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|Touring New Zealand 2002 - part 4|
The last part left us on our way from the Otago Goldfields to Dunedin to see the Albatross chicks. We stopped at Lake Wairola so we could camp - we could tell it is out of season - there was a note in the window saying find a pitch and even at 0930 the following morning it was difficult to find anybody to pay.
We woke to thick mist and left as soon as the tent was dry enough to take down and went straight through Dunedin and out down the Otaga peninsular towards Tairoa head and the Albatrosses, with only a brief stop to check the campsite at Portebello and book dinner at the 1908 restaurant, a favourite of ours. We were lucky and there was space on the next tour and the wind was high enough for them to be flying. There were several nests close to the observatory and we got views of a chick of only about a week old being fed and groomed. There were also several periods with birds flying in front of the observatory close enough to completely fill the viewfinder on the video and a short period when two birds were pair flying, probably juveniles "bonding".
The observatory is run by a Trust and we rejoined as members - it costs little more than two entries by the time the free entry for one of us is taken into account. I have not time to go into the Royal Albatrosses in detail here other than to note that they come back to breed every two years to the same place and with the same partner - the remainder of the time being on the wing. They circumnavigate the globe many times achieving an average of 500 kms a day and often exceed 1000 kms in a day as they move from one feeding area to another. They are magnificent birds to see in flight exceeding 10 feet in span. They often live for over 40 years and one is known to have reached well over 62 years as it was breeding when first seen.
We went into the Yellow Penguin Conservancy and booked a trip for 1745 when we thought there would be good chance of seeing them coming in from the sea and walking up the beach and then went to the camp ground and set up the tent. Portobello has a small but well equipped camp ground which is part of the Kiwi Holiday Parks chain for which we bought a discount card - $20 last two years and has $5 of phone card as well as giving 10% discount, we also have a Top Ten card and they quickly pay off.
The visit to the Yellow Eyed Penguins was good, if a trifle expensive by Kiwi standards at $27 - we got a 10% discount when they realised we had been before. The Yellow Eyed Penguin is very impressive with the Yellow gold forming a sort of tuft back from the eyes and they are quite large. They are also the rarest of the Penguins with only 5000 left. The conservancy is private and self funding and has two beaches where they breed with a total of nearly 50 breeding pairs. One of these has hides and trenches leading all over it with nesting containers set up - it looks like a WW 1 area of trench warfare from above. It means one can get very close to the young Penguins that are ashore during the day and sometimes, like we experienced this time, see a Penguin pass within a few feet walking up from the shoreline to the nest to feed the chicks. There were also a couple of chicks within a couple of feet of one on the trenches giving excellent views. We were also very fortunate with timing and watched 4 penguins come ashore and at one point there were 8 on the beach. A worthwhile visit with lots of information lasting 1.5 hours. We have also seen single ones in previous years on the beaches of Catlins and a large number playing in the surf on a beach at Nugget Point, again in the Catlins.
We ate in the 1908 restaurant within walking distance of the camp site in Portobello. Food was good with enormous steaks - Pete had one with Haggis which was unlike any Haggis we have ever seen - very light coloured and a fine texture like pate but it did taste reminiscent of the real thing, perhaps we are divided by a common language.
It was good to be back in the tent and we were woken by a super Bellbird dawn chorus, one bird must have been giving the same call of three bell like chimes with a couple of coughs for over twenty minutes.
We left on back roads heading via Ranfurly for Oamaru where we had seen their biannual Stone carving symposium was in full swing [of the axe]. We were in the backwoods with everything unbelievably cheap - huge double icecreams for $1.20 in Outram and Blue Cod and chips for lunch for $3.50 (about a pound) at Middlemarch. We stopped at Ranfurly which claimed to be a Rural Art Deco town but it is a fairly tenuous claim with only one or two what we would think of as Art Deco - it seems to have been the result of a working party in 1999 on how to get them on the tourist map!
