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|Touring New Zealand 2009 part 3|
The last part left us in Wairarapa where we had stayed at the DOC camp site at Waiohine Gorge for the first time, having travelled north from Wellington via Featherstone where we had looked at the Fell engines and had been to both ends of the Rimutaka Incline.
We pushed on north to Wanganui where we had rung ahead to book a cabin for two nights at the Whanganui River Top Ten Holiday Park as it was still very windy. We have used their cabins and camped there several times. It on the banks of the Whanganui river and is a small and friendly site compared to many of the Top Tens which have now become impersonal, expensive money generating machines fitting in the largest number of big camper vans possible. Its cabins are of the older style but perfectly adequate and the kitchens well equipped. Outside the kitchen there is a large flowerbed well stocked with every herb you could ask for to use when you cook. The fridges and freezers are large and the fancy glass doored type. The South African owners have a goat, which we met last year - not an entirely constructive precess as it was rather more mobile on its cables than we expected and we had to move the tent from our lovely spot on the river bank to avoid it being consumed. They have added a number of floppy eared ornamental rabbits as well as ducks and geese tame enough to be stroked and completely immune to discussions of Orange Sauce.
We used the kitchens the first evening but chose to use the van and Red Devil the second night as there was a Rotary Club get together and even the 4 huge barbeques looked fully occupied with 160 steaks and 300 sausages. It worked out well and we sat on the bench in front of the unit and ate fried whitebait and then venison burgers, steak and salad both with freshly baked bread. The wine was a very well priced ($5.99 on special at Countdown) South African Syrah called OBiKWA which we had sampled with Christine - good that evening but not so good in the night requiring copious drafts of water - we have yet to try the matching Pinotage.
We had a light day and Pauline spent a bit of time keeping up with the OU teaching and starting writing the newsletter - we have been very slow to start this year but have had a few people ask if we are intending to carry on so she has made a real effort at the text whilst Pete set up the web pages, email lists etc on the new machine. We are very pleased with the MSI Wind U100 - it weighs in at only a fraction over a kg but has a nearly full size keyboard and evrything else one could think of built in including Wifi, Webcam and bluetooth. Not suprisingly we have replaced the Windows XP it came with with Ubuntu Linux and apart from the restricted screen size of 1024x600 it is very easy to use. With a spare big battery we have 6 or more hours use and the new Vodafone NZ prepay tariff gives us 10 Mbytes a day for a dollar a day - I found they even text you when you get to 8 Mbytes to warn you so with Linux it means our internet access is more than we need for normal use.
We then went into town to the Whanganui Riverboat Centre and had a talk to Dave McDermid who runs it. There are now two fully restored riverboats running out of the Museum. The Waimarie was restored for 1st January 2000 and runs every day. The smaller Wairua, which entered the water again on 3rd March 2006, runs less often. She is moored at a new floating pontoon a few tens of metres upstream from the Waimarie. Dave told us that there was a possibility of joining a trip on the Wairua on the following Sunday if a charter group who wanted to go to Hipango Park could find enough people. The Wairua 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 is 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. Dave was one of the four who carried out the restoration. 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 priviledged 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 him as he has an excellent web site covering the Whanganui Riverboats with lots of pictures, both historic and recent.
We were pleased at the opportunity for another trip on the Wairua and as we were leaving the Museum Dave suggested that we visited the Tramways trust which was just down the road. It was our first visit and is comparatively recent so this description will form the basis for a section of the independent web page on NZ 'railed' transport covering trains and trams etc., we spoke of earlier.
