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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 12

Monday 7 March

The last part contained a very full days round trip journey from Cairnmuir but it was now time to move on.

The Karawau Gorge: Our route took us through the Karawau Gorge where we first passed the Goldmining Centre, we could see across the gorge the huge pump which was used to supply large quantities of low pressure water from the Karawau river which was driven by a Pelton Wheel driven by high pressure water from a water race high above - an interesting interchange. The last time we came we found they had started doing meals which are cooked in old wine barrels converted to a barbeque/oven but it was far too early for a lunch. We looked into the 'Roaring Meg' car park where one can look at the Karawau river and the outlet from Little Meg, now used for a small hydroelectric system. There are many 'exotics' which are taking over from the local trees and flora down the gorge and the boards explained how physical and chemical warfare was being used to iradicate them - the results are huge tracts of dead trees and bushes but they believe it will probably regenerate. There are some walks from the small picnic/camping area opposite which used to be the site of one of the Coaching Inns. Our target however was the Chard Farm Winery rather than undertaking a long walk.

The Chard Farm Winery is well worth the interesting trip down the narrow unsealed road which seems to hang unsupported off the steep cliff down to the Karawau Gorge below. We have found their wines consistently good and they are difficult to obtain anywhere other than at the cellar door – they have an enthusiastic following and most are sold direct although they gave us the names of places in Wellington and Auckland where some wines could be obtained. It was Pete’s turn for the tasting and he tried most of their selection.

They have always been very proud of their Riesling and it is one of a small number of NZ Rieslings we like – Pete had the chance to try the 2015 and also also try their Vipers which is the favourite of the owner’s wife who is German and it is very much in the German Spatlese/Auslese style. The Vipers Vineyard Riesling is always a must to buy and is from the Vipers Vineyard located on an undulating terrace in the Parkburn area of Cromwell and this years was as good as ever. It takes its name from the wildflower Vipers Bugloss covering the area. Grown on the Arena Block of the vineyard, the steep north facing slope produces grapes with distinctive lime flavours and a mineral edge and the wine is made from a very small selective harvest of grapes that were just at the right balance of fruit flavour, acid and sweetness. It is made in a medium sweet style, and is a wonderful aperitif or great with food that has a little heat. It has a fragrant bouquet of limes and rose petal, with hints of spice and musk. The wine is vibrant and juicy in the mouth. With detailed lime and fresh fruit flavours on a long and energetic finish.The Gewürztraminer is also unusually good and Pete also tried it. Pinot Noir is there real speciality and they have a number of different blocks and have an impressive number on sale many of which were available for tasting. We still have a couple of the 'River Run' Pinot Noir at home and we had just bought one in a supermarket at a very favourable price of under $30, even cheaper than the winery

The tasting proper started with their Pinots and due to lack of time I have used their own 'generic' notes until I can update with our own notes on tasting the bottles we bought.

Chard Farm Pinot Noirs

River Run Pinot Noir: grapes grown in our vineyards in the Cromwell basin with a dash of Gibbston fruit from the home vineyard. The Cromwell vineyards give the wine its fine tannin structure and succulent fruit, while the old vines in the home vineyard give nice savory tones and mid palate density. The wine is made to display typical central otago bright, fresh sweet fruit, good texture and mineral length and has an intense bouquet of red fruits, spice, violets and savory earthy notes. Good fruit weight and fresh red berry flavours give a nice mid palate focus. The fine tannins and mineral acid lead to a long finish.

Finla Mor Pinot Noir: Finla Mor is grown on selected vineyards in the Cromwell basin. The vineyards are all planted on elevated terraces in the Lowburn and Parkburn areas. Each of the vineyards feature a mix of the alluvial schist based soils that give these wines their purity and minerality. Ripe berry fruit, black plums on the nose with herbal and spicy undertones. The wine is full and supple on the palate, with lush fruit flavours and vibrancy. The fine tannins provide a velvety yet sturdy finish. Vineyards: The Tiger, and Sinclair vineyards in Lowburn, Cromwell and the Viper and Cook Block in Parkburn Cromwell.

