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Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 5

Introduction and Summary | Auckland, Waiheke, Rotorua, Ohakune | Napier, Gisborne, Wellington | Marlborough, Abel Tasman, Reefton, Lewis Pass | Christchurch, Mt Somers, Lakes, Otago | Queenstown, Wanaka, Christchurch, West Coast, Sounds | Whanganui, Taranaki, Coromandel | Sailing: Hauraki Gulf to Bay of Islands | Kauri Coast, Northland, Russell

We got to Queenstown in time to quickly check into the campsite and secured a cabin so we had somewhere safe to leave our valuables. The cabin was simple - a box with steel beds a small chipboard table and chairs 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. Prices in Queenstown reflect demand and are much higher than anywhere else - $45 for the cabin.

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.

Despite everything said above we come through and stay for a day or two most times in South Island because it is a good base for many things we do enjoy. Above all there is the superb old steamship the Earnslaw still running as smoothly and silently as when she entered the water nearly 90 years ago. She has done the equivalent of 100 round the world trips and you still can't hear the engines start other than the bells from the bridge! 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. Queenstown is also at the centre of the area where much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed and we fear some of our favourite quiet places have been exposed - Ian Brodie's location guidebook tells people how to get to many of them and is currently the best selling book in New Zealand and everywhere 4x4 adventures and helicopter tours of the sites are advertised.

Click for larger imageReturning to the Earnslaw we took a trip over to Walter Peak Station for a barbecue lunch and Pauline also had her first horse ride after lunch in place of the farm tour, sheep dog demonstration and sheep shearing. Click for larger image Although one only sees the tourist side 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 1975m and they use 15 dogs to bring them all in.

We went from Queenstown to Wanaka Click for larger imagevia Arrowtown. We have covered Arrowtown from the point of view of walks and the old Chinese gold settlement during previous visits however we had never been round the museum because, unlike almost all other museums it makes a considerable charge for entry of $5. It had been recommended so we thought we ought to complete our information gathering in the Otago Goldfields with a visit. Click for larger imageLike most of the museums it had a number of interesting old pictures many of them duplicates of ones we have seen before, there were only a finite number taken during the early years. They did however have a number of pieces of equipment in pristine condition including the only example of the Venturi part of a hydraulic elevator, a hydraulic monitor with a selection of nozzles and a small Pelton wheel with open casing, usually all you see is a rusty wheel without the rest of the mechanism. Many of the explanation boards are good, for example the one on the hydraulic elevator equal those by the forestry commission at Naseby. Click for larger imageThere plenty of exhibits and information beyond Gold so it is worth a visit if you are in the area. We also spent considerable time talking to one of the curators who showed us the archives - the archivist was not there so we could only get an impression of what was available but they seemed comprehensive and they may well have the originals or be able to provide good copies of some of the older pictures.

We finally dragged Click for larger imageourselves away after a while round the town and went to Wanaka taking the Cardrona Road which looks like a shortcut but is not and has steep hill climbs but the road itself has been considerably improved recently. We stopped at the Cardrona Hotel for lunch - it used to be one of the famous inn on the Gold Trails. We continued to Albert Town hoping to camp at a favourite DOC camp site. Click for larger image Unfortunately the best spots looking down on the Clutha were covered in broken glass and the wind was coming up - it was Albert Town where one evening the wind came up and broke one of our tent poles so we decided to take a run out to look at Hawea and come back if the wind dropped. Once we were at Hawea the view was stunning - clear blue skies and good visibility so we got a room at the motor lodge looking across the lake. It is more expensive than we usual pay and the rooms have no cooking facilities, however we eventually knocked them down from $120 to $75 which was almost worth it for the view - as I write this Pauline is finishing a watercolour of that view.

The following day we spent sorting a few things out and waiting for Phil to turn up, we had arranged tentatively to meet in Wanaka. In the afternoon we climbed Mt Iron, only 240 metres but plenty enough on another day without a cloud in the sky. Mt Iron is interesting as it is a result of glacial action. It is Schist, a rock composed of old sedimentary rock compressed and forged by pressure and heat into an almost golden coloured rock with a layered structure - it is used for building and for tiles as it can easily be split. Mt Iron has been smoothed on one side by passing glaciers, the whole area was 7000' under ice a one time. The other side has had huge chunks of rock frozen, split and wrenched free by the glaciers. The walk involves quite steep climbs and descents and takes about one hour and a half.