Wanganui, although only having a population at the time of 9000 in 1908 became the first provincial town in NZ to have a tramway and an advanced electric system was used instead of steam as used in London and Paris. In total twelve trams came into service between 1909 and 1912 and the system ran until 1950. Trams 8, 10 and 12 have survived. The tram which has been restored is Number 12, built by the Boon Tramcar company in Christchurch, New Zealand in about 1911. It was one of six shipped from Christchurch to Wanganui and was brought into service in 1912. The internal layout was a popular one comprising three compartments: two open and a central enclosed one and was commonly described as "Californian" because of the American influence on its design. Boon and Co were founded in 1875 and produced trams for the Christchurch, Wanganui, Invercargill, Napier, Gisborne and New Plymouth systems. Joseph Boon was a coach builder trained in London and his tramcars showed the fine workmanship of their horse-drawn vehicle heritage.
Although the Wanganui Corporation Tramway system was closed and the tram stock disposed of in September 1950, it seems likely that No 12 was last used in the early 1940's. It was stripped of its operating systems and sold for conversion into a batch, a summer holiday home, at Castlecliff near its old terminus. Collector Jack Ryder saw it there in 1960, bought it and transported it to a shed in Avondale, Auckland where it languished for twenty years. Aucklander David Harre saw it and approached Mr Ryder, now aged 80 and no longer in a position to achieve his dream of restoring the tram. He bought it in the nick of time as the tram had been severely damged by water leaking through the roof of the collapsing shed. It is rumoured that the tram cost $10,000 plus two chairs from the ill fated inter-island ferry "Penguin". The tram was transported, without charge, to a purpose built shed at Oratia by Yukich Bros Contracting. An Incorporated Society to restore the tram was established and the restoration is almost complete, thanks to the dedication of David Harre, hundreds of volunteers and grants from Lotto Environment and Heritage, Pub Charity, and the Pacific Conservation Trust.
The restoration of the carriage was largely completed by David Harre and a Brill 21e bogey replacement was located in the USA. A tram pole and mount has been generously gifted to No 12 by Ian Little of the Trolley Bus Museum at Foxton. He gifted the tram to the people of Wanganui through the Wanganui District Council and for it to run again in that city on condition that the tram must stay in Wanganui, a Conservation Plan was adhered to, appropriate shelter was provided and, most important - the Tram must be used as a people's transport in the streets of Wanganui. A feasibility study has been completed and the preferred route has the tram traveling about 1.4Kms connecting various cultural locations in the Old Town of Wanganui. The first section will be to link the new tram shed to the Riverboat museum after which it will continue round the central block of town in a roughly square route.
The new tramshed is completed making use of an old building lifted to a suitable height and a power supply installed using an AC/DC convertor. The tram body has been impeccably restored and we could walk through it. The bogey has been rebuilt and is being rewired to modern standards ready for the body to be attached. The new manager is rapidly overcoming the various problems in getting the various planning consents for the various sections of track - it must be the first time in decades that tram lines and power lines are reinstalled into a major city. He has a novel mounting for the track in an insulating rubber which will reduce vibration and damage to the tram whilst removing the gaps which are a danger to cyclists whose wheels get trapped in conventional track sending them AOA in a spectacular fashion.
Having looked round the Tram Museum and distracted the manager for far too long we walked round the town which tends to be underrated - it has many lovely Art Deco buildings as well as good shops. We watched the Waimarie depart for the afternoon cruise at 1400 and returned to the camp site. The next day we left Wanganui on the 'River Road', a trip we have done before and written up, so some of our regular readers will want to skip the next section(s) although we have added some new material from a visit to the fabulous church at Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most interesting way to explore the Whanganui by road is up what is called the River Road, an old road running by the side of the Whanganui river from Wanganui to Pipiriki. Raetihi is usually taken as the start from upstream although you do not join the river until Pipiriki. The River Road Scenic and Historic Drive is a partly gravel road which has had a few atrocious sections scattered with boulders up to 10cms in size on some of our trips. Even so it is a must if you are interested in the history of the Whanganui and the culture of the area. You need to allow plenty of time and it is worth knowing there is another largely unpublicised DOC camp site at Otumaire beside the road at exactly the halfway mark between Wanganui and Pipiriki where you can stop.
