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Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 6

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

It was a very smooth crossing and gave us the chance to complete the last newsletter ready to send out. Once in Wellington we drove straight to Te Papa, My Place, the national museum. I have written extensively about it and in particular the Maori culture and Treaty of Waitangi sections - it is the sort of museum you love or hate, no stuffed birds and dry exhibits but some think it goes too far the other way with plastic copies and audio/video not giving enough original feel. Anyway we went for the Lord of the Rings Exhibition for which Te Papa did seem an appropriate site.

The exhibition, unlike the rest of the museum which is free, was probably one of the more expensive visits we have made although not compared to UK prices. It was actually much more interesting and well presented than I had expected. It certainly showed the phenomenal amount of preparation and research done for the film and the techniques used to distort the scale and in digital simulation were very interesting. Each 'section' covering a character, place, technique etc., had a number of static exhibits of artefacts from the film and a number of short videos which could be watched giving insight into the particular techniques used, introduced by the producer then followed up the staff responsible. It all worked very well and we spent just under two hours to work round everything - you might need longer if it was very busy but it would be difficult to do it justice and see all the video clips in under one and a half hours.

We then went virtually straight to Palmerston North to stay with Garry and Sally. We left Wellington ahead of the rush but stopped at an interesting looking bookshop called Archway in a small town on the way out of Wellington on highway 1 - we bought several books but it cost us time and we ended up in a crawl for 15 km so we did not end up at Palmerston North till 1900.

The late arrival was a bit of a problem because it limit dour time to chat as they were away early the following morning and because one of the reasons we stopped was to discuss how they could make some internal changes to the web site for their motel - externally it looks very good but, as ever, a few short cuts have been taken which reduce their search engine ratings. If you look at Camelot Motor Lodge you will see why we stop there for one of our few nights of luxury away from camping and cabins.

We then headed towards Wanganui stopping briefly to look round Bulls, a town of puns. The police station is marked a Constibulls and the antique shops are Collectibulls and so it goes on.

We got to Wanganui in time to have a quick look round the Riverboat museum Click for larger imageand to check when we were due to have a look at the Wairua which is just completing its restoration, a task which has taken over a decade since she was rescued from under the river mud in 1987. We were fortunate to find that Dave, one of the four carrying out Click for larger imagethe restoration, was behind the desk in his other role of manager of the museum and the magnificently restored Waimarie. He and the others involved with the Wairua also did much of the work on the Waimarie, one reason why the work on the Wairua has taken so long. We arranged to meet Dave and Cameron McNeil, who has the excellent web site covering the Whanganui Riverboats with has lots of pictures, both historic and recent , the following afternoon so we could see the progress made to date.

Click for larger image The following morning, whilst waiting to Click for larger imageget to see the Wairua we did part of one of the Heritage Trails to the west of Wanganui firstly finding the Bason Botanical Reserve. It had a huge area of beautifully laid out gardens and a number of hothouses full of tropical plants including an excellent collection of orchids, all free and unsupervised. The car park was empty and only one other group came into the gardens whilst we were there - it seems it had been set up with a gift of the land and a trust to set it all up.It was sad it was so empty on a Sunday although there were a lot of people in the associated picnic area Click for larger imageby the river where it looked as if it was a school sports day as we could look down on egg and spoon races and three legged races. It was very clear and at one point we could see the central alps in one direction and Taranaki in the other. We stopped at a historic blockhouse, one of many built at the time of the Land Wars in Taranaki, now fully restored by the Historic Places Trust - it is open for all to see.

It was then to the highlight of the visit, to look at the Wairua.The Wairua was one of two identical boats Click for larger imagebuilt by Yarrow and Co of Poplar, London. They were steam driven with a compound engine by Simpson, Strickland and Co of Dartmouth providing 66 horsepower. Steam was from a Thorneycroft water tube boiler and propulsion was from a single screw mounted in a tunnel with a novel lifting Click for larger imageflap arrangement which allowed efficient use at low and high power. The vessels were 65 feet long and 8 foot beam with a maximum draught of only 15 inches. They were used on the Houseboat to Pipiriki section. Th steam power plant was latter replaced by a Thorneycroft oil engine of 70 horsepower in 1914. She was laid up in 1937 and used as a fender at Hatrick's Wharf where she sunk into the mud in the 1950s

She was rescued from the mud in 1987 and since then a dedicated Click for larger imagegroup of 4 people have been gradually restoring her. Dave was already there when we arrived with Cameron to look over the work and another of the owners Mark Campbell turned up shortly after. We were surprised how close to completion she was, only engine controls, some wiring and the fitting of a new hydraulic drive and winch were outstanding in major work, perhaps 250 hours work left to get her into the water. It has been a major effort to get so far, especially as the owners were diverted into doing much of the restoration of the Waimarie and by their work as trustees.

