Touring New Zealand 2019 - part 6
South Island - Mandeville, West Coast, Abel Tasman and the Sounds
Mandeville Airfield Fly-in: By the end of the last part we had already stayed for 4 days at Lake Manapouri, almost as long as we have ever been in one place in NZ - it was time to move on. The main reason we had stayed as long as that was to be well positioned to go to Mandeville Airfield early on the Saturday. They had their main event of the year, a 'Fly In' over the February weekend which was closest to the day of the first passenger commercial flight in NZ from Hokitika to Haas in the Fox Moth in their collection. We needed to be early because we wanted to be there at the very start in case we could get a flight on one of their vintage aircraft, a De Havilland Dominie DH 89. which we achieved. In fact there was less competition to fly than we expected and we had to wait until there were 8 people available. When we flew just before lunch the weather was perfect, almost calm with cumulus clouds and perfect visibility. The flight lasted 15 minutes for our $60 and was mostly nice and low at 1500 feet combined with excellent visibility. Pete's view was slightly restricted by the wings, struts and all the rigging wires. The landing was probably the smoothest Pete had ever had in a powered aircraft, certainly on grass, it was almost impossible to know when the main wheels touched or when the tailwheel was lowered and that on an aircraft designed 80 years ago. The one we flew in was built initially for military service in 1943 hence the designation Dominie although it was essentially identical to the Dragon Rapide DH89. There were several marks with slight differences in engines and wing tip shape - ours had the full beautiful elliptical shape. There has always been a lot of confusion over the names of the DH89s.
It was interesting to look at the other similar aircraft in the hanger. They also have a flying DH90 which looks very similar but was an executive transport version built in small numbers only. One obvious different was that the number of struts and other rigging was significantly reduced. They also have a Rapide under restoration which had all the covering removed showing the full details of the construction and control linkages. The DH88 Comet and the DH89 series contributed to the De Haviland Mosquito which was so important in WW2. Aaron at Manapouri 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. The collection at Mandeville includes several Tiger Moths, the Fox Moth, Dragonfly and a Rapide also available for flights as well as an extensive collection in the hanger for viewing including a 1950s Austrian two seater Musger Mg 19a Steinadler Gull Wing Glider which is now certificated for flying in NZ and is in regular use. 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 (but only just according to the pilot), greatly increases the probability that Pither flew, especially when placed alongside Pither's own description of his experience.
We took the tour of the reconstruction and restoration facilities which was fascinating- we had seen some of it previously but the methods used were explained in even more detail including the metal bashing to make cowlings which can take over a man months work. They were making several for Beechcraft Stagerwings whilst we were there. There is some beautiful work taking place including the restoration of the record breaking 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 are very slow growing in that environment, therefore the wood is light yet strong and complies with the original specifications. The trees suitable for this work are in the main over 400 years old and special agreement has to be obtained from the indigenous people before one is felled and each one has to be individually blessed by them. They also had various newer aircraft including a jet which they are preserving. Unfortunately the building of the replica DH88 Comet has stalled due to lack of funds but one can see the influence the construction techniques had eventually leading to the Mosquito. We booked ahead to have a caravan available at Tapanui.
Tapanui: The Tapanui Motor Camp turned out to be even smaller than we remembered but is a gem and in exactly the right place for overnight. There are no cabins but there were a couple of modestly priced caravans available and we had taken the more expensive at the great sum of $40. Each of the four power sites/caravan had its own individual adjacent toilet and shower and in addition we decided there was probably space for another 4 tents or very small campers. Hens roam the grounds and are incredibly friendly (or perhaps just hungry!). It has been little advertised and people seem to keep coming from word of mouth although a friend had set up a simple web site which generates enough extra business. And of course there was an entry in the Hema map which the owner Dave Scott had been unaware of until we told him on our first visit which we checked back and found was in 2008, he had wondered why more people were coming. Dave used to have his own caravan on the site and when it came on the market he bought it and until very recently lived in his own caravan. As it says in the Hema guide there is not kitchen or washing machine - the regulations are too onerous but if you ask nicely it is possible you may be offered complementary use of his own washing machine, microwave or a bit of freezer space in his own little private facilities block. We thought it a great place on our first visit and it has hardly changed, even the prices are similar.
