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|Touring New Zealand 2009 - part 4|
The last part left us in Stratford in a cabin at the Holiday Park for the first time; we have previously always stayed at Mountain House when we have been walking round Egmont. We wanted to do some walks in the area and find out what had happened to Mountain House since last year when we had found that it had changed hands. We also wanted to see Berta who used to own Mountain House and have a look at her Bed and Breakfast and home, the Anderson's Mountain Lodge. What follows is the draft of a new web page covering Mountain House, The Anderson's Mountain Lodge and all the walks we have done in the area. That is, of course a compromise, existing regular readers of our newsletters will have seen some of it before and will be able to skip a lot but new readers and those finding it on the web will have a self contained and consistent guide to what has brought us back time and time and have all the choices of what they can do. For those who have followed our adventures before the new/different walk we did was to Dawson Falls the other way round to usual with some new sections of the walks round Dawson Falls. So now on to our draft of the new page:
For many years we were very set in our ways and one of our regular stops is at Mountain House which is in the centre of a magnificent area for walking on Mount Egmont otherwise known as Mount Taranaki. We often drove straight to Mountain House from another favourite area Wanganui and the Whanganui river where we have an interest in the riverboats and leave on the SH43, the Forgotten World Highway, which is fascinating drive across the grain of a countryside which hardly changes with time. There is a link to Mountain House in the fact that it is an area that features in many of Keith Anderson's paintings which hung at Mountain House.
Mountain House is sited at 845 metres not far below Stratford Plateau (1171 metres), on one of the only three road entry points to Mt Egmont. Mountain House was run during most of our visits by Berta, and her recently deceased husband Keith. In their days it served some of the best food we knew in New Zealand. Berta, a skilled chef trained in her native Switzerland, takes great pride in the service provided. She and Keith have run hotels in the area for thirty years. The rooms were 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 and although beyond our normal budget were affordable and we stayed most years for three days to allow some serious walking - every time we booked for two nights it seemed to get extended when we ate the first evenings meal!
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 several years ago. Keith was also an artist and there were many of his original paintings on the walls. After his death Berta held an exhibition of his work and launched a book which contains many of his paintings. While Berta was responsible for the kitchen Keith was in charge of the restaurant and then they both came and sat in the lounge and chatted at the end of the evening. The set up was very much a family affair and one very much felt a guest in their home - the lounge had their photo albums on the tables and their scrap books going back twenty years.
Berta has now sold Mountain House to a German who has also recently bought the hotel at Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge and already owned the 3300 acre Awakino Estate overlooking the Tasman sea an hours drive north of New Plymouth. When we arrived in 2008 everything was in somewhat of a state of flux and the hotel rooms were being upgraded and redecorated. The chalets had been turned into hotel rooms by 2009, except for the family chalet which had become the managers private accommodation,. We had stayed there with Phil the year that Keith died.. The prices had been held for us in 2008 but we suspected they would rise now most of the sources of accommodation are in one set of hands and when we returned to see what changes had been made in 2009 we found our fears had come true and the prices had doubled. The decor in the lounge and dinning room is now in his 'house style' from Awakino and of a high standard and Keith's original pictures have gone to Berta but many full size copies remain. Some of the many photo albums were still there in 2009 but Berta had obviously took their personal photo albums so it has lost a little of the homely feel.
In 2008 when we last stayed the food had increased in price and the selection was reduced but to be fair the hotel was only just open and many changes were in progress, we did not see the menu in 2009 but we understand that the food is absolutely excellent but prices have increased significantly and the portions are small. When we dropped in in 2009 prior to doing a walk we were made very welcome by Sam who was on the front desk and it was clear that every one was very pleased and proud of the changes and were pleased we wanted to look round. The new decoration and fit out in the rooms was very good and every room we saw had a spa pool but we can not understand why some of the windows had been blocked by using standard wardrobes, it seemed to be taking maintaining the house style a step too far in blocking windows facing towards Egmont. It is really too early to have a view but we expect the major increase in prices will lead to a change in the type of guests and it is a bad time for that. We will probably not book Mountain House until we have seen how it all turns out and see if the prices drop which must be possible in the current world climate. Oor more likely we will stay at the Andersons Alpine Lodge B&B that Berta still has on the edge of the National Park.
