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Touring New Zealand 2009 - part 2

The last part left us in Thames having just completed our walks in the Kauaeranga Valley to the old Kauri Dam

We emailed our friends in Wellington, enquiring when it would be best to visit them, and the answer which came back suggested the following weekend. This was on Tuesday evening and we were in Thames which is 587 kms and over 8 hours driving from Wellington. We had to make Wellington by Friday evening, and the obvious first staging point was Rotorua. On the way we stopped at the Waikino Railway Station on the Karangahake Gorge, another area with historic remains of gold mining. The walls of the old building are covered in old photographs of the area, and as were leaving the little tourist train from Waihi arrived. We continued to Waihi, where the Martha Mine has been operated by Newmont Mining Corporation as an open pit since 1987. Since 2006 they also operate an underground mine - Favona. The old Cornish Pumphouse, which was relocated in 2006 and is the iconic image of the town, is the starting point for the new Martha Mine Walkway which is a complete circle around the Martha Mine hole. Although we were short on time we could not resist the chance to see Martha Mine from the far side, as well as access the Old Bullion Store. The path is good although it passes very close to private housing and out-of-bound areas.

We both like Rotorua and we usually stay at the Top10 Holiday Park, which is within walking distance of the town, if the weather is OK. The tent went up quickly and we ambled down the road to the Pig and Whistle for our usual Spare Ribs and Kumara chips, washed down with their Swine Lager. This part of Rotorua has not changed. The next morning we packed our tent and then visited two of the famous thermal areas. In the morning we visited the Waimangu Thermal Valley. Arriving at 1000 we had time to walk slowly down the valley, admiring the lakes, steaming cliffs, and colourful terraces and arriving on the shores of Lake Rotomahana at 1200. This year there was a new path, the Mt Haszard hiking trail, starting from the blue Inferno Crater and passed Raupo Pond crater, Fairy crater, and Black crater before rejoining the old path by the hot stream between Bus Stops 1 and 2. We then waited for the bus at 1235 to take us back to the Ticket Office at the top of the hill.

Then in the afternoon we went to Wai-o-tapu. The mud pools on the entry road were bubbling well and the whole site was lively. We always do the full tour, which is timed accurately at 75 minutes. The highlight is always the Champagne Pool, which has such wonderful colours, and this year it was clear and perfect for photos. Champagne pool is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see.

It was now too late to travel far, so we stayed overnight at Motutere Bay on the shores of Lake Taupo. The town of Taupo itself is too busy for us, but Motutere is a quiet holiday park on the lakeside, and is some 20 kms beyond Taupo. We stopped just to buy an ice cream, but we checked on the off-chance they still had a space and found they had some extra new cabins, and one of their 'kitchen cabins' was vacant for the night at $60. It was much easier than putting up our tent and meant we could leave early in the morning. We planned to get to Wellington between 1700 and 1800 and hoped to make a detour to visit the Tokomaru Steam Museum en route. So we knew we had to leave early and there would be no time to wait for a tent to dry.

Driving along the Desert Road in the early morning we were very lucky and got an excellent view of the central mountains. Although we have taken photos in previous years we could not resist yet another picture or two. We stopped in Bulls for fuel and ice creams, and arrived at Tokomaru just after lunch. We gratefully accepted a cup of coffee and some of Esma's Christmas cake, and caught up with their news. We had just missed the last of the steaming days which had been the previous weekend – every year the problems of certification of the boilers gets worse for the classic riveted type. Colin's latest project is the restorations of a 50 year old grader and two more had recently arrived for spares. The engine is largely ready to run again and he was trying to unlock the drive, helped by a neighbour and some long crowbars – next stage was the big torches to free up the seized brake drum so it could be extracted. Some jobs need two pairs of hands and Colin is due to have the first of a pair of hip operations in February. Meanwhile he needs to use sticks and ladders with specially close spaced steps.

We continued south at 1500, stopping for a short time at a second-hand bookshop in Shannon. We have bought books there before, but were not very hopeful of finding anything on our wish-list. We were lucky. There was a nice old book on NZ trees, the souvenir book of QE2's 1983 world cruise, and the book by Ross May on the West Coast goldfields. We had been searching for the latter for several years, but good copies are very expensive reaching over $200. Our copy was NZ$14 and is ex-library so is not very tidy but we wanted the book in order to read the contents, not as an investment. We were very happy.

At 1730 we reached Wellington, and settled down for a long chat with our friends John and Blyth. On Saturday they did chores and shopping while we walked into Wellington. We entered the Botanic Garden through the Mariri Entrance, looking for the Duck Pond. Pauline needed to get rid of half a sliced loaf. Walking towards the Main Entrance there were decorated trees - one pohutukawa was draped in red ribbons and its neighbour was covered in white lace doyleys and tablecloths. We had joined the Art Trail. Our target was the Bolton Street Memorial Park which had been the cemetary for the Wellington colony between 1840 and 1892. It comprises three separate cemetaries - Church of England, Jewish and public. As well as interesting headstones the park contains the Selwyn oak which is believed to have been planted by Bishop Selwyn, NZ's first Anglican Bishop and also past Archbishop of Lichfield. Our target was Te Papa Museum, on the waterfront. Pete was keen to rush into the new displays, but Pauline persuded him to have a lgith lunch first which was good value although a steak pie is hardly 'light'. The Colossal Squid is a new specimen. It weighs 495kgs and is 4.2 metres long. It is preserved in a shallow bath and was originally caught in 2007 in the Antarctic, frozen on board the ship, and then brought to experts for careful thawing and preservation. It is clear from the suture marks that the squid was very fragile after thawing, and there were bubbles in the preserving fluid. It is an important specimen, as Te Papa states only two of nine adult specimens reported have been complete.

