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|Touring New Zealand 2007 - Part 1|
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We flew over with Air New Zealand to Auckland on their new route via Hong Kong. We chose the route largely because we had gathered up a lot of air miles so we could get it for free whilst free flights seem to be very restricted on the route via Los Angeles we normally use. The big advantage of flying through Los Angeles is that you are allowed two items of hold luggage each of which can be up to 23 kgs rather than a maximum of 20 kgs total on most routings. The 20 kg limit combined with the draconian restrictions on hand luggage out of Heathrow caused us many heart aches especially as we had been told by Air New Zealand staff that a laptop was allowed in addition to a single other piece of hand luggage. The day before we were due to leave we found out the advice from Air New Zealand was wrong and we had to repack and in the end abandoned taking a video camera in favour of the Xmas presents already bought. At least we did not have to suffer all the inconvenience of flying via the United States where you are forced to clear immigration even when in transit.
The flight was long and boring as usual - we pick up a few books from charity shops and shed them as we progress. The Air New Zealand food (and wine) is OK and service good We flew on one of the first of their refitted 747-400s with individual seat videos so one could select from a long list of films etc. including all three parts of The Lord of the Rings, The Fastest Indian and an excellent documentary on the 2006 Warbirds over Wanaka with some unforgettable airborne filming.
We arrived slightly early at 1030 and had cleared immigration, customs and all the incoming inspections in under an hour - all luggage is X-rayed on entry to check for illicit food or anything capable of harbouring insects etc - our walking boots were inspected and our careful scrubbing was accepted. We took a shuttle bus ($32 for two people and luggage) to pick up our camper van from Rental Car Village. We have been using them for many years now and they have always given us a good deal. The vehicles are far from new but they have always proved reliable. Unlike the Wicked Camper we rented in Australia they have no exotic (or erotic) colour schemes and do not look like a hire van which can be an advantage. We have done many tens of thousands of kilometres in their vans over the years with only minor problems.
New Zealand has a different approach to cars and they are maintained in use for far longer than in the UK. Last time we checked the average age for re-registration of cars was eleven years. Little salt is used and with good maintenance it is not exceptional to find vehicles with over 500,000 kilometres on the clock in fleet use. We have had many vehicles from Rental Car Village, in the early days many had mileages over 400,000 kms but they gave less problems than we have with new cars at home. We spent a while talking to the Thomlinsons, it is very much a family affair with daughter Helen and son Grant and his wife as well as other relations all owning and running parts of the enterprise - overall they have several hundred vehicles. Grant and his wife spend a lot of their time in more exciting parts of the world and also has comprehensive computer set-up to enable him to keep in touch whilst mobile.
Rental Car Village are progressively updating their fleet, mostly with Japanese imports. The Japanese standards are so stringent that it become prohibitively expensive to maintain a vehicle over a few years old so many are exported to other Pacific Rim countries and now to the UK. Normally we have a fully fitted van but unfitted vans are also just as good for us as we rarely sleep in the van and the bed fittings just waste space for us. We picked the Mitsubishi and collected exactly the bits we needed from their stock including a separate gas cylinder for the "Red Devil" and a couple of tabletop stoves.
The next couple of days were spent recovering with Chris and Ralph in Auckland during which time we organised our bank accounts at BNZ and checked our EFTPOS cards - everywhere takes EFTPOS, which is a low charge direct debit system. Current accounts in New Zealand have significant monthly charges so in the past we have closed ours when we leave the country and just maintain a savings account. We also have Internet banking so we can keep an eye on the accounts, transfer money and even pay the sailing bills without going to an ATM machine.
Packing always seem to take a while as we have gathered up a lot of kit over the years including the "Red Devil", a portable camping barbecue and cooker which can run off the little gas cylinders as well as the large one in the van. By the time we have loaded our library of New Zealand books and a couple of camping chairs and a table there is little spare space so we tend to use a tent rather than sleep in the van - it is much more pleasant and one can hear the dawn chorus. The only downside is that one has to slow down and wait for the tent to dry in the mornings. We also make use of cabins when the weather is less good - a basic cabin with only a bed and power point is often little more than a tent pitch on a commercial camp site. Camping pitches range from $5 per person on a DOC site to $14 each at a good Top Ten (before discounts) whilst cabins have been as little as $25 and $35 is the level at which the tent wins unless it is too windy to be practical.
At this point we usually visit Charterlink where we have become honorary staff issued with Charterlink caps thanks to the business we have brought them through our web site write-ups but we were short of time as we were due to take an early morning ferry to Waiheke Island to stay with Jenny, Kev and the kids for a couple of days. Kev was looking at purchasing a second hand 40 foot Trimaran and the plan was we would have a look and a brief trip at 1000. We also had time constraints at the other end of our Waiheke visit so we took the more expensive option of taking the van over on the new Sealink service from down-town Auckland to Kennedy Point which is only 5 minutes walk from their house and where the Trimaran was to take us on-board. The new route which is only available at weekends was ideal and the return passage to Half Moon Bay put us on the correct side of Auckland for an easy departure two days later.