In the evening we met up with Phil and had a late meal at an Italian Restaurant downtown. We went out with him to the Airfield at Wanaka to visit the Fighter Pilots Museum which has in it's Alpine Fighter Collection one of the largest collections of flying WW 2 fighter aircraft and trainers in the world. It includes a. Spitfire XVI, Hurricane, several Polikarpov I-16s and I-53s and a two seat Mustang 51D, Tiger Moths, Fox Moth, Chipmunk and Harvard. There is an Airshow "Warbirds over Wanaka" at Easter every other year which attracts 80,000 spectators and many visiting fighters. Why so much interest in New Zealand in WW II Fighters one might ask? In fact New Zealand contributed, per-capita, more fighter pilots than any other country in WW II, over 5000. The museum not only has aircraft on display close enough that you have to take can not to touch them but also a large number of boards detailing the NZ activities and details of actions by the pilots. It was not our first visit and will not be our last - the collection keeps changing,

Click for larger imageWe went out on the Mt Aspiring road in the early afternoon, some awesome views into the mountains but a very rough road. Pauline had to catch up with her OU stuff and respond to all her students in the afternoon but we met up again in the evening with Phil for a barbecue and a glass or two.

We returned to Queenstown in the front of a salvage truck with the van on the back. Although a considerable disappointment as it lost us the time to see some of our favourite places it could have been a lot worse. What was most pleasing was how efficiently it was organised - we have always worried slightly about Rental Car Village having so few bases and we had never before (in about 50,000) needed to get their assistance as NZ garages can fix almost anything on the spot. Even our head gasket would have been quickly fixed if it had not been Waitangi day followed by a weekend. It was a glorious drive across the lakes and passes to Christchurch and the driver, Garry chose places such as Lake Putiki for breaks. It was a long day for him with a round trip of over 900 kms and we finally arrived at 2100 within minutes of when he had promised.

There was a big event, the Coast to Coast in Christchurch, as well as a late arrival, so Rental Car Village's agent Sue was kind enough to put us up for he night. A replacement van was run up behind ours within ten minutes of our arrival ready for transfer of everything as soon as it had been checked over. The only problem was that we had been initially upgraded to a long wheelbase Hiace so Pauline had an interesting job in packing into a shorter Toyota Townace, the best available.

We finally left Christchurch just before midday for the West Coast over Arthur's pass which we have covered before so I will say little more. We stopped at the Arthur's Pass information centre which is a must as you go by. They always have a good set of information as well as periodic talks by DOC, guided walks etc. They have a new set of boards covering the latest upgrades to the road through the Otira Gorge, which was always a problem with falling rocks, slips and steep gradients in icy conditions - there are now some new sweeping viaducts. We diverted a little way down the road to Pounamu to look over the bridge and have made a note to go the whole way to Pounamu on another visit - the area was a source of gold and Greenstone. Some of the best Greenstone came as a bonus from the goldmining activities - it is an unusually dark green, almost black.

It was late when we got to the West Coast and we stopped at Hokitika, a small town which used to be the major port for goldmining activities on the Northwest coast. It was however not an easy port to access with a treacherous bar on the entry and over 42 ships were wrecked in a short number of years. Despite its reputation there were 41 ships tied up at the wharf on 16 September 1867, only two years after it was officially declared a port.

We first went to Ross, a short distance down the coast from Hokitika. The first major Gold discoveries on the West coast were in the area round Ross. The first indications were in 1864 a little South at Totara but the main discoveries, including Jones Creek, which led to the Rush were in 1865 and August saw the number of miners grow tenfold to 2,500 and Ross was quickly laid out with shops and hotels. Gold was found all around and the town grew further. Initially the Gold, alluvial gold, was extracted by panning and cradling in the many stream beds, in fact one of the largest nuggets ever found in New Zealand was found 50 years latter on the banks of Jones Creek - it weighed 99oz and was named the Honourable Roddy after Rod McKenzie, the Minister of Mines.