We then went on to Naseby which, in complete contrast, is a delightful place with almost the whole of the centre being original 1864 and a bit buildings from the gold rush days. They also have a nice little settlers museum. The town was very quiet while we were there - it has a permanent population of 85 which grows to around 4000 over Christmas when the cribs, camp ground and hotels fill up. It then fills again as winter comes as it is a centre for curling. It has excellent walks in the Naseby Forest area which is also full of well preserved and documented gold artefacts and workings. The only thing that spoils it is that many of the tracks have been cut up or turned into gravel slides by mountain bikes, despite signs on the entry restricting the areas and banning them from walking trails. I guess the problem is they can be hired in the village.
We stayed over night at the Larchview Motor Camp, we had intended to camp but we found they had a couple of 1896 ex miners cottages brought from Oturehua in original condition and at $42 a night it was impossible to resist, especially as they had cooking, even if no other facilities other than a big log fire and a range.
Once we were settled we had a walk up to some of the old mine workings past a water race in full flow. There used to be a big hydraulic elevator and the explanatory boards were by far the best we have seen - I fail to understand why the clearest expositions are from the forestry people! We were so delighted with the area we stayed another day to do some of the longer walks along an old water race for the gold workings and still in use today for water for irrigation. It must have been one of the longest races produced at 112 km long taking water from the Mt Ida range. We then passed Hoffman's dam and on to Coalpit dam where we were back in 'civilisation' at a picnic area with lots of tables. A lovely spot and completely deserted apart from Dragon Flies pair flying with their reflections over the lake. During the whole walk taking 4 hours we only saw one other pair of people walking their dogs.
We then had quick look in the Settlers Museum and settled ourselves back for a quiet evening and a chance to complete this newsletter - I am completing it listening to a Tui in full song almost drowning conversation and more camping definitely calls. The next episode should take us through Oamaru to some favourite camp sites as we head through mountain passes towards Golden Bay to just laze on sheltered beaches.
We consulted the campsite owners and on their recommendation decided to take the more interesting narrow, sometimes single track gravel road over Dansey's Pass. It took us past sluiced cliffs and heaped tailings of the Kyburn Gold Diggings but we did not stop - we have seen enough gold workings. We passed the Dansey Pass Hotel built in 1863 which used to be the centre of activities but it has been extensively modified. The original was built by a stonemason called Happy Bill who took his payment in beer, a pint for every schist boulder shaped and laid on the thick walls. The nearby picnic area has a grove of different exotic trees, one to represent the homeland of every nations miner in the workings.
The journey was slow, not helped by being caught behind two lots of sheep - the first we eventually forced our way through the sea of solid sheep escorted by two motor cyclists from Canada, the second fortunately turned off. Other than the motor cyclists and farmers we perhaps saw two more vehicles the whole way. We also passed a grader, mercifully off the road to allow one of the other two vehicles to pass the other way - a fortunate coincidence. We then worked our way down to Oamaru, again using minor roads rather than main roads we knew.
We looked at the Sculpture Symposium. Oamaru has a local quarry which produces a soft store - a bit like Bath stone - which is ideal for carving and every other year they hold a symposium which is attended by sculptors from round the world, each of whom is 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 about half way through so some 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 the Symposium last time through Oamaru and have also seen a couple of similar symposia in Wellington, which also used stone from Oamaru - it is worth keeping ones eyes open, one can spend a very pleasant hour or two watching.There are pictures of Oamaru and Wellington on other parts of the site.
We then rushed on major road through Timaru and Geraldine to the DOC camp site at Waihi Gorge, an old favourite where we first set up our tent five years ago. Waihi means - water gushing forth and, not surprisingly, it is beside a stream with a swimming hole. The camp site was deserted - one car came and had a brief picnic late in the evening after which it was back to ourselves. Pete had a swim in the swimming hole, a deep hole scoured out between tumbling rapids. The current was too strong to swim against in the hole itself so one worked hard to stay still - like being back at work. It was however very invigorating and stimulating unlike work.
The gorge has several stands of rare Black Beech, most of it elsewhere has now hybridised with Mountain Beech. There was also lots of Matai (black pine) and Kahikatea, (white pine). Kahikatea is one of the tallest trees in New Zealand growing up to 60 metres and very old, over 100 million years. It is a typical Podocarp, evergreen with lots of red berries rather than cones. There were a couple of magnificent examples towering over the rest of the bush and forest the other side of the steam.