The two days in Waiheke seemed to pass very quickly. It was Auckland day on the Monday and Waiheke had many activities over the weekend. We started with a brief visit to Oneroa market which is open air and was even more packed with people than we remembered. their were the usual small stall with peoples clear-outs as well as a lot more stalls selling home made produce and food than we remembered, many had samples to try so it was possible to graze for a while before we purchased some salami and cake for our stocks. We then went back to the quay for a short trip under power in the Trimaran but we will say little about it as the purchase eventually fell through, what was clear was that one would have got a lot of boat but also a lot of work to get it into a state for serious sailing. There was time for a quick swim across the - almost private - bay below Jenny and Kev's house. They have just finished extensive works on the inside of the house which has transformed the living areas and decking. The outside painting had also been finished a couple of days earlier and it looks very smart now in a colour which almost exactly matches the lovely silver Gray that hardwoods weather to.
In the afternoon we went to one of the Auckland Council's 'Music in the Parks' mainly because Kev has set up a band called Maumau which was playing. The preceding acts were fairly grim and it was a pleasant surprise when Maumau came on - they wee much better than those before them and we enjoyed listening. Auckland Council have a large trailer which opens out to give the stage and a separate sound control station in front and it is touring most of the regional parks so we were fortunate it happened to be at Waiheke that weekend. We were even more fortunate that the producers announced at the start that the Red Chequers had been persuaded to put on a display. They dived over the crowd from behind without any sound in advance to start their display precisely on time and gave an excellent and polished 15 minute performance in their 5 propeller trainers including many of the favourites such as the head on passes and the inverted pair flying whilst another overtakes barrel rolling round them. There was the usual heart drawn in the smoke trails and we captured some of the aerobatics including the final burst against a clear blue sky. The whole afternoon had hardly a cloud in the sky and was very hot - little stations had been set up so one could collect suntan cream. We did not stay to the end at 2100 and as we left people were still arriving for the final bigger acts.
The following morning turned out to be an early start as a walk was planned. What we had not realised was that it started at 0800 to avoid the heat of the day. It started with a walk round the headlands stopping at Matiatia bay for coffee before continuing round the Sculpture walk which had open the previous day as part of the island festivities. It was another scorching day and we had been told the main walk was about an hour and we would spend another half hour looking at part of the sculpture trail. We did not bother with packing a day pack and just had walking boots - we should have known better as it took 4 hours before we got back! The walk round the headlands had a enough climbs to get one fit and lovely views and was deserted.
In contrast the sculpture walks was packed and one could hardly make any progress. The sculptures were very mixed including fascinating mobiles from old corrugated iron which looked very temporary to beautifully finished stainless steel creations which would last a lifetime. Pauline hung back taking a lot of pictures and quite liked a lot of the exhibits - Pete was less impressed by many although we both agreed that several were very good. The one everyone agreed on was called Nautilus and was shaped like a shell with poetic phrases cut into the surface - it had already sold for $92,000 we understood.
We recovered and rehydrated at Vino Vinos in Oneroa for lunch. We had a huge mixed plate of local breads, seafood and meats with whole roasted garlics. It was complimented by glasses of local Buruna beer to rehydrate and 'The Sisters' Cabernet Merlot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend from Passage Rock that confirmed that some of the Waiheke wineries still offer excellent wines without having to pay the extortionate prices many ask, often for wines not entirely from Waiheke grapes. We tried to buy a bottle from the wine shop next door but they had unfortunately sold out.
Kev's Band played again in the afternoon at another function alongside the Show and Shine car event. Pauline went along for a short time but Pete had had enough of the sun and had an evening swim instead.
We had an early start the following day with the ferry to Half Moon Bay. As we were coming up the channel to the ferry terminal we saw what looked a familiar shape on the water in front of ferry and as it turned to lower sails we confirmed from the name that it was Pengwen , David Bott's trimaran - what a coincidence. Despite making fools of ourselves yelling he did not see us and we found that his phone number had changed so had no way t contact him. We stopped in the car park with Pengwen still in sight and got his new number from Chris but still no answer so the only thing to do was to follow him up the coast. It eventually became clear he was going to go into the wharf rather than back onto his swing mooring and we arrived just after him and had a good chat and a chance to catch up.
We were then running a bit late but we still had time to stock up with fruit, veg and avocados at one of the roadside stores beside State Highway 1. They usually have a section for fruit which has not met their standards because of shape or bruises etc and we gathered up enough to last for weeks at a normal rate of eating including a huge bag of succulent nectarines and a couple of big mangos, both for a dollar. It was then down through Taupo past the lake where we normally stop to stock up with pumice for the year. We often stay at a camp site we use beside the lake and had our first typical ice-creams, doubles almost too big to balance on the cones of Gold Rush and Rum and Raisin for a big spend of $1.80. After the lake came the long climb up to Desert Road, one of the highest main roads in New Zealand which travels as straight as a die past the central mountains of Ruapehu and Tongariro with their tops covered in snow. Our new GPS told us we were well over a thousand metres high.
