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Touring New Zealand 2005 - Part 3

On our way out of Auckland heading South we went to a museum we have not visited for many years, namely MOTAT, a Steam, Aviation and Transport museum. The main museum is sited round the Steam Driven Beam engines which used to pump all of Auckland's water from the Western Springs. The additional sections include a tram museum with working tram line to the Zoo, Steam locomotives, a station and a Victorian village. We looked round much of the site but concentrated our time in a couple of areas, firstly the Victorian Village which we had neglected on our earlier visit. Each time we learn something new and this visit it was the two 'fencibles' cottages which had been moved to the site. The Fencibles were a defense force for Auckland comprised of retired servicemen from the UK who were provided with cottages such as those in the Victorian Village and were guarenteed employment for a period in exchange for their services as a part time 'home guard' against the increasing risks of an attack by Maori. After 7 years they had ownership of the cottages.

Another area where we spent considerable time was the Aviation Pioneers Pavilion which mainly covers Jean Batten, one of the most famous early women pioneers who at one point simultaneously held records for solo flights between the UK and Australia/New Zealand. What interested us even more were the displays on Richard Pearse especially as we had just bought the book, "The Riddle of Richard Pearse - hundredth anniversary edition" by Gordon Ogilvie (4th edition published Reed, 2003 ISBN 0 7900 0329 5) in a sale in PaperPlus just round the corner from Christine's house. It is a fascinating story as perplexing and poignant as anything from fiction. Richard Pearse was a self taught backyard mechanic from a remote New Zealand farm with little or no contact with any technology current at the time. Despite that he designed and built a flying machine and lightweight engine and was one of the first to accomplish a powered takeoff. He kept no records but the date was almost certainly the 31st March 1903, many months before the Wright brothers famous flights. He however never claimed to have achieved sustained and controlled powered flight at that time nor did he count the initial Wright Brothers flights 6 months later as satisfying his strict criteria of flight.

Richard Pearse was almost totally isolated from the development of aviation and had no influence over it. With no training and nothing other than a few library books and popular magazines to work from he developed his own lightweight engine with one of the highest power to weight ratios achieved at the time. Everything was made from scrap or commonly available materials and the only input may have been in the design of a spark plug from a mechanic in Timaru - there were no internal combustion engines in his area and much of the design followed steam engine practice. The engine was unique in being double acting with combustion taking place below and above the cylinder. Pearse's specification in his patent application states "The engine has two cylinders which are opposed to each other and I constructed four end pieces in which are fitted the valves and cylinders. The pistons are fittted on each end of a single piston rod, and the piston rod is passed through the two end pieces of the cylinders. The cylinder ends are fitted with stuffing boxes, which prevent any leakage, similar to those of a steam engine. The two cylinders take in and explode mixture at both their ends, and as the cylinders are double acting, there will be two explosions to each revolution, and by this means, idle stokes will be avoided." The cylinders were made from lengths of 10 cm irrigation pipe and the pistons hand lathed.

Despite its unique design and basic construction it achieved a weight to power ratio of only 5 pounds per horsepower compared to 20 pounds per horsepower of most engines of the time and at a conservative estimate provided 15 hp whilst that of the Wright brothers was 12 hp. It seems to have been highly reliable although noisy and resembled a chaff cutter in its note and drove a propellor mounted directly on the crankshaft. The aircraft itself was made of canvas covered bamboo and had a steerable tricycle undercarriage. Control was by an elevator on the back of the wing and by small flaps on the top of the wings more closely resembling ailerons than the wing warping arrangement of the Wright Bros. Overall the arrangement was remarkably similar to that adopted as standard to this day although he was completely isolated from any developments in aviation. This work was never published other than a patent application in 1906 and a few letters to local papers much later. As time went on he became progressively more secretive. There were however a number of witnesses still alive when in the 1970s the value of his work was first recognised and there is no doubt that he made a number of self power takeoffs, most of which left the machine suspended well above the ground in his overgrown hedges. The dates are less certain but all the evidence is that his first and well witnessed flight was the day before April Fools day in 1903. The above has only given an introduction to the enigma of Richard Pearse, he also built his own motor bikes, patented novel bicycles, invented farm machinery and designed and almost completed built a novel folding vertical take-off aircraft for popular use.

