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Touring New Zealand 2006 - Part 5

This part starts as we reach the West Coast, land of the sandfly, glaciers, gold and greenstone. Instead of turning directly north towards Greymouth we decided to make the short detour south to Hokitika. We stayed once more at the Hokitika Kiwi Holiday Park which has small basic cabins which offer excellent value at $32 including our discount from the card. The price one pays is that fridge and freezer space is limited and the kitchens were very busy but other facilities are spacious and close. We fortunately had all the food for a cold meal finishing off our salmon as the rain had started again and a barbeque was less than appealing.

Hokitika is a nice 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. We first had a quick run round to the nearby "Bookworm 102" second hand bookshop (corner of Hall and Hampden streets) where we had a long discussion and were given ideas for a goldfield walk on Woodies track just North of Shantytown. Having not found the book we wanted, she suggested we look in Take Note, a bookshop in town run by the well known Bruce Watson who operates a service for locating old books of the West Coast. He did indeed have a copy but all the books were much more expensive than we normally pay, 50-150% extra on books we have bought, and we were not prepared to pay $195 even for a rare book, and it was not even in good condition. We then followed her second suggestion and went to the beach where there were many informal examples of sculptures made from the plentiful driftwood - a great display. It is a annual event every January.

While looking for the sculptures we had a quick stop at the lookout station 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 could easily visualise how the 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'. 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 continued north from Hokitika to Greymouth, sharing single track bridges with the railway line, and then across the Buller river to the Brunner coal mine. When we visited in 2004 the old bridge across the Buller River was being rebuilt; it was considered unsafe even for pedestrians. We parked on the north side of the river and had a short exploration, walking around the remains of the coke ovens. The new bridge looks very sturdy.

We diverted to see the small village of Blackball which would qualify as a ghost town if it did not have the well known Blackball sausage, salami and black pudding works. There is also an old hotel, now called th Blackball Hilton. At the junction with the main road there were a set of information boards covering the history of the village and local area back to the goldmining days and it also described some walks and tracks in the immediate area. As a result, we attempted to go up Moonlight Road alongside the Moonlight Creek to Middletown past an area of gold workings initially found by George Moonlight in 1865. The goldfield was very prolific initially and known for large nuggets then continued on steadily - gold bearing reefs were found in the area and a stamper was installed in 1868 with little success. However sluicing kept the fields operating and as late as 1916 a 87.5 oz nugget found.

The Moonlight Creek was dredged at the very start of the 1900s. The road was very narrow and not well formed and the area where dredging was supposed to have taken place was heavily overgrown so after about 5 kms we turned back. On reading further about the area from our pictures of the information boards we found we should have continued a little further to a parking and picnic area 6 kms from the road - Middletown would have been an additional 4 kms making 10 from the main road. We stopped at the junction to the main road where there was a picnic area and an old hydraulic monitor on display but no information about it.

We continued our journey on through Lyell and Reefton but did not stop - the last trip we used Reefton as a centre to explore the local goldfields and wrote it up comprehensively. We passed through Lyell where there is a DOC campsite and many Goldfield tramps. 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 information board before the onslaught forces you to move quickly away. 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.

Our journey took us up the Buller Gorge, the Buller can be followed from the coast and is a lovely drive - 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. The upper section we were travelling had high tree covered mountains towering over us whilst we clung to the faces looking down occassionally on the river and its rapids far below. It is popular for canoeing and rafting and one can stop to watch a groups rafting the river in a 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. It is not always easy to get a good view of it from the road whilst moving so the occasional stop is worthwhile as one then appreciates how deep it is and the extreme clarity of the waters, one can see down 40-50 feet under some of the bridges.

We had already booked one of the old PWD (Public Works Department) cabins at the campsite in Murchison. The camp began as a NZ Electricity Board camp providing living quarters for the managers and single men working in the 1970s on the pylon line taking power from the hydroelectric schemes in South Island to the consumers in North Island. We had seen the end of the line earlier at Benmore. When the pylon line was complete the camp was left intact and transfered to the administration of the Tasman District Council as a motor camp. 29 of the original cabins remain. Looking at the layout it seems each had a small stove for heating as well as very basic accommodation for a couple of people - marks on the floor and new wood indicated ours had been changed from a single or bunk bed to have a double bed. A lot of those staying were "paddlers" canoeing on the Buller river which ran past the site.

