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|Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 3|
The crossing was predicted to be rough with gale force winds, fortunately from the North rather than the dreaded Southerlies. Whilst we sat in the check-in line the gusts of wind were blowing the van along in short spurts until we put the hand brake firmly on after which it only shook and rocked. We classed as a high vehicle and too our horror we saw that everyone was being turned well away from the vessel and forced to reverse up a long and narrow steel bridge and ramp onto the vessel. After that experience things definitely improved - despite the winds on the land the sea was calm and by the time we were entering the Sounds the sun was shining and the wind had disappeared.
We went straight from the ship to Allan Scott's Winery for lunch - we have been many times and never been disappointed. The main courses tend to fairly light with hot or cold "meat" on a salad base with, of course, a wide selection of their wines by the glass or bottle. We then proceeded to sample the years wines - we are obviously going back to places too often as we are increasingly being recognised, in this case by Fay. She started working a Allan Scott for a single day eight years ago and is still there. It has its advantages being recognised as we sometimes get the chance to try wines that would normally not be available for tasting.
We tried the new un-oaked Chardonnay, very nice but we prefer the rich butter oaked style like their Prestige Chardonnay 2000 (their equivalent of Reserve). Pauline had tried the 2002 Marlborough Riesling with lunch and had been impressed - we are finding that increasingly the Rieslings are being made in a style that is more to our taste. That was certainly true of their 1999 Noble Riesling, made in tiny quantities from selected late harvest grapes and capable of competing with a good German Beerenauslese - a delightful end to a meal.
We also tried their Pinot Noir 2001, or more correctly both of them as the son Joshua has started producing limited quantities under his own name. The two are quite different and the Joshua Pinot Noir shows promise but is only just becoming ready for drinking and should continue to improve for several years. Allan's is already drinking well and a style we like. Allan chose not to make any last year and has been steadily evolving his style. The fermentation is in open topped but refrigerated stainless batch fermenters and the must is hand plunged four times a day. The wine pressed and placed in a mix of new and old 225 litre French oak baroques for maturing. This has produced a wine already drinking well but one that will develop further. It will be interesting to see how the two family styles develop and both should improve further as the wines gain extra age - they are already carefully pruned to reduce crop levels to optimise quality.
We have always been fans of the Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc and we stocked up in a local supermarket as soon as we arrived. We extracted a bottle from our stock the evening after we visited the winery to celebrate our return to Marlborough. The 2002 was as good as ever, as you would expect from an excellent year. The method used in production is for a free run and first cut juice is chilled and allowed 24 hours to settle. It is then raked and the yeast added and a temperature controlled slow fermentation over 15-20 days. The various 'batches' are then selected and brought together for a final blend, cold stabilised and made ready for bottling.
It was then time to go to Cloudy Bay. Cloudy Bay still sets the standards against which all other New Zealand wines have to be judged - that it not to say that they will always be the best but over time they have proved to consistently set very high standards, not only for the Sauvignon Blanc which became a cult wine, arguably setting New Zealand on the wine map. We rate their Chardonnay even higher and they now turn out a comprehensive range including the two Pelorus sparkling wines - we used the Vintage Pelorus at our Silver Anniversary party. This year we were able to try the Te Koko (a natural yeast lightly oaked Sauvignon Blank), the Pinot Noir and, for the first time, the Gewurztraminer. Normally they are released after we have passed through on about the first of February just in time for the Marlborough Wine Festival. This year they released them early to provide for the Americas Cup. The Te Koko was as desirable as last year, the Gewurztraminer was excellent in an Alsace style and the Pinot is now a real winner, you did not need to drink it, just savour the bouquet. We bought one of each to calibrate the best we find elsewhere.
One thing Cloudy Bay lacks is modesty as you will see from the following excepts from their tasting notes on the Gewurztraminer 2001: "Perfume with incense, Turkish delight and old-fashioned rose the 2001 Cloudy Bay Gewurztraminer is hedonistically aromatic; the softly textured, off-dry palate redolent with Eastern Spices. Made in an Alsacian style to promote palate generosity, this wine a concentrated expression of vibrant Marlborough fruit that reflect the idyllic 2001 growing season perfectly".