We noticed there was a new set of lights and barriers across the road with warnings of flash floods and shortly afters we realised why as we were passing the monument to the Tangiwai railway disaster in 1953 - one of the largest of all time. The Lions have put up a new and very comprehensive double sided board which has 62 'pages' which look as if they are reproduced from a book but we could find no reference to it. The disaster occurred on Christmas Eve when the Crater Lake burst its banks and caused a huge tidal wave to sweep down the river valleys. This lahar flow swept everything in its course away including the railway bridge at Clear - the central support was on a 70 ton block which was swept away like a children's building block by the 6 metre high wave despite additional protection already installed to prevent scouring. This occurred only minutes before the arrival of the packed express train, the 3 pm from Wellington to Auckland. A local saw the flood and ran down the line to alert the driver but in the dark he only had a couple of hundred yards to slow the train and the engine was still doing an estimated 40 mph when it plunged across the ravine dragging many of the coaches into the flood. Several were swept over a mile downstream, miraculously many remained on the rails and loss of life was huge. The accident happened at the worst possible time, just after the lehar had hit and the waters were at their peak. The response showed a great difference between the UK now and New Zealand - by two days later on Boxing Day temporary pillars had been erected for a replacement bridge and trains were running as usual within 6 days.
We stayed at Ohakune for the night. Ohakune is a skiing site and tends to be very quiet in the summer although it is also a good centre for walks including the well know Tongariro Crossing, a walk we must do some time. Ohakune is big enough to have a New World supermarket so we stocked up before leaving. We stayed at the Mountain View Motel, we have used them before as we have the Top Ten Camp Site which is directly opposite.
We left early in the morning to go to Wanganui where we had a trip booked on the Wairua for the following day, hence our unusual haste in travelling South. We intended to go down the Whanganui River Road, a scenic drive down the Whanganui from Pipiriki to Wanganui town. The scenic drive really starts at Raetihi and we had only got half way to Pipiriki on sealed roads when there was a load bang and one of the windows on the offside fragmented into thousands of small bits of glass which fell vertically into the van. We have no idea why, the road was smooth and there was no traffic passing to have thrown up a stone. We cleared up the mess and decided to backtrack to Raetihi rather than continue on a dusty gravel road. We talked to the local garage and rang Grant at Rental Car Village and he set up for a glass specialist in Wanganui to fit a perspex replacement as it was a unusual window to break - the fixed part on the opening side door. Within half an hour of arriving in Wanganui it was fixed - they are efficient in New Zealand and cheap - $20 fitting charge!
The following day we were passing a huge breakers yard and thought it was worth a try and they took a look and said "I think we have one of those, its common with the Mazda Bongo" and a couple of minutes latter we had a replacement tinted and toughened glass window in our hands. It was back to Central Glass in Wanganui and 15 minutes and another $20 and it was fitted. It is very much more a culture of save, repair and conserve in New Zealand.
Wanganui is where the Whanganui River reaches the sea. The river used to be the main route into the central regions almost as far as Lake Taupo. The riverboats had to battle in stages through 239 rapids up to Taumarunui, a journey of 144 miles. The boats were quite unique in design to cover the various stages and included steam driven paddle steamers on the lower reaches and the tunnel drive boats on the upper reaches. The Wanganui River became one of the most important tourist attractions in New Zealand. The adverts called it the Rhine of New Zealand or the Rhine of Maoriland and 12,000 tourists a year were being transported. There were stops at Pipiriki in magnificent hotel isolated in the backblocks, lit by electricity, which few cities in the world could then boast, and at a similarly appointed Houseboat.
We used to stay in Wanganui at The Riverview Motel which used to give a discount for cash reducing it to under $60 with free washing machine - very helpful and pleasant and right opposite the river. It however changed hands and in 2005 we found it was much more expensive and the new owners were most offhand - since then we have used cabins at the Top Ten camp-site which is also on the banks of the river. To get ahead a little we however spent a long time in 2007 talking to the John Gray, the Historian in the River Boat Centre and discovered he has the Awapiko bed and breakfast a few minutes drive from town at 39 Riverbank Road which we plan to try on future visits.
As you will sense the style is changing as I am now trying to update the page covering the Whanganui River Story in parallel and the next section covers the Wairua from when we first heard about her restoration through to this visit. I will then return to the more intimate travelogue after a brief update on other boats at The Riverboat Centre!
