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Touring New Zealand 2009 - part 6

We finally reached Lake Tutira an hour later after a long day. It is arguably our favourite camp site. It is a basic camp site now run by DOC although partly owned by the local council and the walks go over land put into trust from Tutira Station - it is currently free with a box for contributions which they suggest should be at a level similar to DOC sites. Lake Tutira is about a mile and a half long and we could not camp at at our old favourite spot, one of the two pitches just past the first gate and opposite a long drop - it was a little too small for the new tent but last year we found a site which is easily the equal in its views of our old spot, but 500m further along the lake near to the 'padock' they try to persuade one to camp in. It was also just a few feet from the water with a view defying any description over the lake and a huge variety of scenery. We were camped under weeping willows and the lake was, as usual, covered in Australian Black swans - neither are natural to New Zealand - in some places Willows are being actively suppressed as they are displacing the natural trees such as Pohutukawa on coastlines. The only problem is that it is shaded from the early morning sun.

One can usually, swim off the sand bottom in front of the tent amongst the black swans, ducks and grebe. The water is usually quite warm and the only problem is it shelves very slowly and once one gets waist deep one is into deep weed on the bottom which one had to swim out over. We were told the weed has come since the extensive use of fertilisers on pastures which eventually drain into the lake and the dreaded Hydrilla is now presnt - so far only affects a few lakes all in the area and we hope it will not effect the wild life too much. This year there was also a algy bloom and a warning notice that it was not advisable to swim which was a great disappointment

The lake has a host of wildlife and in the evening we sat and watched a couple of Kingfisher darting into the water and returning with fish right in front of us in the Willows for over an hour. We have watched pukeko, little white shags and New Zealand scaup whilst fantails flit by and a pair of waders with long beaks and even longer legs marched back and forth. In this visit and previous ones we have observed at Lake Tutira: New Zealand Scaup, New Zealand Grey Duck, Australian Black Swans, Little White-throated Shags, no larger than a grebe, Black Shags, White Faced Heron, Pukeko, Fantails, Thrushes, an Australasian Harrier, a Pair of New Zealand Pigeons, and Kingfishers as well as the common imports - swallows, mallards and sparrows, magpie finches and starlings. Strangely at Tutira we rarely hear Moreporks overnight or Tuis and Bellbirds in the dawn chorus although we have learnt there is a Tui near the entry who has learnt to imitated the sound of the trucks airhorns.

Being camped under the willow tree meant we had the advantage of nice shade in the heat of the day, but the tent was still wet in the morning from condensation as we started our BBQ for lunch. As we were lighting the barbeque the farmer came by with 5 dogs and a flock of sheep - the dogs kept them well clear of us and drove them into the main camping paddock presumably to 'mow' it as the grass was quite long.

Eventually the sun swung round onto the tent and we were able to pack everything away and drive into Napier looking for somewhere to stay. There was no mobile coverage in the area, and it was not until we were within sight of the Westshore that our telephone was useable. By then it was only 10 minutes drive to the Westshore Holiday Park. We were lucky and there was a kitchen cabin available for the one night, not the same one as we had before but identical.

We unpacked quickly then went into Napier to collect the tickets for a new event, Those Magnificent Men Brunch with the pilots and crew of the RNZAF Red Checkers Display Team before they set off to give their display on Saturday morning. We returned via the Port. In town it was clear that there were two cruise ships in port - the Holland America Volendam and the Oceanic Discoverer. The latter had been anchored at White Island on Tuesday and then we had seen the Volendam as we left White Island. Compared with the Queen Victoria which had visited Napier in 2008, the Volendam is much smaller with gross tonnage only 61,396, registered in Holland and passenger capacity 1,432. She still manages to do a traditional World Cruise. We will look at her as a possible alternative for the future. The Oceanic Discoverer is very small, too small for us.

Weather on Friday early was wet and unpleasant. We were glad we had stayed in a cabin and not at Lake Tutira in a tent. While packing we heard a whistle, and rushing outside we saw the Steam train approaching on its day trip to Wairoa. It passed the Holiday Park at roof height, belching black smoke. This year there were two sets of carriages, the usual red carriages and then the carriages of Steam Incorporated. It was very full. We have taken three steam train trips in the past so we had decided to give them a miss this year although we did regret not booking the all day trip to Wairoa on the Friday. In 2007 we went across to the station to see the steam train depart and Pete got a super picture of it leaving with lights on and the engine emerging from a mass of steam - we showed it to the manager of the Art Deco Trust and we found they had used it in several places in their publicity in 2008 and 2009.