If you think I have been unkind in the example I chose try "Redolent of ripe Morello cherries and spices the 2001 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir is exquisitely fragrant. The intensely varietal palate shows supple fine tannins with layers of red fruit, toasty oak, savoury earthy characters and a long seamless finish". I know what they are getting at having tried both but the descriptions are a bit over-the-top.
We stayed at The Spring Creek Holiday Park, a lovely older style camping site by the river. Even the simplest cabins at $30 have a fridge and kettle and you can get full en-suite facilities for $42, (discounted by 10% for us) with a Kiwi Holiday Parks card. We used the free barbecue and watched the sun set in a blaze of colour in every direction. It is in a perfect situation for the Vineyards especially if you prefer to avoid towns. Follow the Repaura road to the right as you enter Spring Creek (5 km before Blenheim) from the Picton Direction and it is about a kilometre on the right. Five kilometres further down the Repaura road you pass Hunters and the next left into Giffords road takes you past Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott and Cairnbrae all of which we have written about.
Blenheim itself is a pleasant town with plentiful services. We licensed the van, or more correctly collected the new license which had been paid for by Rental Car Village - the computer systems are much better than the UK and you can do anything anywhere regardless of who owns a vehicle as we found when we borrowed Jenny and Kev's van a few years back. Pauline also sent out all her letters to students - the stamps and envelopes from the Albatross Trust will unfortunately be a give away that we are out of the country!
Whilst leaving Blenheim on the Renwick road we passed a cafe with a complete Argosy 222 parked outside and rapidly did a U turn to spend a fascinating half an hour crawling round inside it and looking through the small museum. The Argosy was one of the largest civilian freighters in use and particular example had one of the optional passenger modules for 30 passengers installed, which occupied only a part of the huge hold - access was by the whole nose swinging open below a flight deck perched above rather like on a jumbo. It was in use until 1990 when it was rescued just before being cut up for scrap. The engines and instruments had unfortunately been removed but everything else is preserved in a state which could allow restoration - possible as none are now flying.
I feel guilty about any further mentions of wine and restaurants but have to admit we stopped at Seifried on the way towards the Motuereka and the Able Tasman. Perhaps I should just say we covered Seifried last year and information can be found in our New Zealand Wines, Wineries and Vineyard Restaurants page. I will contain myself with comments that the food was certainly the best so far this year in South Island and possibly overall in wineries this year. We will also reserve comment on the wines until we try the bottles, other than the exquisite Winemakers Collection Late Harvest Riesling which will give most German Beerenauslase a run for their money although it is still only a couple of years old. Do not hesitate if you ever see it on offer!
We eventually found our way to the Top Ten at Motueka, again covered last year, and again secured one of the classic ex PWD (public works department) cabins set in a forest park. Whilst waiting for supper to cook I checked the van and found we have done 2500 km in the first fortnight we have been travelling - it looks as if it has used a quarter of the oil (250ccs) so far - not bad for an engine which has done 354,000 kms! We have also changed a bulb and done routine things like tyres and battery.
We then went over the Takaka hills to Tasman Bay to try to meet up with an old friend of Pauline's from her working days. We found a lookout at the end of short walking track on the way up which we must have missed before - the viewing platform is suspended out over a near vertical drop and the views stretch all the way to beyond Motueka. Pauline's friend is in the process of building a house in Takaka town, which we did find. Unfortunately there was no sign of him there or at the camp site where he has a caravan. We had lunch watching the seas beating into the beach at Tata and then tried again to find him but without success so eventually just left messages. The weather was much better the other side of the hills so we returned, stopping a couple of times to admire the views from Harwoods Lookout on the way back down.
We diverted to Kaiteriteri for a swim on the sheltered beach which was quite busy by New Zealand standards - it is a favourite for children and the schools have not yet gone back - no chance at this time of year of collecting mussels on the rocks and cooking them on the beach like we did a couple of years ago! We set up tent on our return to Motueka just as the first of a series of short but intense storms hit - fortunately the tent is still completely waterproof even though it has entered its seventh season.