The remainder of the aviation section is on a separate site and is dominated by a Solent flying boat which overshadows even their Lancaster. There was a Kittyhawk dwarfed under a wing of the Solent. The Kittyhawk, an American built fighter, was used extensively in the Pacific in WWII, and we had not seen it before. The Solent is still in the state it was retired from service with TEAL airways, even down to the tables laid in first class.

We were fortunate that it was also the day that volunteers work on their aircraft and we had a chance to look round the maintenance hanger and speak with Bill Hallowell who was working on the Mosquito and go onboard the Sunderland which is parked outside - some corrosion is being repaired by riveting in replacement dural panels prior to a move providing space for a new hanger which will house it. Overall a very good display with lots of information. If you go to MOTAT note that AA members get a considerable discount as with many other NZ tourist attractions.

We ended up spending most of the day at MOTAT and our intention had been to go to the Coromandel and camp at Broken Hills, a DOC site in the middle of an old gold mining area with lots of artifacts and walks. However as we approached the Coromandel we could see the clouds right down on the hills and big storms and heavy rain in the valleys. We therefore diverted to Thames and stayed at Dicksons Holiday Park another favourite site in a kitchen cabin. Dicksons camp site is just north of Thames - economical, friendly and well placed for us to go round Thames the following day.

We stayed for two days to give us the chance to do Rocky's walk, a three hour vigourous walk to a viewpoint at 359 metres and descent on an old miners trail past lots of old adits (tunnels). We did not go far into the tunnels as we did not know how safe they were - we did penetrate a few metres to see some gigantic Wetas with antennae which must have been close to 6 inches long. The track is clearly marked but walking shoes or boots are a must as the descents are steep and slippery and there are many crossings of streams with slippery rocks. We made the ascent in just under an hour and took 3 hours 5 minutes for the round trip, a little slower than marked but we did spend some time taking photographs and exploring.

The other reason we stayed an extra day at Thames was that we had booked a tour round the Martha Gold Mine at Waihi. We have tried several times before to look at the fabled Martha's Mine but they have always been booked up several days ahead. The Martha Gold Mine at Waihi produced a huge amount of gold by mining to depths of 600 metres up to 1952 and was then reopened using open-cast mining in a huge pit which is now 600 metres across and approaching 200 metres deep. The Martha mine produced over 5,600,000 oz of gold in the period from 1879 to 1952 and over 1,000,000 more in the first 12 years after it was reopened for open cast mining. We bought a copy of "Gold Mining at Waihi 1878-1952" by J B McAra, (published by Martha Press 1988 edition, ISBN 0-908596-29-4) in the information office last year. This is a fascinating and definitive, if somewhat repetitive, account of the early days by an ex mine manager and battery superintendant at Waihi who then became Inspector of Mines for the Hauraki area for 19 years before retiring. If you want one then the information office is the place as they sell them for $35 whilst we have otherwise only seen them second hand at $55 -$75 if in reasonable condition.

The tour met at the information office in Waihi and first took us to the viewing point where we watched a steady stream of massive trucks carrying 85 tons being filled by 4-5 scoops from backhoes and crawling slowly up to the crushing plant. In places one can see the old adits in the sides of the pit, tiny in contrast to the machinery at work now. The waste rock and tailings from processing is then carried by conveyor to a tailings area several kms away and we followed parts of the route in the tour to look at the processing plant which was much smaller than we had expected - perhaps our expectations had been set by seeing the vast facilities in Australia a few months ago at Roxby Downs. The current production is about 100,000 oz of gold and 700,000 oz of silver a year worth $50,000,000 a year, most of which is returned to the New Zealand economy.

