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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 10

Wednesday 2 March

The National Park of Mount Cook is part of a huge tract of this land of lakes, mountains, rivers and fjords ranging from alpine dessert to thick rainforest has become a World Heritage Area called Te Wahipounamu from the original Maori for the area, The Place of the Greenstone. This World Heritage Area covers the whole South West region of South Island and alone covers 10% on the surface of New Zealand and integrates and fills in between the National Parks of Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, Westland and Mount Cook, all vast in their own rights. Te Wahipounamu is one of the great temperate wildernesses of the world, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, tussock grasslands, lakes, rivers, fjords, wetlands and 1000 km of wild coastline. The mountains tower above the lakes - the mountains beside the lakes rise to over 7000 feet, some with a powdering of snow or ice at the top but mostly sheer rock faces angled upwards - we are sitting along the joins between the Australian and Pacific plates which are still tearing the fabric of this land and throwing it up at crazy angles to be smoothed by glaciers in successive ice ages.

After the short detour to Lake Benmore we rejoined SH8 at Omarama and were soon climbing over the Lindis Pass. The views from the lookout were good and made a suitable short stop. The intention was to also stop at Tarras for fuel but it was busy and we continued towards Wanaka where we knew there were several petrol stations. Curiosity about our accommodation for the Warbirds airshow at Easter provoked a short detour to Luggate and we found the rental studio, off the main road and not far from the hotel. The owner said that she watched the air show from her patio two years ago!

Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea : Lakes Wanaka and Hawea are two of the most beautiful and largest lakes in New Zealand and have some of the best accessible New Zealand scenery . It is difficult do such South Island scenary justice with just words. Pictures help but even they can not do it justice - it is on too grand a scale. I still do not know how to convey the majesty of the mountains and the ever changing colours of the lakes or the barely suppressed power of the rivers. They have been gouged out of solid rock by the actions of glaciers and lie parallel, almost connected by a narrow isthmus part way down. To give a scale Lake Wanaka is 45 kms long and Lake Hawea 35 kms. Lake Wanaka is a thousand feet deep and Hawea even deeper and glaciers have smoothed the sides down to the water from their maximum height of 3000 feet above lake level. The bottoms of the lakes are below the present sea level.

The lakes are fed by Glacier melt water and have the most incredible colours, usually a light blue, sometimes almost white, from all the fine rock, ground to a powder by the Glaciers. - we have seen them so still that it is almost impossible to tell the reflection from the mountains behind when you turn a picture upside down and we have seen them with waves crashing on to the beaches. They can be so still and clear we have looked down and watched cormorants hunting underwater over a bottom perhaps 50' below. There are a few boats, mostly tinnies or glass fibre boats trailed in for fishing so they are virtually still on the surface, dots in the vastness of the lakes.

Wanaka: We needed to be in Wanaka to meet up with some friends from the UK and that also meant we really really wanted to be close to the centre of town itself, in easy walking distance. We have used both the Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park and the Glendu Bay Lakeside Holiday Park which are both run by the Queenstown Local District Council along with the one at Arrowtown which had been well spoken off by our contacts. Being government owned it is very reasonably priced and clean and tidy although they do not have the bells and whistles of a Top Ten or the like. The Wanaka one was within walking distance of the hotel which are friends were booked into but they did not have any basic cabins so we settled for the luxury of a self contained unit which had a kitchen, TV, shower and toilet as well as bedding for only an extra $25 over a simple cabin. We walked round town and made contact with the hotel who suggested a suitable place to eat the following day with our friends.

Thursday 3 March

Mt Aspiring Road: The next morning we set off along the lake front down the Mount Aspiring Road which has some awesome views into the mountains. It is just over 50 kms to the end of the road at Raspberry Creek car park, and is sealed as far as the Treble Cone ski field. The unsealed part of the road is slow with many cattle grids and the last 10 kms has a number of fords (4x4 in bad weather) one of which Pauline was sent ahead to reconnoitre on foot. It is hard to do speeds in excess of 40 kph on the unsealed parts, even slower at the far end, and we took well over an hour for the 50 kms. There are a collection of warning signs and information boards one needs to read before embarking on the last section and to only do it in fine and predictable weather; we had driven the road safely in previous years and only stopped to read the information on our return. A few of the fords did need care and the route choosing carefully and we watched a couple of hoons probably end up with wet floors when pounding through although we had no problems.