It was then time to head towards Gold Mining country. We have spent a lot of time camping in the Coromandel Goldfields and last year spent several weeks in Otago. The Goldmining years were formative ones in New Zealand history, especially in South Island and for many years Gold was even more important as an export than Wool or Kauri. This year we intend to learn a bit more about the West Coast Gold rushes for alluvial gold which followed those in Otago and the subsequent exploitation of the Gold in Quartz reefs by mining. We will write it up fairly fully and eventually transfer it to our Goldmining pages on the web site.
We entered Gold Country, and that of the sandfly, on our way to Reefton down the Buller Gorge. This is a lovely drive which can be continued to the coast - I have yet to write it up as one of the scenic roads in New Zealand for the web site although it clearly deserves it. Even in the upper section we were travelling with high tree covered mountains towering over us whilst we clung at to the faces looking down on the river and its rapids. We stopped to watch a group rafting the river in very laid back manner letting the currents take them where they wanted and occasionally held gentling spinning in the eddies until a brief paddle allowed them to continue.
We stopped briefly at Lyell where there is a DOC campsite and many Goldfield tramps to read the information boards. We have never dared to camp there as the sandflies gather in clouds until their leader starts a co-ordinated attack - it is difficult to even get to read a complete board before the onslaught forces you to move quickly to another. Lyell was a moderate sized town in the days of the rushes in 1870 but now there is nothing but the odd lump of concrete remaining to show it existed. Several huge nuggets were found in the stream with sight of the camp site one of nearly 30 ounces started the rush and the largest nugget, shaped like a dumbbell, found in New Zealand of 120 oz was found nearby. One day we will have the weather and courage to stay and do the walks.
Instead we continued to Reefton, a town steeped in Gold Mining History as well as being the first town in New Zealand to have electric lighting. We have previously done the walk over a swing bridge and along the water race to the old generator house where a Pelton Wheel was installed to drive a small generator providing lighting to 500 houses. We stayed in a simple cabin in the camp site on the local domain. The facilities were adequate but old, but new blocks are now under construction - the price was very good and we only paid $25 for the cabin for the two of us for the night, they will probably rise when the updates are complete. We were glad we made the choice not to camp as it rained all night and the kitchen was full of wet people in the morning.
Once we were installed we went down to the information centre and picked up a few extra leaflets to supplement our already large collection from previous visits. Reefton and its information centre is a good place to start a look at the Goldmining activities in the West Coast area. They have a collection of books, maps on information boards showing the walking tracks, a simulated Quartz mining operation and a restored and Holman Steam Winding Engine circa 1895 which served in several local mines including the Wealth of Nations Gold Mine ended its working life in the Surprise Coal Mine. The winding engines were used to lower and raise men and equipment and raise the quartz ore and 'mullock' the waste rock.
The Goldmining activities which surround Reefton were largely quartz mining and extraction of gold from the quartz ore. Some initial alluvial (free) gold started rushes to the area but mostly it the gold was found in veins of quartz, some very long lived and deep. These could clearly not be extracted by single miners or even small teams and the development was later than that in alluvial fields and continued much longer. It is worth noting that the West Coast also has many coal mines allowing plentiful fuel for steam engines to power the Stamper batteries whilst other Gold Fields depended more on water powered equipment using Pelton wheels or simple water wheels.
We started our investigation with a visit to the old school of mines at Reefton. It is opened on demand - you ask in the information centre, pay $2 a head and local volunteers are rung up and, if available, open it up for you and show you round. It is much as it was when finally closed down, the classrooms where supervising staff were taught in night school, the books still on the shelves and the papers on the shelves in the supervisors office. As was normal there was also a small assay laboratory. We were shown round by Bill Saywer who had a wealth of local knowledge. He recommended a book, written by a local pharmacist, on Gold Mining in the area - it is fortunately still in print and we obtained a copy from the information centre but not yet had time to read it. "The Golden Reefs" by Darrell Laytham, Nikau Press ISBN-908568-12-6 - An account of the great days of Quartz-mining at Reefton, Waiuta and the Lyell.