Mata-Au Pinot Noir: The Mata-Au vineyards are located in the Lowburn and Parkburn areas of the Cromwell basin. The vineyards are planted on the terraces and alluvial schist based soils formed by the Mata-Au (Clutha) River (pronounced – martar-o). The unique combination of site, soil and mild continental climate produces perfumed wines with elegant texture, structure and mineral length. We consider it to be our signature wine, and as such it was not produced in 2011 because we deemed the vintage to not be of the required standard. It is made from the best blocks in our best vineyards in the Lowburn/Parkburn sub-region. Mata-Au showcases the succulent red fruits and silky tannins that are the hallmarks of this sub-region, delivered in our elegant, textural and length driven style. The floral and spicy perfume overlays strong red berry fruits and dried herbs. The complex red fruit, spice and herbal tones are perfectly balanced by a silky tannin structure and clear acid; detailing lovely precision, tension and length on the finish. Vineyards: The Tiger Vineyard in Lowburn, Cromwell and the Viper Vineyard in Parkburn, Cromwell

The Viper Pinot Noir: On limited availablility and is just becoming ready for drinking but will keep for many more years. The Viper Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in the Vipers vineyard in the Parkburn area on the western side of Lake Dunstan. The vineyard takes it name from the wildflower Vipers Bugloss that covers the area. This vineyard sits on an undulating terrace above the valley floor. The soils are predominantly silt loam over schist gravel. The terrace enjoys moderate temperatures and a long growing season. Ripening tends to be late into the season as the daytime temperatures are cooling. The cooler ripening tends to produce spicy wines with dark fruit flavours and a dense grippy palate. The Viper is always made from the Grandstand and North blocks within the vineyard and the wines always stand out as uniquely in the cellar as they do in the bottle. The wine has aromas and flavours of black spice and bursts of dark red fruits, with earthy-herbal tones that give character and depth. On the palate there is an immediate density and weight that is restrained and elegant. The fine complex finish is magical.

Tiger Pinot Noir: We also had the privilege to try the Tiger Pinot Noir 2014 - it was surprisingly drinkable for the age but really needs to be kept 5 years. The Tiger Pinot Noir is a single vineyard bottling made from grapes grown in our Tiger vineyard in the Lowburn sub-region. The vineyard is on sloping land up off the valley floor and this elevated cooler position allows the vineyard to ripen slowly, building layer upon layer of flavour nuance and soft silky tannins. The wines from this vineyard typically display spicy aromatic red berry fruits and violets. The palate is characterised by a broad structure and layers of fine integrated tannin and fruit which is more textural than structural. The Tiger is always quite shy and reticent in its youth and after 4-5 years in bottle it really blossoms and expresses itself. The aroma displays a perfume of delicate spice and dried flowers, over a bed of red berries. The wine is beautifully layered. Fine silky tannins and a precise line of red fruit running through the palate, combining with the spice/floral notes to deliver an intense, yet elegant finish. We were told that Bob Cambell, one of the best known wine judges had visited in 2014 and awarded the 2012 a 95/100 which is exceptional and was the highest awarded to a NZ Pinot Noir by that time.

When we got to the winery there was a film crew outside as as we left we found they had departed except for the huge trau#iler which had been providing them with food on a set of trestle tables. We were observed looking at the setup and were invited to finish off anything left to save it being thrown away - we were delighted to assist! The Rhubarb and Bilberry Clafoutie with lashings of whipped cream was memorable.

If you want a quiet, informative tasting of top Otago wines Chard Farm is The place to go, and if you want a meal the Gibbston Winery does excellent lunches down the road with a chance to compare their wines, or purchase a picnic from the Cheesery next door. We did not need to visit this time

Lake Wakatipu: Our route took us round Queenstown via Frankton and along the side of Lake Wakatipu and it was a clear morning with views across the lake to the high mountains, some still with a scattering of snow onto shaded areas on the peaks. We stopped a couple of the times and took some photographs. We had a couple of stops marked on the GPS, the first was a Reserve called Drift Bay. It has been donated fairly recently by Carlin Enterprises and it is also the start of the 6 km return Lakeside Walking Track which we have noted for the future. The views were stunning. The is a second good stop at an area where there seems to be informal camping and has a beach with even more magnificent views which is just short of Kingston that is marked as a resting place on the Hema map.

Kingston Flyer: We had a quick look at Kingston, partly to see what had happened to the Kingston Flyer which was one of a small number of steam trains still running in New Zealand and also to see where the Earnslaw had been reassembled and put into the water. The two were probably at the same place as the railway line ends a few hundred metres beyond the station at the old steamer wharf and we assume the slip was to the side in an area now done up but containing a small slip for trailer boats but leading into deep water. The Kingston Flyer has not run for several years and we have been told the owner had lost interest as it was no longer a paying proposition - a shame as we had enjoyed the sole journey we had on it. All the road signs and adverts still send people to it and the restaurant still has a chalked sign saying 'Open this Friday' but we could see no evidence anything had changed in the two years since our last visit and the most recent advert we saw was dated 1913. We paused briefly at the old endpoint of the journey at Fairlight Station and again there was no sign of recent life and the tracks were completely overgrown.