We dropped in to see Berta on our way to our walking in 2009 - she was not in but we left a note and she rang and invited us to stop for coffee and cakes on the way back past. As well as catching up with what had happened over the last two years since we last saw her, it gave us a chance to see Anderson's Mountain Lodge, her rather special bed and breackfast which has the most superbe views of the Mountain - especially from the top suite. The walls are full of Keith's paintings and we got the chance to see several we had not seen before in the gallery where they are on display in a separate studio. The design of the building and the layout of the grounds was largely Keith's and it is still known informally as the Blackberry Patch as that was all that was there, other than bush, at the start. There is even a small stream running a water wheel and a circular walk laid out round the property which has a Bush Walk section. Her son Hans Peter was back home for a couple of months and they were busying staining and preserving all the woodwork so the bits we saw all looked impecable. We sat on the large decked areas with magnificent views over Taranaki and the Mountain. If we lived there we would just sit and stare and never get anything done. Mountain House in her day was a super place with walks statrting in every direction but Anderson's Alpine Lodge has the views to die for. We would miss Berta's cooking though as she only offers Bed and Breakfast.
We actually stayed in the Stratford Motor Camp for the first time in 2009 - we booked in for a single night and stayed two which is a good recommendation. It is run by Doreen and one of the most memorable features is the flowers. We had a simple cabin which had a sink with cold water and a fridge - we had a huge Strelitzia outside which reached to the top of our window level and was covered in flowers, I have never seen one doing more than surviving before in New Zealand and every other flower bed was a similar riot of colour. There are also some much newer and more comprehensively fitted out cabins and some reasonable tent sites and some very sheltered looking camper van slots. Kitchens were on the basic side for a 4* and we got the impression she had to be a bit careful to avoid equipment evaporating which is rare in NZ but many of her visitors are likely to be younger foreigners seeking the challenge of climbing Egmont - the kitchens are locked overnight and pots and pans are available from the front desk. The site is only 600 meters from the main street and the Carrington Walkway which offers walks up to several hours long runs alongside. The main walks on Egmont start from Dawson Falls and Mountain House which are circa 20 kms away which is a shame but it a good solid friendly site we are sure we will return to - Doreen has been running it for over 30 years and like Berta is an icon in the area.
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.
In the past we generally booked a chalet at Mountain House 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 usually divert 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.
There are sevaral routes to when one reaches the Dawson Falls area as there is a network of paths starting from the Visitor Centre. We usually take the direct route which is signed and then do some short walks and alternatives on the way back. 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 is 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 tried an alternative walk to Dawson Falls in 2009 which started off from Mountain House by first climbing to the Plateau either using the road (boring) or on the Patea loop track. We took the Patea 'anticlockwise' up to the cross with the road then straight on up the road - actually a series of zig zags. This gets most of the hard climb out of the way at the start. From the plateau one sets out on the higher AMT (Around the Mountain Track) towards Dawson Falls. We had initially only intended a short walk and our next option was to return to Mountain House using the 'Enchanted walk' but we had made such good time we thought we were on for a bit further. The next shortening would have been to descend from the high level AMT using the Ridge Track which drops one down to the Waingonoro Track not far beyond the branch off to the Waingororo Hut. We were still making good progress so we decided to continue to use a section of the many tracks round Dawson Falls that we thought correctly we had missed in the past. We took the Wilkies Pools loop track clockwise but did not take the spur to the pools then continued past Twin Falls and the Bubbling springs before climbing back up a part of the Ridge Loop Track then joined the Waingongoro Track back to Mountain House.
Leaving Stratford we were back on one of our favourite scenic roads, the SH43 from Stratford to Taumarunui which we had come part way on a few days ago in the other direction. 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 the 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 Arboretum 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 Arboretum 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. 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. Another year we found we had been standing next to him in the pub at lunch time but had not recognised him. 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. We returned in 2009 having just missed the 20th anniversary celebrations, and the food was a little more expensive than we recalled but it was very good, as was the local beer Pauline tried. There is a camp site sign posted in the village and we went down to have a look and it turned out to be based round the old school - now a communal village building - and is kept up by volunteers in the village. The costs were very reasonable and they had some basic PWD style cabins at $20 a night (2009) - the same price as pitching a tent, so next time through we may make it an overnight stop and do some of the side trips off the highway.