Another of the riverboats, the Wairua, has also been restored and entered the water again on 3rd March 2006. She is much smaller than the Waimarie being designed for the middle reaches from Pipiriki to the Houseboat moored at Marakowhai, a stretch involving 108 rapids and accomplished in a single day. She was a tunnel boat with a shallow draft. The restoration of the Wairua has been a task which has taken over nearly two decades since she was rescued from under the river mud in 1987. When we first went to the Riverboat Museum we were fortunate to find that Dave, one of the four carrying out the 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 were priveledged to see her during the final stages of her restoration in a specially constructed building during our visit in 2003. We first met Cameron McNeil during this visit - we had previously corresponded with as he has an excellent web site covering the Whanganui Riverboats with has lots of pictures, both historic and recent.
The Wairua was one of two identical boats built by Yarrow and Co of Poplar, London in 1904 and shipped out together in parts to be assembled in Wanganui. The twins, the Wairua and the Waiora, were steam driven with a compound engines 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 flap 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 mainly used on the Pipiriki to the Houseboat section. The steam power plant on the Warua was 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 group of 4 people (David McDermid, Ian McMurray, Kevin Clark and Mark Campbell) have been gradually restoring her. Dave was already there when we had our first visit in 2003 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, at the time they were estimating perhaps only 250 hours work left to get her into the water. It had 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 re-plated. 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 re-plated every 25 years so the replacing of plating would otherwise be counted as routine maintenance.
They have fitted a Gardner Diesel of an appropriate horsepower (80) - although built in the 1950s, it is to a 1932 design compatible with the operating life of the Wairua - Gardner diesels were fitted to other riverboats in the mid 1930s so it is 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, were 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.
We followed progress closely and kept closely in touch with Dave but it was to be another three years before he emailed us to say that she was finally in the water, just too late for us to get down to see her that year. We had to wait until 2007 to finally get a trip up river on her. The restoration has been an excellent blend of accuracy combined with a pragmatic approach to get a boat which satisfies modern regulations for passenger carrying and is maintainable. The fleet continually evolved and the boats continued development and she is very much what she would have been if she had continued in service. Engines were continually being replaced and the Gardiner now fitted was used to upgrade other riverboats, thicker plating and increased use of welding would have arguably taken place if she had remained in service and so on. The workmanship has been outstanding and she looks and handles magnificently.
We were present on one of her first trips after officially receiving her 'safe ships ' certificate from the MSA. She is moored at a new floating pontoon a few tens of metres upstream from the Waimarie and is running a limited number of trips, mostly up to the old picnic area at Hipango Park about 32 kms upstream. As the river boat trade matured there was an increasing emphasis on tourist trips for summer picnics from Wanganui. Initially they were to farmers fields but they became so frequent that a special picnic area was created thanks to the gift of suitable land from the Hipango family. The site had originally been the fertile vegetable garden and kumara patch of a Maori Pa and is ideally sited about two hours upstream from Wanganui and just short of the first rapids. In the heyday of the river boats on a summer weekend there would be several riverboats moored and hundreds of people in the picnic area. The area still exists and has a shelter, many picnic tables, facilities and several barbecues. It has become a little overgrown and the path up from the mooring is being restored a little more every visit but it is still a perfect and very typical destination. It is also complementary to the regular daily two hour long trips on the Waimarie.
We enjoyed the trip upstream greatly, especially as it takes one through a section of the Whanganui which is inaccessible by road. You pass old Pas, the sites of the quarries which gave up the stone for the river protection at the entry to the sea and the stone used to build the Durie Tower. The Wairua cruised effortlessly at about 8 knots through the water and the channel is comparatively wide and deep compared to what she was designed for on the middle and upper stretches of the Whanganui. In the old days there was a 4 ft deep channel not less than 80 ft wide, nowadays the snags are not cleared but there is still a good channel even in low water. The stretch all the way up to Hipango Park is in fact tidal and the day we went up there had been quite heavy rain in the hills and there was some 'fresh' raising the level a little more.
The operation of a tunnel boat is slightly different to other boats as the propeller is only half in the water when the boat is stationary and the water is only initially picked up and fills the tunnel when the throttle is opened well up - you hear the engine speed up then the note deepen and the revs drop as the tunnel fills and a powerful jet of water emerges from the back between the twin rudders, after that the tunnel remains filled down to tick-over. Reverse has to be done equally carefully we are told as too long in neutral allows the tunnel to empty and a burst forward is needed to fill it again before reverse become effective. It must have been interesting in the days when she was driven by steam.
Dave gave a commentary covering some of the points of interest on the way upstream. One of the most interesting points of interest was a brief glimpse of Kemp's pole now somewhat overgrown. Te Keepa Rangihiwinui (Kemp) had been involved at one point in organising sale of land to the crown by Maori. Land sales had always been contentious and for a period land could only be sold to the crown. This is not the place to go into details of the problems arising from land sales but most Maori land was owned by the community (tribe or iwi) but many sales were by individuals without the involvement or agreement of all interested parties. On the other side many of the deals seemed very advantageous to the buyer with small number of, for example, muskets purchasing vast tracts of land - the owners of the muskets however often expected to use them to quickly replace or regain the land. It was not just savvy commercial interests making these purchases but even the missionaries were using muskets and axes as the bargaining tokens for their acquisitions. The cultures were very different with the Maori having a very strong but very different morality with quite different concept of the ownership of land and trouble was inevitable. Ultimately the problems led to what were known as the land wars in the mid 1860s and the impact continued long after they were over.