On Friday there had been a serious landslide on the West Coast SH6 between Whataroa, just north of the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, and Harihari. There was no alternative detour up the west coast and according to the news there were some plans to open a temporary route for 10 minutes every hour from today, Sunday morning. We decided to change our travel plans and go to Greymouth and Hokitika via Arthur's Pass, instead of via the Haast Pass from Wanaka. Today was forecast to be wet so we took the chance to have a longer driving day through the areas we had already visited. Our only significant stop was at Cromwell to buy some fruit as we were finally running short of that from Christine and picked on the way. We also had a look at Old Cromwell where we found a farmer's market and obtained some local Cardrona Lamb. As usual, we also had an ice-cream as we passed through Omarama. No gliding seemed to be taking place which was not surprising in view of the weather, snow settled on the mountains and low angry clouds.
The only accommodation available on a Sunday night in the right area was at Ruataniwha so we booked a cabin despite our reservation after the visit earlier this year. This time we did secure a much better cabin, double the size of our previous place, at the same price of $65, and much closer to the facilities block. We used our nice electric frying pan because the kitchens had not improved - once more there was a strong smell of gas and Pete found one of the gas rings which had no markings was turned fully on and could be clearly heard to be hissing. He opened every door and window and warned those present not to light gas or risk sparks but nobody really seemed to care although they did say they had smelt gas for some time!
There was still a light dusting of snow on the mountains in the morning. After a short stop to buy salmon at the end of the road it was then a long drive north to Mount Somers again. We could not resist the panoramic views with the new snow on the mountains so stopped at two viewpoints which looked out towards Mount Cook. The Maori name, Aoraki, means "cloud piercer" and it is usually impossible to see the complete mountain which is 3754 metres high because of the clouds. We captured some good pictures and then did the same at Lake Tekapo. Since we passed through earlier, work has started on the car park in front of the Church of the Good Shepherd and we were pleased we already had pictures before the fencing was installed. The normal car park was reduced in size and was full and the only parking was near the statue of the sheepdog. However the church was open and there were not too many people inside. In the past we have spent a lot of time speaking to the regular warden, Dave Clark, who has a huge fund of knowledge about the church and also what is going on in Lake Tekapo. He is also a great walker and was responsible for our first walks up the nearby Mt John, which he used to climb most mornings, and many other tramps over a wide area. We were fortunate to arrive on a Monday when his partner, Anne, was on duty greeting visitors. She said they now live in Twizel and we passed on our best wishes. There seems to be a lot of new building in the area and a new bridge and we understand that the plan is to make the car parks the other side of the bridge and turn the existing car park into a different form of park.
After fuelling at Fairlie it was only a short drive to Geraldine where we bought a $20 Brie wheel from the Talbot Forest cheese shop and more vinaigrettes, chutney and sauce from Barkers next door. We settled into our usual cabin #1 at Mount Somers, and after a jug of the Wild Buck local beer at the tavern next door we were ready to cook supper.
From Mount Somers the road north initially heads in an easterly direction through Mount Hutt and across the Rakaia Gorge. We have once taken the short cut of 37 kms through Lake Coleridge which joins the Arthur's Pass road at Lake Lyndon. The second half of this road was gravel and after the recent weather it seemed easier, although longer, to follow the main roads. It is not necessary to go all the way to Christchurch because there is a short cut to join the Arthur's Pass road at Sheffield. The mountains ahead were topped with snow, the first overnight fall we had seen. As we passed Lake Lyndon several vehicles turned to go towards Lake Coleridge but turned round as they reached the gravel.