Manapouri Campsite: We found the campsite at Manapouri was very quiet - most people now seem to book on the internet and the owner has resisted that. It is old style camp-site we like with lots of character and at a reasonable price. Every cabin is different with some being two story mock stately abodes almost like home. The place is a collector's paradise with a collection of old Morris Minors and other cars and a games room full of classic arcade games. It also has a good kitchen and although there was no Zip there were no less than 4 electric kettles. Pauline however noted it was the only camp site where there were more washing machines and driers than stalls in the ladies, which is unfortunate as they are full of cartoons so everyone tends to linger. There is an Inn and Café almost next door which we have frequently made use of, sitting drinking jugs of Speight's Gold and looking at the view until forced back by the sandflies. In 2012 we had a larger kitchen cabin with excellent views of the lake which was underneath her house. This time we had the accommodation next door, a studio motel unit, which was also underneath her house and had super views itself which saved on the Speight's and reduced our stocks of wine.

Tuesday 8 March

Rain and more rain which gave us a chance to chill out and write up. Pete had virus, possible caught from the friends we met in Wanaka who certainly had something nasty caught on the aircraft.

Wednesday 9 March

The Road to Milford: The next day was still not really fine enough for much walking expecially for Pete so it was perfect for the Road to Milford, which starts at Te Anau. After checking the weather forecast at the DOC office, where we were just too late to go and watch the 0930 feeding of rare Takahe birds, we fuelled and then set off. Our timing was good - just after the rush of coaches from Te Anau and before the ones from Queenstown arrived.

When we came to write this up Pete found that we never seem to have done a proper write up since 2000 or even extra pictures on the web yet this is one of the best known tourist drives in new Zealand - perhaps that is why we had not bothered! It is certainly a priority on one first trip as it is the classic case of "The Journey is more importaant than the Destination" although you should also take one of the boat trips the first time. We have seen the scenery down to Milford and the Sound itself several times but it changes so much with the conditions it would be difficult to tire of it completely. It also responds to rain which is as well as Fiordland has one of the highest rainfalls in the NZ. The scenery in Fiordland is spectacular and the Road to Milford is the only 'Pass' crossing Fiordland and the Divide to the Coast although there is another route reaching Doubtful Sound via boat and Power Station tunnels. It is a long and slow journey, the 240 kms round trip needs 2.5 hours each way without seeing any of the many interesting sights, doing any of the short (or longer) walks or even stopping for pictures. You must fill up with fuel as there are no petrol stations on route. It is a busy road, there are almost more tourists than sandflies en route and it is a dangerous road, the third most dangerous Road in NZ in 2008. We have seen more than one overturned camper van and people get impatient as they never allow enough time and take risks on roads totally unsuitable to even think of overtaking. The number of huge buses is another problem and they take no prisoners and their need to keep to schedules adds considerably to the pressures. As an indication this time we passed 11 stopped at just one of the viewpoints (The Mirror Lakes). It got so bad a few years ago they thought of banning all tourist vehicles and may do so yet - the big checkpoints seem to be in place.

The road is writen up well and you can get a sheet in almost every information centre or campsite in the area. There are also lots of well signposted campsites and picnic areas on the first half before you get into the narrow passes and mountains and many of the famous long distance Tramps (Great Walks) start or end on the Road. It is important to understand that The second half of the Road to Milford is purely a tourist road - there is nothing at the end other than carparks and a huge Visitor Terminal and a small amount of accommodation for people doing the Great Walks. The Road was started as a source of employment during the Depression Years and used a huge amount of manpower, it was held up by the war and not completed until 1953 after the 1.2 km Homer Tunnel was opened and equipment could reach the far side. Other big infrastructure projects included many of the hydroelectric schemes. Those who built much of the Milford Road and the Homer Tunnel were, for the most part, directed to this work by the government of the day - some had never worked in labouring jobs before. For these road men and their partners who followed them into this wilderness, life was incredibly harsh. The weather was merciless, the terrain ferocious. Workers died and structures were destroyed by a merciless environment. Even after the opening workers were killed by avalanches until a programme was developed to mitigatel the risks in the 1980s - you will see the avalanche shelters which protect the tunnel. Take the time to stop and read the boards at the Te Anau end of the tunnel. It was a project which nobody would contemplate these days - think of those who built it when you travel this road and marvel.

Particular Points of Interest on Road to Milford that we stopped at or one should reflect on during the journey. The information leaflets have many more - these are our highlights. Stop at Mirror Lakes if it is calm on the way. It was too busy when we went pass with 11 Coaches in the parking and it was far from a mirror latter in the day. The rest can be on your return when you know how much time you have available.

