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|Touring New Zealand 2014 part 7|
The following morning we left Hokitika to work our way towards Golden Bay and eventually on to Te Mahia in the Marlborough Sounds a week latter where we have four days in luxury over Pete's Birthday. We went up the coast to Greymouth - a town seeming to offer little other than campsites in the correct place for an overnight stop which we did not need this time, however we did stop for the supermarket and a brief look round the Warehouse where everyone is supposed to get a bargain - Pauline picked up an extra pair of sandals for $5!
Brunner Mining Site: Our first proper stop was at arguably one of New Zealand's most important early industrial sites - the Brunner Mining Site, coal mining I should quickly add! The coal seam was originally found by the famous surveyor Brunner who made trips, sometimes years long into unknown country surveying New Zealand. There is a historic suspension bridge leading to the main site with many remaining artifacts and tunnels including the remains of a large group of coking ovens. The bridge has been restored and is now open, but only for pedestrians. The site is a Historic Places Trust site and well documented and with a short trail round the site and a longer one which takes one to the Pig and Whistle Mine and the St Kilda drive. The Brunner mining area used to produce a high percentage of New Zealand's coal just before the turn of the century. The Brunner mine is however best know for New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 when an explosion and poisonous fumes killed every single worker underground at the time, totally 58.
Blackball: We continued on and took the side road to see the small village of Blackball. There is a set of information boards sited at the junction with the main road which cover the history of the village and local area back to the goldmining days and they also described some walks and tracks in the immediate area which we have done in the past. Blackball would now qualify as a ghost town if it did not have the well known Blackball sausage, salami and black pudding works - we have bought at the factory door in the past but it was a weekend and the shop was not unexpectedly closed. There is also an old hotel, still known as the Blackball Hilton to most although the Hilton chain forced them to change. It is full of interesting pictures of past and present including a lot about the Pike River disaster a couple of years ago. We paid the price of viewing them with a Venison Burger and a Fish and Chips with a much better half of dark ale for the Pauline who was not driving. There is a small exhibition and boards next to the Blackball Hilton set up for the 100th anniversary of the crib strike of 1908 which led to the formation of the Labour party in New Zealand.
Kanieri Dredge: As we had been approaching Blackball on the main road we had kept ours eyes open for one of the old Gold Dredges which was still sitting in the paddock at the side of the river where we last saw it and we had paused to take some pictures. Whilst in the Blackball Hilton last time we had enquired about it and were told that one could drive down the access road opposite to the road to Blackball and get a closer look. We drove down a rough road marked as public but unmaintained until we came to a choice of a deep ford or gated access to the site. We paused to talk to a member of the Dredge team who came to see us in a Ute, he was very helpful and suggested we contacted the owner and boss of the operations, Allan Birchfield to see if we could arrange an official visit, unfortunately it was a Sunday so it will have to wait.
The dredge is the 'Kanieri', a 3,500 tonne gold dredger which is one of the few bucket-line gold dredges still operating in the world today and is the last of its kind on the West Coast. The 'Kanieri' has had a distinguished career since being built in 1938 for the Kaniere Gold Dredging Company. It was built on an existing pontoon but the superstructure was built by an Australian company, to the design of a leading American dredge designer. By 1953 the dredger had recovered 175,000 oz of gold from the Hokitika area after which it had been moved to the Taramakau River north of Hokitika where it had extracted a further 202,000 oz by the time it ceased operation in 1978. The 'Kanieri' was then laid up and a major refit was undertaken at a cost of NZ $30 million. Unfortunately after the refit the dredger did not work well and combined with unsatisfactory gold prices it meant that the Australian owners went out of business. In 1990 the 'Kanieri' was bought by Allan Birchfield and the main mechanical parts were salvaged and rebuilt onto a new 'pontoon using New Zealand expertise and incorporating modern electronic technology. After this major refit it worked successfully for twelve years at Ngahere before once again being laid up in 2004 as it was not economical to operate with the gold prices at the time. As gold prices rose above US$ 1,000 per oz level the viability of dredging for gold was once more positive and the 'Kanieri' was again put to work in 2009 after another refit partially paid for Development West Coast through a business loan to Birchfield Minerals Ltd. The loan of $2.2 million saw the upgrade of the mechanical and electrical systems of the dredge enabling dredging of the wide gold-bearing gravel flats of the Grey River near Ngahere to recommence in 2009. The dredge was then moved to the north western side of the Grey River where it is now mining the area near where the Blackball Creek and Ford Creek join the river. The estimates were a production of 7,800 fine ounces of gold annually. Recently the Mining Permit (41933) has been increased in size from 873 hectares to 1032 hectares due to an extension of acreage on the north eastern bank of the Grey River near Blackball and at the southern end of the permit towards Stillwater. The recoverable reserve of the new expanded permit area is about 200,000 oz of gold compared with 170,000 oz for the previous area. Fully operational, the dredge employs 18 people over 2 shifts, plus sub contractors, and injects nearly $10 million annually into the West Coast economy at today’s price of NZ$1,200 per ounce. For how long the 'Kanieri' can keep operating depends on the price of gold, the costs of maintaining the dredge and politics.