Being obliged to check out at 10.00 we tried to think of things to do to pass away the time before checking in to the City Close Motel. A few minutes were used searching through Art Deco clothes in the local Church Hall - we were looking for a travel rug which was suitable for the Gatsby Picnic on Sunday afternoon.

Napier now known as The Art Deco Capital of the World started life as a copy of an English It is renowned for its warm sunny climate, location in Hawke's Bay and its Marine Parade is lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that was to change at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Chemist shops caught fire and a brisk easterly wind spread the flames. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe and the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.

Napier the Victorian town was gone and England offered no inspiration to the re-builders with their clean slate in 1931 but the architectural journals of America were full of interesting ideas in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else do we find so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a common plan. Many of the buildings remain and even in the time we have been going to Napier the restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. It is well worth staying in Napier for a day or two to savour the atmosphere. It is also an excellent centre for the Hawke's Bay area, famous for its wines. There are references to an excellent book on Art Deco Napier and links to web sites on our site - search for Napier or Art Deco.

We got back from town just in time to get ready to attend our initial function of the Art Deco Weekend - the Opening Soiree which officially opens each Art Deco Weekend. Deco dress was de rigueur and everyone was showing off their finery. There was a complimentary glass of Brookfields wine. In 2009 everyone was celebrating the 21st birthday of the Art Deco Trust, and there had been a number of recent changes including the appointment of a new young female CEO from outside Napier. There followed the usual speeches by the organisers, the Navy and the Mayor, and then everyone present who had been to the very first Art Deco weekend was invited onto the stage to blow out the candles on the birthday cake. A young lady emerged from the cake, singing 'Happy Birthday'. Then it was open house for a light meal - good value for $25 and an indication of the real enthusiasm of locals and visitors and the scale of the event. We had booked in October as many functions, including the Opening Soiree, are popular and can be fully booked within days of booking starting. The timetable indicated that there wouuld be a flying display in the evening light, as usual, but the weather over the mountains at Taupo had been bad and the aircarft due to come down from Ardmore were stuck there. This included our Catalina which was a great disappointment. The Red Checkers, based at Palmerston North had arrived without any problems, so they would be flying as normal on Saturday and Sunday. After the soiree had finished we strolled down the Marine Parade and admired the many vintage cars now parked along the Parade and throughout the centre of town and listened to the bands in the Soundshell.

One of the major problems in attending the Art Deco weekend is choosing between the many overlapping activities. On earlier years we have concentrated on the buildings and tours such as 'Deep in the Art of Deco', a guided tour through 12 of the best classic Art Deco buildings most of which are normally not open to visitors. These tours inside the buildings have given us an excellent overview which one can not get from books alone. There are other tours which involve walks round the various districts but they can to some extent be duplicated using the excellent Heritage Trails information sheets so we did not book any of the tours this year.

Saturday morning brunch with the pilots and crew of the RNZAF Red Checkers Display Team started at 0830 at the Crown Hotel in Ahuriri. This meant an early start for us. We left at the same time as the steam train and drove alongside it until we reached Westshore, where we took a series of photos. We then reached the Crown Hotel at 0825 to find it was deserted with no food - the Hotel thought the Brunch was at 0900. Whatever the problem, a jug of orange was provided to welcome everyone, and shortly after 0830 the crew, pilots and their wives or partners arrived. We asked about the Warbirds aircraft and were told that they were still sitting on the ground at Ardmore at 0830. Eventually we heard that the Catalina would not be coming. The Red Checkers comprise 5 display aircraft and their pilots, and a spare. The five display pilots are always the same for the year, there is no pool from which the pilots are drawn. We chatted with Squadron Leader Dan O'Reilly and Paula. He flies at Checkers 4 and in his full time job commands the Pilot Training School. Everyone was invited indoors to eat. Our group had a room in the old part of the Crown Hotel, which was rebuilt after the earthquake. The building has retained its Art Deco exterior and interior detail such as the unique mosaic foyer, leadlight windows and stairway. It was open for visits during the morning. We sat next to Squadron Leader Scott McKenzie, who flies at Checkers 1 and is the officer in command of the Central Flying School. He was with his wife who mentioned she had bought the old BNZ Bank in Bulls and has opened it as a cafe. We promised to visit when we next pass through Bulls. Brunch was early because at 1000 the pilots started to move to go to the airfield, and shortly afterwards everyone finished their coffee and left too. We were not impressed with the meal, in comparison to brunch with the Navy at the Thirsty Whale, described later. The event itself was good and hopefully will continue each year.