Almost the whole hull has had to be replated. The original plating was only 3 mm or less thick and heavily galvanised. It was then riveted in place with sealant between the plates - when they were removed the metals was still shiny and galvanised in the overlaps and on the frames. The original plating and structure was designed to give and dent if necessary in the rapids - repairs were easy and special bolts were carried to replace any 'popped' rivets. They have been forced to use thicker plating to satisfy the new marine standards with the bottom now being 5 mm steel and the sides similarly beefed up. Time will tell if this will lead to troubles as they hope to take her on trips through at least the lower rapids. She will also, of course, be considerably heavier and the addition plating thickness will increase her draught by over 10%. In the old days the boats were designed to be replated every 25 years so the replacing of plating would otherwise be counted as routine maintenance.

They are fitting a Gardner Diesel Click for larger image of the correct horsepower, although built in the 1950s, it is to a 1932 design compatible withthe operating life of theClick for larger image Wairua - Gardners were fitted to other riverboats in the mid 1930s so it seems an excellent and appropriate choice for a replacement engine. The standard of the work and the attention to detail is incredible with even the rope fenders being 'woven' as close as possible to the original designs using early photographs and drawings and sets of hardwood chairs and tables, all individually made ,are waiting for the day when she starts operation. We took far too much of Dave and Marks valuable time talking and we learned a lot more about the riverboats, their restoration and their operation. I will try to write it up more fully on the web site as with some of the information we gleaned from Cameron when we joined him for tea afterwards.

We stayed at Castlecliff in an excellent old style holiday park where we found an ensuite cabin fully equiped for $35. Click for larger imageThe first task in the morning was to find a dentist for Pauline, a filling had fallen out. The first one we tried found time to check and replace it on the spot and she was out within 30 minutes at a cost of less than a months membership of Denplan!

We then worked our way to the Whanganui Regional Museum to look, in particular, at the Canoes. We had been told that the biggest of the Wakas on display had been one of the Canoes, the Wakanui (Big Canoe) used by Hatrick for the services on the upper reaches of the Whanganui. It did not turn out to be quite that simple and we could not see the canoe as the area was closed for new lighting to be installed and we could not personally confirm that what is exhibited as a 200 year old war Waka complete with bullet holes also had evidence of engine mountings and a hole for a propeller shaft.

We persuaded the Archivist to let us look at some of the records and after a couple of hours looking through the files it looks as if the Waka on display is not the one donated in April 1939 to the museum by Hatrick but we found reference in their archives to it having been leased to him at some point as a motorised canoe, which must have been before 1909 when the museum records about it commence. It could have been before he purchased the similar sized Wakanui in December 1905 which was ultimately donated to the Museum in April 1939. the archivist was unable to find any records of the donation or the Wakanui although we are assured that they exist elsewhere and is referenced in books we own. This raises some interesting questions of how you lose a Waka 66 feet long. We hope this may stimulate somebody to look further into this interesting phase in the history of the Waka on display and perhaps to the re-discovery of the Wakanui. It should then be restored to the state it was in when it played an important part in the river services when the steamers were unable to run. It would provide the perfect contrast to the original warlike purpose and the eventual peaceful use - the classic swords re-forged into ploughshares.

In the afternoon we went up the river road from Wanganui to Pipiriki - There are a lot of places of interest Click for larger imageon the road which are covered in information sheets available at the Information offices at Taumarunui, Pipiriki and Wanganui - there are also boards at either end and signs to further Click for larger imagecomprehensive boards at most of the main points of interest. We have done the journey before (and covered it) in previous newsletters so we mainly looked for things we had missed last time round. It is an excellent run but the roads are not in good condition so it takes quite a long time especially if you look at everything.

When we reached Pipiriki Click for larger imagewe were disappointed to find the deterioration of the Ongarue has continued - we have heard rumours that any work has been stalled by specious objections by Maori activists which DOC do not have the guts to confront. We have been told similar disputes, in that case between Maori tribes, have led to the defeat of all attempts to rebuild the Pipiriki Hotel - we can confirm that it is now an empty and vandalised concrete shell.

We stopped the night at a campsite at Raetihi, a town which we had only driven through before. The site which is owned by the Ruapehu District Council site has been recently upgraded with new cabins and a very comprehensively equipped kitchen block going with them, everything one needs and even digitally controlled hobs - it justifies far more than a **+ rating and is charging to match. One feature was that they have a glow worm walk just below the site on the edge of their big tent area - some of the glow worms were so bright that you could still see the green light when shining a torch on them.