The best direction is upstream from Wanganui to Pipiriki as the information sheets have all the distances from that direction and most of the tiny parking areas for viewpoints are more easily accessed as they are on the river side. The descriptive leaflets are well worth having as they do help understand the features on the road. They are available in Wanganui and Taumarunui information centres and many other places. There are also a series of roadside boards at points of interest but some are in need of some tidying up and some are missing so the leaflets are important.
If you go upstream you first pass through a series of Kainga, the unfortified settlements along the coast that replaced the original series of fighting Pa on the hilltops known as the necklace of fire. The Kainga settlements at the riverside were the results of the missionaries influence and in many cases the Maori asked the Rev Taylor for suggests for their names and what remains is the Maori pronunciations of his suggestions. You pass through Atene (Athens at 35.5km), Koriniti (Corinth at 47 km), Ranana (London at 60km) and Hiruharama (Jerusalem at 66km).
Hiruharama (Jerusalem) has a very fine church which is worth a visit as you pass by. Jerusalem was once the largest Kainga on the river and was in the middle of a populous district. It was the meeting place for many korero (discussions). The catholic mission was first established in 1854 and the current church, St Josephs was completed in 1892 replacing the original building which had burnt down four years earlier. It is up a side road signed as St Josephs's Church and also to the Convent where they do retreats - we parked on the grass beside the church but suspect we ought to have parked in a small layby below the Convent and walked up. The Sisters have been at Jerusalem since 1883 when Suzanne Aubert established a convent school and she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Compassion in Jerusalem in 1892. The Sisters are kaitiaki (guardians) of the church, old convent and grounds which are all immaculate. It is reputed to be one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand.
The Kawana Flour Mill is well worth a stop. The Kawana Flour Mill was one of several mills built last century and operated for 50 years. It has been completely rebuilt and is all in perfect condition, with its water heel. The millers colonial style cottage has also been restored and moved up above the potential flood level. The mill is unattended and open all the time to walk round - a contrast to what one could do in the UK - and has lots of interesting information boards.
There is a spectacular small and unmarked viewpoint at 70km. All distances are from centre of Wanganui, and Pipiriki is at 79km. Pipiriki House at Pipiriki used to provide the first overnight stop for boats going upstream from Whanganui. Nothing remains of Pipiriki House which burnt down in 1959 but the old Colonial House next door used to hold a fascinating museum and information centre - in 2009 it was empty and had becoming derelict. We walked down to the riverside where the Whanaganui River Journey, a several day canoe trip from Taumarunui, ends. We spent some time chatting to a local who had built himself a Hamilton Jet boat, small but a design which could not be faulted for a couple of people. He had even marinised the petrol engine himself. We both agreed it would be something we would love to have. The River Road strictly ends at Pipiriki where one leaves the river but by convention many people think of it as continuing to Raetihi where one rejoins main roads.
We have stayed at Raetihi and nearby Ohakune in the past but it was still early enough to continue so we set off for Taumarunui where one again joins the Whanganui River at the old limit of navigation by the river boats. This was where a transfer to trains on the Main Trunk Line between Auckland and Wellington took place. Our drive took us alongside the Tongariro National Park with views of Mounts Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Tahurangi from the West side rather than from the East on Desert Road. There is a famous walk across the range, the Tongariro Crossing. We looked quite seriously at it - it is about 7 hours and 19 kms long but only involves a 3000 ft height gain from the correct side. It does involve some rough ground and reaches heights where there is often some snow so we were not sure our split boots would be up to it. It also requires transport to be arranged at both ends and the car parks are not considered safe. We later heard that upwards of 1500 people cross each day so we were glad we were not seduced by the advertising literature.
Just north of National Park is the famous engineering masterpiece, the Raurimu Spiral. Instead of a straight line, the railway track incorporates a complete circle, three horseshoe curves and two short tunnels in order to climb 215m along a track length of 11.5kms. The direct distance between Raurimu and National Park is only 5.5kms but to gain 215m in that length would require an impossible gradient, the maximum that a conventional train can climb is 1 in 50. We stopped at the lookout, but could hardly see the line of the track because of all the trees. It was then Pauline suggested we might book a train journey. She had been quietly searching the Internet, and there was one train each day from Auckland to Wellington and one train in the opposite direction. They met at National Park. So it was possible to leave Taumarunui, pass up the Raurimu Spiral, then get off at National Park and catch the other train back down.