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. In 2009 it was For Sale yet again. Note from the new owners in 2011: "The Kaieto Cafe it no longer running as a cafe hasn't been since April 2009 we are doing Accommodation only now."
On a couple of occasions, (the last in 2009) 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 and a farm which looked busier than last visit.
We had then reached the part of the SH43 we have already described on the way out so we will skip ahead to Taurmarunui where we again stopped for a single night before setting off to do a couple of walks we had omitted as they were vaguely in the direction of Napier, which was now our next destination.
We did not say much about Taumarunui last time so we will add a little background. Taumarunui is an interesting town, it came to prominence at the turn of last century because of the railway and because it was the end of the riverboat service linking to the rail network and because it was at the confluence of the Whanganui and Ongarue Rivers. It's history goes back a lot further - it was the converging point of three Maori tribes, the Maniapoto from the Ongarue, the Hauaroa from downstream on the Whanganui and the Tuwharetoa from upstream. The tribes still exist and can trace their lineage from four of the great migration canoes, Aotea, Tokomaru, Tainui and TeAwawa. There are several interpretations of the name depending on how one splits the syllables. One is Taumaru - shade or shelter and nui - large. Another is that Maru, a great leader defeated local inhabitants and the town is named in honour Tau (you), Maru, nui (great or large). It is in the heart of the King Country and was closed to Pakeha until the 1880s. The town has not only survived, unlike so many towns along the Forgotten World Highway but grown as a regional centre. The rail links are now less important and the station now serves mostly as an information office and few trains other than freight pass through. There is however an excellent working model of the Raurimu spiral.
There are then several options in order to go from Taumarunui to Napier - but the first stage is to drive either north or south on SH4. We chose south following the Main Trunk railway line to National Park, and passed Raurimu and its spiral. Fortified by another of the delicious cakes at the railway station we then turned north on SH47.
the Te Porere Redoubt. Our first walk was around This was the site of the last battle fought by the Maori chief Te Kooiti, and when he lost and fled it . The trench work is still there and it is well maintained. The sites are on two levels, and it was worth the climb to the top of the hill to visit the larger one. The second walk was a few kms further, around Lake. In Mauri, Roto means lake and Pounamu is the beautiful greenstone which is so prized for carving and jewelry. Access was also from SH47. There is a climb through bush up to the lake level and then a pleasant easy track around the crater lake. The shore is sandy and the lake was shallow and warm enough for swimming. It must be the colour which is like pounamu and would be a perfect spot for a day out, but we were in a hurry to make more distance.
We were aiming for Taihape and SH1 heading south, but to get there we still had to drive north, then finally make progress. At Taihape there is another of our favourite scenic drives, the Inland Patea road to Napier which we have written about many times in the past so we will not repeat all of it here. The first part is sealed and then there is a gravel road in the middle, either side of our favourite camping spots. In 2009 there were major road works as they are in the process of sealing another 22 kms - that will only leave a few kms and they may well be sealed by next year which will be a great shame as the road will then be open to hire cars and become much more popular. Few cars were travelling and then two solid Range Rovers overtook us. We saw them ahead soon afterwards, confronted by a large yellow road repair truck, digging busily. The second car took one look at the mess of road ahead, and turned back. Meanwhile there was enough gap for the first car and us, to squeeze through over the rough ground. Usually the gravel road here is good but now it was very slow and we arrived at the camping site, Camerons Flat, late afternoon. The weather had suddenly changed. Pauline got out of the van, sniffed the air, looked at the rainclouds hanging low over the hills, and said 'No'. We drove on to Napier and were lucky to find a vacant cabin at the Westshore Holiday Park although once we were clear of the ranges the weather was dramatically different in Hawkes Bay so we could always have put the tent up. It was nice to have a cabin as we knew Pauline had several days Open University marking ahead and it is easier with power and light!