We continued in the morning a the Black Point Museum a couple of kilometres outside Reefton - this is open Wednesday to Sunday 1300-1600 and 0900-1200 the same days excepting Saturday and again is run by volunteers. It is full of every manner of exhibit covering the Reefton area including Gold Mining and there are a lot of panels of original pictures from the mining era as well as folders of additional information. Well worthy of a visit for the museum alone but there is also an adjacent five head Quartz crushing battery and Berdan on the site of the former Golden Fleece Battery. It is all working and powered by a Pelton Wheel recovered from the Golden Lead Mine site in Deep Creek. This was all run up for us after we had looked round the museum. It is well worth a visit and one of only a small number of places where original equipment can still be seen in operation. The leaflet says it is only operated Sunday afternoons but it seems as if the volunteers are happy to open it up and run it if they are quiet and you are interested.
The site is also the start of a number of walks into the Murray Creek Gold Field area. The look very interesting but the best is circa five hours and we will have to come back to do it. The information sheets on the various walks are available in the information centre for a dollar and contain a great deal of background information so are worth buying even if you do not have the time for the walks.
We made a visit to Waiuta, now a ghost town but the site of the last and richest gold discovery in South Island. 4 prospectors found the 'Birthday Reef' on Edward VII's birthday in November 1905 and sold it to a speculator for 2000 pounds, he spent a little more proving its potential and sold it to the London based Consolidated Goldfield Company for 30,000 pounds and it took three years until it was fully operational - a big difference to the rushes in Otago where thousands of people would arrive in days of a new discovery and move on within months, or even weeks, to the next find. It was a huge operation continuing till 1951 and over 730,000 oz of gold was extracted from about 1,500,000 tons of quartz ore.
A complete model mining village was set up at Waiuta (Maori for Blackwater) to support the operation with a population of 600, hospital, school, post office, churches, bowling green, library, hotel, clubs and police station in addition to a wide range of shops. Even so it could be a boring life and the row of houses between the hospital and the school containing many of the young families became know as Incubator Alley - at one point five families living there had 54 children between them. Many of the roads were made from mullock and if not paved with gold are at least flecked with it.
The mine became the deepest in New Zealand and 17 levels were opened up first from The Blackwater shaft and latter operations were switched to the nearby Prohibition shaft. The final depth was 879 metres, more than a third below sea level. For most of the mines life the quartz was taken from the main shaft along an adit to the banks of the Snowy River where a huge water wheel powered battery of stamps extracted the gold. The pulverised ore was washed over copper tables covered with mercury and large vats of cyanide were used to extract gold missed in the initial processing - all very healthy activities as was breathing quartz dust from drilling for the explosives to be inserted.
Once the main activity had shifted to the Prohibition shaft a new and modern extraction plant was built at Prohibition, the most advanced at the time in New Zealand. This used Ball Mills to grind the ore instead of Stamper batteries and an oil flotation system to save fine gold. The overall extraction efficiency reached 98%.
In 1951 there was still enough rich quartz to continue operation for many years however production was forced to stop when the Blackwater shaft suddenly collapsed. It was not in use for materials but was a vital part of the ventilation and pumping system and water and poisonous gasses rapidly entered and spread to the Prohibition workings. The closure of the mine also quickly led to the end of the model mining town at Waiuta and most of the buildings, as well as the equipment were rapidly removed. Today only 5 cottages remain along with countless relics at Waiuta, Snowy Battery and Prohibition.
The remains of the Waiuta township, Blackwater Mine and the Prohibition Mine are all adjacent and easily reached from Reefton - it is about 40 kms, half on main roads and half on a narrow minor road mostly single track of which half is unsealed. There are many walking tracks in the area. It took us four hours (Reefton to Reefton) during which we investigated the township which has many display boards showing how it used to. Much has disappeared but there are, for examples a flat patch on the top of the mullock tip where the bowling green used to exist - the private hedge is now high tress and the steps and base of the veranda of the pavilion remain along with the fireplaces and chimney breasts. The remains of the boilers and chimney stand but the engines and Poppet head are no more. It is however possible to find traces most of the buildings.