The camp site is in a lovely setting on the banks of the Buller and has a slip and a big deep swimming hole formed in an eddy behind a natural breakwater in which Pete cooled off. This time there were no sand flies in evidence although they can be a problem in the area down by the river - the write-up from 2003 notes that "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". This year we never saw one even whilst we cooked a barbeque of steak and Blackbull blackpudding although as I write this in the morning one has just landed on the screen and another has bbbiiitttteeeennnnn my ankle - it is time to get the deterrent out and an early morning dip looks less appealing. Sandflies are almost too small to be seen but pack a punch, if Pete gets 5 or 6 bites and whole limbs swell up and a few years ago he had to cut his wedding ring off when bitten on a finger. We were woken in the morning by the calls of Tuis and it was tempting to have another swim but Pete resisted.

It was a steady drive north towards the coast at Tasman Bay and it is worth giving a brief introduction to the area where we will spend the next few days. Golden Bay and Tasman Bay are on the North East tip of South Island and have the best and most sheltered beaches on South Island. They are separated by the high ground of the Abel Tasman National Park which is best known for the famous Abel Tasman Coastal walk, one of the Great Walks series. For those less energetic there are boat trips like one we took a few years ago which took us up to Totaranui at the far end then dropped us in one bay before being picked up a few bays further along several hourss later. The Abel Tasman also has many opportunities for Kayaking in the relatively sheltered waters which we would like to explore some time.

Beyond the Abel Tasman is Golden Bay and at the furthermost tip there is an enormous sand spit - Farewell Spit - stretching 35 kms out to sea sheltering the bay which is about 45 kms in diameter. You could just drive the whole way from Nelson through Tasman Bay past the Abel Tasman Nation Park and on up through Golden Bay to the end in half a day. This makes the area an ideal end point for a trip to South Island (or starting point from the Ferry at Picton which is another 2 hours from Nelson). The pictures were taken from near the Abel Tasman Memorial on an earlier trip.

We stopped just beyond Richmond for lunch at Seifried's Winery. First we had a tasting as we were very early. Pete was driving but we got a second glass so we could do some comparative tasting, much approved of by our tutor who made sure we tried a comprehensive selection and made many helpful suggestion. We wanted some sparkling and had intended to get some of their Sekt which is in the German style but she suggested we also tried their Johanna from the Winemakers selection (Reserves). We felt in this case the basic Sekt at half the price had the edge in value. The Sauvignon Blanc was closer competition between the Old Coach Road brand, their entry level wine and the Seifreid label - both were good but the Seifried had the edge and we added one to the box and were impressed enough to want to try it against some of the better names. In the case of the Chardonnay it was the other way round and we prefered the Old Coach Road to the Seifried or Winemakers collection. We have always been fans of the Seifried Gewurtztraminer and tried both the Seifried and Winemakers Collection - they were quite different and complementary but on balance we purchased the slightly cheaper Seifried version.

The outstanding find in the reds was the Old Coach Road Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot 2003 which at $12.50 a bottle offered outstanding value with a beautiful bouquet of eucalyptus and intense varietal characteristics you would expect of a much more expensive wine - 2003 was a good year with very ripe fruit and the wine was aged in American and French oak. We bought a stock to take with us sailing. The other eye opener was the Syrah, we have been a little suspicious of the way New Zealand winemakers have used the name Syrah for the same grape used in Australia as Shiraz which tends to be a robust deeply oaked wine and we have found some of the NZ Syrah slightly disappointing and much more expensive. The Seifried Winemakers Collection was however a very refined and satisfying wine, very different from an Australian Shiraz - we bought a couple and returned for more. Overall the tasting where we sampled 16 wines was very instructive and we bought from all three 'ranges' which is unusual. In the end we left with a mixed case giving us an extra free bottle so we are set for a good while.

We had, of course, in the first place come for lunch as have had some of our best winery meals in South Island at Seifried - this was no exception. We ate outside at one of the many tables, all with sunshades, set in trees and surrounded by the vineyard. The Olive Bread starter was exceptional - we were given a whole loaf, lovely and crisp on the outside and still warm and moist on the inside served with a little bowl of olive oil and another of Dukkah. We spent so long eating it that the mains arrived before had finished. Peter's pork steak on Kumera was exactly what he expected but Pauline won with venison beautifully cooked, or to be more correct seared, on the outside and red in the centre on a salad. After the Olive bread there was no way we could get to the sweets we have enjoyed so much previous years! It was Peter's turn to drive so Pauline had a glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot 2003 we had been so impressed with during the tasting - fortunately it was as good as we thought as we had just bought 4 bottles!