Walks from Raspberry Creek: There there are two possible half day walks from the car park at Raspberry Creek. The first is is a gentle 20 minutes stroll along the banks of the Matukituki River to the swingbridge where the walk along the Rob Roy Valley separates from the alternative walk to the Mount Aspiring Hut. We have only done the one to the Rob Roy Glacier Viewpoint in 2006. The walk to the Hut is longer, although with hindsight it might be been easier because there is less height gain. Once across the bridge the climb begins. After 45 minutes of steady climb along the Rob Roy Stream the path levels out and although there were a few difficult places where the path had washouts, and many uneven patches where there were tree roots. As expected, the walk ends at the tree line, in alpine pastures, with a view of the Rob Roy Glacier. It took us 2 hours from the car park. And the view are really spectacular. We sat on a rock and admired the cold pale blue of the glacier ice, disturbed only by the occasional crash of melting snow and the squawk of the Kea parrots circling overhead. It was so much more beautiful than the glaciers on the West Coast which all the tourist tours visit.

Diamond Lake Walk: On the way back to Wanaka we stopped at the Diamond Lake Car park and did the short walk round the lake we had done before but this time we also climbed up to the Lake Lookout. The climb to the Lake from the car park is only about 70m and well formed, the climb to the lookout is still good but hard work as the extra 170 metres is mostly in the form of steps but the views a well worth it.

Approaching Glendhu Bay there was a lot of activity with trailers of signs and lots of temporary PortaLoos obviously in preparation for an event at the weekend. We had heard of "The Motatapu" which was starting on Saturday at 0600 at Glendhu Bay then ending at Arrowtown. The track covers 51km of exposed and physically challenging back-country terrain across the Motatapu and Soho Stations on an old travellers' route that is steeped in New Zealand history. It ascends a total of 2790 metres over four peaks (the highest point being 1275m). Looking at the routemap shows it follows the Motatapu Valley to Macetown then along the Arrow River to Arrowtown. The fastest mountain bike completed the course in under 2 hours whereas the fastest runner took just over 7 hours. Interestingly the 4x4s were apparently taking about 5 hours! Accommodation in the area over the weekend was going to be difficult, even for camping, and especially at Glendhu Bay and Arrowtown.

Ripon Winery: Closer to Wanaka is the iconic Rippon winery which is often used as advertising for NZ wines because of the beautiful view from the tasting room down through the grapevines and to Lake Wanaka. Now it has expanded into a more formal venue and we arrived to find a full car park and the start of a wedding ceremony with the bride and her father waiting to make her impressive entrance down the gardens to where her friends and family, and the celebrant, were waiting. There was no longer an informal arrangement to taste the wine and perhaps buy some bottles and tourists were being batched into groups for tasting sessions and we were invited, very nicely, to sit and wait for the next group. We looked at their wine list and prices, and the number of people, and decided not to stay. We know Rippon wines from the past and visiting the vineyard is mainly to chat about the new vintage and there was not going to be an opportunity on this day.

We just got back in time for a quick shower and went down to meet our friends. They were late, having stopped to admire too much scenery on their drive from the Glaciers and through the Haast Pass. This gave us the chance to visit the Farmers Market which was set up in front of the Speights Ale House. Many of the stallholders said they also go to the Cromwell Farmers Market, which is on the Sunday. The Speights Ale House Wanaka is within sight of the Hotel balcony and after sharing the Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc to welcome them to NZ we all set off there for a meal; the hotel recommended it highly as it was where they always went to eat themselves. The food was good as was the Porter. Pete's lamb shanks did mean plural and he was almost in need of a doggy bag and did not make pudding! Pauline enjoyed her pork belly. Both meals were served with mash, not with the usual pub greasy chips, so it was a good choice. We will eat there again and have no worries recommending it and will try others in the chain.

Friday 4 March

We had a quick walkround Wanaka in the morning and helped set our friends up with a NZ phone before getting under way along the bank of the Clutha and towards Cromwell. We normally stay in a basic cabin at the Top Ten Campsite but it is now getting quite expensive ($75) and all those cabins had gone leaving only a large motel unit at over twice the price so we went out in the Bannockburn direction to the Cairnmuir Camping Ground which we had looked at as a possibility on a previous visit. They seemed to be unaffected by the Motatapu event.