On our return we stopped in Te Anau to refuel again and looked round the town before having an early meal - the earlybird special of Garlic Breads, Pizzas and Sweets at La Toscana. We have been there several times before and the breads and the Vera's speciality sweet were as excellent as ever but we were a little disappointed with the pizzas this time, nothing one could put ones finger on and perhaps it was just the contrast to the very hot and crisp garlic breads they followed.

Thursday 10 March

Changing Faces of Lake Manapouri. We were woken before dawn the next morning by some spectacular lightning and thunder rolling round the mountains. The winds steadily rose and there were some torrential rain storms. When it was light and the rain lifted enough to see across the lake to the mountains we realised that we could see some huge waterfalls although they were the other side and on watching longer and getting out the binoculars we could see torrents streaming down the bare tops of the mountains above the tree line. It was difficult to believe how much water we must be seeing and they were still visible after a couple of hours. Unfortunately they were too far to get any pictures. We spent much of the day writing up - it was not the weather to venture out far but good to sit and watch the ever changing faces of the lake. A camera cannot capture the vibrancy of what we were watching but we took a few pictures to try to give some impression of what brings us back to places time and time again and why we never tire of just watch the views.

New Zealand Astronomers: Whilst watching the rain fall we re-read the boards about the achievement of Aaron Nicholson of Manapouri Holiday Park, and also a local historian. He proposed two of the local peaks be named after famous New Zealand astronomers, very appropriately as they are part of the Kepler Mountains named after one of the most famous of the early astronomers. Aaron had put the names for two mountains forward to the New Zealand Geographic Board in 2008 to recognise the late Sir William Pickering and Dr Beatrice Tinsley. This was just before "The International Year of Astronomy" (in 2009) so he thought it would be appropriate to have a place where famous New Zealand astronomers could have a place to live. Mt Pickering is at 1650m, 20km west of Te Anau, and Mt Tinsley is at 1537m, 15km west of Te Anau. Dr Pickering was known for his work as director of the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and for leading the development of the United States' unmanned space exploration, very much in my area as I used to work closely with JPL in Remote Sensing. Dr Tinsley's work, the Evolution of Galaxies and its Significance for Cosmology, looked at the evolution of galaxies and the effect on the origin and size of the universe, which had a profound effect on scientific knowledge. I also worked in the same field of climate research as her husband who, I understand used to and I think still does come to stay at the camp site. It is all a very small world we live in. Pickering along with Rutherford are also honoured in Havelock as we wrote about earlier.

It was a shame we did not get the chance to walk parts of the Kepler track or do one of the new walks which Aaron has been working on opening up but there will always be another time.

Friday 11 March

Croyden Aviation Heritage Centre at Mandeville: We left early because we wanted to break the long journey to Dunedin at an aviation museum and restoration workshop which we only found two years ago - the Croyden Aviation Heritage Centre at Mandeville. They have a significant number of restored aircraft most of which are available for flights. Aaron had mentioned them when he was talking about his flights round Manapouri and indicated that the Dragon Rapide flying out of the Manapouri Airport was originally from there and on lease. At Mandeville they have a Tiger Moth, Fox Moth, Dragonfly and a Rapide also available for flights as well as an extensive collection in the hanger for viewing including a pre war Austrian two seater Musger Mg 19a Steinadler Gull Wing Glider which is just through the certification for flying in NZ. They also have a replica of the Pither 1910 Monoplane. At this point no one can prove Pither flew, but the successful flight of the replica, showing that it is both flyable and controllable, greatly increases the probability that Pither flew, especially when placed alongside Pither's own description of his experience.

We were fortunate that we could also have a look round the restoration workshop where there was some beautiful work taking place including the restoration of the record braking Comet with impressive woodwork and another Fox Moth which had the best recovering I have ever seen. Most of the work carried out is to original specifications and materials, as was used in the 1930's when these type of aircraft were built originally. The company has many of the original De Havilland drawings which is essential if the completed aircraft are to be granted a Certificate of Airworthiness by the NZ Aviation Authority. The timber used for the major wooden components is Sitka Spruce from North America. The trees suitable for this work are in the main over 400 years old. They are very slow growing in that environment, therefore the wood is light yet strong and complies with the original specifications. They also had various newer aircraft including a jet which they are preserving.

They were offering flights in the Fox Moth ($60 each) and it was outside the hanger so we tried to get a flight but the pilot available was not cleared for commercial flights yet and did not have time to even fly Pete in the Tiger Moth as he had a meeting in town - we will have to wait till next time.

We then travelled straight on to Portobello in the Otago Peninsula where we would be near enough to Dunedin to make arrangements to see my niece who is at the University of Otago at Dunedin for Sunday Lunch. The next part will cover the Otago Peninsula, Dunedin and a trip on the old harbour boat the Elsie Evans.


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