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Touring New Zealand 2008 - Part 5

We left Luggate after the Warbirds Over Wanaka 2008 airshow late on the Sunday afternoon having put the tent away lovely and dry and started the journey back to North Island and Auckland for the flight home. It was a glorious still afternoon and evening without a cloud in the sky as we traveled to camp site at Lake Ruataniwha which we used last visit to the area. The lake is used as a rowing centre, and was fairly full as it was Easter and there was a big rowing competition the following weekend. We have a favourite cabin which has a big cool Verandah with fridge freezer, microwave, TV, tables, toaster, kettle, outside chairs etc with full crockery and kitchen tools but it had gone, in fact all the cabins were gone so it was time to put the tent up. The only tent slots away from the school parties were small and under the trees so we decided to keep the big tent dry and put up our emergency 6 sided tent. It turned out to be a good idea as it was thick mist and heavy condensation and with the small tent we could just put it in a bag and worry latter.

In the morning we stopped at the viewpoint towards the central mountains at the end of Lake Pukaki. The lake was an even more entrancing pale blue than usual - the colour comes from all the fine dust brought down in the melt water from the glaciers which have been grinding there way down the mountain sides. It is almost impossible to describe a pale, almost iridescent blue. Beyond the lake, and nearly 50 kms away the central mountains were sharply etched against the blue sky, all with snow-covered tops and with Mount Cook towering over them. We continued towards lake Tekapo some of the many private roads following the canals, which connect the various lakes and power stations providing hydroelectric power. These roads are open for use with some restrictions, such as speed, and most are tarmac and to a very high quality, in fact some of the Heritage trails such as the Bullock Trail, use these roads. There has been much argument over the flooding of the valleys but the results are a number of extremely beautiful areas.

There are salmon farms on some of the canals and we have stopped at the High Country Salmon Farm. It like a number of other they keep the salmon in the fast flowing clean canals feeding the hydroelectric schemes. We have been persuaded to feed some in the 'cage' adjacent to where they were selling and the results of throwing in food surprised us - the salmon hit at an impressive speed sometimes leaping several feet out of the water. The 'cage' seemed to be about 12 foot square but we were told it had over 800 salmon which looked as if they were about 50 cm long, say a couple of Kilos.

Tekapo

We then moved on to Tekapo, which lies in MacKenzie country, a vast basin of golden tussock grass with the lake at 2,300 feet above sea level, an area known for sheep. Maori were the first to venture into this area. In 1855 James MacKenzie, of sheep stealing fame, found the pass used by the Maori opening up the area, which now bears his name. The Maori name for the lake comes from Taka, sleeping mat and Po, night. The lake gets the magnificent pale blue colour from the large amount of finely ground rock in the glacial melt water that feeds it.

The best-known feature is the tiny and very beautiful Church of Good Shepherd. The church is small, only serving a population of 300 but is unique in foregoing the stained glass or other decoration behind the alter and has instead a window showing a stunning view over the lake to the central mountains - better than anything man could ever create. I used a picture taken through the window for Xmas cards in 1999. The Church was built in 1935 and is now interdenominational and as well as regular services it does a good trade in Weddings, 90 some years. The builders of the Church were instructed that the site was to be left undisturbed - even the Matagouri bushes surrounding the building were to remain as did any rocks that happened to be on the lines of the walls. The stones for the walls had to be procured within 8 kms of the site, were to un-chipped and left in their natural condition. The original wooden shingle roof has however had to be replaced with slate.

The volunteer, David, who often mans the Church, is a mine of information and on an early visit first persuaded us to do the full climb up Mount John - he does it several times a week and takes an hour and a half. It is a relatively easy walk with an initial 1000-foot height gain and then a walk round the top with magnificent views in all directions including into the central Alps and Mount Cook. You can either descend the same way or take a long loop and back close to the lakeside. Our logs from earlier trips show we took an hour and a quarter to the top and three hours for the long return loop and our best times show we were at the high point in three quarters of an hour and back on the extended loop in two hours ten minutes including time to admire the views, have a snack and take photographs. This year he told us that he has started taking a tent with him so he can extend his walks.

We then past through Fairlie with its good camp site and even better small museum to Geraldine where we stopped for an ice cream. We stopped to have a look at the amazing mosaic re-creation of the Bayeux Tapestry which a gentleman has been working on it for the past 20 years. He showed how he'd done it by breaking off the tiny teeth from a metal wheel used in knitting machines and glued them onto squares of tape in a random pattern to create a mosaic-like background. Then he painted on that background to replicated the famous tapestry. There are also a number of puzzles coded into the patterns and he has spent the last seven years computerising them. We ended up buying the book.