The Cairnmuir Camping Ground turned out to be a friendly quiet site with a number of cabins of various sizes at sensible prices and lots of sheltered space for vans and tents just next door to the Carrick Bend Winery. It is just above a large and quiet side arm of the Karawau river with a path down to it from within the site. It is also very close to the Bannockburn Sluicings, probably the best first example of a gold field to look round. The only disadvantage (to some an advantage as it makes it very quiet) is that it is a few kilometers from downtown Cromwell and the main roads in every direction - we tend to use Cromwell as a centre to get to many of the Otago Goldfield areas usually as long round trips. Overall the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages and we found Cairnmuir was a better option than the Cromwell TopTen. It is however probably best to ring to check they have space as they are also popular with short term workers in, for example, the vineyards at this time of year.

Carrick Winery : We were too early to checkin to our accommodation so were delighted to see that the Carrick winery was just 300 metres along the road. We were even more delighted that they had a restaurant, which was already busy. Having chatted to the manager about our knowledge of Carrick and saying that we were content to wait until a table was available for lunch we were immediately shown to a table inside. It did not have the superb view down onto the Lake of the outside table but was out of the wind and had a good view cross to the hills of Bannockburn. As we watched food passing from kitchen to table we knew we had made the right decision. Most tables had chosen the Cairnmuir Platter for 2, but we were looking for something warm and chose the Otago Lamb rack with smoked beet puree, tabbouleh, eggplant, mint and parsley. Since we were staying just a short walk away we could justify having a glass of wine with our lunch, and since the main was lamb then the obvious wine was pinot noir. We already knew the Carrick Unravelled Pinot Noir because it is our favourite on Cunard ships, but they did not have any for tasting. There were three pinot noirs for tasting and for sale and we chose the Bannockburn Pinot Noir ($11/45) and Excelsior Pinot Noir (single vineyard) ($22/95). It is not often that there is the chance to drink the top quality wines by the glass, and to compare two different areas, both local to the winery. Of course, they both would benefit from cellaring but are also drinking now. The Excelsior was very good but would we pay nearly £50 a bottle - only for a very special occasion and there are other wines at that price we might prefer. We have yet to try our bottle but I think the Brightwater Lord Rutherford Pinot would win at half the price as would some of the Chard Farm Pinots.

Looking out across the lawn there were interesting large sculptures on display outside. They have been selected by Milford galleries of Dunedin and supported by Central Otago Arts. The sculptures, and the paintings indoors, were all for sale and the exhibition was supposed to end at the beginning of March so we were lucky to see them still in situ.

At Cairnmuir Camping Ground the owner said that we were lucky - as well as Carrick there are 3 wineries within walking distance. Her son has worked in the wineries including the one whose Rose we have been trying to buy. She recommended we try the Carrick Josephine, a lower alcohol sweet riesling wine which was one of her favourites.

Cromwell Museum One of our first stops in Cromwell is always the Museum which is free and extensive and looked after mainly by a group of enthusiastic and knowledgable volunteers. It has recently been extended into the space previously occupied by the information office which has now moved to be just in front of the 'Fruit'. It has a lot of Cromwell history from its start and initial signification as a centre for the gold fields and on to fruit farming. A major part covered the changes on the area when the hydroelectric scheme started. The goldmining exhibits are good and there is an extensive collection of old pictures both in books and more recently a computer display/database.

At the Information Office we were remembered from our previous visit and had useful advice when we asked about the state of the Thomson Gorge Road and the Nevis Road. We have travelled along both on previous visits but the weather makes such a difference to whether they are only a 4WD road or can be used by us as summer 2WD.

Northburn Tailings at Quartz Reef Point: We have travelled to most local places of interest but had not been to the Northburn Tailings at Quartz Reef Point, half way between Cromwell and Bendigo. They show the herringbone pattern which is so typical of manual goldmining and stacking of stones. The pattern is very clear from aerial pictures. They are easy to find and there is a DOC sign at the parking and well-marked path up to the viewpoint. It is on private land but access has been arranged along the track by DOC.