In 2008 we missed the Vintage car parade through the centre of town which is an absolute must on ones first visit. In 2009 we were ready waiting at 1215, standing at the best corner for taking pictures. The parade starts at 1230. We have seen it all many times, and each year there are different cars as more vintage vehicles are rescued and restored. We have hours of video and hundreds of pictures already, but that did not prevent Pauline taking a lot more. This year the number in the procession was limited, whereas in 2008 there were over 300 cars, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s all in showroom condition as well as being in full on-the-road condition. There were also many other vintage cars from a later period, many brought from England, which did not qualify for the parade but still added character to the town - everywhere one walked there were old cars gleaming in the sun.

The parades are usually led by the Royal New Zealand Navy band. This year there was a different emphasis with the parade being led by 'Bertie' in his car What Ho as usual and followed by a procession of those who were volunteers and others who, judging from the ribbons they were wearing, had been to all of the 21 Art Deco weekends, or had attended the very first weekend. The Navy led the main procession and takes their relationship with Hawke's Bay very seriously because of the presence of HMS Veronica in the port when the earthquake struck and the important and courageous work done by the Navy in the days that followed.

The RNZAF Red Checkers had already done one flying display at 1200 and the procession of cars had barely finished when the second flying display started - beginning with the Red Checkers who put on a nice display with their 5 trainers including many of the set piece close passes and formation aerobatics with smoke - it was a perfect day with just a little breeze. Pauline got a beautiful picture of Checkers 4 and 5 when they did their crossing pass, where they seem to be rubbing noses - it would be a hongi if they were people. In spite of the weather 5 Harvards had arrived during the day, and gave their display afterwards.

In the evening we had deliberately decided to miss the organised events. Some of the functions are very popular and in both 2008 and 2007 we had secured a place at the Dinner Dance at Brookfields Winery. We were collected from town by a red double decker bus ex-London. In 2009 we planned to eat at the County Hotel, but then decided it was more interesting to wander around the town in the evening without any commitments.

On the Sunday morning we went to Brunch with the Navy at the Thirsty Whale on the West Quay at Ahuriri, which used to be one of the New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd warehouses. The event is called 'Thank God for the Navy' and gives the chance to meet senior officers over a hearty brunch. This is the third year of this particular event, and we have attended them all so far. We were recognised by Lieutenant Timothy Gore, who we had met at the Opening Soiree. The format is that the Navy Band play to welcome everyone, and then each table has two or three seats reserved for officers and their partners. In 2007 we sat upstairs with Chris Holmes, the Captain who commands the Devenport site and had a number of interesting discussions with him and his wife who is a teacher. In 2008 we stayed downstairs so we could listen to the Navy band and found we were sharing the table with them so we gained a different set of insights. This year we moved to the back of the room, sitting opposite Dave Griffiths and his wife Berni. Dave was based in Devenport and had joined the Royal New Zealand Navy 4 years ago after a long career in the British Navy on the technical side. They admitted to owning a Morris 8 Series 2 built in 1938, and known as Alice, which we had admired during the Automobilia procession. Our table was also joined by two members of the band for the meal, and they remembered us from 2008. After eating, Neville Smith introduced the Chief of the Navy, Rear Admiral David Ledson, who we had seen on the previous two occasions. He gave an interesting speech with a number of personal anecdotes; we will miss his input assuming the news is correct that he will be retiring shortly. It is a function we will repeat - it is well worthwhile with lots of interesting conversations as well as the Brunch which this year was on a self service basis, with Full English and lots of healthy fruit so we managed to contain the damage.