It was our our first stay at the Westshore Holiday Park which is one of the Family Parks of New Zealand. Westshore has a good beach and our favourite fish-and-chip shop was within walking distance, but the single track railway line to Gisborne runs alongside the site at roof level. Fortunately there are few trains, and we heard none while we were there. We had looked at it as a possibility before but it had semed a bit far out for the Art Deco Festival; this visit it was in the direction we intended to travel and was close to the Esk Valley Winery where we wanted to look up Sue, the manager, who we have got to know well over the years and many visits. Her daughter is in England and lives close to us. They also make some of our favourite wines from the Hawkes Bay area. We exchanged greetings and started sampling the wines. It was then that Sue asked if were visiting to go to the Harvest Hawkes Bay Wine Festival which started the next day. It is always held on the weekend which includes the first Saturday of February. Esk Valley would be exhibiting their wines at Telegraph Hill in Hastings, which is not a winery but is an olive grove. There would also be a special lunch there on Sunday where Esk Valley wines were paired with food from the excellent chef at Vidal, Ken O'Connell who won NZ Chef of the year in 2008. It was a perfect match and Esk Valley is part of the Vidal Group. Gordon Russell, the wine maker at Esk Valley, would be there to introduce the wines and chat with everyone.
We collected a leaflet, and extended our cabin reservation for two more days and this gave us more time to explore. After a short visit to Napier to browse the shops, including the purchase of a 3-tier art deco EPNS cake stand, we drove across to Hastings. Although we have often stayed in Napier, we have never visited the town of Hastings which is another Art Deco town just 20kms away. Like Napier, Hastings was damaged in the 1931 earthquake, although the damage was less severe. The new town was built in the three major styles popular in the 1930s, and we followed a leaflet describing a self-guided walk to find 16 buildings predominantly of Spanish Mission Style. It was a style created by Spanish missionaries in Califormia which then spread to other countries. We began our exploration in the very centre of the town, in the Central Plaza with the Hastings Clock Tower and the adjacent Visitor Information Centre, formerly Westerman's Department Store. We headed south along Heretaunga Street where there were many buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, the most notable being the Methodist Church, the Hawke's Bay Opera House with its new modern glass roof, the Municipal Building, Credit Union Hawke's Bay (hardly recognisable with its dowdy new paint scheme) and the Dominion Restaurant. The latter is the only shop front which still features the asymmetrical layout fashionable in the mid-1930s - a curved window on one side and a square set back on the other. Then we walked back up Queen Street, a parallel road with lots more interesting buildings, back to the Central Plaza. The rest of Heretaunga Street beckoned, notably Westpoint Plaza, formerly Roach's Department Store, and the Villa d'Este. Outside a supermarket we lingered at a Sausage Sizzle, a welcome snack at $1 each with homemade apricot chutney. The weather was beautiful and clear, and being Waitangi Day it was a holiday so most of the shops were closed. The centre of Hastings was deserted and we were able to take lots of pictures without waiting for cars and people to move.
Bright and early on Saturday morning we paid $15 for our special wine glasses on their dangling string, without which we would not be allowed entry to the vineyards. Pauline was the nominated driver today, and we were going to swap on Sunday. On Saturday there were special buses from each town which went to the three main hubs for wine tasting. From each hub there were other buses which stopped outside each vineyard taking part. One hub was outside Vidal in Hastings, just a short distance from Telegraph Hill where Esk Valley and Monowai were both offering wines for tasting. We asked about cancellations for the special lunch the following day, and passed on our mobile phone number in case we were lucky. It was quiet when we arrived and we had time to learn about the olive grove and the process of making olive oil. We purchased oil and chutney. Onwards to Zepelin where we tried their rose, a memorable and distinctive wine made from 67% Syrah and 33% Cab Sav. It was being consumed in large quantities by people relaxing in their garden. Zepelin is proud of making only red wines, initially Bordeaux style but more recently Syrah. The vineyards motto is 'The only wine is red wine'. So we had to try the 2005 syrah too. We then got to talking with the staff and discovered that they have a UK agent near Stafford, Andrew Wilson Wines. By now their BBQ was ready and we were very tempted to stay, but it was time to move on . They suggested we visit Te Mata, just down the road, which was established in 1896 and is therefore NZ's oldest winery. It was not taking part in the festival but gave us a full tasting of their Woodthorpe range. The vineyard was purchased in 1991, and is about 20kms due west of Napier. whereas the Te Mata Estate wines are on the outskirts of Havelock North.We preferred the Zepelin Syrah to the Woodthorpe. The Te Mata Coleraine is a very famous wine, but was not available to taste; in NZ it was $75 per bottle at cellar door in 2009, which is similar to prices in London. We asked for recommendations and Sally at Te Mata suggested we try lunch at Elephant Hill - the ladies daughter was in England and had met Sue's daughter there and they had become friends - a small world. The winebus route continued towards Cape Kidnappers, so we did the same.