The final visit was to the waste rock embankments where the waste rock and tailings from processing form two huge hills with lakes on top where the tailings, that is the sludge from the gold extraction process, is stored in a shallow lake where the Ultra Violet from the Sun gradually breaks down the cyanide from the processing into harmless compounds. The rocks from the conveyor are carried by even larger dumper trucks than used in the mine, loaded they weigh in at nearly 250 tons and tyres cost $16,000 each.

Every attempt is made to make the process environmentally friendly and have a low impact on the neighbourhood - most of the information on the tour covered those aspects rather than the technical details we had hoped for. The huge waste rock embankments, or what in the UK we call slag heaps, are being progressively restored to farming land. The tailings disposal area will be rehabilitated to form wetlands and the pit turned into a recreational lake and parklands over a period of ten years after mining stops in 2007 - it is presumably too expensive to refill it with the waste rock.

The next phase of explotation at Waihi will be underground mining. The open pit has gone down to only level 6 of the old underground levels and a new underground mining operation is just starting - we passed the portal on the tour.

It is well worth also visiting the remains of the Victoria Battery and processing plant at Waikino in the Kaurangahake gorge that was in use up to 1952. It used the largest battery of stampers in New Zealand with 200 stamps; initially water powered then coal and gas from their own plant and finally electricity form the first Waikato River hydroelectric station built by the mining company. The crushed ore from the stampers was then further ground to a very fine powder in ball mills before a cyanide extraction method was used. Little remains of the stampers, other the concrete bases, but the bottoms of many of the huge cyanide tanks remain along with many other artefacts and structures.

After leaving the Waihi area we stopped briefly at the Katikati visitor centre and finally located the site of a place we first visited in 1996 - a river estuary where there were abundant Pipi's at low water. It had been suggested at Dickson's that it was south of Tauranga rather than to the North where we had looking in previous years. We found a postcard with an aerial view in the Katikati Tourist office which has given us an almost certain location of Maketa looking across to Little Waihi on the other side of the estuary.

Our next stop was the Morton vineyard, another regular stop. They not only make excellent award wining wines but also have an excellent vineyard restaurant. (Brian Farmer and Janet Munns)

We stopped for the night at Rotorua - Rotorua is in the centre of the thermal areas and forms an excellent base for touring. Rotorua and the surrounding thermal areas sit right on the pacific "Ring of Fire". There are often small shakes and on a recent visit there was one whilst we were eating breakfast outside on a picnic bench. They occur two or three times every day although this one was slightly more noticeable and we were told it was about 4 on the Richter scale. There are a number of thermal areas of interest in the town itself as well as plentiful accommodation, economic restaurants and Internet Cafes, which are usually prepared to provide a phone line for our own computers. We come every time in New Zealand and often end up staying for two or three days and on one ocassion stayed four days - Rotorua and the thermal areas is a must on a first visit to New Zealand.

We stayed at the Monterey Motel, an old favourite of ours which is very close to the lake and the centre of town and has a pool and its own thermal spa pool. We had one of the simplest rooms without full cooking but with a microwave if required. It is run by an ex German couple who immediately recognise us and usually give us a discount as regulars (out of peak season) - try telling them you found them on our website and ask for a discount. It is certainly a place we can recommend if you are looking for accommodation right in the centre of town. We had initially only intended to stay for one night but it was nice to slow down and we also found that it was the end of the Rotorua festival with the big free concert on the shore the following night, something we have always just missed.

In the evening it was time to visit The Pig and Whistle for a beer from their own brewery (snout dark ale) and we had Kumara chips with two huge plates of spare ribs. We just struggled through it with the help of a few Snouts. The Pig and Whistle used to be the police station and was built in 1946 very much in Art Deco style but with some addition Maori themes in the decoration.