Reports in the papers imply that various inappropriate regulations are being brought to bear to halt operation despite the outlay Development West Coast put into it. Apparently the council have chosen to designated the dredge as a "building" and demanded its owners apply for a new resource consent, including a clause about limiting noise emissions. Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said it was sad to see the dredge close but it was not the district council's fault as the council had a duty to ensure all activities complied with the Act. Perhaps it is because the firm is New Zealand owned whilst all other major goldmining operations have foreign ownership and have more clout and know how to play the game by paying into all the local charities etc. One trusts they will apply the same rules to the dredges keeping there river open and free of floods. We understand it has not been operating for several years since the council decided it would be taxed as a building which could also make it prohibitively expensive - a move welcomed by locals as it was very noisy but did seem a bit of a stretch of convention and common sense. Perhaps they will do the same to cruise ships visiting NZ, some of those could be confused with buildings.
Murchison: We then headed on and decided it was sufficiently late in the day that we would not get to Tasman Bay on the other coast that day and stopped in Murchison - we first looked at the Kiwi Holiday park but it was exceptionally expensive - much more than we had been paying in the past so we continued to our old favourite just down the road and found they had one of the old PWD (Public Works Department) cabins at available for the night. The camp began as a NZ Electricity Board camp providing living quarters for the managers and single men working in the 1970s on the pylon line taking power from the hydroelectric schemes in South Island to the consumers in North Island. We had seen the end of the line earlier at Benmore. When the pylon line was complete the camp was left intact and transferred to the administration of the Tasman District Council as a motor camp. 29 of the original cabins remain. Looking at the layout it seems each had a small stove for heating as well as very basic accommodation for a couple of people - marks on the floor and new wood indicated ours had been changed from a single or bunk bed to have a double bed. A lot of those who stay are"paddlers" canoeing on the Buller river which ran past the site. There was a slip and a big deep swimming hole formed behind a natural breakwater. It is in new hands and the owner was a local builder until he took over and is now undertaking a major renovation of the site. It had got a bit run down and the previous manager had just walked away leaving the TDC with a serious problem. The changes are already obvious after only a month or so and we would thoroughly recommend it for the future especially as it is only $20 a person per night.
This time there were few sand flies in evidence although they can be a problem in the area down by the river - the write-up from 2003 for example notes th at "one could see the sand flies being marshaled into squadrons and wings stacked into sun ready for the first person to emerge from the water". This year we hardly saw any until dusk although in the morning one has just flown past and and another has bbbiiitttteeeennnnn my ankle so an early morning dip looks less appealing especially as it is quite cool still.
It was a steady drive north towards the coast at Tasman Bay and it is worth giving a brief introduction to the area where we will spend the next few days. Golden Bay and Tasman Bay are on the North East tip of South Island and have the best and most sheltered beaches on South Island. They are separated by the high ground of the Abel Tasman National Park which is best known for the famous Abel Tasman Coastal walk, one of the Great Walks series. For those less energetic there are boat trips like one we took a few years ago which took us up to Totaranui at the far end then dropped us in one bay before being picked up a few bays further along several hours later. The Abel Tasman also has many opportunities for Kayaking in the relatively sheltered waters which we would like to explore some time.