We did not know what to expect as we arrived at Elephant Hill, but we trusted the advice and instead of parking outside we drove straight up their long drive to the reserved restaurant parking. Here we were confronted by an enormous impressive statue of an elephant, surrounded by smiling people with festival wine glasses dangling having their photo taken. We went directly in to lunch without our dangling wine glass ! The modern contemporary building was built at the same time as that at Craggy Range, and designed by the same architect. This is another iconic building where no expense has been spared to provide the best food and craft matching wines. We ate under a sunshade on the terrace, looking out across an artificial lake to the ocean. Lunch came with a complementary plate of home made bread, oil and dukkah. Then our mains arrived, fish and chips, like no other Fish and chips we have ever seen, and venison on a parsnip and kumara mash - we immediately reached for our camera. We even managed to find room for desserts - a lemon based desert with a towering lemon meringue pie with a sorbet alongside for Pete and a chocolate delight with berries for Pauline and took more photos. We got to chatting with the people eating next to us who were on holiday from their posh B&B in Ohakune. After lunch we had to collect our glasses before we could go into the large empty building being used for the festival tastings. Here it was not free, and there was a choice of paying for a $5 tasting of 3 wines or $10 tasting of 5 wines. Because we had eaten lunch we were given free entry, and Pete worked his way through the 5 wines, under guidance from a girl from the Napa Valley.
We had time for one more vineyard visit, and the next stop on the winebus route was Clearview. We last visited Clearview over 5 years ago, when they did nice vineyard platter lunches. We remembered it was a site which had a large childrens' playground and was shaded. It has not changed but there were many, many people and a decent restaurant which was full of happy people, as well as a number of farmer's market stalls selling the ingredients for a picnic. The picnic area was full too. Pete tasted the 2008 Gewurztraminer, the 2007 (Reserve) Pinot Noir Des Trois made from three vineyards in three of the best regions for pinot noir: Wairarapa, Otago and Waipara, the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay, and the 2005 and 2007 (Reserve) Enigma. The Chardonnay and the 2007 Enigma had just been released 'en primeur'. We asked why there was tasting of 2005 and 2007, but not 2006 and discovered the 2006 Enigma had won a Gold and was not yet released; the 2007 was more forward. There was no charge for tasting but we put some gold coins into their charity box.
Then our final visit was to Vidal, where our day had started, and where we found groups of smiling and slightly merry people who had completed their tastings for the day and were waiting for the next wine bus back home. Although it was late in the afternoon we had an excellent tasting, and at no charge. In order, Pete tasted the 2008 Marlborough Riesling, 2007 Malborough Pinot Noir, we missed the 2007 Merlot/Cab Sav which we already knew from our Air New Zealand flight and still had one bottle in the van purchased from a supermarket, and finally Pete tasted the 2007 HB Syrah. We bought a bottle of the prizewinning 2007 Reserve Chardonnay and the 2004 Reserve Merlot / Cab Sav. Next it was back to Havelock North for coffee with Gary and Sally.
On Sunday we started later. We knew we had to be at Telegraph Hill before 1200 so that limited our visits. Our first stop was Mission on Church Road in Taradale. We have eaten lunch there in previous years, and our first visit was so long ago that tours and tastings were carried out in the cellars by an elderly Brother, long since dead. Now it is much more commercial, and the focus is the beautiful old building where the brothers used to live, which is also a serious restaurant which we have recommended in the past. They were not doing any tastings because of the Wine Festival - very perverse - but we were offered wines by the glass half glass and bottle at a price on a take it or leave it basis. Their list shows that wine prices are good value, with their Estate wines at $16 - $18 per bottle, vineyard selection at $22 and Reserve wines at $25. Pauline said we would return another time when tastings were available - tasting wines by the half glass all day would be a disaster to visitors to the Festival. The menu however still looks interesting, and we have heard good reports this year about their lunches but varied views on their dinners although the consensus has been good.