Major Kemp, as he had become known after his battles against Te Kooti in 1868, had became somewhat disillusioned with what had been going on and tried to persuade the other Maori to set aside a huge tract of land delimited by markers which became known as the Kemp's poles as a land trust in 1880. We saw the one remaining pole just below Hipango park at the mouth of the Kauarapaoa Stream and John Gray, the Historian and Archivist at the riverboat centre was good enough to send us some information on the others that he found for us from a reference to Kemp’s Pole in a book by T W Downes, ‘The History of and a Guide to the Wanganui River’, 1923 edition. "The lands included in this trust he tried to form were defined by erecting a carved post at each of the four corners, viz: The one now standing at the mouth of the Kauarapaoa Stream, one at Te Reureu, one at a point near Moawhango, and a fourth on the Waitotara River." Interestingly these boundaries were different from those of the Aukati Line which defined the King Country. That line intersected the upper Wanganui River in the area Utapu.
The trip upstream took about two hours and we had a couple of hours at Hipango Park for our picnic before our return downstream. The park is available for camping and is mentioned in guide books for the Whanganui Journey. We had intended to do the short walk to the nearby Potakataka pa but we spent so long talking to Mal who runs Outlook Tours which provides Day Trips and Tours for senior citizens from the North Shore (Auckland) who was a fund of knowledge on almost every area and aspect of New Zealand - he had something to offer on almost every place we have visited. We tried to persuade him that the vast fund of information he has gathered ought to be written up on the web.
On the way downstream we passed the Waimarie on her way upstream on the midday trip - she still looks magnificent and it was quite a sight to see her under full steam belching black smoke. It is definitely an excellent day out even if you do not start off with an interest in the riverboats and one which is complementary to a trip on the Waimarie - currently the Wairua is only doing a limited number of trips, many for pre-booked parties, and currently she is only certified for 32 passengers so planing ahead is essential. Dave hopes to do a few longer (overnight?) trips which would take her up through some of the rapids but they await the higher waters of winter and a learning curve of the lost skills of operating such boats through rapids. We just hope we can get the opportunity of such a trip at some future time.
The Ongarue is another of the tunnel drive boats used on the upper reaches with an even shallower draft and smaller size than the Wairua. She has recently been brought to the Riverboat Centre from Pipiriki where she had been on display in the open for many years and had got into a very poor state but she has now been stabilised and is on display looking very much smarter than when we saw her at Pipriki - have a look at the contrast to picture above that we took when we did the river road in 2001. In the longer term it is hoped to restore her also to a state where she can return to the water and after the miracles worked on the Waimarie and the Wairua it looks very feasible. She was designed for the upper reaches from Pipiriki to the Houseboat and, in particular for the stretch on from the houseboat to Taumarunui. Like many of the other riverboats she was built by Yarrow of Poplar, London and sent out in sections to be assembled at Wanganui. She entered service in 1903 and was the last of the riverboats still in service in 1958. She only had a draft of 12 inches although 60 feet long and carrying 45 people at an average of 7.5 mph. Designed for use in very shallow water, she has a single screw hidden in a tunnel with twin long rudders either side hanging out the back and a winch at the front to pull her up the worst rapids.
Wanganui town is delightful in its own right and has many Art Deco style buildings in the centre. We did some shopping before leaving for Mountain House as we needed to stock up on food and visit the cash machine. Pauline also wanted a look round the Warehouse - the Warehouse is a chain of discount stores and the one in Wanganui is huge. Its slogan is that "Everyone gets a bargain at the Warehouse" - many of the goods are cheap but tacky however there are bargains and they were running an offer on the last days of their sale of two for the price of one on sale items. It turned out we had missed that by a day but when Pete got to the tills a pair of good leather shoes and an adequate pair of working boots to make a pair of items and found the offer was over he got them at $9.95 each instead - that was a bargain! They will remain in NZ to cut down on weight on the aircraft.
We then had the long drive to Mountain House, only broken for a stop for ice cream at Stratford at the Northern Dairy, one of our favourite dairies, where we were seduced into huge ice-creams - they have been some of the best value ice-creams we know. The girl put two enormous carefully consolidated and shaped scoops on each cone and charged us $1.50 each and answered our query about the size with the comment "a single is two scoops and a double is three scoops here". We took the pictures last year and got a fascinating picture with a juxtaposition of the two cones, one the typical but sadly less common one on dairies and the cone of Egmont.
