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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 4

Wednesday 10 February

After much deliberation overnight we decided to buy a new tent from Kathmandu. Having measured our mattresses it was clear that our little so-called 3-person tent bought from Sainsbury's several years ago was too small and something larger was needed for short camping stops. We still like our very large tent but a smaller one is useful too. The tents from Kathmandu are good quality and the price of their Retreat 80 for 2-3 people was reduced in the sale from $400 to $250. There was no reason to delay buying.

It is an easy drive on good main roads from Rotorua to Napier using the Taupo bypass. We fuelled first because there is no fuel along the SH5 between Taupo and the Esk Valley. It seems to always be sunny in Hawke's Bay and we were not disappointed as we drove over the hills and down towards the coast. Our first stop was to visit Esk Valley winery, and congratulate them on their 2013 Merlot-Cabernet-Malbec which was trophy winner in 2014 and we had purchased so many last year that we still had 6 bottles now. It is a beautiful bordeaux blend. Sue persuaded us to do a tasting and we purchased the 2014 Pinot Noir and 2013 Syrah. Esk Valley wines are widely available and we can buy more on our travels.

Having settled and unpacked we drove into town along the west shore and parked on Marine Parade. Parking is free there and it is only a short walk along the foreshore into town to check for ideas for dinner, including looking at the Indigo indian restaurant which is only open in evenings. There is a brand new pier-cum-viewing platform behind the Soundshell which gives good views back along the beach. Returning to the van we drove up to the Bluff Hill lookout and watched the containers being loaded onto a freighter.

Thursday 11 February

Napier is a beautiful art deco city and it is nice to visit when there are fewer crowds. The annual Art Deco Festival starts on 19 February this year and a few vintage cars had already arrived but it was otherwise uncongested. We are looking forward to a drive around a selection of wineries.

Mission is one of the wineries which opens early in the morning at 0900. It is very popular with wine tours and is a beautiful historic building with a renowned restaurant and manicured gardens. It was established in 1851 by french missionaries and is New Zealand's oldest winery. They produce five ranges of wine - Estate, Vineyard Selection, Reserve, Jewelstone and the most expensive, Huchet, which is named after their pioneering winemaker Brother Cyprian Huchet. We purchased their trophy winning champion exhibition white wine, the 2014 Jewelstone Chardonnay, and then tasted the cheaper 2014 Reserve Chardonnay which was also very good. Clutching our bottles we wandered through the empty restaurant following signs towards the chapel which would be a suitable venue for weddings. We were also able to look at the conference rooms upstairs. The second winery was Church Road, further along the same road which opened at 1030. Church Road is younger, founded in 1897 and also has a reputation for its award-winning wines. They had won the 2015 Champion Wine of the Show and Champion Syrah with their McDonald Series Syrah 2013 which we liked very much. It is very good value at $27. The more expensive 2013 Grand Reserve Syrah had also won, but 'only' pure gold. Their tasting room looks like a large historic barn but when we asked about its history we were told that it was much newer but made with old timbers.

We had both been looking forward to having lunch at Elephant Hill winery and to taste their wines, especially the 2014 Syrah and the 2013 reserve Syrah. Again in 2015 their reserve wine scored less highly but it is a different year. The lunch service began at 1200 and we were early so we had a wine tasting. A glass of chardonnay went well with the scallops which were the special entree of the day; the other entree was smoked beef tartare with beetroot, horseradish sorbet and walnut. Mains were excellent too: it was difficult to choose which was best between the glazed duck with a soft shell crab on top and cucumber, coriander and vanilla lime dressing or the smoked venison with gingerbread, parsnip and stonefruit. The little soft shell crab was memorable because it was so easy to eat. We could only manage to share one lemon meringue cheesecake dessert. We must go back again.