Beyond the Abel Tasman is Golden Bay and at the furthermost tip there is an enormous sand spit - Farewell Spit - stretching 35 kms out to sea sheltering the bay which is about 45 kms in diameter. You could just drive the whole way from Nelson through Tasman Bay over Takaka hill past the Abel Tasman Nation Park and on up through Golden Bay to the spit in half a day. This makes the area an ideal end point for a trip to South Island (or starting point from the Ferry at Picton which is another 2 hours from Nelson). The pictures were taken from near the Abel Tasman Memorial on an earlier trip.
The journey took us through Motueka and over Takaka Hill to reach Golden Bay from Tasman Bay; it is a big climb exceeding many of the major passes and offers some excellent views from lay-bys and from the recently installed DOC Hawkes lookout which is reached by a ten minute walk through some fascinatingly water sculpted rocks. It has a viewing platform which hangs out from the hillside giving one a magnificent view out to sea and down the near vertical hillside to the valley a thousand feet below - a must stop. The other good viewpoint is on the descent at Harwood's Lookout where there is a much shorter walk to a viewpoint.
We paused for the view at the summit where there is a car par at the entry to the caves at Nagarua where they run tours every hour. The caves are well worth a visit the first time you visit the area as they give an understanding of how the area was formed. You also see some Moa bones from a Moa which fell into one of the many vents leading down into the caves. The caves are normally quite dry but after a few days of heavy rain there can be quite a lot of water which enhanced things even more - our visit in 2000 was after heavy rain but fortunately not so much that it prevented pictures. They were happy with flash pictures but not video - too many tourists were falling over trying to film whilst walking and looking through the viewfinder!
We also stopped to look at the end of the half day Takaka walkway which we did a few years ago (2004) our friends Peter and Jean and the Wednesday Club, an informal group that meets at the information office every Wednesday morning for a walk, often on otherwise inaccessible private ground. It was an excellent two and a half hour walk - a little longer including coffee and lunch stops - with a very friendly and well informed group of about our fitness level. We had a lot of local flora and fauna pointed out to us including the unusual large carnivorous snail, the powelliphanta, and a minute orchid which we almost sat on at lunch. A big initiative to save the native giant land snails has been launched by the minister of conservation at Takaka hill.
Once over the summit one is in Golden Bay which only has a population of only 7000 - mostly farming and in the seafood industries now. It has a much more varied history involving gold mining, coal mining, timber, paint manufacturing and asbestos mining in its time. It has also become a major tourist centre with an increase in population in the season to circa 35,000. It has a very good climate but without suffering the droughts which Marlborough and Canterbury suffer. The Bay is a very sheltered and comparatively shallow, fewer than 35 metres over most of the area bounded by Abel Tasman and the huge sand spit called Farewell Spit. The shallow warm waters has led to the development of many mussel farms and cockles are also harvested from the large sand flats, which stretch up to 9 kms from the coast.
We next reach Takaka which has an excellent Camping ground - small but good, well equipped and friendly. The Takaka museum is again small but very interesting with a lot of local history about Goldmining, coal mining, iron smelting, paint manufacture and asbestos mining in Golden Bay, we bought a little booklet which had the text and some pictures from many of the boards last time we came - unfortunately we think it is back in the UK.
We did not stop the night in Takaka as we had a booking at the camp site in Collingwood. The Collingwood Camp Site is right beside the river delta and has swimming and fishing - there are normally lot of kahawai and there is even a picture of a huge Kingfish. The camp site it is now under new and friendly management who have transformed the site in the short time they had been there before we stayed two years ago and have continued the good work. We had an excellent kitchen cabin ($70) which had a beach view for the first night. It was large, two linked rooms, well equipped with full linen, pictures on the wall, microwave fridge and TV and a small sheltered deck. Unfortunately it was booked for the following nights but we decided to stay and moved into an even better value basic cabin with a even better sea view. - there was just room for a table before the beach started! The owners have returned to the site after many years - they did most of the setting up twenty years ago when they leased it from the Council but then sold out and moved onto other things. Having rescued it from the very run down state we found in 2000 it was sad when they told us they would again be leaving in September - not from the area however as they have a house up the road. They however assured us the future owners would look after it in the same way.