The following section is once more dual purpose and is mostly taken from a new page I am writing to cover Mountain House, Taranaki Walks and the Forgotten World Highway - it has been based on our many previous write-ups suitably updated for this years visit. We did most of the walks described other than the Potaemae Bog walk and the 'Route to the Summit' which I will try to remember to edit out - if not please ignore them!
Mountain House is sited at 845 metres not far below Stratford Plateau, on one of the only three road entry points to Mt Egmont. We have been to Mountain House several times before - it is small but serves some of the best food we know in New Zealand. The rooms at Mountain House are simple but adequate and the price is moderate at circa $125 for a chalet with full kitchen facilities, and slightly less for a double hotel room. Berta, a skilled chef trained in her native Switzerland, takes great pride in the service provided. She and her recently deceased husband Keith have run hotels in the area for thirty years.
Keith, who was local, was killed in an unfortunate car accident involving tourists driving on the wrong side of the road, just before we came three years ago. Keith was also an artist and there are many of his pictures on the walls. Last year Berta held an exhibition of his work and launched a book which contains many of his paintings. This year we bought a set of coasters made from six of his paintings. The set up is very much a family affair and one very much feels a guest in their home - the lounge has their photo albums on the tables and their scrap books going back twenty years.
The food cooked by Berta is excellent and several previous visits we have negotiated an extra days stay when we ate the first evenings meal. The main courses are a mixture of local specialities and Swiss dishes - one of our favourites is Rabbit in Mustard Sauce. Rabbit has been a huge problem in New Zealand since it was introduced for hunting and food although not in the class of Possums at present. We sometimes make it to dessert and have their excellent home-made cheesecake often compromising and having one with two spoons. The wine list is largely NZ - there were several of our favourites on the list. They also have a special extra list which often includes wines such as our favourite Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and reds from Pegasus Bay.
Mountain House is right in the middle of the walking areas in the Taranaki National Park and the walks from Mountain House cover a variety of different forests as one works up through the tree line. Perhaps the most interesting is the Goblin forest which is primarily Kamahi which began life perched on the trunks of other trees, developing distinctive gnarled, intertwined trunks as they grew around the branches of existing trees which have now been stifled. The Kamahi trunks and branches are covered in mosses, liverworts and ferns while other trees and shrubs grow perched on the Kamahi forming compound trees.
It is difficult to give a proper impression of these walks through these spectacular rain forest which surrounds Mountain House, hopefully the pictures will convey something of the extra-ordinary atmosphere. The 15 minute circular Kamahi walk enables one to sample the goblin forests. The Patea Loop Track is a good introductory walk which takes one through the Goblin Forest past incredible moss draped fuchsias as you walk across the deeply dissected flanks of the volcanic cone. It takes a little over an hour. The Enchanted Track is a third round trip walk but one that involves considerable height gain unless you can get a lift to the Plateau and just walk down it. It drops 300 metres with spectacular views of the mountain terrain and The Dawson Falls area as well as the sea and the Tongariro mountains on a clear day. It also gives an excellent opportunity to observe how the sub-alpine scrub changes into the goblin forest as one descends. We normally do it as part of our round trip walks to Dawson Falls.
The Potaema bog walk starts five minutes drive down the road to Stratford from Mountain House. It is interesting as it takes one through a wide variety of different scenery as one approaches the edge. Swamps are areas where the normal sequence of vegetation is interrupted. The Taranaki swamps are, in effect, huge frost hollows, trapping cold air and creating completely different micro-climates in the acidic conditions created by the high nutrient concentrations with abnormally cold temperatures for the height. The Potaema bog is surrounded by a forest of Rimu, rata and Kamahi with kahikatea, New Zealand's highest growing tree growing at the edge. The forest quickly gives way manuka, lancewood, flax and large sedges with sharp cutting edges. The walk ends over the swamp on a boardwalk so one can see the rushes, sedges and blue flowered orchids.
One does need very sturdy walking shoes or preferably tramping boots for all but the Kamahi and Potaema walks even if the weather is good and it seems dry underfoot when you leave. This is an appropriate point to state, for the record, that DOC who laid out the various walks and tracks have defined most of those in Taranaki as Tramping Tracks. DOC's definition of a Tramping Track strictly means "limited formation, often with steep grades, generally marked. Suitable for the moderately fit, experienced and properly equipped people wearing tramping boots" On the longer walks one should remember that the weather on Mt Egmont is well known for rapid changes and appalling conditions can quickly develop even in summer.
The Taranaki forests have less bird life than many forests - this is largely because of the height and low temperatures which dramatically reduces the insect population and hence reduces the number of birds. There are however plenty of Tui and Bellbirds which contribute to the outstanding dawn chorus, Tomtits, the Rifleman which is the almost as small as a Wren, the almost as small Silvereye and the Plump New Zealand Pigeons. The lack of insects does however mean that birds tend to follow one in the hope you disturb the insects.
We generally book a chalet for 3 nights so that we had two full days to enjoy tramping the area. We know that there was a pleasant walk across to Dawson Falls for one day and we still have aspirations for a summit climb.