Elephant Hill is south of Clive and near to Cape Kidnappers. Beach House winery is nearby and they won the trophy for champion exhibition red wine for their 2014 Hawke's Bay Syrah. There is only limited amounts required for an exhibition wine and we contacted their tasting room at the Roosters Brewhouse in Omahu Road to check on availability. Beach House and Roosters are owned by the same people and we were able to buy the Beach House Syrah and were tempted by their non-alcoholic ginger beer and various homebrews which are served directly into plastic take-away 1.5 litre bottles.

Friday 12 February

We were packed and ready to travel early today so decided to take a backroads route to Wellington via the Napier-Taihape Road. Most people travel from Napier to Wellington on SH2, which is 313kms and takes about 5 hours. There is a warning on leaving the edge of Napier on the Napier-Taihape road that there is no fuel for 135 kms. After reaching Taihape, which is 152kms due west of Napier, there is still 203 kms south to Wellington. It is a long day of driving but the road is pleasant although it is winding and the scenery is superb.

The Napier Taihape backroad is a Heritage Trail, only recently sealed for its entire length going over Gentle Annie. We first heard about it many years ago from some other campers at Lake Tutira who sent some information sheets to us in England. It is now one of a network of Heritage Trails which are sponsored by the New Zealand Visitor Network and the local District Councils. They all have information sheets and the main features are numbered and often have display boards on the ground giving something of the history etc. Their markers use cream/pale yellow letters on a, usually very faded, teal green background so are easy to recognise as are their information sheets which have a similar colour scheme.

The route which we know as "Gentle Annie" is officially known as the Inland Patea Heritage Trail and crosses the Dividing Range through an area of great natural beauty and historic interest where earth movements have created unusual mountains with limestone scarps with natural forest. It started as the route of an old Maori Trail from the East coast to the centre of North Island. In the 15th century one of the most famous Maori leaders Tamatea Pokai Whenui (Tamatea means he who explored the land) arrived in NZ on the Takitumu canoe and traveled the trail with his son Kanungunu. Many of the place names near the trail are called after the animals he carried in his basket.

Later Patea, a Maori living at Manawarakau, traveled the trail. Legend says he went on a hunting expedition for a long time and returned with a poor bag to find his woman had filled his storehouse. Her incessant nagging on how poor a hunter he was led him to take her for a walk off a cliff. Rather than face her relatives he fled into the wild country west of the ranges where he remained in what came to be called Patea's Country, a huge tract bounded by the dividing Ranges, Mount Ruapehu and Taihape. The Name gained the Inland to avoid confusion with the town of Patea. For 50 years the Inland Patea's main port was Napier and everything was packed on horses over the ranges. By the 1870s the Inland Patea had vast Stations with Merino sheep and transport was a tremendous undertaking - typical stations could be sheering up to 75,000 sheep and packing the wool over the ranges on strings of pack horses. The strings were hundreds strong with one man to each string of ten. Mules were also used and one in five animals carried provisions and fodder for the trip. Each pack animal carried 200 pounds (91 kgs) and riding ahead were hunters with dogs providing fresh food.

It was a dangerous job and it was not unknown for animals to lose their footing on the narrow rocky path over the precipitous "Gentle Annie" and plunge to their end in the Ngaruroro Gorge a hundred meters below. Panic could easily spread with the rest of the team following. They eventually returned with mail and supplies. This used to be the busiest and longest trail in New Zealand and remained so until Gold Fever struck and eventually in 1908 the railway was opened up to Wellington.

The day was clear and hot and the views all across were stunning. We did not have time to take all the side trips we have done in the past and unusually we did not stop for the night on Gentle Annie in one of the DOC camp sites close to Kuripapango on the banks of the Ngaruroro River. Kuripapango is named after a Wanganui Maori warrior who was killed and eaten whilst trying to invade Hawke's Bay in the 17th century. There are several camping sites, the main one used to be down by the river and the track down was a bit broken up. That now seems to be only for anglers in the day and a new site has been set up nearby.