We traveled on and decided to see if there was a cabin at the camp site at the small but excellent Mt Somers Holiday Park which we have used several times when exploring the road to Erewhon They have half a dozen of the basic cabins we were interested in on the site - good value at $?? as they are new construction and very well equipped with crockery cutlery, kettle and toaster to complement the full kitchen, laundry etc. in the facilities block. The site even has a games room with table tennis and the pub opposite does good meals. The combination makes it a perfect stopping place

The owner once more extolled the virtues of a trip into the mountains down a gravel road that turned out to be very worthwhile. It initially passes the mines, an old limestone working and a limekiln that we stopped to look round on the return trip. The road had superb views and led eventually to Erewhon Station which was featured in the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler, one of the classic New Zealand books we bought and read several years ago. Now the book has been mentioned in the Lord of the Rings Location guidebook by Ian Brodie it will probably become extremely expensive and difficult to find, however it may lead people to also read the other classics in the series - fortunately we now have copies of most of them! The area just short of Erewhon was used for part of the filming of Lord of the Rings, a camp was set up for 11 months and near Mt Potts Station. Mt Sunday is a rocky outcrop rising above the alluvial shingle plane left when ancient glaciers carved out the Rangitata River valley. This was used as the site of Edoras the capital of Rohan lying at the feet of the White Mountains near the river Snowborne.

As one approached the jagged snow covered peaks over a ridge one is suddenly presented with the view of Mt Sunday ahead surrounded by a flat covered in brown tussock and the braided tributaries of the river Rangitata. We stopped for a snack where Pauline sketched last time and did the initial stages of a water colour, photographs can only start to do it justice and it will be interesting to see how much of the essence can be instilled into a watercolour if she ever gets round to finishing it after 4 years!

We continued past Mt Potts station to viewpoints where one could look up at Mt Sunday, itself a tiny feature in the vastness of the plain and surrounding mountains. As one continues one gets to look at Erewhon Station nestling at the foot of the mountains. Samuel Butlers description is as true now as when he wrote Erewhon "Never shall I forget the utter loneliness of the prospect - only the little far away homestead giving sign of human handiwork, the vastness of mountain and plain, of river and sky; the marvelous atmospheric effects - sometimes black against a white sky, and then again, after cold weather, white mountains against a black sky." The book had led us to seek out Erewhon before we even knew the area had been kidnapped by for the Lord of the Rings although it is fair to say they have made good and you would hardly know there had been a small township for 11 months in this area.

In the evening we looked in at the pub and had two huge mixed grills - we were warned there was a long wait but we settled down with a jug or two of beer and time passed quickly. The walls of the pub are covered with information boards on the history of the area and walks through it. It used to be a small-scale coal mining area and there are pictures of the railway, initially narrow gauge and with several homemade engines. There was also an 'inclined plane' for a balanced up and down coming truck covering the final 164-metre height gain much like Denniston. Mt Somers has a fascinating local store - it looks in a time warp but always has a steady stream of customers.

We then traveled on the backroads meeting some local traffic then passing through Rangiora where we did some banking before getting to Pegasus just as they started lunches. We discover Pegasus almost by chance ten years ago - we had picked up a camper van in Christchurch and our first stop was to fill up with food and drink at a supermarket where we discovered one could not buy wine on a Sunday (this has now changed). This turned out to be very fortunate as we discovered the Pegasus winery. New Zealander's in those days had a certain flexibility and Wineries could sell on a Sunday. We tried a couple of their Reds and immediately ordered some and also enquired about their restaurant which turned out to still have some seats available. The food was as good as the wine and we have been coming back ever since. The winery has had an ambitious expansion programme which includes accommodation an increased size restaurant and an expansion of their programme of opera evenings.

It is very much a family affair with the father a professor who lectures and writes about wine, his wife has trained as a chef under Pru Leith in London and one son has been sent to Adelaide and has a degree in wine making and is now their winemaker. Pegasus are probably best known for there reds but they are also very proud of their rieslings. It is now two decades since the vineyard was planted and the Riesling is doing well on an old river terrace with good drainage leading to high stress and low vigour resulting in tiny crops of 2 ton acre of excellent quality from well ripened grapes from there 'stressed' grape vines. They typically stop the fermentation with a little (7.5gms/litre) sugar - it can compare very well with a good German Kabinet and most Spatlese. The family have done a lot of experimenting to get wines from each variety that fully express the site. This year they offered the option of 4 half glasses to try with the meal. We also finished the meal with a glass of the Aria, a late picked Riesling.

The vineyard has good shelter from Easterlies surrounded by hills. The local microclimate 3-4 degrees warmer than rest of Canterbury and is now recognised as a separate sub-region. It is particularly good for muscular Pinot Noir and Riesling . Chris is very keen on Opera and they have operas in the gardens in the summer, Chris sings in many operas in the area. Opera links extends to their top wines which are called Aria, Finale etc. Their building have been extending steadily since we first visited in 1996 and are now almost finished, the finale stage being a library of older wines.

We then had the long drive up the coast past Kaikoura to Blenheim where we stopped at an old favourite camp site at the Spring Creek Holiday Park, a lovely older style camping site by the river. Even the simplest cabins have a fridge and kettle but have now become rather expensive. It is however in a perfect situation for the Vineyards especially if you prefer to avoid towns. Follow the Repaura road to the right as you enter Spring Creek (5 km before Blenheim) from the Picton Direction and it is about a kilometer on the right. Five kilometers further down the Repaura road you pass Hunters and the next left into Giffords road takes you past Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott and Cairnbrae all of which we have written about. This year it was in new hands with an even newer manager and he is trying to undo some neglect - it is not clear he is succeeding although there is a lovely new kitchen block the cabins were very run down and smoke and cigarette ends seem to pervade the site, it seems to now be full of people picking in the wineries and other longer term people. Camping may be OK but check the cabins carefully to see if he has cracked the problems.