We spent some time at the Ross Goldfields heritage area which has a small museum and area set out with displays as well as miners cottage with a lot more displays and old pictures. Perhaps the most unusual item was a beautifully made vertical section of the rock formation through which the mine was sunk with the information on the mining shafts and levels alongside - it was all in a 6 foot high ornate wooden frame. It is difficult to describe without a photograph but was very effective in understanding the geology so we tried to get some pictures. Marion and Celia most helpful, copied some similar information from Goldtown by Philip Ross May (1962) and allowed us to freely photograph exhibits. The book is now on our list to purchase.

Click for larger image The heritage area is right alongside a modern mining activity, the largest alluvial open cast mining operation in the Southern Hemisphere. You can look right into it from the Heritage Centre, it is about 400 metres across and 90 metres deep (45 below sea level). Click for larger imageEven in this age it has proved difficult to pump it. Unfortunately the mining activities have, hopefully temporarily severed one of the historically significant walks in the area over Jones Flat. We did much of the other walk in the area, the water race walk which took one up and along some of the old water races past a miners hut and should have taken one over the face where sluicing activities took place and past the water race fluming. It was closed for maintenance but we found the far end was still open and we completed most of it. It also passes an area on Jones Creek which is available for gold panning and past the place where the gold was first discover on Jones Creek. A worthwhile hour.

Click for larger imageOn our way back to Hokitika we took a back road past some of the streams where gold was found and a further diversion onto a loop round Kanieri lake. We stopped at The Landing and did a little of the Water Race Walk, the full walk is 3.5 - 4 hours one way so we could only get a sample. The Water race was originally constructed to provide power for gold mining operations and is still in use for an electric generating plant. The walk looks a good flat amble for the future and the Lake Kaniere is described as one of the most beautiful in New Zealand - that is perhaps an exaggeration compared to the great Lakes to the South but is certainly very attractive and the diversion was worthwhile. Click for larger imageOn the way round the lake we stopped for a 'short' walk to Dorothy Falls which turned out to only 64m to a very deep and pretty waterfall into what looked a perfect swimming hole on a hot day, unfortunately we were short of time otherwise Pete would have been in there!

We got back to Hokitika just in time to get into the West Coast Historical Museum which is in the Carnegie Building, an impressive and recently restored building which used to hold the Click for larger imagefree public library - huge columns and tall windows. It is an interesting building in its own right as it was one of 18 libraries built in NZ with the assistance of the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It now holds the information office and museum. We were particularly interested in the gold exhibits which include a huge dredge bucket and a set of superb photographs taken by Jos Divis of Waiuta, the ghost town which we visited earlier this trip. They are incredibly sharp and high resolution, many were taken with a box camera as much of his equipment had been impounded when he was interned as a foreigner and suspected communist during the war. He continued to live at Waiuta until his death. The museum has some of his plates and negatives.

We spent 45 minutes that afternoon in the museum and had a fascinating and wide ranging discussion with John Davidson who runs the information office as well as having a finger in many pies, both local and national and gave us a number of additional insights into matters of interest to us and for our research. It was one of those discussions which progressively moved up levels as both reassessed each other! He also has an interest in collecting old books on the West Coast and Gold. Some of the books he and others have collected are available in the reference section of the museum - email contact via information office hkkvin@xtra.co.nz.

We did not have time to see the audio-video show of Greenstone and Gold on the West Coast so we were let in again the following morning. It is perhaps the best AV of its kind we have seen and we would have bought a copy if it had been available to show friends so they could understand our enthusiasm. It is largely a clever use of old pictures with quotes and poetry from contemporary books. John is investigating if it can be copied from DVD for sale or onto video at sufficient quality.

We also spent time in the Research Section which was not open at the weekend. We looked at "Goldtown" by Philip Ross May published by Pegasus 1962 (guide price $45 according to John) but the other one we had been recommended "The West Coast Goldfields" by Phillip Ross May pub Pegasus 62 rev 67 (GP $125) had gone for rebinding. We also bought a copy of "Banking Under Difficulties or Life on the Goldfields" by G O Preshaw published first in 1888 and reprinted by Capper Reprints in 1971.

The archives were very interesting, like many they are primarily oriented to the lucrative genealogy market, but has one of the best indexed set of old pictures we have found, 10,000 in total with photocopies of every one and a cross reference index by heading such as 'Gold Mining' and 'Dredges'. The indexing has largely blocked the photocopies into headings which should make it possible to locate the sources of pictures when we require them for further research and reference (hokimuseum@xtra.co.nz). The archivist whose name we failed to get was most helpful.