This year we decided not to go and see so many of the set piece areas so we spent the start of the morning round Kuirau Park, an area with a fair amount of thermal activity although right in the centre of town beside the hospital. Each Saturday it hosts a flea market. It looked as if one area had been very active and was fenced off - we heard that it exploded and showered the centre of Rotorua with hot mud recently. Rotorua has been extracting a lot of thermal energy and water for heating houses, pools etc., and the council has been trying to restrict people from drawing out too much private enterprise thermal energy for their hot pools and heating as it was believed that it was causing some of the major attractions to be muted. The results of keeping the thermal power constrained were unexpected to the planners, if perhaps predictable to everyone else in a town where steam comes out of drain covers and holes beside the roads.

In the afternoon we took a very pleasant walk round part of the Lake at Rotorua. It is almost in the middle of town but takes you past little beaches, through bush, through thermal areas on board walks and through various nature reserves, all with orientation boards It is not well publicised, perhaps because it takes you through some interesting thermal areas that are free. They have opened up an extra section at the far end so you can now loop round the water works making the whole trip close to two and a half hours. On the way back we stopped to watch the Southern Hemisphere Petanque Championship outside the Tudor House.

It was Waitangi Weekend and whilst looking round the bookshops we found and bought a new book on Waitangi "An Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi" by Cladia Orange, published 2004 by Bridget Williams Books SBN 1-877242-16-0. Cladia Orange is the Director History and pacific Cultures at Te Papa Evening and well known for her research on Treaty issues. The treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand and the issues raised are still causing considerable debate. The book begins before the signing and tells the story of the Treaty to the present day. The history is one of two peoples meeting, of encounters and negoiations, agreements made and broken, laws, claims and protests, as Maori and Pakeha seek ways of living together in New Zealand.

We had a Mexican meal in the evening at Tastebuds - one of our favourite restaurants. We were afraid it had closed as there was no sign of it as we drove in down Fenton Street but we were pleased to find that it had just moved round the corner onto Haupapa and been extended so there is now plenty of space to sit down and it is now BYO (Bring Your Own).

It was then time for the big free Lakeside 2005 concert in the park ending the Rotorua Festival. It was very good with a mixture of modern and traditional music, accompanied by an orchestra. Now an established annual event, it was estimated that there were 35,000 peoplw present. The first groups arrived at lunchtime to get the best pitch, although there were rows of seats at the front for sale. Next time we will take our folding chairs, rug or tapaulin like most other people as it lasted from 1930 to 2300 when it ended with a spectacular display of fireworks over the lake. The only problem was the huge number of little flies which were attracted in from over the lake - they looked like smoke blowing in the spotlights. One of the highlights of the concert was a Scottish Piper who was high over the crowd on an arm extended from a huge crane. After the Bagpipes finished there was not a fly in sight - it was not clear if they had been killed or frightened away by the Piper or the sound. From then on right up to the end I only saw two flies despite watching carefully and they both seemed to be stunned and descending dead stick.

In the morning we had a change of plan and routing so we set off South through Taupo stopping first to look at the Bubbling Mud Pools on the loop road near the Wai-o-tapu thermal area then to walk round The Craters of the Moon thermal area which differs in several ways from the other thermal areas. Firstly it is free and therefore fairly empty as it gets no publicity and there are no incentives for tour buses to come. Secondly it is a new area of activity which only started when the geothermal power stations disturbed the balance in the area. It is very active with vast new craters and is continuou sly changing. Sometimes we find big sections are closed and often the paths have to be extensively re-routed to avoid new active areas.

There are long sections on slightly raised wooded walkways with the ground too hot to touch and covered in small hissing steaming vents either side. It does not have any geysers at present but currently has some bubbling mud and hot pools. It is well worth visiting but is poorly signed - it is on the main Taupo Rotorua road where the 1 and 5 are merged about 5 kms from Taupo.

We passed through Taupo without stopping and headed to the Taumarunui Holiday Park 3 km outside Taumarunui on the banks of the Wanganui river.

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