Nothing else was said and we checked in to the Taumarunui Holiday Park as usual. On our first visit there were just a few small cabins, each with their own covered car parking. On our last visit these carports were becoming extra cabins, and they were larger than the original ones. We were staying for two nights, and were offered a larger 'family' cabin. There were also two brand new cabins, close to the kitchens. They are all standard cabins but with a full set of utensils. The Holiday Park is on the edge of the Whanganui River, so most campers try and park with a view over the Domain and the river below. The kitchen and facilities are good, and there are free eggs if the chooks remember to lay any. It is a good place. We enquired about walks in the area and they lent us a book "Taumarunui - Heart of the King Country - Rambles, Walks and Excursions" by Hugh & Shirley Barton 2005 (no ISBN) $15 from the information office.
The next morning we decided to walk into town along the riverbank instead of driving. There was a footpath which was classified 'easy' in the book and for much of the walk it was OK. There was just one occasion when we lost the path, and another when we were confronted by an electric fence. The return was easier once we knew how to find the path. It took almost 2 hours to get to the shops in town. This was mainly because we followed the riverbank beyond, to Cherry Grove where the Wanganui River and the Ongarue River meet, and where there is easy canoe portage for the start of the Whanganui River Journey, one of the classic 'Great New Zealand Walks' although it is by canoe! We reached the Information Office at the Railway Station at 1150, and wondered whether there were any train tickets available for the 1200 train south. The answer was that it was possible but we would have to check on board and if there were seats we would have to pay full price. If we caught the train the following day then we could pay the reduced rate for a SuperSaver. The difference was $40 so we said we would wait. With over an hour needed to walk back we did not buy anything heavy in the supermarket and only the one book from the information office. When we got back we booked our cabin for one more night, then had a cool drink and continued the walk beside the river, mostly on the edge of the dusty Quarry workings as far as the houses by the Manunui South bridge to complete the river walk which was in the book. We now know that the times are not for return trips! As an easier and much shorter walk there was a path from the Holiday Park within the Reserve and through stands of stately kahikatea trees which only takes 20 minutes.
It is worth giving some background about Main Trunk Railway and the Spiral before we describe the journey and we will use the text when we write our NZ transport page.
The concept of a the North Island Main Trunk railway between Wellington and Auckland was first put forward in 1870. At that time the prefered route was by rail to Taumarunui, riverboat to Wanganui and then ship. To achieve this an additional 322 kilometres of line had to be constructed between Marton and Te Awamutu, to connect the lines that were already in operation. It cut across challenging terrain and in the event it took 23 years to complete those few kilometers. Finance for the scheme was raised in 1882, and the following year John Rochfort surveyed a route for the line through the Central Plateau. During the planning of the central section, a major obstacle was faced - how to cross the steep slopes between the North Island Volcanic Plateau to the east and the valleys and gorges of the Whanganui River to the west. South of Taumarunui the terrain is steep but not unmanageable, with the exception of the stretch between Raurimu and National Park, where the land rises too steeply for a direct rail route. A direct line between these two points would rise 200 m in a distance of some 5 km, a gradient of 1 in 24 whilst 1 in 50 is the steepest which can be achieved by normal locomotives and trains. Surveys during the 1880s had failed to find a route with a lesser grade without a 20-km detour and nine massive viaducts.