Having walked round Waiuta township we drove on out to the Prohibition mine where there are many more artefacts and more boards revealing fascinating insights into the operations. For example the lifting engines had all sorts of safety features and control on the winding gear when men were being hauled up or down but operation with ore was 4 times faster when they were over-ridden. The power came from an AC-DC converter with a huge flywheel capable of storing sufficient energy for two complete 'lifts'. The generator and flywheel took 40 minutes to come up to speed and 'liquid' rheostats were used during running up - plates were slowly lowered into large underground electrolyte tanks, a technology I have never met before. All the drilling used compressed air tools and one of the enormous riveted pressure tanks is still present. We have saved the tramp to the Snowy Battery for a future trip but it is reputed to have even more artefacts and in a better condition.
Overall there is probably enough interest in the Reefton area to spend several days, more if have a 4x4 or are prepared for a 5 hour tramp into the Big River area which was a self contained mining area with its own coal mines and saw mill for the red beech which was preferred for pit props as it talks with squeaks and groans before giving way finally under load - a desirable feature in a mine pit props. The museum in Reefton has a big display covering all the 5 types of beech found in New Zealand - there are examples of then all in the Reefton area
The other local areas of interest not so far mentioned include the Inangahua Swing Bridge track (SH7 SE) to Big river which can be followed part way to view the see the old water races, we only saw the start as heavy rain came in. Slab Hut Creek (SH7 SW) has a DOC camp site and is authorised for recreational gold panning as well as having a walking track - we came close to staying last year. To the North (SH69) of Reefton at about 16 km is the Larry's creek walk, about 3km return with a ford if you complete the final loop. Further still North still (40km from Reefton) is the Lyell walkway starting at the Lyell DOC camp site Reefton is a three hour walk but take lots of sandfly deterrent, we have found those by Repel very effective as sticks and roll-ons but you need to remember to do ones feet under the sandal straps a favourite site.
Once temporarily free of the influence of Gold it was time to head to Christchurch - we stopped overnight at Springs Junction about which the less said the better. In the morning we left early for the Lewis pass and the start of a magic 90 minutes. Snow had fallen on the hills overnight but the morning was sunny and had that rare clarity when everything seems close enough to touch. Almost as soon as we had started and passed Marble Flat camp site, where we first discovered DOC camp sites existed many years ago, I realised it was going to be a journey to remember and started to take notes and photographs. The following has minimal changes other than corrections of spelling and completion of words otherwise maintaining the staccato nature of those notes.
Ahead we see snow on the hill tops through stands of black beech growing out of a decadent undergrowth of moss, ferns and lichen covering rotting stumps and branches - the trees and undergrowth merging into a scene worth of the Lord of the Rings. We pass flats with braided rivers meandering by the side of the road. The road climbs we pass Maruia Springs Thermal Resort with steam rising from the pools. We recall camping there a few years ago, sitting and drinking cold beer and lounging in the hot pools swatting sandflies.
We pull off at viewpoint with clouds rolling down from hillsides with snow toped mountains eerily showing through whilst a steam glints in the valley thousands of feet below. The trees are changing to a silver beech as we continue to climb. We pass the summit almost without noticing and find a new stream at our side in a smooth valley floor. Sun shines on snow on the mountains ahead. Snow is sprinkled on the hillsides close above us and lies thick and clean on the summits.
The trees change again as snow covered hills tower over the road. We stop on a flat to take a spectacular picture of the snow toped mountains with clouds streaming from their peaks whilst another thin layer rolls across just above our level - a scene made to be painted. The wide valley floor has been shaped by glaciers long ago. Flat pastures and beyond build a picture of contrasting greens of from different trees and change to shades of blue into the far distance. Even the fence posts are brightly coloured by lichen.