We have repeated several times the excellent round trip tramp along the Waingongoro Track to Dawson Falls, up to Wilkies Pools then returning on the High Level Round the Mountain Track then dropping down the Enchanted Walk back to Mountain House and returning on the Kamahi track. The first part of the Waingongoro Track is common to several of the walks from Mountain House but after 25 minutes one passes the turn off for the Enchanted walk. After that the stretch to Dawson Falls involves several river crossings which need some care as they can be slippery. We diverted to look at the Waingongoro hut. It is one of a series of huts spaced along the Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC) each hut taking 16 - 24 people on communal sleeping platforms and bunks. DOC have about 900 such basic huts for Trampers in New Zealand.
The most memorable part of the Waingongoro Track is crossing the swing bridge, 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 your 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 one 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.
It is worth a look round the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre which is memorable for having 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 one time as example for my customers of what not do when preparing web sites and presentation material! 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. At least they have added a good display case of stuffed birds - the girl from DOC was very helpful and understood our comments on the other displays fully and we noted last time that they now have a lot of additional and legible information and a display case of some the more common animals and birds.
It was then time for the next stage, the climb up to Wilkie's pools where the water has sculptured the rock into marvellous shapes. After scrambling up past the pools and taking a few more pictures of the smoothly sculptured rocks forming the falls from pool to pool it is a good place to stop for a muesli bar before returning to join the Upper Around the Mountain Circuit following signs for the Stratford Plateau. This section ends with some excellent views out over the valley. We do not go as far as the Plateau as that means a road walk to get back to Mountain House - instead we go down the Enchanted Track to rejoin the Waingongoro Track about half an hour away from Mountain house. The Enchanted Track had some excellent views from the Trig point before dropping steeply down what seemed like thousands of steps back to the Waingongoro Track. In actual fact the descent is 300 metres. The total time was just over 6 hours including the time for short and long stops.
We put off the tramp to the Curtis Falls for many years but in 2007 we decided the time had come to see the Falls called after us. What put us off was that it is as the Curtis Falls Track is described as a hard walk with knife edge ridges and deep gorges going across the grain of this rugged land. The track is said to cross countless streams and river radiating from the mountains drenched cone - few are bridged. The track continues on to the Maketewa Hut from whence you can climb a couple of thousand feet straight up 'the puffer' to Taurangi Lodge and back round the upper AMC to the Plateau and down to Mountain House, a challenging 5-6 hour trip we will try now we have seen the Falls. The Curtis Falls are named after the three Curtis Brothers who explored the Eastern side of the mountain in the 1880s.
The 3 hour out and return to Curtis Falls was nothing like as bad as we had expected and the track was actually in much better condition and less arduous than the trip across to Dawson Falls. We had an initial drop down and up from the Te Popo stream involving a simple river crossing and lots of steep steps and ladders. The section up the Manganui Gorge to the falls themselves does involve going up the stream bed with a lot of boulder hopping and crossings of the stream and we had everything including phone and camera in sealed bags for this section and did end up with feet which were not completely dry. It was worth it. There are actually two falls of which we only reached the first - the second is said to involve climbing a rock face on the south (left side) which was vertical, wet, covered in green stuff and extremely slippery. On our return Berta told us you should scramble up just short of the vertical bit but we could see no safe way up when we were there. We chose to extend the trip by returning via the Patea Loop Track and including and various picture stops we took four and a quarter hours.
We then set out on one of our favourite scenic roads from Stratford to Taumarunui, the SH43. This is a superb scenic road which was 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 have often been in short supply possibly due to the renaming. There are however big introductory boards at either end and signs to further comprehensive boards at most of the main points of interest. It was a fascinating trip on one of the early roads and cut across the grain of the countryside over a number of saddles giving commanding views. It is a road which is only 150 kms from end to end, some of it still unsealed, which merits (and takes) plenty of time. We have previously done the journey a couple of times from both ends but we never tire of it. This time we mainly looked for things we had missed last time round and have written them up to augment the existing information on the web site from previous trips.
The first suggested stop is at an old Douglas Brick Kiln which is listed by he New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It is situated a couple of hundred metres off the main road then down a gated farmers track. It is in poor condition and protected by an external roof.
One next passes over the series of saddles. The first Saddle, the Strathmore Saddle can give superb views and on a clear day gives a vantage of the four main North Island mountains, Taranaki (Egmont), Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. It was a favourite site for Keith's paintings.
Te Wera has a Forest and Recreational Camp which does not seem to be available for normal camping but there is an Arboritum which we have walked round a couple of times. When we passed by in 2007 the camp was closed for renovation and it ws not clear if the Arboritum was still open.
The Pohokura Saddle is named after a Maori chief from when it was settled first in 1880 - in those days the road was so bad it took three days to pack in supplies. As with many other points on the trip there are interpretation boards at the viewpoints. The Whangamomona Saddle has a walk leading off from the viewpoint which looks sufficiently interesting we will schedule it for a future trip.