In the morning we went the short distance to Ohakune to try to make contact with Simon Dixon to set up some canoeing. Whilst waiting we tried to get the laptop connected to the internet for Pauline's teaching. None of the normal internet cafes could provide a telephone line or network connection so, at the suggestion of the lady in the information office, we tried the library. After a few minutes conversation she was very happy to let us use her line and even cleared a section of her desk and refused payment although we finally persuaded her to take some gold coins for their new book fund - where else but NZ would that happen.

We had hoped the wind would drop and the clouds clear so we could go up the cable car onto Ruapehu but it was not to be so we decided on a short run to Taumarunui and a look round the town which was the end of the river boat service and the link with the railway. On route we pulled off to look at a magnificent engineering feat in the form of the Click for larger imageManganui-a-te-ao railway viaduct and then the 'last spike' monument which had information boards on the construction and opening of the main trunk railway. The railway was started in 1864 and the last link was the Manganui-a-te-ao Viaduct we had been looking at which passed the first special train on 3 Aug 1908, 44 years to construct. The problem is the terrain and not only were many tunnels needed but there were sections such as at Featherston where special 'Fell' engines with a rack and pinion drive had to be attached to trains and at Raurimu a spiral (close to Taumarunui) was cut into the hill so the train zigzagged then spiralled up and out of the hillside. Before the main trunk line opened fully in 1909 the riverboat service on the Whanganui formed an integral and essential part of the tourist route from Auckland to Wellington.

We stayed at the Taumarunui Holiday Park 3 km outside Taumarunui, we were passing it as the Americas Cup race was entering the final stage so we quickly checked in and rushed into the TV lounge just in time to see the end - another defeat for Team New Zealand. The site was good and we quickly found they had a forest walk round it and the Whanganui at the bottom of the grounds with another walk along the river the Cherry Grove where the riverboats moored in Taumarunui. In the morning the owner let us use his telephone line to sort out Pauline's teaching and again we had to insist we offered some recompense.

We checked out the bookshops in town then took the SH43 across to Stratford. This is a superb scenic road which the subject of the first of the Heritage trails in 1990. It has more recently been labelled the 'The Forgotten Highway' on many of the boards. We have the original Heritage Trail booklet 'Taranaki and SH43' covering the SH43 and a few other less memorable trails. They should be available at Information Offices but were in short supply possibly due to the renaming but we found a Xeroxed sheet titled 'The Lost World Highway' in Taumarunui! There are however big introductory boards at either end and signs to further comprehensive boards at most of the main points of interest. We also have a comprehensive write up on the web site from previously doing the journey a couple of times. This time we mainly looked for things we had missed last time round and have written them up to augment the existing information.

The first new exploration was the Te Maire Reserve - we took a 10 minute walk to reach a loop walk which takes a further one hour forty minutes to complete. it is a very good condition path making an excellent forest walk through Podocarps but with so much undergrowth growing on and up all the trees it is reminiscent of the 'goblin forest' round Mountain House at Mt Egmont (Taranaki).

The Otunui River Boat Landing has a new canoe landing below the picnic area. The old landing can not be seen any more although you can still get to the original location via a derelict style and a walk through the - I could see no trace other than signs of an old track down.

We had lunch at the Ohinepane DOC camp site for old times sake - it was where we first learnt about the Whanganui Journey and through it our interest in the Whanganui. The campsite was deserted other than a DOC worker mowing the grass.

We looked for the Aukopae River boat landing down a side road. There was no obvious sign at the roadside as promised and it was difficult to locate the location as everything is overgrown. We proceeded another 6 kms down the road (more a farmers track) to where the book said the Nukuuka Museum was located but all we could find was a cut down heritage trail sign and a few rusty relics in a field with nobody around, the only thing of interest was a bit of old Waka upright above an old tomb stone which we thought read the revered Richard Taylor. A few days latter we were reading one of the books on the Whanganui and realised it probably was the gravestone of the famous Reverend Richard Taylor who did so much with Maori including helping them name all the Kainga (villages) with anglicised names such as Ranana (London) and Koriniti (Corinth). His mediation and influence was largely instrumental in allowing the Whanganui to be opened up. We wish we had taken a picture.

We walked up to Nevin's Lookout, about five minutes, to a magnificent 360 degree view even with relatively low cloud base. With good visibility it would be spectacular. We did not go to Mount Damper Falls as we met some people who had been three the previous day told us there was barely a trick coming over the falls. We did however go to the ghost village Tangarakau, 6 km from the main road. The village was set up in 1925 for railway workers and their families. It quickly grew to a population of 1200 with a full street of shops. It's life was extended for a few years by work on power lines but then it quickly declined and now there is nothing left to show - the current population in the area is 8 probably the owners of the adjacent and very deserted campsite.