The valley widens and flattens the river starts to braid with flat terraces left at various levels. This is all happening as fast as I can type and are only 45 minutes from Springs Junction as we pass Engineers camp, the end of the gorge. The road now undulates from old river terrace to terrace. We stop for a picture and find the roadside covered in flowers growing out of the gravel. The view is of rounded mountainsides carved by glaciers filled and sculptured into the a series of river terraces.
As we drop more and enter lake Sumnor forest park the valley floor is filled with a series of small lakes amidst low scrub. A few minutes more and we see huge grey landslips cascading like waterfalls into the river but crossed by horizontal lines showing every level as the valley filled and emptied. Even with stops all these contrasts have only taken an hour. We cross the Hope river and the GPS tells us we are passing the spot where we first freedom camped 7 years ago. We stop to get a picture looking back at the bridge and a classic view of a braided river - another painting ??.
We continue to drop in steps from terrace to terrace now passing sheep and farms as the river widens, twists and divides. Another stop for a stunning picture with the river braiding through grassy flats with the most incredible contrasts in colour in the background - now 75 minutes out.
Once last stop for a last picture as we leave showing the broad fertile valley floor with rolling hills flanked by snow topped mountains. After what seems an age, but the watch tells us is 85 minutes, the magic journey ends. The clouds are suddenly grey and brooding above us as we leave the pass. One glance back at the snow toped peaks and it is over - I am zipping up camera bag and turning off the HP95 as the first rain drop hits, but what a memory.
The journey is now through flat plains, water races run beside the road and huge jets of water spiral over the fields.
We stopped at our favourite vineyard in the area, Pegasus, for lunch and found we had arrived at the same time as group of wine enthusiasts from Denmark who were touring New Zealand and Australia. We managed to join onto their group for a very good introductory talk about the vineyard from Edward. I will not say a lot as Pegasus is covered well on the web site and I have spent too much time on vineyards and restaurants this year. What Edward brought out was that it is a small family business who are not told by shareholders or banks what wine to make. Lynette has just returned from 12 months in Burgundy and Matt has been in Burgundy for 4 vintages as well as a couple in other countries. It is now 17 years since the vineyard was planted and the Riesling is doing well on an old river terrace with good drainage leading to high stress and low vigour resulting in tiny crops of 2 ton acre of excellent quality. The family have done a lot of experimenting to get wines that fully express the site.
The vineyard has good shelter from Easterlies surrounded by hills. The local microclimate 3-4 degrees warmer than rest of Canterbury and is now recognised as a separate sub-region. It is particularly good for muscular Pinot Noir and Riesling . Chris is very keen on Opera and they have operas in the gardens in the summer, Chris sings in many operas in the area. Opera links extends to their top wines which are called Aria, Finale etc. Their building have been extending steadily since we first visited in 1996 and are now almost finished, the finale stage being a library of older wines.
We tasted the wines and were particularly impressed by the Riesling which Edward explained had been made from well ripened grapes from there 'stressed' grape vines and had the fermentation stopped with a little (7.5gms/litre) sugar. It tasted good at the time and we bought some to try later and jumping ahead it was every bit as good as we expected - it compares very well with a good German Kabinet and most Spatlese although still very young. The Pinot Noir 2001 is unfortunately not yet ready and needs several years - this was brought home to us at lunch as there was a special offer of a comparative tasting of half glasses of the 1996 and 2001 Pinots. The 1996 was superb with tastes almost reminiscent of mushrooms amid the fruit. We fished the meal with a glass of the Aria, a late picked Riesling will also give most Auslese a run for their money, we would have bought lots but it has sold out other than for restaurant sales.
The meal was as good as ever the scene being set with crisp linen serviettes and bowls of flaked sea salt and obviously a pepper grinder. The Chiabatti was the best I have ever had - small and split between two with rosemary olive oil and tomato/garlic dip with a pile of sea salt to dip into. The followed the French style with a complimentary course of white bean soup with truffle oil floating on the top. The main courses were excellent and Pauline had a grapefruit and lime tart which she considered the best tart she had ever had.
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003