Leaving Ahuriri, we had some spare time before the Gatsby picnic and it was a weekend - so Stonecroft winery should be open. With our fingers crossed we drove the 20kms across to Mere Road, and we were in luck. Although we had found the 2006 Serine Syrah for sale in Napier at the old AMP building, we wanted to spend some time tasting the wine and talking to the family. We still felt guilty for rushing there two weeks previously, buying some wine and rushing away. We had not realised how quickly things change. Having collected the 2008 newsletter two weeks ago, it was now the 2009 which was on display. And the wines were different too. All the 2006 red wine appeared to have vanished, and the 2007 was now available for tasting. After a very interesting discussion we had the chance to taste the wines. To our surprise there was a Crofters Syrah. The tasting notes admit that the last time there was a Crofters Syrah was in 2000. This Crofters is a cross vintage blend comprising mainly 2007 fruit and some 2006. This wine is the material that has not found its way into the final blend for the Syrah or Serine Syrah. Vintage 2007 looks good for Syrah, and the Crofters is very much ready for drinking now. We nodded at each other and decide to buy some. Then we tried the 2007 Serine Syrah, but decided to stay with the 2006 which is better for drinking now. Although there was none for tasting, there was still a few bottle in store, which was perfect. If we had access to a proper cellar then we would have purchased more of the 2007, as well as the 2007 Syrah and the 2007 Zinfandel which were both very special. In the tasting notes the Zinfandel was described as being "dark magenta in colour, with a lifted aromatic bouquet or wild fruits. The palate is large and exhibits bold sweet blackberry flavours followed by soft lingering tannins. Great structure and balance. Should age extremely well". Pete was very impressed, saying it was unlike any other Zinfandel he had tasted. However it was definitely not ready for drinking. Indeed, neither were yet completely integrated, but were showing serious promise and should age well and are already fetching a good price - if we had wanted a bottle of Syrah it would have been $45, and the Zinfandel would have been $55, compared to $25 for the Serine and $19 for the Crofters. The Stonecroft wines are really excellent and we wondered why they are not better known, both in NZ and overseas. We presume it is the small production volumes which are the problem.

After a pleasant hour at Stonecroft we were late back to Napier. The Gatsby Picnic is to many the highlight and archetypal event of the Art Deco Weekend and Pauline had spent much time in antique and junk shops over the years gathering together suitable attire and equipment. Every area of grass from the War Memorial centre to the Sound Shell is filled with elegantly laid out picnics many under gazebos and taking many hours to set up. Some look more as if an elegant period living room has been transplanted to the shoreline complete with period furniture and wind up gramophones. The owners of the elegant displays finally settle at about 1430 in full 1930s attire to sip their tea from delicate china or more often indulge in a glass of champagne from cut glass and indulge in a few of the tiny sandwiches and little cakes and delicacies displayed on the multi-tiered cake stands and curved gleaming chrome tea trolleys. The Jazz band strikes up in the Sound Shell and vintage cars pull up bringing more guests to the picnic. As the afternoon progresses there are strolling groups of players mixing with television cameras and judges. The prime slots are filled early in the day, we suspect it is like an English sale in the morning. We saw Dave and Berni with friends under a gazebo in one of the prime slots and asked about the logistics. Dave admitted that it was not allowed to set up gazebos until 0600 but said he had been in situ since 0400 to make sure he secured his favourite spot.

In 2007 we set up our table and chairs for our relatively simple tea down by the sea front. Pauline had been building a collection for this throughout the years so we had bone china cups and saucers and a vintage crochet-edged linen table cloth, originating from Pete's mother, although we had to settle for a thermos jug of coffee to go with our plates of cakes and scones. This year we were still so full after our Brunch that we decided to forego our own picnic and to just admire those of others. We will put our new vintage silver cake stand and Wedgwood plates in storage for a future year.

The last of the formal events is the return of the Veronica Bell and thanksgiving service at 1700. The Veronica Bell, from the HMS Veronica, is installed in the Veronica Sun Bay on the Marine parade for the afternoon, guarded by sea scouts and is then carried back in a procession led by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band to the St John's Cathedral where the thanksgiving service follows at 1730. We went back to the Motel to change ready for our evening out. We had tickets for the early evening for the Tabard Theatre in Ahuriri where the June Hayes Quartet were performing songs from 'The Duke' - Duke Ellington. The format for this event is that there is a glass of wine provided on arrival, then some music, then the main course arrives, then more music, then the dessert arrives, and the evening concludes with more music. It all starts at 1900, and carriages are at 2230. In previous years we found that the centre of Napier is very quiet on the Sunday evening, so we try and go to the theatre as the final event of the weekend. Last year the same group performed music from Cole Porter, some of which was familiar. This year we did not know Duke Ellington's music, but it was still a very pleasant conclusion to a lovely weekend.

The next part will cover Wairoa, Waikaremoana, Rotorua and Auckland to prepare for sailing.

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