We drove slowly through Whangamomona, another near ghost town which we explored on previous trips. It first gained fame for tipping the Prime Minister of the time, Dick Seddon into a deep and muddy pothole to bring attention to the state of the road. Further notoriety was gained in 1989 the village declared itself a Republic to protest about boundary changes in regional government removing it from Taranaki. It still holds Republic day celebrations on the Saturday closest to 1st November. As we passed there was a big sign saying the President was holding court in the Hotel. We were tempted to stop and seek an audience.

The road is 150 km long and sealed for all but 12 kms in the middle but cuts across the grain of the land crossing a succession of saddles. We stopped to look at the views from most of the major saddles: the Tahora, Whangamomona, Pohokura and Strathmore Saddles, they alone made the journey worthwhile. It is claimed it can be done in two and a half hours but it took us over double that with a few side trips and stops at view points and to read the boards. If one included the other diversions to places such as the Damper Falls and a couple of walks one could easily spend two days however note there is little accommodation and no petrol from end to end.

After we had completed the trail at Stratford we hurried on to Mountain House for a couple of days. It is sited at 876m not far below Stratford Plateau, one of the only three road entry points to Mt Egmont. We had arranged to meet up with Phil to do some of the walks in the area and introduce him to one of our favourite places to stay in New Zealand and we were greeted as old friends by Berta. Unfortunately shortly after we got there we heard from Berta that Keith had died a few weeks before in a car accident - a Swiss car had been travelling on the wrong side of the road just below Mountain House and hit him head on one of the corners.

We have described the incredible location, the superb food, the wines and the walks before several times in the newsletters before so this time we will only cover the longest walk we have done in the area, in fact probably the most challenging walk we regret to admit we have done for several years. There are a series of walks of different lengths from both Mountain House and from the next entry point at Dawson Falls. Phil was keen on a longer walk and there were a number of possibilities on the information sheets so we sought advice from Berta taking into account weather conditions and she suggested that we took the lower level route to Dawson Falls along the Waingongoro Track, up to Wilkies Pools and back along the upper Round the Mountain track to the Plateau and back down to Mountain House.

The Waingongoro Track was common to walks we had done for the first half an hour to where we had previously turned up the Enchanted walk to the Plateau. After that the hour and a half to Dawson Falls was new and involved several river crossings, at the first of which Pete slipped and ended up somewhat wet but still holding the video out of water - he is still typing this with less fingers than usual as three got a bit twisted and have turned all sorts of shades of blue, red and yellow. Although movement is slowly returning it made the rest of the walk more challenging with only one hand to hold on with.

The most memorable part was perhaps the swing bridge,Click for larger image a flimsy contraption of wires holding up a series of cross bars forming a walkway with only a bit of wire mesh to add confidence. You look straight down to a rocky stream bed far below as you careful inch you way across - fortunately there was little wind otherwise they do not so much swing but sway and writhe like two drunken snakes hung across the river. This swing bridge is certainly not the longest at 26.5m but supposed to one of the highest at 29m - it certainly looked a long way down as on carefully placed ones boots on the 8 inch wide strips and clutched the two waist high suspension wires and inched across. Not surprisingly there is a faded notice suggesting only one person crosses at a time.

After that the remaining river crossings were tame and we seemed to soon be back on familiar tracks from Dawson Falls. We recovered with lunch under cover at the hut outside the visitor centre whilst a storm went by. The visitors centre has some of the worst presentation of information I have ever seen - some examples are white print on a background of tussock grass and other low contrast combinations and information displayed at 45 degree angles to the horizontal so you have turn your head on its side to read it. The maps are without scales and in random orientations so the two maps of the local walks bear no obvious relation two each other. The original information, probably written by the staff, is fine but it is almost impossible to interpret. It was probably some misguided attempt to employ contractors to Jazz Up the displays at vast cost. I took pictures last time as example for my customers of what not do! Perhaps the point of most concern is that there is no information, such as times or distances or difficulty, in the area which would allow visitors to plan even local walks when the desk is closed, presumably there is a policy that you have buy the information. It is so bad the staff have chalked up instructions on how to find the Falls for people when the office is closed!