It was a completely different experience at nearby Church Road Winery. Tastings were free and the staff were very helpful and knowledgeable. Church Road was founded in 1897, slightly behind Te Mata. Pauline tried three limited edition Cuve Series red wines only available from the cellar door : the Cuve Marzemino 2007, which is an italian grape variety and was said to be (possibly) the only wine of this variety in NZ, then the Cuve Malbec 2006 which is grown in the Gimblett Gravels, followed by the Cuve Syrah 2004, and finally the 2005 Reserve Cab Merlot which was duly pronounced as 'very nice'. Fortunately Church Road wines are available widely in NZ and in the UK and we will watch for the 2005 Reserve Cab Merlot.
Our final visit was to Stonecroft, who were not taking part in the wine festival, and who are a boutique family owned winery, with their cellar door only open at weekends. We looked at our watches, stared at the map carefully and decided we could just get there and continue to our lunch appointment. Stonecroft is special because many years ago we had dinner at the County Hotel in Napier during the Art Deco weekend. We asked for advice on an interesting wine, and after some discussion the maitre d' mentioned that he had a bottle of Stonecroft wine - it had been opened the previous day by accident and normally is not available for purchase by the glass. We agreed to try a glass and then quickly negotiated a price for the remainder of the bottle. This was the Stonecroft Crofters VII, made in the year 2000.
We learned that Stonecroft had led the planting of the Syrah variety in 1984, and have the oldest producing Syrah vines in NZ. They were rescued from the viticultural research vine collection at Te Kauwhata (now defunct). Most of NZ's Syrah wine is derived from this clone, and ultimately these vines. We liked the Crofters very much but were unable to find any for sale, so the following year we drove to the cellar door and it was then that we found they only sell wines at weekends. Today was Sunday and we were lucky. We quickly explained that we liked their wines and would like to purchase a few bottles, but we were in a hurry so did not want to do a full tasting. Clutching bottles of the 2006 Serine Syrah and Ruhanui 2006 because Pauline could not decide which she preferred, we rushed away promising to come back for a 'proper' tasting and discussion when we were in the area 2 weeks later for Art Deco.
We reached Telegraph Hill just in time for the 1159 deadline for being seated for lunch. Many people there were members of the Esk Valley Wine Club, so were from the local area. It was one long table, with seats for just over 50 people with Gordon Russell, the winemaker and organiser, sitting in the centre. Sue came round pouring Esk Valley Pinot Gris, and we sat in the next available seats in the middle with a couple from Auckland and another couple from USA. When everyone was seated the usual bread, dukkah and olive oil were brought, of course the dukkah and oil was from Telegraph Hill, accompanied by their date, olive and orange relish. There was a choice of mains and to quote from the menu we had either : Fillet of Lamb, smoke sundried tomato moussaline wrapped in bacon, manzanilla olive filled fondant potato, glazed baby vegetables, cabernet jus or else the pan seared bluenose, pumpkin and carrot puree, salad of peach, rocket and potato, orange and tereza saffron emulsion. With the mains there was a choice of 2008 Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc, or the 2006 Esk Valley Syrah from their vineyards on the Gimblett Gravels. Pauline tried both with her fish. Dessert was chocolate truffle cake, chocoltae liquer ice cream, pistacio macaroon, coconut and passion fruit spherical ravioli. Pete is normally not a huge fan of chocolate, but enjoyed this dessert!T hen there was an enormous cheese board. With the philosophy of needing to eat it all else there would be smaller portions next year, we both attacked the three cheeses with gusto and came back for thirds: Hohepa cumin danbo, Whitestone Blue and Rouzaire Blue. We still had some Syrah on our glasses which went well with the cheese, so Pauline missed the chance to drink the golden yellow sticky which was being passed around in small bottles. Perhaps next time ! It all finished at 1600, so we were glad we had visited Stonecroft before lunch not waited until later. If we get the opportunity again we will definitly book for this event. It was excellent.
We left Napier the next day heading for Wairoa, Gisborne and the East Cape, Whakatane and White Island | Lake Tutira and the Napier Art Deco Festival which is the next part of our saga.
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