The problem was solved by R. W. Holmes, Public Works Department engineer in 1898. He proposed a line that looped back upon itself and then spiralled around with the aid of tunnels and bridges, reducing the gradient to a workable 1 in 52. A remarkable feature of his design is that there is no place to view the complete line from the ground. This masterpiece of engineering was built by Employees of the Public Works Department between 1905 and 1908 using only picks and shovels and is still unchanged today. From the north, trains pass Raurimu before going round a 180° bend to the left in a horseshoe curve, climbing above the track on which they have just travelled. Two sharp bends to the right follow, after which the line passes through two short tunnels. Trains then complete a full circle, crossing over the longer of the two tunnels through which they have just passed, before continuing towards Wellington. Two kilometres further on the line has two further sharp bends, to the right and then to the left. By this point the train has has risen 132 m and travelled 6.8 km from Raurimu whilst the straight-line distance is 2 km.
1908 was a special year for the North Island Main Trunk. On 7 August the first passenger train left Wellington for Auckland, known as the 'Parliament Special'. This train ran over temporary tracks and took two days to reach Auckland carrying MPs north to greet the visiting American Fleet. The last spike was driven by the Prime Minister on 6 November. The centenary year in 2008 celebrated and commemorated both these events, and the Parliamentary Special included one carriage from the original train, and two of the original locomotives pulled the train across the famous Makatote viaduct, just north from the 'last spike' site, which is 79m high and is the highest structure on the Main Trunk Line. The first commercial passenger service left Auckland at 2145 on 15 February 1909, and a very expensive centenary train journey from Auckland to Wellington with an overnight stop at Chateau Hotel / National Park (NZ$999 per person, twin share) takes place on the weekend of 14-15 February 2009.
There was nearly no centenary celebration or trip for us on the Overlander. Having entered service on 2 December 1991, the last passenger service, the Overlander was due to be withdrawn on 30 September 2006. Goods train would continue on the track but there would be no further passenger service. Public dismay was universal and it was announced that the iconic train would remain. Having originally run two services each day, one in daytime and the other overnight, there is now just one service each way.
We were looking forward to our short journey and we drove into town and caught the train which was running late - this is quite common in the summer as when the rails get hot and once over something like 40 degrees Centigrade they have to put a speed restriction in place but on a 12 hour journey they normal have the chance to catch up once the heat of the day is over. The Overlander is now run more as a scenic journey than as a means of travel between Auckland and Wellington. The windows are all large giving magnificent views and there is an observation car at the back and an open platform at the back of the luggage van (one back from the engine) where one can stand and film. To our surprise the observation areas were not packed with people - scenic overload? There were also people asleep in their seats as the train climbed through beautiful scenery towards the majestic mountains. What struck us most was how the track twisted and turned through very tight curves, far tighter than we had ever seen before, as it followed the contours of the broken terrain. We can see why the speeds are so low and although the Raurimu spiral was the highlight the curvatures seemed no greater than some of the other sections of track. As we went through the spiral we got views of the tracks below and above us and the township of Raurimu which had grown up as the camp for the builders of the spiral. Pete spent most of the journey with his video on the little outdoor platform.
On approach to National Park we were told that the northbound train would be already at the station, so our train would go onto the loop track and we, the only two passengers who were alighting, would be given high visibility jackets and taken across the tracks. There is a change of train crew at National Park so the buffet staff would accompany us. In the event our train arrived first and got the platform position so there was no problem. Everyone was invited to get off for 30 minutes and have a walk or collect a quick snack from the station cafe. We had been told that the cakes were really wonderful, so we were there first in the queue. After collecting two pieces of cake and an enormous lemonade scone with cream and jam to share we could see why the place was famous. The passengers continuing south seemed only interested in joining a queue for the toilet facilities. Out train reversed out of the platform to allow the northbound train to come in. There were just a few minutes for us to climb on board and the train was off. We settled in comfort in the observation car at the rear and watched the track disappear behind us as we descended through the spiral and on to Taumarunui. The shops in most small towns are closed on Saturday afternoons and Taumarunui is no exception. It was very, very hot and we were grateful for the air conditioning in the New World supermarket.
The next morning we fuelled and then still had not decided where to go next. The petrol station was at the startof the Forgotten World Highway - the SH43. It was the obvious place to go next and is one of our favourite scenic roads which goes from Taumarunui to Stratford. It 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 feature is 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.