There was not much traffic and a lot was local not tourists. We had a short stop to change drivers and have coffee and biscuits at the informal camping ground by the old Springvale Suspension Bridge over the Rangitikei river which had informal camping for anglers at the rivers edge beneath it. The bridge was built by William Salt in 1923 and traffic is now carried by by a modern replacement which takes traffic over the historic ford. There is a swimming hole just above the bridge and Pete has swum there in the past - it is perfect with a hole perhaps 4 meters deep carved out by the eddies below a set of rapids, clean cool water and a back eddy so one did not have to continually battle the current. It is now listed as it one of the last of that design remaining and The only disappointment of the drive across was that the road is now completely sealed but there is still very little traffic in the middle section. On our previous trip the final piece of gravel near Kuripapango was being upgraded and now it is sealed we expect there to be more rental cars and campervans using the route.

Joining the main SH1 at Taihape we headed south. Our previous notes showed a free camping ground at Vinegar Hill which we could see beneath us from the road. It had good facilities with flush toilets and showers and large grassy areas suitable for a tent. There were only a few people there, mostly snuggled into the edge of the bank of the Rangitikei river. Heading towards Feilding along the SH54 the weather was very clear with good visibility and so we stopped at the Stormy Point viewpoint where we could just see the cone shape of Mt Ngauruhoe and the other mountains of the Tongariro National Park some 90kms away. We continued to Cheltenham. Cheltenham is small, unlike its English namesake, with a school, nice hotel, dairy and general store, and a park with picnic seating. We have stopped there before and remember the dairy with its scoop icecreams.

We regularly visit our friends Colin and Esma Stephenson who own the Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum in the little town of Tokomaru. They are planning to retire as soon as they can find a purchaser for their Museum and the adjacent house, and their intention is to move into Palmerston North so they are closer to the facilities of a large town. We contacted them to check that they had not already moved and were pleased that they were home and we could visit, but disappointed on their behalf that they had not found a buyer. After spending the afternoon chatting and sipping coffee we swapped drivers and continued down the main road towards Wellington. Having been warned by Esma about road works and congestion on the roads around Wellington we plotted a route across SH58 from Paremata to Haywards. It was a good short cut although quite slow along the Pauatahanui Inlet. Having left Napier at 0800 we reached the Top10 Holiday Park at Lower Hutt at 1900 so it was a much longer day travelling than we usually do. Our prepaid reservation meant that we quickly checked-in and the cabin was at the end of a block. It was not very quiet because there was a school group in four cabins at the other end of the block. But it was much easier than pitching a tent for one night having arrived late.

Saturday 13 February

It is only a short distance into Wellington from Lower Hutt and we planned to do some shopping in Wellington before catching the Interislander ferry at 14.45. Having paid but not been able to print our ticket we stopped at the Departures building and collected the paperwork then drove into town and parked near the Bluebridge ferry. On Saturday parking is cheaper and it was only NZ$8 to stay all day. We did not get good value because we were only there for 3 hours but generally it is very reasonable. During the week it is typically double the price. The parking is close to the Railway Station and this was deliberate because the first task was to go to the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) Law Library and donate a copy of Pauline's LLM dissertation to them. The title of her dissertation is “Assisted Dying: comparisons between England and New Zealand” and she spent some time researching the Law library in 2015 and had promised them that she would donate a copy of the dissertation when she have been successfully awarded her degree. It was not easy to get into the Law library; in 2015 she had been given a card to unlock the front door but that was only valid for the time she was doing her research. In addition there was a special open exhibition to showcase the architecture of the building which meant that the library was “out of bounds” to casual visitors. Eventually we found someone who could help us and the paperwork for the donation of the LLM dissertation was completed.