New Zealand Pigeons were soaring up to immediately plummet down in vast swoops and in the morning we were visited by a South Island Black Tit, differing from North Island version in having a yellow tinged breast rather than pure white.
With the tent dry we set out to cross over Arthur's pass back to Greymouth on the West Coast and then towards Golden Bay and the Abel Tasman National Park. We saw on the map there was a back road, mostly gravel, past Lake Coleridge which looked interesting and shorter in distance (not in time on gravel). Lake Coleridge turned out to be another lake raised by hydroelectric schemes and undeveloped by tourism although there did seem to a nice set-up advertised at Ryton Station with everything from camping through lodge accommodation at $20 a head up to luxury chalets with dinner, bed and Breakfast for $100 a head. We have marked it down for the future as a possible.
The unsealed part of the road was not the best, very large sharp looking gravel up to a couple of inches across so it was a slow trip to join the main Arthur's Pass road (73). As an aside there is also an excellent train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth through Arthur's Pass which we have enjoyed in the past.
We stopped for lunch at the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. 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 found the Cave Stream Reserve last visit and had hoped to have a go but had forgotten to get the extra waterproof torches and suitable clothing ready - 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. We thought that it might be a bit rash with one torch, even if it was a Maglite, so it remains on the list with the box un-ticked - perhaps next time!
We picked up some information on 1080 at the Arthur's Pass DOC visitor centre and had a long talk - there are certainly two sides to the story we had head about it from the hunter in Queenstown that we had bumped into. 1080 does seem very efficient at killing possums (and most other mammals except perhaps man) and is less dangerous than the more common cyanide baits. We will continue to gather information before making a judgement.
It was the on through the pass to Greymouth - a town seeming to offer little other than a good Top Ten campsite in the correct place for an overnight stop. It was very empty and we secured a cabin. They had an Internet Terminal in reception and were persuaded to give me access to a telephone line for the Libretto which enabled me get out another newsletter. I have been running a bit behind as I have not been able to use the mobile - Cellnet seem to have blocked roaming rather than the incoming calls I requested and I have not yet been able to sort it out yet.
Leaving Greymouth we followed the inland route towards Reefton and on towards our target of Golden Bay at the far North East of South Island. We passed an old chimney and stopped to read the information board only to discover we were at one of New Zealand's most important early industrial sites - the Brunner Mining Site, coal mining I should quickly add! There is a historic suspension bridge leading to the main site with many remaining artefacts and tunnels including the remains of a large group of coking ovens. The bridge was closed so we had to cross at Stillwater and backtrack but it was well worth the detour. The site is a Historic Places Trust site and well documented and with a short trail round the site and a longer one which we did which went as far as the Pig and Whistle Mine and the St Kilda drive. The Brunner mining area used to produce a high percentage of New Zealand's coal just before the turn of the century. The Brunner mine is however best know for New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 when an explosion and poisonous fumes killed every single worker underground at the time, totally 58.
We then continued to Nelson Creek, A DOC and local council site with free camping and a number of short and long walks. We did two of shorter round trips, the Tailrace Walk and the Colls Dam walk. You start through a short tunnel giving access to a historic suspension bridge, built first in 1872 and maintained to the original plans. Both walks take one past a number of most impressive tailraces left from the mining days - 18' wide and up to 50' deep we estimate where they exit to the river. During the Rush some 1200 gold miners worked the area. The Nelson Creek area is formed from layers of sandstone overlaid by glacial outwash gravel. Gold was concentrated in trough like hollows on the surface of the sandstone. The area was mostly worked by ground sluicing and the riffle boxes were mounted in these tailraces. The tunnels in the area were used for prospecting and also used as tailraces to channel water away from the working faces.