We continued down the road past Seifried to Rabbit Island where we recovered on the beach but we had too much to eat and the surf was too rough for a serious swim. It was then a short journey to the camp site at Motueka Top Ten, one we had been impressed with on an earlier trip but were somewhat disappointed as it has changed hands and some of the recent changes have been for the worse. The Motueka Top 10 Holiday Park (formerly Fearons Bush Holiday Park) has a lovely Parkland site amidst a large number of mature specimen trees, both exotic and natives. Again we had booked a cabin which, like Murchison, originated from PWD staff accommodation, in this case from the Cobb dam, a local hydroelectric scheme. The cabin was simple but clean and we much prefer something which has some history rather than the standard sterile modern boxes which most tourists are expected to prefer. We were however disappointed this time as since the last visit they have moved the cabins together so they are tightly packed and leave little space to park alongside. There are plans to replace the cabins with a standard row of new Top10 cabins, not an improvement in our view, although we did stay in such a cabin at Ohakune and it was good.

The camp has changed hands and we have noticed this year that the Top10 Holiday Parks have become more commercially oriented and are directed towards the overseas visitor rather than the regular customer to whom service matters. We understand that many in the South Island are now owned by a single family and we are finding it is also much more common for them to be run by managers. Perhaps we are biased as the last visit was very different. Then the owners Doug and Rhonda came down and mixed in with a barbeque to make sure everyone was happy and in the morning Rhonda took us round the site to see one of the best examples of a Tulip tree in NZ and pointed out many others including a Kauri at the transition stage and just starting to spread at the top, and shed branches and thicken at the bottom. This time the first contact was an order to move our van from beside the cabin, the attitude was as untypical of a Kiwi as we have experienced and we came very close to having our money back and leaving, only prevented by his allowing us to move cabin to another which was next to a parking. We have too much of value to leave it all in a distant van on an open site.

We made use of the free barbeque outside the kitchen block, in this case under a veranda with lots of picnic tables. It seemed pointless to set up the Red Devil so we took our Venison Sausages across when it became quiet, only one of the two barbeques nearby had a gas cylinder and knobs were missing so the hot plate on the remaining one did not work. In the morning our contacts were much more positive and we now have a better understanding of the changes they are making and, as we said above, we may have been unlucky, but we will certainly not book ahead next time but come and look first. Some of the changes are certainly good from our point of view - they are for example installing Internet access with lap top connections both by Network connection and WiFi however access needs special prepayment cards and was not working. A better bet was the Video-Eze Internet cafe which cost us 50c for 5 minutes which allowed enough time for download of a big attachment!

Our travels took us over Takaka Hill to reach Golden Bay from Tasman Bay; it is a big climb exceeding many of the major passes and offers some excellent views from lay-bys, from Harwood's Lookout and from a walk to a viewpoint, which we found last year and repeated. Last visit we also did the half day Takaka walkway with a local walking group and our friends Peter and Jean.

Golden Bay has a population of only 7000 - mostly farming and in the seafood industries now. It has a much more varied history involving gold mining, coal mining, timber, paint manufacturing and asbestos mining in its time. It has also become a major tourist centre with an increase in population in the season to circa 35,000. It has a very good climate but without suffering the droughts which Marlborough and Canterbury suffer. The Bay is a very sheltered and comparatively shallow, fewer than 35 metres over most of the area bounded by Abel Tasman and the huge sand spit called Farewell Spit. The shallow warm waters has led to the development of many mussel farms and cockles are also harvested from the large sand flats, which stretch up to 9 kms from the coast.

One of our main reasons to go to Golden Bay this year was to look up an old college friend, Richard, who we had not seen for over 30 years. He is a schoolteacher in Takaka and we also knew he had a smallholding in the hills although we did not realise how far into the hills. We could not raise him by telephone on the day we were due to meet so we went into the local information office where they said they knew him and where he lived - not surprising in a small town - and gave us instructions to follow Bird Road right to the end where his was the last property. We could see on the local map Bird Road was several kms long and ended at at a link track to the Inland Abel Tasman Walkway. We were told the road was gravel but good other than a short stretch on the first farmers property with only a few minor fords and gates, and he was always out and about round the farm so it was not surprising we could not raise him. She also said it was an interesting road in its own right and we would get some spectacular views. Pauline drove and it seemed fine over the first section so on we went. As time went on it got steeper, the views got better but the road twisted and turned far more than the map showed and the height gain was starting to concern us. After a while we started checking on the GPS and found we were climbing through 600 metres, almost the height of some of the New Zealand passes, and still with no sign of his property. Finally we met a car coming the other way at a gate and they confirmed we were getting close so we carried on until after a last gate the road became a track to a barn. Pete looked round the back of the barn and was greeted with the clamour of sheep dogs and behind it was sheltering Richard's house with great views over the valley. As well as a view of the ocean, on most clear winter days he says he can see Mt Egmont (Taranaki). We had been within a short drive of his farm on several visits, without realising.