We received some bad news from the camp site owners about Richard, one of our old college group who owned a small farm above Takaka and had taught Mathematics at the Golden Bay School for the last 26 years and before that at Collingwood. He dropped dead suddenly at his home the previous August from a heart attack having never previously ever taken a day of teaching due to sickness. We were talking about going to see him as we knew the camp site owners knew him when they went very quiet and broke the news to us. We emailed back and it seems none of our group had heard although several of us have visited him whilst we have been in New Zealand. We latter went to the school and spoke with the headmaster - he was extremely well thought of by all his pupils and staff and the book prepared at the time of his memorial service was an eye opener. We have some information and a DVD to pass round when we get back. Anyway back to more pleasant matters.
Collingwood is ideally sited for all the activities in Golden Bay and there are enough to occupy many full days. There are many walks some over quite rough ground but we were a little restricted for the first few days as Pete had pulled a muscle at the base of his back which was inconvenient. He had, of all things, been trying on a new pair of walking boots in a shop in Motueka as we passed through and was sitting on a very low stool with a seat which sagged almost to ground level and stretched forwards to tie a lace and that was it! Walking was not too bad but getting up or bending was almost impossible.
So we spent the next day we spent at the far north around Farewell Spit an area we have explored in the past on a tour and once on foot - it had the advantage of being fairly flat. The Spit is a conservation area and only a small area is open to the public other than by formal tours. The spit is the longest sandbar in the world stretching out 35 kms from the end of South Island and curving round to protect Golden Bay. Much of the spit is under a kilometre wide at high tide but the vast inter-tidal plain extends nearly another ten kilometres at low tide. It is a haven for a tremendous range of wild birds, native, exotic and migratory. We have seen many of them in our journeys but never in the numbers that we saw on our tour and in one place - waders stretching as far as the eye could see. There were a number we had never seen such as the small and lively Turnstones. The far end has a Gannet colony, which our trip did not visit, which we regretted when we discovered that one could actually be led in amongst the juveniles on the nest.
This time we did not even bother to go to the information office - we found last time it actually has no information sheets but does sell coffee and meals and but will sometimes tell you what to do if it is quiet and they have nothing to sell. We were fascinated to see notices tell you you could not take your own food or drink down the path to the beach from the information office. We therefore took the van straight down to the beach side Farewell Spit Nature Reserve car park which is just beyond Port Puponga and in the Puponga Farm Park. Access is prohibited from most of Farewell Spit unless you are on an expensive tour however the first couple of kilometres are accessible. We took the walk which is signed Fossil Point which takes you across Triangle Flat over farm land and dunes to Fossil Point. Fossilised shells and worm casts can be found in blocks of mudstone fallen from the cliffs. Seals can often be seen here playing in the water. You can then walk down the Tasman coast and cross back from Ocean Beach at the start of the dunes on the Spit track or a couple of km further on a marked path which is the limit of free access. We crossed on Spit track and then came back along the edge of the sea - when the tide is high and one has to duck under some of the trees or get ones feet wet.
We then continued towards Wharariki Beach which has a seal colony and views of the the Archway Islands with their fascinating arches and caves. We continued on and stopped to look briefly across at the new Wharariki Beach Holiday Park, actually a long and challenging walk from any beach - however they advertise very heavily and have magnificent glossy brochures showing their site as the eye of the kiwi and the land and spit forming the head of the kiwi. The site looks very unprotected for tents to us, maybe their tent sites are completely hidden. They are in the process of building some cabins and have a dormitory style backpackers. If the want total isolation and the potential for beautiful sunsets it the site for you.
We went the extra 500 metres to the official car park and walked to the beach - we took a lot more than 15 minutes to reach the high water mark, up a hill, along a narrow path and down through wind swept dunes with sand you sink into - perfect as a training run - it looked as if it took us closer to 25 minutes from the timings on our pictures although a lot of the time was struggling through the loose sand dunes. This time the tide was fairly well out and all the seal pups were playing in the rock pools and were fascinating to watch. We could look into the caverns but could hear the water starting to pound into the other end so we did not risk entering and we had a restricted view of the Archway Islands which was a shame look magnificent on the postcards, especially when there is a sunset. The sand dunes are blown into all sorts of fascinating shapes and it was even harder work to get back up them and out, even after one has caught sight of the marker for the path.