The VUW Law School and its library is now in the Old Government Building which is situated on Lambton Quay in Wellington. It is one of the largest wooden building in the world. It was completed in the same month in 1876 that provincial government in New Zealand ended and initially housed the entire Wellington-based civil service as well as the entire New Zealand Cabinet. It was originally planned to have the building constructed in concrete and timber, but the cost of concrete led to a decision to build in timber alone. The building was constructed to resemble an Italian stone palace to help convey its strength and stability in the expanding empire. The timber is native kauri and the wooden construction has been a major factor in its surviving subsequent earthquakes - it is situated near a major fault line. When it opened in 1876, after 22 months of construction, and at a cost of £39 000, it was easily the largest building in the country and is arguably now New Zealand's most important historic building.

The building was extended in 1897 and again in 1907, with additions to the wings. It has been extensively restored and many original features were replicated, including fireplaces although these are now purely decorative. The original totara piles were replaced with concrete. Over 500 cubic metres of recycled kauri was used during the restoration project, to supplement the original timber. Verandahs, late Victorian and Edwardian water radiators, the original clock and coat of arms, a water-powered hydraulic lift, and the impressive staircases were all restored or preserved. Wherever possible the building was to be restored to its 1907 appearance, when the north and south wing extensions were completed. The project spanned two years and cost $25 million. Fire concerns led to it becoming the first building in the world to have a smoke-free policy.

Its restoration is considered a landmark government-initiated heritage conservation project. The grounds are open to the public, and contain examples of rare native New Zealand flora. The ground floor has many public exhibits and the Cabinet room on the first floor is also open to the public.

Wellington is always very quiet on a Saturday but shops are open in the morning and often in the afternoon. The Kathmandu shop and its nearby Outlet shop both had Sales. The first shop had a good selection of men's walking boots and the second had one beautiful and very reduced pair of women's walking boots. So we both had successful shopping. Pete also added another Kathmandu shirt and a pair of lightweight and insect-repellant convertible trousers to his walking gear. We might need to buy a larger suitcase to get them all back home.

The shops are close to the Civic Square and Jervois Quay. We came upon crews getting into waka for racing and as we reached the waterfront there was a race in progress. It reminds us of the Eights racing in Oxford. Saturday is also Market day in the indoor market on the edge of Frank Kitts Park. It is a craft market with interesting local clothing and we were pleased that the pounamu stall was there. The owner remembered us and wondered why we had not visited in 2015. Why are we so memorable? According to the posters it is also the weekend when the Chinese New Year (of the Monkey) is being celebrated and there are special events over the weekend. Except for the waka racing we did not see any sign of anything special but we remember a previous year when there were processions with chinese dragons through Wellington. If we had known then maybe we would have planned our ferry differently. It is impossible to win – if we had been earlier then we would not have seen Colin and Esma. Today is also the Marlborough Food and Wine festival in Blenheim, which we have missed. Apparently the earlier Interislander ferry had 750 foot passengers, which is an enormous number of people, as well as the usual number of vehicles.

The Railway station has a New World supermarket so there was a last-minute purchase of food and wine for the evening. Being just across the road from our parking it was very convenient. Checkin for the ferry was supposed to be one hour before sailing so there was just time to look inside the Gallery of the NZ Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Wellington City and Sea, both housed in old buildings along Jervois Quay. The latter has a new exhibition on the top 3rd floor which we did not have time to properly explore but hope to do so on our return.

We joined the queue for the ferry which we assumed would be the Kaiarahi which was already berthed at the terminal. Loading was supposed to start shortly but then the little Aratere arrived and we realised that she would be our vessel. There are three ferries but only Aratere is able to take trains on board on the Rail deck. Aratere means “quick path” in maori and she is small carrying only 670 passengers and that is after a lengthening in 2011. There is information about the lengthening work which took place in Singapore and the middle of the ship where she was cut and a piece added is marked in true kiwi style with a dotted scissored line marked on the walls and ceiling.

It was a delightful smooth crossing with blue sky and sunshine so could not have been more perfect.

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Content revised: 4st April, 2016