Pauline thought it was Pete's turn to drive back and the first part of the trip back up the hill from his property and to the link to the walkway was interesting, after that it was slow steady descent, thankfully we did not meet too many other vehicles on the narrow bits. We continued on to camp at Pakawau, a camp site in a super position towards the top of Golden Bay. There were no cabins but the wind was low so we chose one of the sites beside the edge of the sea for our tent. We were no more 5 meters from the edge of the beach, in one of a group of four sites, separated from the adjacent groups by a hedge of Rata. The beach is miles of golden sands but at a very shallow angle so you had to go a long way to get deep enough for a swim or even to reach the edge at low tide. It used to be teaming with life at low water which the natives attacked with spades and buckets. The wild life responded in kind by going for ones feet with claws and pincers, but only at low tide! This time the tide was not quite out and Pete could find nothing with his toes so we settled for a barbeque. The site has a good shop which sells every essential at reasonable prices, although it closes early.

It was with regret that we heard it is up for sale - we hope the new owners keep up the traditions especially as it was the first commercial camp site we ever used and have fond memories and the 1997 write up of that first experience still strike chords. To quote from earlier "Pakawau gave considerable insight into the 'camp site mentality'. Camping, whether you have a tent, camper or luxury caravan actually centers round a large facility block with showers, cooking, washing etc facilities and the tents seem to only be used for sleeping and sometimes cooking. Early in the morning you find a stream of sleepy kids shuffling with toothpaste on brushes and crossed legs towards this block followed by parents with billy cans to boil their water and bowls of washing up. Our site centered so much round "the block" that it did not even seem to have a dump point for waste water or chemical toilets! All very strange". Much of that is still true of camp sites and only at the very top end of Holiday Parks will you find completely self contained 'Motel' units and they will cost more than most normal motels.

We started the next day with a drive to the end of the Kaituna track, the first 4 kms up to the forks is easy walking on an old packtrack route to a goldfield, after which it was extended to the quartz reefs west of the Wakamarama Range and the Taitapu goldfield. The latter section is now reopened as a basic track to Knuckle Hill which has a number of river crossings and is only for the well equipped serious tramper. Information is sparse on the Kaituna goldfield and all our information comes from the DOC information sheet. Workings started on the Kaituna River and Victoria Creek in 1859 and continued with a small number of diggers working throughout the year until the late 1800s. Dredging operations were tried with little success in 1902 and ceased in 1903 as only 7 oz a week was being recovered..

We spent some time exploring the gold workings on the Kaituna River - the DOC sheet has a map. Most of the workings were fairly obvious. The terrace of alluvial gold bearing gravels were worked by ground sluicing by water races channeled to the top of the faces which seem to have been up to 50 feet high. The water washed the cliff face and gold bearing material down and was directed into channels which then flowed into sluice boxes and down tailraces. Rocks too big to wash away were neatly stacked. All the above were easy to identify on the ground as was the trial adit. The difficulty was in identifying the old water races, many were barely discernable in the thick bush but we had fun exploring. We then walked on part way to the forks for some exercise before returning.

We got back at lunch time and Pauline insisted we tried the Naked Possum restaurant which has only just opened. We had a couple of excellent home made game pies (venison with mushroom and wild boar with kumera) with salad at $12 each. The big open fire was going well in the outside fireplace but we needed to cool down rather than warm up after our walk.

On the way past we had another look at the Golden Bay Machinery and Settlers Museum at Rockville. The Museum has a lot of interesting early machinery and some steam engines which are occasionally steamed in the summer. It is run by volunteers and is not very well presented at present so is more for the enthusiast - it is however only a donation ($2 suggested) so it is worth a quick look. We found some interesting old pictures showing some of the Gold Mining and Coal Mining in the area as well as spending a happy hour looking at farm machinery, early diesel engines and tractors. Some exhibits of "household/settlers" have been reorganised into rooms, although we believe there much is still locked away.

There is a complementary very small museum in Collingwood also run by volunteers which has good displays with typical early settlers rooms. We bought a couple of the local specialities, Scallop pies, in Collingwood before continuing looking for a place to camp.