As an aside we found a brochure outside the reference section title Uniquely New Zealand and discovered that our web site title has been hijacked by the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, for her latest newsletter celebrating cultural recovery in Aotearoa. It is fortunate we have www.uniquelynz.com registered as proof of prior use. It is also fortunate that it has only been used as a 'sound bite' and the contents bear little relation to the title hopefully avoiding any future overlaps.

We then had a quick look down at the Hokitika quay Click for larger image, lookout station and custom house to try to visualise how it had been in the heyday as the port of entry to Westland for most of the miners. We looked out at the surf breaking over the bar and easily visualise how 42 ships were completely wrecked. Many more went aground and were left high and dry - most were raised on jacks and winched and hauled over the sandbar to be re-floated undamaged in the harbour. It was jokingly referred to as 'taking the land route' (check exact wording on video).

We had a look at a book shop which John recommended for buying a copy of Goldtown but the copy was in better condition than we needed and a higher price than we were prepared to pay until we had done some checks - it was nearly twice his guide price. The book shop (Take Note) is run by the well known Bruce Watson who operates a service for locating old books of the West Coast (takenote.hokitika@xtra.co.nz).

By now we were running late so we rang ahead to the campsite at Murchison and secured a cabin so we could take our time on route. We stopped in Greymouth for an Internet cafe, food and to check out the bookshops where we found a copy of Goldtown at $60 in Q books which we rejected as it was in very bad condition - pages and the cover torn and repaired with selotape.

On the way along the coast road from Greymouth to Westport we, quite by chance, came upon a sign advertising a Goldfield. It turned out to some of the old workings at Charleston, one of the most successful Goldfields of the West Coast which produced 4,000,000 oz of gold between 1866 and 1914. More recently, in the 1970s, it was reopened on a small scale and worked for 14 years. It scarcely paid the couple who were operating it and they stopped operations but you can look round their workings and walk through some of the old adits.

They have a water Click for larger imagewheel operated Stamper battery which was undergoing maintenance whilst we were there. It only takes about 30 minutes to walk round - we Click for larger imagewere guided by a small but very vociferous goat called Maggie. We gained a very good impression of what was, and still is, involved in a small scale mining activity. The only major difference in what they were doing was that originally the ore was mined from adits into the hillside whilst the later operation used diggers to remove the soil and rock above to reach the remaining 'cement' which was left between the tunnels in the area.

The ore being processed is unusual in that the gold is Click for larger image trapped in a cement so is not strictly alluvial and has to be separated by Stampers as with quartz ore. During the ice ages quartz carrying gold was washed into the sea where it was ground into minute particles. The currents along the coast built it into terraces, in this case with sand having a high (20%) iron content. The rusting of the iron cemented the gold and sand together. These gold bearing terraces have been further compressed and are now left well above the current sea level and covered by layers of sediment and soil.

The 'cement' was dug out by hand, loaded into trolleys and wheeled to Stamper batteries in the same way quartz was treated. The crushed sand and gold that was released was washed through very fine screens and the gold collected on mercury coated copper plates, just as with many quartz batteries and any remaining gold collected on blankets. The extraction in the recent period was one oz per 20 tons through the Stampers and the original method of separation of the gold from the amalgam in a retort was used. The Stamper could only treat 20 tons per week so a home made roller mill was used to increase the throughput to 20 tons per day which was still scarcely economic due to the high wear on the diggers hence the closure after 14 years - however the licences still remains in force and production could be restarted if more economic techniques are developed.

We stayed in one of the old PWD (Public Works Click for larger image Department) cabins in Murchison, they were left over from when the power lines were Click for larger image being installed to take power from the hydroelectric schemes in South Island to the consumers in North Island. The camp site is in a lovely setting on the banks of the Buller and has a large swimming hole in an eddy - this time it was too cold, added to which one could see the sand flies being marshalled into squadrons and wings stacked into sun ready for the first person to emerge from the water with their deterrent washed off.