The day was hot and the river looked appealing and was supposed to contain swimming holes and Pete quickly located one right under the entry/exit to a large tunnel. It was most refreshing swimming against the gentle stream and you come out feeling much cleaner than from a shower and uncontaminated by chlorine etc. From the other side of the river one could see some of the tailraces appearing as thin vertical slits from top to bottom of the vertical cliff face - they must have taken a huge number of men to cut with only hand tools even in sandstone. Overall a very interesting area and good place to camp - marked down for the future especially as the sandfly count was low for the area.
We then continued with a look at an another excellent DOC camp site and fossicking area at Slab Hut Stream (8.6 kms South of Reefton). It had some sand flies but nothing like as many as the next DOC site we looked over at Lyall about 15 kms beyond Reefton, we were mobbed and although the Repel deterrent kept us from being bitten the van was filled and we had to spray it - 12 were stuck to Pete's window alone after the first blast. Sandflies are very small but pack a very nasty bite which takes days to go away and after a few whole limbs can swell up in Pete's case. On one occasion he had to cut his wedding ring off after being stung on the finger. This was in the same area of Westland so he is very sensitive about the whole area.
We proceeded on although later than we wanted after a few stops to look at the Buller Gorge which is most attractive and found a cabin in Murchison - it had few sandflies until dusk - and we got out the Red Devil and had a barbecue without even needing long trousers.
The site used to belong to the electricity board and the cabins were used in the early 1970s for staff building the first power lines to carry hydroelectric power from the southern lakes up to North Island. Looking at the layout it seems each had a small stove for heating as well as very basic accommodation for a couple of people - marks on the floor and new wood indicated ours had been changed from a single or bunk bed to have a double bed. A lot of those staying were "paddlers" canoeing on the Buller river which ran past the site. There was a slip and a big deep swimming hole formed behind a natural breakwater which had a lone fisherman silhouetted against the dawn - a picture for the web site.
The forecast was good and we eagerly left for Golden Bay only stopping for provisions and the occasional ice-cream on route.
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). There is a picture taken from the Abel Tasman Memorial on the web site in 2000 showing how sheltered it is.
The weather was a bit overcast as we crossed the range from Tasman Bay to Golden Bay when we stopped to look at the normally superb view over the area from Hardwood's lookout (750 metres). It was however clear in the far North so went straight to the Pakawau Beach Camp, the first Motor Camp we had ever stayed at back in 1997 with a camper van and again in a cabin. The 1997 write up on the web uses it as a very light-hearted exposé of the NZ motor campers mentality, much of it still true. They have pitches within feet of the beach, which were still available when we arrived, but we chose to be back a row in a sheltered corner in case the forecast of stronger winds materialised.
It is still an excellent small friendly site, now under new owners, who were most helpful including providing us with access to their phone line to get another newsletter out. We have found this year that many camp sites and motels will, reluctantly or otherwise, provide a phone line - we generally end up timing calls and making an ill defined contribution of between 20 and 50 cents a minute, some want nothing in which case we have given some gold coins as even an 08 number costs on a business line.
The weather was glorious and we stayed a second day and did nothing other than baste and swim a bit. It was very clear and we could see the sand dunes of Farewell Spit floating on a silver mirage in one direction and the crisp outlines of the Abel Tasman hills 30 kms away the other side. Farther still was the outline of the hills of the Marlborough Sounds and in the far distance the tips of offshore islands again floating above a silver mirage, still clear although 90 kms away. The pure blue sky lightened to meet the darker blue of the sea which had an oily stillness. Swimming one looked back and reflections of the shore fragmented and merged as the slightest of swells caressed the sweep of golden sand. Two people could be seen in the distance on the beach. We had expected it to be much busier as it was a local holiday weekend followed by Waitangi day giving people 4 days off out of 5.
The next morning was overcast and it seemed the perfect day for a hard walk or two. We set off first for the Aorere Goldfield which we have never got too before - we have been forced to turn back at the Devils Boots, in themselves an interesting Rock formation and series of pools in the river bed which can only be reached by climbing under a dummy electric fence crossing the track to the river.