We had marked on the GPS an interesting looking camp site beside the sea, the McKee Reserve and looked into it seriously for the first time. It was much bigger than we had appreciated and was emptying after the long Waitangi weekend so we found a good pitch with a thousand dollar view across to Port Nelson over Tasman Bay. It was not as sheltered as we would have liked and we sat reading till we were sure the wind was not coming up before setting up the tent. We then took our chairs and table to the edge of the sea to eat our scallop pies, accompanied with a glass of the Seifried Syrah Reserve 2003 wine which we tried against an Australian Reserve Shiraz from Banrock Station we had picked up in a supermarket. We had visited Banrock Station on our Downunder trip in 2004.

In the morning we went for the first time to the Mapua smokehouse which has an awarding winning restaurant which our neighbours at the camp site had raved about. We bought smoked salmon which we got vacuum packed to take to John and Blyth in Wellington at the weekend, and enough Salmon and some Warehou for a meal for us. The smokehouse is on the Mapua wharf which looks good for fishing. There is an interesting free photographic museum in the boat club's clubhouse with lots of old pictures of the area and a few other interesting shots including a shot showing a cruiser suspended on a rock high above the water outside the marina restaurant in Guernsey we go to with Pat and John. Somebody from NZ must have been passing as the picture is from a different angle, from the sea, to the one we have seen before in Guernsey.

Tasman Bay is a big fruit growing area, we saw pictures and some of the history in the photographic museum, so we had to stop for fruit at John Richard's roadside stall. There were samples to try of all the new season fruit - Pete was flagging after 2 apples, 2 pears and several plums before realising there was a knife to cut off samples! We bought lots of bags ($11 for 5 bags) without realising their size - Pete found the Gravenstein apples ($1.00 for a bag of 7) were so big one could not get ones teeth into them and had to be cut up - he measured the circumference to be 12 inches. We are starting a serious fruit eating project as Pauline had also bought a bargain bunch of bananas.

We stopped briefly at Seifried to stock up with some more of the Syrah Reserve 2003. Pete was still trying to finish all his partially eaten fruit so Pauline was dispatched into the shop. She found there were three bus loads of school kids undergoing tuition so quickly exited with 3 bottles of Syrah.

We did the rest of our shopping in Richmond before leaving for The Marlborough Sounds complete with food, fruit and wine as there was no restaurant or shops where we were heading although the shop at Te Mahia itself usually carries all the basics to survive.

It was now time for one of our few periods of luxury - we had booked into the Te Mahia Bay Resort for three days before catching the ferry. We have used it as a base in the Marlborough Sounds several times. They have a small number of units on Kenepuru Sound. 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. This year we heard the Americans checking in ahead of us being told the same! The 'heritage units' in the old building, which we prefer, are actually rambling suites with several bedrooms kitchens, lounges bathroom etc - the first time we thought all the interconnecting doors were open but were told it was all ours. Everything is provided, from fridge freezers and bodums 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 Jann and Trevor and found 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 luxury motel block has been built slightly further back on the site of the old tennis court. New this year are 2 even more luxurious apartments where there used to be a few caravan and tent sites. We had a chance to look inside the new apartments and they were very impressive and luxurious with everything one could think of to make ones stay comfortable and life easy including washing machines, driers and even a DVD player. 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 and they now also do a series of gourmet meals which are frozen and ready to microwave. Normally there is no real need to leave for provisions during a stay, although you can take a water taxi if you fancy eating out. Many groups return every year at the same time and they rarely need to advertise (70% is repeat business) so they can be difficult to find unless you pass by although this year we notice their new luxury apartments are featured in the AA guide.

We spent most of our time just relaxing, swimming, reading (they have a huge library of classic/heritage, non-fiction and fiction books), writing up the journal and, in Pauline's case, painting. 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 tiny kahawai and a spotty, but it did prove everything was working and we now have some salted bait. A couple of years ago we caught a good size Eagle Ray from the same wharf.

The second morning had some blue in the sky and was very still so we thought we ought to take out the resorts Sea Kayaks for a couple of hours. They were 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. We went out far enough to round a couple of fascinating shaped islands before crossing to the other side of the inlet and working our way back. It was idyllic with only the occasional wash from fizz boats and water taxis to disturb the tranquillity - a perfect re-introduction to kayaking and good exercise for Pete's arm although it still tires more quickly than the other he more than kept up with Pauline. We certainly both knew we were exercising different muscles when we got to shore after only three or four miles paddling.

This seems a convenient point to break and the journey will be continued in North Island at Wellington in Part 6

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