In the morning we tried to make contact with Pauline's friend in Takaka without success so we decided to ring ahead to an old favourite, the Te Mahia Bay Resort in the Marlborough Sounds, Click for larger imageactually it is on Kenipuru Sounds, and were delighted to find they had a room for a couple of nights. We have used it as a base in the Marlborough Sounds several times. They have a small number of motel rooms (11) and a similar number of caravan and tent sites in a spectacular setting on Kenipuna Sound. Click for larger image We always remember the first time we came - after a while we went back to reception and said "you forgot to give us the key" - the answer was the key had gone missing 3 years before and nobody ever locked anything up anyway! The 'units' in the old building, which we prefer, are actually rambling suites with several bedrooms kitchens, lounges bathroom etc - the first time we thought the interconnecting doors were open but were told it was all ours. Everything is provided, from fridge freezers and Bodems in the kitchen to big baskets of towels covered in fresh rosemary in the bedrooms. It is very much like being in somebody's home with old pictures on the walls and flowers in the vases.

The Te Mahia Bay Resort goes back to 1900 and they have a large number of pictures showing the history but they had nothing in writing. We quizzed the owners and it was extended to have a double level set of rooms in a large wing in 1930 and the main residence gained an extra floor in 1948. There are some good pictures of it in that configuration and in excellent condition taken in 1955. It then got very run down and the end block was deliberately burnt down. More recently a new luxury block has been built slightly further back on the site of the old tennis court. Te Mahia translates as "indistinct sounds" which is very appropriate.

They have lots of Kayaks and a couple of 'Tinnies' with outboards if you want to go exploring or fishing and a comprehensive library if you want to do nothing. The shop has a sensible collection of food, including big tubs of ice-cream, so that there is no real need to leave for provisions during a stay. You can also take a water taxi if you fancy eating out. Many groups return every year at the same time and they never need to advertise (70% repeat business) so they can be difficult to find unless you pass by.

We booked in for two days and settled back to enjoy ourselves. The fishing gear was unpacked for the first time as there is a wharf at the end of their private beach for water taxis. Many of the houses in the Sounds are only accessible from the sea so water taxis are an essential part of life. The fishing gear was all in perfect condition thanks to some magic gunk we had sprayed everything with. We only caught a couple of Jack Mackerel and Spotties, fish most suitable for bait, but it did prove everything was still working.

The first morning was clear blue but with a visible swell so we decided to take out one of the resorts tinnies with an outboard rather than a kayak to explore the area - it was quite choppy at times so we did not go as far as Portage, our original target but overall an enjoyable trip. Unfortunately we had another female outboard which ran out of fuel at the furthest point in the choppiest seas - there was a spare can! She then ran out again just short of Te Mahia in front of everyone - typical. We had a troll out most of the way but not a sign of fish so it was a good job we had some food.

The following morning was again clear blue and very still so we thought we would take the Sea Kayaks for a couple of hours. They are the sit-on sealed type and surprisingly stable. We worked our way out past a series of tiny bays with golden sands nestling in the bush covered hillside. The large ones had houses or cribs and the smallest were deserted with mussel and oyster coated rocks at either end. The smallest were perfect miniature bays with sandy beaches hardly long enough to put two kayaks end to end. We went out far enough to round a couple of fascinating shaped islands before working our way back in and out of the bays and rocks.

Phil came out to join us in the evening and it was then an early start in the morning for the ferry - check in was 0900 and the although journey to Picton is only an hour it seems much more as the roads are very narrow and tortuous with the additional excitement of the occasional high speed logging truck on a blind corner.

Unfortunately the early ferry precluded going to look at the Edwin Fox Click for larger imagebut we met up with a group of people returning from a Model T ford rally in Nelson with three beautiful models from a 1914 with acetylene and gasoline lights to a 1926 model with electric starter. One of the owners has 14 in various states of repair and another had a comprehensive collection of vehicles that has not only included almost every model of Jaguar and a Cord but also owned, at one point, more Tanks than the New Zealand army. It is worrying that we no longer find such meetings and discussions unusual in New Zealand!

Introduction and Summary | Auckland, Waiheke, Rotorua, Ohakune | Napier, Gisborne, Wellington | Marlborough, Abel Tasman, Reefton, Lewis Pass | Christchurch, Mt Somers, Lakes, Otago | Queenstown, Wanaka, Christchurch, West Coast, Sounds | Whanganui, Taranaki, Coromandel | Sailing: Hauraki Gulf to Bay of Islands | Kauri Coast, Northland, Russell | "Uniquely New Zealand"  

Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003