In the morning we went Alan Scott to buy some more fizzy at $60 a half case before heading for Picton and the Ferry. We managed to move our bookings forward twice so we ended up in Wellington much earlier than we expected. We picked up the case and bag we had left with John and Blyth and after a quick talk we continued to Upper Hutt where we booked a cabin. In the morning we took what looked like a short cut across to Paraparaumu on a backroad which was narrow and hilly and certainly saved no time. WE then had a very long drive up through Bulls, Taihape and Waiouru, passing Lake Taupo and Taupo town to finally come to rest at Rotorua.

Our favourite motel in Rotorua was the Monterey but it is no more - developers had been buying the land all round them and were planning buildings which would overlook and dominate there small motel. We stayed at the adjacent Regent Motel, which was slightly cheaper, for two nights to recover and write up. The motel had free Wifi so we could upload the Warbirds over Wanaka 2008 page with its 90 pictures.

We had a walk around Kuirau Park, an area with a fair amount of thermal activity although right in the centre of town beside the hospital. A couple of years ago it had started getting more active and areas were fenced off - we heard then that it exploded and had recently showered the centre of Rotorua with hot mud. 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.

This time many more areas were fenced off but the levels in the pools were much lower than last year when some of the pools equaled the best in the 'commercial' thermal areas such as Waimangu and Wai-o-tapu for the colours, deep yellows at the surface contrasting with deep blues and greens in the holes with bubbles rising to the surface - miniature Champaign pools. This time it was much less spectacular. We also had a walk out past the Polynesian pools along the lakeside where there are other thermal areas.

We left on the Paes Pa road which is now sealed and renamed the SH36 which takes one to Tauranga - it is possible to wiggle across the main road and cut through to Bethlehem to get to Mills Reef Winery, which was our first priority, without going into the town. Ollie who we got to know well in the wine tasting area has left but his replacement Ken was a fund of knowledge and we spent far too long chatting and sampling before lunch. We learned far more than usual from him. Mills Reef are happy to share their top of the range 'Elspeth' wines with us as well as the normal and Reserve ranges. The pride of the father and son winemaking team Paddy and Tim Preston shows through in everything we heard and read and their success has been confirmed by the fact that they have won over 250 medals in national and international shows since the Prestons established the winery in 1989. We bought a Syrah and an Elspeth One.

The food was as good as ever and we have written about it several times so we will say no more other than to extol again the superb 'Ode to the Mighty Lemon' which was memorable - it did not seem anything would be able to compete with the earlier offerings such as the tender port chop on a kumera and parsnip mash but we were wrong. It consisted of a lemon halved and overfilled with a lemon comfit ice cream with lemon peel, a burnt lemon cream topped with a crisp caramel and an indescribably rich lemon sauce (closest to a lemon curd but that does not do it justice) in a dark chocolate case. Overall a restaurant worthy of a considerable detour to enjoy even without the winery side and a contender for our top slot as a combination of wine quality, standard of tasting and quality of the restaurant food.

We then continued to Waihi to see the old Cornish Pumphouse, which is the iconic building representing the town of Waihi in its new position, now with the surroundings landscaped so one can walk round it. We remember getting close to it some ten years ago, but later it was considered too dangerous for people to walk there, as the ground was unstable. It has been moved as it was sinking into the old shaft due to subsidence and the whole area needed to be regraded to stabilise the rim of the mine. The initial material has been removed but they now want to move a lot more in other areas, one asks oneself if it is likely to contain gold.

The movement of the pumphouse has been quite a feat - we had a visit two years ago when they were explaining to the residents how it would all occur. The pumphouse weighs 1800 tons and was cut from its even more massive foundations by diamond saws and moved slowly on a special track on teflon pads by massive rams. The journey of a few hundred meters took many months. We walked on the new walkway round the rim towards the Mining Centre. They are not yet ready to start to fill the pit with water. We then had time to visit the bookshop before leaving for our last stop before Auckland and packing at Thames where we had booked ahead to Dixon's Holiday park where we knew they have good cabins - we wanted to keep the tents dry. We were welcomed as old friends and given a free hours WiFi access and lent some mentholated spirit to try to get the gum from a pine tree off Pete's favourite gray jacket.

It was then on to Auckland - we stopped off on the way at Ardmore Airfield to see if there was anyone from the Catalina to give a CD of our pictures from Wanaka. We ended up also giving another CD to the New Zealand Warbirds Association and sitting chatting in their clubroom for an hour or more. We then continued to Auckland via Devonport. It was then the tedious task of packing all our stuff away and storing it in the garage and trying to get within the weight limits yet get as many of our new books back as possible - difficult after 3 months away including being on the Queen Victoria with fancy clothes for a month. We are now planning for our return next year!

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