Arthur's Pass: We cross to the West Coast over Arthur's Pass. This is a delightful trip in fine weather either by car or on the Transalpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth, a trip we did a few years ago. The first part was beautiful and sunny and we had magnificent views, we had forgotten how long the journey was and how one reached an upper valley after the first saddle with wide gravel river flats across which the railway line runs on a low viaduct. We stopped at various points for pictures including The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve which we had written about in the past - it sits amongst spectacular limestone outcrops with views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges and contains a 362 metre long cave which is one of the most outstanding natural features in the Canterbury region. To quote DOC "the open country is ideal for picnicking and gentle short walks while going through the limestone cave is a cool adventure" what a refreshing contrast to the normal approach of a government agency. Their information boards positively encourage people to go through the cavern whilst offering sensible advice. We plan to have a go some time and make sure we have some extra waterproof torches and suitable clothing - they say the water level can be up to waist level at one point and you have to climb a 3 metre waterfall on the way out however they state that if care is taken, fit but inexperienced cavers can go through. We once more put off this cool adventure as the torches were not charged fully (excuses excuses) but did stop for coffee and biscuits whilst admiring the dusting of snow on the mountains.
We completed the final climb to Arthur's Pass and stopped by the DOC information office where we got yet another sandfly bite to welcome us back to the the West Coast - a land ruled by the sandfly. We were also greeted by the Keas, a native parrot which will eat anything it finds, especially the rubber round windscreens and wipers - tyres on cars are too big but bicycles are another story. The Arthur's Pass information centre is a worthy stop and has moved to a new building. They have always had a good set of information as well as periodic talks by DOC, guided walks etc. Boards cover the latest upgrades to the road through the Otira Gorge, which was always a problem with falling rocks, slips and steep gradients in icy conditions - there are now some new sweeping viaducts. We descended on the new road scheme down the Otira gorge and eventually out onto the coastal plains. The West coast ranges get considerable rainfall, about 4 metres a year at Arthur's Pass.
Lake Brunner backroads: We decided to take one of the back road past lake Brunner. There are two, the first touching the south side of Lake Brunner and going across to Kumara Junction - we have tried that and do not recommend that one - we have tried it once and although our map says it is sealed it was gravel. We got to Lake Brunner with no problems although it was more mud than gravel in places. After Lake Brunner it deteriorated rapidly and by the time we started the climb up from the lake it was a mud bath with two inches of soft mud and no gravel other than in the ditches. We were sliding from side to side. When we got to a ford we had doubts we were even on the correct road and finally turned back, a very rare action by us! The descents of the hills were even more interesting than the climbs and Pauline was getting quite vocal.
The road we took this time went along the side of Lake Brunner to join SH7 east of Greymouth at Stillwater a nd saves 12 kms in distance. It was slow but at least it was not a mud bath and the scenery was great with little traffic. The road along the Grey river passes the site of the old Brunner mine and then we followed the GPS through the centre of town, along the river bank and then through an estate of commercial buildings and around the airfield. It would have been much quicker to take the main road as usual. Our kitchen cabin at the Top10 in Greymouth was better than the basic cabins we have used in the past, and good value. It is at the end of the runway but there are few aircraft, although there was one plane in the afternoon which went around several times overhead before finally landing - presumably a medical transfer. The holiday park is also on the beach and would be a good place for camping if there were no cabins. The beach is mostly shingle and was almost deserted with perhaps a dozen people as far as the eye could see.
Greymouth is a useful town for supplies with a Countdown supermarket and The Warehouse by the railway station, and a New World supermarket not far from the Top10. There is also the Australasian pub opposite the site, and Dominos Pizza next to the New World. Greymouth is the home of Monteith's brewery and their beers were advertised everywhere.
The next morning was forecast to be wet but we planned a day trip to go to Hokitika and Ross and maybe detour to do some walking on the return drive to Greymouth. Even the main roads in South Island are different to what a European is used to, bridges are often one way even on main roads and there are still a few where trains and cars share one way bridges - all without even a traffic light. The one pictured to the right of the Arahura River now has a new bridge but at the end is a roundabout with the railway line going through the middle! Parts of the old bridge are now on display in a heritage area at the end of the bridge.
Hokitika: Hokitika is a small town which used to be the major port for goldmining activities on the Northwest coast and is now a world centre for Pounamu. In the old days it was however not an easy port to access with a treacherous bar on the entry and over 42 ships were wrecked in a short number of years.