We used our exiting information and followed the Kapuni tracks to the Falls and to keep fit walked to bottom and back up. We then started the steady climb initially up to Wilkies Pools but via the Konini Dell walk which we had not done before. After scrambling up past the pools and taking a few more pictures of the smoothly sculptured rocks forming the falls from pool to poll we returned to join the Around the Mountain Track to continue the climb (circa 1000') to the Stratford Plateau. We then dropped down a little on the road before joining the East side of the Patea loop track to return to Mountain House. It took us just under 6 hours including a stop for lunch and the extra trip of three quarters of an hour to Dawson Falls which was perhaps slightly better than the timings in the DOC leaflets and reasonably consistent with the timings in the Mountain House leaflet. That was not an indication of fitness as we could hardly move by the end of the evening despite serious attempts at lubrication including the last bottle of Cloudy Bay Te Koko to celebrate our return. Phil looked disgusting unaffected and started surreptitious looking at the map of how to climb to the summit (8260'). It was fortunately covered in cloud and steady rain the following morning.

We tried a new route to get to Taumarunui when we left Egmont, we went North from Stratford towards New Plymouth, then on the SH40 - it turned out to be a much less memorable road with more gravel than the SH43 and overall it took longer - not recommended.

Click for larger imageWe stopped overnight on the edge of Lake Taupo at the camp site at Motutere Bay as a convenient point to break the journey to the Coromandel and it allowed us to have a quick look at the Waireka, which is now based on the Waikato River doing trips to the bottom of Huka falls. Click for larger imageWe had such a trip a few years ago when she was based at the Prawn Farm. She has been extensively changed from the old days and is no longer a tunnel drive boat but has side paddle wheels driven separately through hydraulic drives giving tremendous manoeuvrability. We could not get on board but we took some pictures.

We then carried on straight to the Coromandel. We went to Thames Click for larger imagefor provisions but were determined to get some proper camping that night. We looked in at the Thames School of Mines and Museum. Click for larger imageThe School has been shut to normal access because of Health and Safety concerns but we got an excellent guided tour by Christine Haley the curator.

As well as a look over all the sections of the School of Mines we also got to see the office of the previous curator who was working there to his death at 88, cycling in two or three days a week. We met him just Click for larger imagebefore his death and he was a fund of information and a real character. Christine told us lots of stories about him and what was found when he died and they were clearing up and the artefacts that were in safe keeping.

We then went to Broken Hills to camp for the night, a site we have used several times before, Click for larger imagein the middle of one of the old goldmining areas with a number of walks - we have described the site and them before so I will not bore people again. It was however a lovely evening, absolutely calm with the evening light illuminating the towering rocks above us whilst we listened to the bird song and the whispering water of the stream below. We fired up the Red Devil (our camping barbecue/oven) and settled back with a bottle of the Selaks Gewurztraminer. The site was surprisingly empty for a Saturday with only five groups spread throughout the site which has that many 'paddocks'. It was great to get back to basic camping in one our favourite DOC sites after so much windy or wet weather.

By the morning the weather had changed and there was a gentle drizzle although it was still without wind - bad for the racing in the gulf but good for us. The rain was so light we did not even need waterproofs while packing up although we did sit in the empty tent to enjoy our coffee and cereal. By the time we had travelled for a couple of hours up the East coast the sun was out and we spread out the groundsheet and tent while Pete had a swim and then lunch and it dried before our eyes, we were turning it over in five minutes the sun was so hot.

We then crossed to the East coast and up the past Coromandel town and Colville onto the Click for larger imagegravel roads to Fantail Bay, another of our favourite DOC camp sites. The site is like an amphitheatre stepping down the valley towards the sea. It was Click for larger image fuller than we had expected on a Sunday evening, mostly people in big converted buses and tent complexes all with tinnies or other boats for the fishing. Fishing seems to be good this year, people seemed to be getting plenty of pan sized Snapper in a few minutes of the boats, although we had less luck off the rocks. One of the people with a large bus offered to lend us his rubber dingy and outboard, all brand new, and obviously his pride and joy. It was very difficult to decline, which we had to as we had to move on during the day and there would have been nothing we could do to reciprocate. Where else but NZ would you ever get that sort of offer?

We tried briefly at the wharf down the road from Fantail without luck and it was then time to head for Auckland, with just a brief stop at a bookshop called Bookish where we found several bargains, and a stay overnight at Thames. It was then straight on to stay with Chris and Ralph to pack for sailing. We went over to see Rob at Charterlink and the weather had been so bad that the previous group hiring Largesse had given up and gone and another group were stranded in the Coromandel with 55 knot winds. It did give us the chance to load some of our kit a bit earlier after which we met up with Phil in town and went round the National Maritime Museum. We saw Larry whilst we were there and dropped in the information on the Spar Torpedo Boat Museum at Lyttelton.

Top of Page 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"  Top of Page

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