Next is the Te Maire Reserve - a recommended short exploration off the main route is the - we took a 10 minute walk on our first visit, with a nice river crossing on a small suspension bridge, to reach a loop walk which takes a further one hour forty minutes to complete. The initial section is in very good condition and makes an excellent forest walk through Podocarps but with so much undergrowth growing on and up all the trees it is reminiscent of the 'goblin forest' round Mountain House at Mt Egmont (Taranaki). We have also completed the loop track which took us through some lovely stands of mature trees, some stretching 200 feet upwards with clean straight trunks, probably the tallest were kahikatea (white pine) along with rimu, totara and matai. The lookout was higher than we expected and the climb gave us some good exercise but the views were minimal as it was overgrown round the picnic table. We did it in sandals but got damp feet and boots would have better on the climbs and descents.
The Paparoa road continues past the turn of to the Te Marie Reserve and is signed to Tawata. This takes about 28 kms (about 11 unsealed) to reach the bank opposite to Maraekowhai to a view across the river to the Nui Poles and the join of the Ohura river and the Whanganui River where the houseboat Makere was moored just below the lower falls. The two poles look well preserved and are in a well kept reserve with picnic tables and toilets - the only problem is that now DOC have removed the bridge and plan to close the track this important historic area can only be reached by canoe. The nui poles were erected by the Hau Hau followers of the Pai Marire religion and were local points for prayer, parades and chants. Spirits were said to radiate through the arms of the poles calling warriors to fight and giving them supernatural powers to resist musket fire. The Rongo nui (War pole) was erected first in 1864 and the Ririkore (Peace pole) was erected in 1869 when hostilities ended.
Back on the river road one next reaches the Otunui River Boat Landing and has a new canoe landing below the picnic area. The old landing is the other side of a side stream and can not be seen any more although you can still get to the original location via a derelict style and a walk through the field - I could see no trace.
There is an unpublicised DOC camp site just off the SH43 at Ohinepane that forms part of the Whanganui Journey - although a river journey the Whanganui Journey is of New Zealand's network of "Great Walks", perhaps because of the huge number of shallows and rapids! The Whanganui Journey is a 145 km journey by Canoe from Taumarunui to Pipiriki taking about 5 days. Ohinepane is one of the few camp sites on the journey accessible by land and about one day into the trip to Pipiriki. It had a big plaque say it was on land donated as a camp site for all New Zealanders. Normally the charges for a week for the journey are $25 for use of the huts and camps sites or $8 for a single night at those accessible by land as entry points. Ohinepane seemed to be free as there were none of the usual honesty boxes and registration forms, presumably as it was donated land.
It is quite large camp site surrounded by bush and with views down onto the river. The time we first found it there was only one other tent with three people with canoes and a supporting car and driver. It is a real shame that these marvellous sites seem to hardly be used. Weonce more looked for the Aukopae River boat landing down a side road. There was no obvious sign at the roadside as promised and it was difficult to locate the location as everything is overgrown. This time Pauline found some evidence of old mooring posts under a bridge beside a side stream in exactly the sort of location one would expect.
We have in the past 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. We have since discovered that Joch Erceg had a farm and museum in that area but his son took over and now it is somewhat run down but visits can sometimes be arranged. The only thing of interest we saw was a bit of old Waka upright above an old tomb stone which we thought read the reverend Richard Taylor. A few days later 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". We took a couple of pictures but they will need some enhancement to read the inscription. We have since been told that Taylor was at Tawhitinui around the 8 August 1862, on the river but below Pipiriki, according to his biographer Mead - we have not checked that and if that is true it means the memorial has been moved. We also understand that Taylor's grave is in Wanganui and that the Historic Places Trust tidied it up last year but have not seen it
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.