Whilst writing up we looked at the DOC site and gained some further useful information - to quote DOC "Wharariki Beach is a Wild West Coast beach with big waves, caves, seals and massive sand dunes. The walk is easy taking between 20 minutes and 2 hours return but warn there is a steepish drop-off on one side of a section of the track. On arriving at the beach, there are three rocky islands – the furthest out is inaccessible at all times and features a dramatic archway through its centre. The next island inland features a series of rock pools when at low tide, baby seals can often be found at play and provide great entertainment for visitors. The closest island has two caves running through it out to the sea which can be explored if you have a flashlight with you. For the more adventurous, you can proceed down the beach to the left to a stone arch and several caves – a path cuts inland and allows you to return to the car park via an inland farm track. Take warm, windproof clothing with you and beware of tidal changes. Not safe for swimming."
We debated whether to walk up to the Pillar Point lighthouse but we were already windswept and had got plenty of exercise for the day. We did take a detour and short walk to Cape Farewell, the northern most part of South island and admired the views of the cliffs, echoing caverns in the rocks and more seal pups playing in the pools far below. It was then back to our accommodation to warm up and shake out the sand then watch the view with a glass of wine .
The next day started with a look at the Golden Bay Machinery and Settlers Museum at Rockville. The Museum has a lot of interesting early machinery and some steam engines which It is run by volunteers and is not very well presented at present so is more are occasionally steamed in the summer. for the enthusiast - it is however only a donation ($2 suggested) so it is worth a quick look. We found some interesting old pictures showing some of the Gold Mining and Coal Mining in the area as well as spending a happy hour looking at farm machinery, early diesel engines and tractors. Some exhibits of "household/settlers" have been reorganised into rooms, although we believe there much is still locked away. There is a complementary very small museum in Collingwood also run by volunteers which has good displays with typical early settlers rooms.
We then went on the short distance to the start of the the Kaituna track - the car park is conveniently beside the Naked Possum restaurant which got new owners a couple of years ago. We both had the Tahr open sandwiches - we had been looking for Tahr to try for a long period having heard they went well with Otago Pinot Noir at Cloudy Bay. Himalayan tahr are large goat-like animals, native to the central Himalayan ranges of India and Nepal. In New Zealand tahr can be found in the central Southern Alps. Tahr are popular with recreational and tourist hunters; their horns – and sometimes the male’s striking mane – are sought-after trophies. Tahr are generally found in the alpine grassland zone, where they graze on snow tussocks, alpine herbs and sub-alpine shrub land plants. Tahr (and chamois) were introduced in the early days of European settlement for sport – to create a hunting resource for residents and tourists. Both tahr and chamois are classified as pests in New Zealand as they graze at high altitudes, in alpine grasslands and sub-alpine shrublands where they feed most intensively on native plants which evolved during 80 million years of isolation without any large mammal browsers. Herding browsers such as tahr and chamois cause two-fold damage; firstly by eating native plants; secondly by trampling large areas of vegetation and compactable soils, when herds of animals gather together. The Tahr patties in the sandwiches were certainly good but we really need to find a proper roast or steaks to try at some point and the owner advised us that all their wild game came from the Premier Game, Riverlands, Blenheim.
The big open fire was going well in the outside fireplace and we sat down to enjoy our meal only to find that the group we were joining on the big tables was the Wednesday Walking Club from Takaka - it is a small world. We enquired where the name came from and apparently the site was owned by a Possum hunter and tanner who started an associated restaurant who decided the name was appropriate - there are plans to reopen other Possum related activities and there is a small shop where we bought a big pot of the local honey. There is also an associated accommodation called the Sleepy Possum.
It was then time for the Kaituna track, the first 4 kms up to the forks is easy walking on an old packtrack route to a goldfield, after which it was extended to the quartz reefs west of the Wakamarama Range and the Taitapu goldfield. The latter section is now reopened as a basic track to Knuckle Hill which has a number of river crossings and is only for the well equipped serious tramper. When we reached the forks it was obvious that there was no way that the ford could be easily crossed even with a fairly low stream. Information is sparse on the Kaituna goldfield and all our information came from an old and by now very faded DOC information sheet. Workings started on the Kaituna River and Victoria Creek in 1859 and continued with a small number of diggers working throughout the year until the late 1800s. Dredging operations were tried with little success in 1902 and ceased in 1903 as only 7 oz a week was being recovered.