Next comes a highlight of the trip, Whangamomona Village. We had first been recommended the trip and the village whilst in the Catlins by some people we met (Anne and Mike) and it had been reinforced by another suggestion from a chance meeting in Auckland with someone whose father had worked in the village. Whangamomona, the Valley of Plenty, was first settled in 1885 and quickly reached its full size of about 200. It has always been controversial and had difficult access - in 1903 the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon was tipped into a pothole by the inhabitants as a protest at the road conditions and eventually improvements came.
The community spirit still survives, although to some it now looks little more than a ghost town. In 1989 the village declared itself an independent state in protest at changes in the regional boundaries which removed it from its home in Taranaki. Independence Day celebrations are held every year on the Saturday closest to November 1st. One year 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. There is a signposted walking trail round the village which we followed part of - much of the village is like a time warp which has led to it being used for several films. we went into the hotel in 2007 and had a look at the boards on the walls and saw they were serving some very good value food although it was a bit early for lunch.
The next high point is the Tahora Saddle where we found the Kaieto café and "camp site" perched on the peak - a wooden platform on the peak doubles as a view point and helipad. The café looks as if the meals are good and there is accommodation and slots for camper vans. The sheltered camping area is relative only to the exposure of the remainder of the hill top! It is somewhere to return to stay but in a cabin. The café is full of old pictures and information despite being only a few years old and in previous years we had an interesting talk to the lady who runs it who was Russian. Then the family had three qualified helicopter pilots and they were trying to sell the café in 2005. We stopped in 2007 and met the new owner. It looks as if he is into the vintage car and motor bike scene and they had a picture album on the tale with lots of groups from vintage societies when they stopped on their way past. They now have a small paddock for camping which has spectacular views in almost every direction but may be a little exposed in inclement weather. The helipad was used extensively by Tom Cruise who used to fly up from New Plymouth for a coffee when he was filming.
On one occasion we have taken a side trip 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 camp-site.
We stopped in 2007 for the first time to look at Morgan's grave. Joshua Morgan was a well known surveyor who died in this remote area at 35 from perotinitus and is taken as a memorial to all the men who played a part in openig up this difficult country. The grave is well preserved and only about 700 metres from a small car park.
The Tangarakua Gorge, carved by the river into sedimentary sandstone is very spectacular and redolent with luxuriant native bush
It is worth a walk up to Nevin's Lookout, about five minutes, to a magnificent 360 degree view even with relatively low cloud base. With good visibility it is spectacular.
There is a side trip off the SH43 was to the Maraekowhai reserve. The site is of interest to us for several reasons. Historically it was a stronghold for the rebellious Hauhau warriors who in 1864 built a "rongo niu" with arms radiating in four directions to call the warriors to the cause. They danced round it chanting to make themselves invincible to musket fire. It and the later rere kore (peace pole) are still preserved in the reserve. The main reason for our interest is that it was the site of the Houseboat which was provided the second overnight stop for the Whanganui river boats on their way to Taumarunui. The site is about 18 kms off the main road down a mostly a slow and narrow gravel track. When we eventually arrived the first time we found we could not reach the poles or the site of the Houseboat mooring as a swing bridge was down but in exchange discovered there were a super set of waterfalls the Ohura Falls.
We tried again in 2007 and found we had to stop short of the car park as it was said to be too muddy for access and we found the whole track is now under threat of closure by DOC as it is not to modern standards and they say nobody visits it - the visitors book tells a very different story. We could still get to the falls but the walkway section was in a terrible state with many broken boards and we could still not get to where the poles were or to the site of the houseboat - there is no evidence now there ever was a swing bridge and most of the information boards have disappeared. We explored down some of the farmers tracks but could not find our way to the river and eventually gave up. See below for how we got down the Tawata road on the opposite side of the river and at least got a good view across of the nui poles and the houseboat mooring.
We looked for the Aukopae River boat landing down a side road first in 2003. 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 5 kms down the road (more a farmers track) to where the book said the Nukunuku 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 was probably a memorial to 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 returned in 2007 to have another look and we managed to clean up the stone a bit better this time and confirmed it read Richard Taylor but we think it is inscribed "Richard Taylor camped near here on 8th?? August 1862". This time we have a couple of pictures but they will need some enhancement to read the inscription.
The Otunui River Boat Landing is also on the Whanganui and 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.
On the final stretch towards Taumarunui one passes Herlihy's Bluff which consists of alternating layers of course sandstone and fine mudstone laid down to a total thickness of about 1.3 kms when the region was below the sea about 15-25 million years ago. They gave considerable trouble to the road builders and are still unstable and you are not allowed to stop whilst passing them.
The next part will continue with more about Taumarunui, a backtrack to a couple of features on the Forgotten World Highway, and then Rotoua and East Cape.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
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