A new side trip we made this time was down the Waro road which used to lead to the Tatu mines. The guide said it was a track not suitable for normal vehicles but the road had been upgraded and we made it to a kilometer or so of where the old Tatu Coal mine used to be sited and eventually had to turn back when we got to major earth moving equipment and a working area we did not even feel it would be possible to safely walk through.
The Tangarakua Gorge, carved by the river into sedimentary sandstone is very spectacular and redolent with luxuriant native bush
We took a side trip down a gravel road to see the Mt Damper Falls, which are one of the highest inland falls in New Zealand at 76 meters. It is well worth the 20 minute walk to see the falls are a narrow stream cut deeply into the side of a huge "bowl" eroded into the mudstone - quite unlike anything we have seen before. We turned onto the gravel and found that it was now sealed, but only the first few kilometres. Work was very much in progress, and fortunately there was nothing happening on Sunday. The nice gravel was being covered with large sharp stones, presumably as the first stage of competing the seal. Pauline was reduced to driving at 20kph through it all and was very pleased when we reached the parking for Mt Damper Falls. Part way down the road is a large picnic and parking area for the Moki forest tracks with a few old steam boilers from the logging days. There is also a small caravan site just down the road - there seems to be no good place for a tent but there are three or four slots for caravans or campers. The Moki forest is the home of the endangered Kokako bird but we have never had the time to go in search. In previous years we have just turned round and driven back to the SH43 after the walk to the falls but this time (2009) the road had been so bad Pauline insisted on continuing down the gravel side road until we met the coast - it was about the same distance on backroads as the return would have been and it did take us somewhere new.
It was now getting a bit late and it was windy enough we did not want to have to struggle with a tent for a single night so we stopped at the Onaero Camp site which is managed by the NZ Motor Caravan Association and had a choice of small very new 'kitchen' cabins or older style but larger ones at $60 - we picked a new one because it had the best view of the estuary. The site was quite large but not very full but we understood that it was fully booked for the following weekend which included Waitangi day giving a third day off from work or school. We were very impressed and it is certainly a place to go back to. It had sevaral large and well equiped service blocks as well as small set ofbasic facilities almost next to us. The site was spread either side of a small river estuary and had a largely private beach and the Waitere BP surf rescue centre.
We continued the next day to Stratford where we stopped briefly before continuing another 30 km south to Hawera to go back to the Tawhiti Museum which is in the old Tawhiti Cheese factory. It has a huge number of very realistic displays and models covering all aspects of the history of south Taranaki from incredibly detailed models of Maori Pa and other aspects of Maori life at the time to the various forms of specialised and ideosyncratic machinery to to keep some of the hedges under control - 18 foot diameter spinning blades mounted on an old tank chasis looking like a scene from a science fiction movie. The models range from life size down to a few centimeters and many of the alrge ones are modeled on people in the village and supporters and helpers at the museum. It has been a lifetime work of Nigel Ogle who set it up in 1976 and has made most of the models. Since we last visited it has also become the home for a huge collection of tractors and other farm machinery - one could spend days and still find something new. One area of interest this time was to do with coal mining in the area and there were pictures and some information on the Tatu coal mine which we had sought down the Waro side road off the SH43.
We tried to stay in a cabin at the camping ground at Hawera, but it was full. So it was back to Stratford to stay at the Holiday Park. Some years previously it had been a Top10, but we saw it had recently left the group. It is still classed at 4* and the grounds are superb, with beautiful manicured flower beds and our little basic cabin had a Bird of Paradise bush in full bloom. The old cabins were simple but there were some newer and better ones too. It was also a good place for a tent. Most people who stay there are going to do walking in the area, so the main campers are young athletic Europeans. Kitchen utensils are available on demand - we wondered if they evaporate otherwise. We paid NZ$55 which was much cheaper than staying at the new upgraded Mountain House, now $250 including breakfast.
The next part will continue with an update on Mountain House and The Anderson's Alpine Lodge, a walk to Dawson Falls from Mountain House, the Republic of Whangamomona, Napier and the Harvest Hawke's Bay Wine Festival.