time the storm clouds were gathering and the rain could be seen approaching over the lake allowing us to take a couple of breathtaking photographs. The wines are well thought of and win plenty of prizes - we tried the 98 and 99 Pinot Noir against each other and had a glass of the 98 with lunch. They do lunches in peak season but only have an "itinerant" food vending licence so have to sell only in disposable wrapping with plastic knives and forks - the alternate full licence would involve tremendous paperwork and inspections and they would even have to install disabled facilities. The food was however good but next time we would take in our own plates and cutlery. Out of high season you can use their outdoor tables for picnics. The wines include a wide selection of varieties and the Emma Rippon sparking has just been released.
In the afternoon we went up the lakeside and had a walk up to Diamond lake - the walk continued further but the conditions were very slippery and it started to rain so we did not continue. We did the full walk two years ago and the views in good weather are well worth the steep climbs. We also stopped and looked at a new lakeside walk which has been extended to go from town, past Rippon vineyard and on for another 5 kms where one can climb to a viewpoint.
The best news was that at long last the weather is set to improve and the next morning it was clear blue and we sorted the last of Pauline's OU and moved to the DOC campsite at Albert town, just outside Wanaka. It was great to get the tent up and we just sat all day soaking up the sun and looking at the view. The site was virtually deserted and we got a pitch looking straight down onto the mighty Clutha river, one of the largest in South Island, with huge pine trees to shade us when required just behind our site - bliss. In the evening the "Red Devil" our camping barbecue was commissioned and it was lamb steaks and venison sausages with Gibbston Pinot.