Old Cromwell: We got back at about 1630, just in time for a walk round Old Cromwell. Cromwell was a major centre during the Goldmining days and was at the junction of two of the major gold-bearing rivers, the Kawarau and the mighty Clutha. For many years it was just known as The Junction. In 1862 gold was discovered just below Cromwell and the rush was on. As Gold ran out Cromwell became a centre for farming and fruit-growing viewpoint. The Clyde Dam, which formed Lake Dunstan, flooded Old Cromwell. The area is already quite interesting and can easily occupy an hour or two. Cromwell Museum has a lot of local history from the town’s start and initial signification as a centre for the gold fields on to fruit farming. A major part covered the changes on the area when the hydroelectric scheme started.

Before flooding, some of the historic buildings representative of the original town were rescued from the main street and rebuilt mud brick by mudbrick and corrugated iron sheet by sheet above the water level. This comprises the (free) museum area of Old Cromwell. The first building is the Victoria Arms Hotel, then the Masonic Lodge. Both are opposite the parking area. There are then eight historic buildings which were relocated, including the Cobb and Co Store, London House, G Stumbles General Merchant, Cromwell Argus, Cromwell Post and Telegraph Office and Jolly's Grain Store. There are two buildings in the precinct which are on their original sites : Wisharts Blacksmith and Motor Garage and Murrell's Cottage. It only takes a short time to admire the buildings, unless you get tempted to stop for a coffee or look at the various arts and crafts – but most were closed by the time we got there. In the period after the buildings had been recorded, demolished and moved the mining companies moved in to mine the glacial drift gravels opposite Cornish Point which had been denied to them because of the town - it is believed that over 4000 ounces were recovered in this final ‘goldrush’, more than enough to reconstruct the old town.

Saturday 5 March

Bannockburn Sluicings: The Bannockburn Sluicings are only 5 kms from Cromwell and almost walking distance from our camping ground. We have been before but even so it is difficult to appreciate the scale of operations and the magnitude of materials removed. The walks round the area have been re-routed in places to avoid erosion and the main walk now takes about two hours the first time allowing time to read the many explanatory boards, many have been recently updated or renewed, and to explore and photograph a little. There are some additions which are not so well signed but the main walk is enough to get a good understanding. The scale of the old operations is awe inspiring - cliffs perhaps a hundred feet high and hundreds of yards across cut out of the hillsides making huge amphitheatres and the whole area between stripped away. One is just seeing little "islands" standing to the original surface level.

Almost all of the operations were powered by water, first ground sluicing where water was just allowed to pour over the edges of the faces washing the gold bearing gravel down into sluice boxes, then latter, hydraulic sluicing where high pressure jets of water were used from below to bring down the faces. The tailings followed complex channels cut into the ground to eventually be washed away down the Kawarau River. During the walk we saw some of the water races and dams bringing in the vast supplies needed to wash away millions of cubic feet of gravel and the complex channels cut to get the tailings away to the river. The water was often reused and we saw an intermediate dam used to collect the water from sluicing before using it to periodically flush the build up of tailings down the tailings races to the river.

The high point of the walk is to reach the old settlement, Stewart Town, - a few mud brick houses beside one of the larger dams. In its day it had big orchards with hundreds of fruit trees irrigated as a bonus of the water races. Now the area is once more arid and only a few pear trees and apricots survive - we were a little later this year and although the pears were still hard the ones with worms were ripe enough to eat (with care). The small apricots we usually enjoy were however completely over and we never found any sign of a plum. One important change over the last 10 years is the increase in houses and many more hectares around the Reserve have been planted with vines. The whole area of Bannockburn sluicings is also alive with wild thyme and there is the most wonderful smell - wherever one walks off the new trail one crushes it underfoot. One can still see the shape of the water races leading from the dam, in some places running beside each other along the slope, each feeding a different set of workings or claim. As they descend the channels were stone lined and complex flumes, aqueducts and pipes distributed the water - there was often more money to be made in supplying water and removing tailings than in the gold itself. Bannockburn is perhaps the best place to get to understand and appreciate large scale sluicing operations and the couple of hours walk covers all the main features.

Quartzville and Track to Carricktown: We then went through Bannockburn village with its hotel, shop and cafe to look at another potential walk to Carricktown but time was too short as tt is 6.5 km, 2.5 hours round trip. We however did it latter in the holiday.

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Content revised: 14th April, 2016