The road on to the Aorere Goldfield is another 2 kilometres long - it is marked in all the information as suitable for cars and there are signs that there is a car park at the end. It is presently not suitable for a normal car, only 4X4. We had no choice once we were part way down and found it had deteriorated to have huge ruts, holes and boulders. We got through as did a number of cars but Pauline was often walking ahead directing so we did not hit anything vital underneath, and the Toyota van had good ground clearance. Stop at an intermediate small parking just short of a gate you have to open and you will miss the worst.
The walk was a pleasant long climb first taking one past Druggan's flat which was worked by tunnelling last century and reworked by digger and rotary screen in the 1980s. We continued the steady climb through regenerating bush for a total of about 45 minutes which brought us up to some water races and associated tunnels which once brought water about 4 kms to the workings. There are two large caves which DOC say can both be explored given the right clothing and care. We looked at Stafford's Cave from outside as we did not have walking boots and duplicate torches. Ballroom cave seemed safer and we went in as far as the Ballroom using the trusty Maglite. We did not complete the loop track past the Dam as it was starting to rain and Pete did not fancy getting the van back safely if the "road" got slippery. In any case DOC say there are no tracks yet to many of the most interesting features so it is best regarded as a nice place for a walk which happens to pass through a goldmining area.
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 seemed to be in the process of being reorganised, last visit they could be seen but in disarray, this time the area was closed which was a pity. 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.
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 Australasia 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 legends of Te Waikoropupu are told in the stories of Huriawa, its Taniwha (guardian spirit) the springs are waiora, the purest form of water which is the wairua (spiritual) and physical source of life. They provide water for healing and were a place of ceremonial blessings at times of birth and death and leaving and returning travellers. There may be good reason - the springs produce the clearest water in world except for water under Ross ice shelf in Antarctica.
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 close to Pupu. We did it again 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 vigourous 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 1950s 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.
We ate at the Old Schoolhouse opposite the campsite - not a gastronomic experience but very excellent salads and minted potatoes made up for the pasty 'commercial' chips Pauline got - it is not often she fails to finish chips as they are not allowed at home. We had an excellent bottle of Seifried's Gewürztraminer - we had not tried any of his wines before but if the Gewürztraminer is anything to go by they are worthy of a visit.
We got back to the campsite in drizzle and had a terrible night with rain and wind, the tent kept most of it out except for some which penetrated from below - it is now the sixth season so we can not complain. In any case we have some thin sleeping mats between the built in groundsheet and the foam mattresses which stopped the water reaching us! The camp site emptied the following morning - we had intended to go after three days and go and find Pauline's friend Peter Adkin at the campsite at Pohara. He and his wife spend even longer in New Zealand than we do coming back for 4-5 months every year and always to the Pohara Beach Top Ten camp site where they have a caravan. 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. The site is large and although it was difficult to put a finger on why it did not seem as typical top ten, perhaps the size or their insistence on the need for heavy security with guards patrolling.
Peter and Jean have a small mussel business. 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. Peter has about 20 lines, they are very late this year because the droughts last cut the nutrients reaching them back so much they are running about 6 months behind although the quality is looking good.
We booked ahead to a cabin at Motueka as the weather was looking atrocious with big thunder clouds and on the way looked at the Abel Tasman Memorial with a view stretching right across Golden Bay we could see from Farewell Spit but it was not as clear as when we got the 'fisheye' pictures on the web site in Touring 2000 part 4.
We then went round the Grove Scenic Reserve about 6 kms out of Takaka. You walk between huge naturally sculptured limestone outcrops up which the roots of Rata climb up to 20 feet to the trees above. It is apparently a riot of red when the Rata is in flower in the early summer. Rata and Pohutakawa are the Christmas rose of New Zealand. Well worth the diversion for the 20/30 minute walk which includes a lookout perched on the face of a limestone cliff reached through a narrow slot cut between massive vertical cliffs - looks like Hobbit country to us.
The various viewpoints on the way over the Takaka Pass were worth stopping with excellent clear views and we found a favourite where we freedom camped with an RV a few years back - it is still perfectly maintained with picnic tables but the sign to the narrow entry had been removed - the GPS waypoint came in useful! It was then the drop down into the Abel Tasman
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 11th May, 2002