We spent some time exploring the gold workings on the Kaituna River - the DOC sheet (which is in the UK!) has a map. Most of the workings are however fairly obvious. The terrace of alluvial gold bearing gravels were worked by ground sluicing by water races channeled to the top of the faces which seem to have been up to 50 feet high. The water washed the cliff face and gold bearing material down and was directed into channels which then flowed into sluice boxes and down tailraces. Rocks too big to wash away were neatly stacked. All the above were easy to identify on the ground as was the trial adit. The difficulty was in identifying the old water races, many were barely discernable in the thick bush but we had fun exploring. We then walked on part way to the forks for some exercise before returning.
After returning we continued a little further down the same road to see the Langford store - a classic general store and post office nestling in the heart of the Aorere valley which has been providing essentials to the Bainham community and travelers since 1928 when it was set up by the great-grandfather of the present owner Sukhita. The store has remained in the family four generations - EB Langford was the initial proprietor, followed by his grand-daughter Lorna who ran the store and post office for 63 years until she retired in 2008 handing over the reins to Sukhita Langford, who hopes to continuing the 80 year old traditions. It now specialise in teas served off classic china with home made cakes. They also sell china to visitors and have the inevitable small art gallery to browse in the old storeroom alongside some interesting memorabilia. The building is a Historic Places Trust registered building and it seems as if it is in a time warp with the post office looking little changed since the thirties.
to see other than the supports as the swing bridge, along with the new concrete bridge had come down in the floods a year ago. The Salisbury Bridge was a historic foot bridge built during the gold mining day which led to Salisbury Falls and swimming hole. There are now signs across a field to the falls which were well worth the short walk. There was a super looking swimming hole at the bottom and Pete was all for going back to get his togs when the sandflies started to gather and the attractions of the swim faded.
It was unfortunately now time to move on - we had enjoyed our time at Collingwood Camping Grounds greatly, especially the luxury of the house but we had a booking at Te Mahia and a ferry booking constraining us so we needed to get over Takaka hill and stay near Nelson. So we left early so we could have time to stop and look at Pupu Springs.
Pupu Springs The whole Te Waikoropupu Springs area has undergone massive changes since our last visit. At the entry is what is implied to be a Maori Marae which actually is a circular collection of information boards with some stained glass pictures and carved poles with a large green touch stone in the centre . The description is very carefully worded to imply it is Pounamu (New Zealand Greenstone, a Nephrite Jade) whilst it is clearly not although the concept is good. The whole area is a taonga or treasure and a wahi tapu, a place held in high cultural and spiritual regard, both locally and nationally by Maori - I find the changes surprising. The springs are accessed through one of DOC's forest walks - this used to be very interesting in its own right as there were early pictures of the area when it had been cleared by Gold workers and the various stages of regeneration are brought out. They have all gone and we saw few signs of the old gold workings now the path has been 'improved'. Little of the old information appears in the information available at the start and needs to be replaced.
The Springs themselves are the largest in New Zealand and big on a global standard. There are a number in individual springs but the most impressive come out of a bed of sand in a lake of crystal clear water and you can see the sand being thrown up by the incoming water giving them their nickname of the dancing sands. The highlight used to be a giant periscope giving an underwater view of the springs - this has, of course, also vanished. However the car park now has a hand pump which supplies spring water to drink, we suspect from the tank underneath it is suitably sterilised and pasteurised rather than straight from the springs as as it has no health warnings. We spent a while after the visit in the DOC office in Takaka and spoke with one of the staff who was responsible at some length. He clearly realised the shortfalls but there seem to be no serious plans to bring it all back up to the original standard - issues such as the difficulty and costs of cleaning the mirror of the previous large periscope and keeping the waters free of people seem to dominate although he did acknowledge he had already thought of an inverted version of the submarine periscope we suggested. There are no current information leaflets and the web site is similarly out of date with pictures of the 'periscope' and speak of the "suite of interpretation signs at the springs tells the full story of this fascinating and beautiful place".
The area was also a Gold mining area and Golden Bay got it's name from the early rich discoveries and the first gold rushes in NZ rather than the golden sands on the sweeping beaches as now thought by most people. Not at lot remain although there are some good Goldfield walks one of the best being very close to Pupu. We did it last visit and it takes you up to and along one of the old water races that brought water at high pressure (a 130 metre head to power the gold extraction along a 3 km race begun in 1901 and completed by 8 men in six months including several aqueducts - it involves a vigorous climb before the long walk along the channel which hangs on the steep hillside. After the gold field was exhausted the race was restored in 1929 and about half of the race is used to power a small hydroelectric plant, which remained in operation into the 0950s by which time it was the smallest plant connected to the grid. It has recently been once more restored by enthusiasts and is now reconnected and can be seen in operation most of the time. A new return track has just been created and opened by the volunteers - we did not do it on our last visit as the skies had darkened and we could see heavy rain over the hills and we were not prepared with full waterproofs so we beat a hasty retreat. An interesting two hours round trip if you have the time to spare.