Sunday was spent hiking. We walked up to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary from the bus terminus at the end of Highbury Road. The perimeter track is also a cycle route, alongside the high predator-proof fence. Climbing up to the ECNZ Wind Turbine itself seemed an achievement and we could see in the distance our next target, the golf ball Radome on Hawkins Hill. The NZ Herald reported on 29 January that there are going to be 62 much larger wind turbines built in the west of Wellington, so the solitary one here must be deemed a success. The road was sealed, and the highlight was being approached by a large ostrich. It was quite exposed and very windy but the 360 degree views were worth it as we were on the highest point for miles in every direction - and we could see the snow on the mountains in South Island clearly. We dropped down a very rough path to the Landfill Site, and then were back on sealed roads to Island Bay, the bus route and a dairy selling huge icecreams - we felt we deserved it! Even on Sundays there are frequent buses back to town and we made a few lucky changes so the trip was quick. When we came to remove our boots we discovered how rough the descent had been - our bargain boots from the Warehouse will never be the same again. Three out of four heels had splits in the soles but they had given 3 years of service for $10 a pair (two for the price of one at the end of a sale). We subsequently used cyno-acrylic glue and they still lasted out another rough walk round Egmont but that will come in the next part of our travels.

We left Wellington planning to end up in the Martinborough wineyards after a look at The Fell Locomotive Museum in Featherstone but at Kaitoke we saw a sign to the Rimutaka Incline. Opening in 1878 the Rimutaka Incline Railway operated until 1955 when a new tunnel was built. HM Queen Elizabeth II descended the incline in the Royal Train from Wellington during her visit in 1953/54. Kaitoke is on the western side and there is a gentle 10km track through the Pakuratahi Forest to the Summit. East of the Summit the Rimutaka Incline Track runs down the incline to Cross Creek. It was the steepest railway line in NZ, and dropped 265m in less than 5km. It was here that the Fell engine system operated, and the only remaining Fell locomotive, H199, whose restoration was completed in 1990, is on display at Featherstone. It was originally built in Bristol. Seven engines were built and they used John Fell's method of four grip wheels on a raised centre rail for added traction and braking. The Museum has historic pictures of goods trains made up of four or five Fell engines, spaced along the set of wagons. As well as the Fell Engines there were special Brake Vans added to each train for the descents in similar numbers. They had iron brake shoes which were clamped to the rails and the shoes had to be replaced after every descent as they were completely worn away - they were made of a less durable iron deliberately so the central rail was not appreciably worn. By the end of the descent they would be white hot. As well as engine H199 the museum has restored a Brake-Van F210 which was built in 1898 - it was used on the incline for 57 years before it was moved to the Rewanui Incline for another 11 years before ending up at MOTAT where it fell into decline until the restoration started in 1995. We chatted to Chris Lea who wrote the original story of the locomotive and its restoration, and has donated and restored many artifacts in the Museum. After a picnic lunch in the park opposite we were tempted into an Antique shop and came out with two nice Wedgwood tea plates, wrapped in a 'free' lacey tablecloth. They will be useful for the Gatsby Picnic at Art Deco in Napier later.

We drove out to Cross Creek, hoping to walk part of the incline. We found the parking and access gate but the path was too rough and steep for us at that time of day. Another time we will walk along from the Kaitoke side hwere there is a long gentle walk up to the summit, then it is downhill along the incline. We have not really looked very carefully at the history of the railways in New Zealand but they also played an important role in the development of the Country. We are thinking about bringing what we know about the influence of transport in the development of New Zealand together in a separate web page after we have investigated a bit further - maybe transport will be our theme for this years visit.

The road to Cross Creek continues along the shore of Lake Wairarapa, and although much of the shoreline is private there is a small pretty Scenic Reserve with direct access to the lake. It was a perfect spot for lunch, but not for camping. We retraced our steps through Featherstone heading north, and between Greytown and Carterton we followed a sign to the Waiohine Gorge. It was a DOC camping area, and was much further from the main road than we expected - due to crossing a fold on the page of our map. When we eventually arrived it was a delightful spot, there was only one other camper in a large bus, and a few groups of picnicers who eventually left. The river below was crossed by a swingbridge, and had a swimming hole, which looked appealing but was seriously cold. There was no box for payment, probably wise in such an isolated spot, but suggested giving a contribution of $6 each to a local DOC Office. We would stay there again.

There are other DOC camping grounds in the area, and we have stayed at Mount Holdsworth previously, which is a large camping ground. Further north on our map was marked Kiriwhakapapa, which we did not know. It was only a short distance from the main Highway 2, so we detoured. It was small, but with a shelter and good basic facilities and only $2 per night. There was just one small tent pitched and we saw places which were flat and large enough for us. This would be another good option, but it was just an open piece of grass and there was no shelter from the wind. Continuing north we turned down the Pahiatua Track. This sealed road between Pahiatua and Palmerston North was the only road open in the floods (of 2001 ?), when we were nearly stuck at Gary and Sally's Motel. Next stop this evening will be in Wanganui, and we have already booked our cabin.

 

The next part will continue at the town of Wanganui and the Whanganui River Road, yes they are different spellings, Taumarunui, The Forgotten World Highway and the Tawhiti Museum. There will be more about transport including trams at Wanganui and the Main Trunk railway including our ride on the Overlander through the world famous Raurimu spiral - another solution to the challenging terrain and gradients in New Zealand.

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