We diverted to the Mapua Smokehouse which has an awarding winning restaurant which people we met a few years ago at a camp site raved about. We bought smoked salmon and smoked Kingfish. The smokehouse is on the Mapua wharf which looks good for fishing. There is an interesting free photographic museum in the boat club's clubhouse with lots of old pictures of the area and a few other interesting shots which used to include a shot showing a cruiser suspended on a rock high above the water outside the marina restaurant in Guernsey we go to with Pat and John. Somebody from NZ must have been passing as the picture is from a different angle, from the sea, to the one we have seen before in Guernsey.
Tasman Bay is a big fruit growing area, so we had to stop for fruit at John Richard's roadside stall. There were samples to try of all the new season fruit - after a while Pete realised that the knifes were to cut off samples! We now have several bags of fruit - at $4 for as many as you could get into the bag of mixed plums, apples or pears we could not resist. We are starting a serious fruit eating project.
We stopped just short of Nelson in the Kiwi Holiday park which has an eighty year history and be the largest camp site in t he Southern hemisphere. It featured airborne entertainment from dawn to well after dusk as it was right at the end of the Nelson runway - 5 came by at a few minutes spacing at 0700 so you do not need an alarm clock. It was a reasonable price and in the right place and the guy on the desk was a relation of Bill and Shelley Climo at the Collingwood Camping Ground. We walked down to the beach in the late afternoon and had a look round the site in the morning - it is huge and the far end is beachfront although it is closed off out of season. We decided to stay for two days so we could look round Nelson and it would also give us time to backtrack to Seifried to sample their excellent wines and for lunch the second day. In retrospect it might have been better to only stay one day and go across to Blenheim.
We spent a couple of hours in Nelson in the morning including looking round the Cathedral which was started in the 1930s but never properly finished to the original design - it finally gained a lower permanent roof in the 1980s and a shortened tower. It also had a huge organ suspended on a stalk high above the transcript. We went past the Museum but it was free for locals but too expensive for visitors - a pity as it has a good reputation and a lot of archives which you pay even more to access. We moved after an hour of free parking across to Countdown, firstly to stock up and secondly because it was close to several places that had cheap offers (on the interment) on the folding chairs we use - at least one of ours is developing a split in the seat attachment which will be very difficult to repair - they have given good service for many years. We seemed to be too late for offers so we will just have to keep watching.
We then went back on ourselves past Richmond for lunch at Seifried's Winery. They suggested we ordered then had the tasting whilst the meals were being prepared - we will not write at length about the wines as we have done so several times before but just say that the tasting reinforced our views about their quality. They seem to be emphassing their Agnes dessert wine which is made like an ice wine from frozen grapes - a sort of freeze distillation, it is much like a German spatlese or even auslase and the concentration is not from botrytis. They also produce very fine Gewürztraminer which was not available for tasting or by the glass but we had the chance to try the Wurzer which is a Gewürztraminer Muller-Thurgau cross which was interesting and ideal for those who find a straight Gewürztraminer a little too much, Pete had a glass with lunch.
In the morning it was on to Te Mahia for one of our few periods of luxury - we had booked into the Te Mahia Bay Resort for three days before catching the ferry. We have used it as a base in the Marlborough Sounds several times, in fact that is an understatement as I have been back through the web site and found a picture of Te Mahia in the 1997 picture gallery before we used to write up so fully and it was 'an old favourite' by 2002! They have a small number of units on Kenepuru Sound. We always remember the first time we came - after a while we went back to reception and said "you forgot to give us the key" - the answer was the key had gone missing 3 years before and nobody ever locked anything up anyway - and its still the same! The 'heritage units' in the old building, which we prefer, are actually rambling suites with several bedrooms kitchens, lounges bathroom etc - the first time we thought all the interconnecting doors were open but were told it was all ours. Everything is provided, from fridge freezers and stainless steel thermos bodums in the kitchen to big baskets of towels covered in fresh rosemary in the bedrooms. It is very much like being in somebody's home with old pictures on the walls and flowers in the vases.
The Te Mahia Bay Resort goes back to 1900 and they have a large number of pictures showing the history but they had nothing in writing. We quizzed the owners Jann and Trevor and found it was extended to have a double level set of rooms in a large wing in 1930 and the main residence gained an extra floor in 1948. There are some good pictures of it in that configuration and in excellent condition taken in 1955. It then got very run down and the end block was deliberately burnt down. More recently a luxury motel block has been built slightly further back on the site of the old tennis court and there are 2 even more luxurious apartments where there used to be a few caravan and tent sites. We have had a chance to look inside the new apartments and they were very impressive and luxurious with everything one could think of to make ones stay comfortable and life easy including washing machines, driers and even a DVD player. Te Mahia translates as "indistinct sounds" which is very appropriate.
They have lots of Kayaks if you want to go exploring or fishing and a comprehensive library if you want to do nothing. Unfortunately the last regulations preclude them offering the tinnies they used to have for hire. The shop has a sensible collection of food and they do a series of gourmet meals which are frozen and ready to microwave and they have also offer Stone-ground Pizzas. Normally there is no real need to leave for provisions during a stay, although you can take a water taxi if you fancy eating out. Many groups return every year at the same time and they rarely need to advertise (over 70% is repeat business or direct referrals) so they can be difficult to find unless you pass by although sometimes their new luxury apartments are featured in the AA guide. In the last few years all the balustrades on the heritage units have been replaced with new glass ones and the decking extended with lots of new tables and chairs. The building has obviously been repainted very recently outside and many of the heritage units have been redecorated. There is also a new sun deck for casual visitors as well as the table inside - they now do a lot of teas and I can see why when I looked at the cakes.
We spend most of our time just relaxing, thinking about swimming, reading (they have a huge library of classic/heritage, non-fiction and fiction books), writing up the journal and, in Pauline's case, painting. The fishing gear is unpacked as there is a wharf at the end of their private beach for water taxis. Many of the houses in the Sounds are only accessible from the sea so water taxis are an essential part of life. The fishing gear was all in perfect condition thanks to some magic gunk we had sprayed everything with. A couple of years ago we caught a good size Eagle Ray from the wharf but we usually only end up with some salted bait fish.
The first full day was Pete's birthday and the celebrations started with a proper breakfast, something we very rarely do, on the balcony in the sun with the marvelous view over the Sound. We took a trip with the van to the end of Kenepura sound where we looked at a couple of the DOC camp sites and on as far as Punga Cove, we moored their a couple of times when we were sailing in the Sounds and walked up to their restaurant. This time we had a long walk down from their parking and the restaurant was not open but the beach side cafe was and we had some mussels and a seafood chowder to share. The mussels were nothing special but the seafood chowder was very repeatable as was the walnut and coffee cake we shared to follow. We stopped at a little beach on the way back where we found a collection of picnic benches and brightly coloured seats. In the evening it was time to try the overall Trophy Winner in the Air New Zealand wine awards, the Nautilus sparkling wine - it was even better than we remembered from the tasting and is one of the best sparkling wines or champaign we have ever tried, sadly it is very difficult to obtain.
The next day we needed to work off some of our excesses so we set out to find some of the local walks. The Queen Charlotte Walkway goes very close but much of it needs a $12 licence as it is over private ground. There are sections which are however OK and can be reached from a side road just opposite the drive down to Te Mahia. We settled for the short walk round the point which is on the Queen Charlotte Sound side which also took us to Mistletoe Bay. We contemplated then doing the section of the Queen Charlotte Walkway which goes to the Lookout which leaves from close to the top of the road down to Mistletoe Bay but the forecast was for strong winds, torrential rain and hail. It looked OK still but we settled for returning for a short session on the wharf and almost as soon as Pete was set up it turned very black, the winds reached hat removal speeds (20knots) as as he got the line in and started back the heavens opened. The final day was similar in weather with a good morning when we went fishing but spots of rain as we ate lunch, another good excuse to relax and do a bit of writing up.
Finally it will be time to drag ourselves away from this hidden paradise and head for the ferry - we will take up the story again in North Island in North Island