Hokitika is home to the West Coast Historical Museum. It is in the Carnegie Building, an impressive and recently restored building which used to hold free public library - huge columns and tall windows. It is an interesting building in its own right as it was one of 18 libraries built in NZ with the assistance of the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The museum has an interesting collection of the gold exhibits which include a huge dredge bucket and a set of superb photographs taken by Jos Divis of Waiuta, the ghost town which we visited earlier this trip. They are incredibly sharp and high resolution, many were taken with a box camera as much of his equipment had been impounded when he was interned as a foreigner and suspected communist during the war. He continued to live at Waiuta until his death. The museum has some of his plates and negatives. Unfortunately they we were told they were not on display at the present and we would have to use the Research Section archives, perhaps that was where we saw them. We have been into them in the past and they are very interesting, like many they are primarily oriented to the lucrative genealogy market, but has one of the best indexed set of old pictures we have found, 10,000 in total with photocopies of every one and a cross reference index by heading such as 'Gold Mining' and 'Dredges'.
Bonz n' Stonz: We went into Bonz 'n Stonz which has now moved back opposite to the Museum. Bonz n' Stonz offers one the ability to carve ones own pounamu taonga (treasures) to ones own designs. We had a chat with Steve who owns it and caught up with the changes since we carved our own taonga for Pauline's 60th Birthday and Pete's 64th on Valentine's day seven years ago. Read the full story of Two people and a piece of Pounamu - a love story set on St Valentine's Day. Steve only uses materials found in and around the Hokitika area. He provides all the help you need when creating your jade treasure, but he places great emphasis on an individual approach to each piece. He wants each person to "find a design that speaks to their own tastes and is an expression of who they are". Steve is a professional carver and has taught at polytechnic and has all the skills to guide you through the carving process. He helps with the entire process from beginning to end - cutting the basic shape, carving the details, and polishing the piece. A very important factor is that you have access and the basic training needed to use all of the professional tools Steve uses himself when carving his own pieces. He will help and guide when required especially in the early stages but the the final piece is yours and yours alone. As we have traveled round and spoken to other carvers we have found that everyone knows seems to know Steve and he and his work is held in high regard.
There is a good lookout at Sunset Point, otherwise known as Sandfly Point - one gets mobbed to the extent that one can not hold a camera steady until anointed with repellant but on a clear day the views of the mountains covered in snow are ultimately worth the pain. The lookout also has excellent views over the bar and back to the port and we try to visualise how it had been in the heyday as the port of entry to Westland for most of the miners. We looked out at the surf breaking over the bar and could easily visualise how the 42 ships were completely wrecked. Many more went aground and were left high and dry - most were raised on jacks and winched and hauled over the sandbar to be re-floated undamaged in the harbour. It was jokingly referred to as 'taking the land route'. Despite its reputation there were 41 ships tied up at the wharf on 16 September 1867, only two years after it was officially declared a port. There is an old lifeboat displayed on the waterfront - the oldest remaining example in NZ and the customs house.
Ross: Ross was always known as Goldtown. There is a goldfields heritage area which has a small museum and area set out with displays as well as miners cottage with a lot more displays and old pictures. The first major Gold discoveries on the West coast were in the area around Ross. The first indications were in 1864 a little South at Totara but the main discoveries, including Jones Creek, which led to the Rush were in 1865 and August saw the number of miners grow tenfold to 2,500 and Ross was quickly laid out with shops and hotels. Gold was found all around and the town grew further. Initially the Gold, alluvial gold, was extracted by panning and cradling in the many stream beds, in fact one of the largest nuggets ever found in New Zealand was found 50 years latter on the banks of Jones Creek - it weighed 99oz and was named the Honourable Roddy after Rod McKenzie, the Minister of Mines.
The mining activities were restarted in the 1990s - the current heritage area is right alongside what was briefly one of the largest alluvial open cast mining operation in the Southern Hemisphere. You could look right into it from the Heritage Centre. In 2003 it was about 400 metres across and 90 metres deep (45 below sea level). Even in this age it proved difficult to pump. By the time we returned in 2004 the ground was being reshaped and the new lake was partially filled. I have included some old photograph which are unfortunately low resolution but do show the differences clearly. By 2012 it appeared to be completely full and the surroundings showed little evidence of the mining, it just seemed unnaturally barren and symmetric.
Unfortunately the mining activities have severed one of the historically significant walks in the area over Jones Flat. This year the weather had become really wet and nasty else so we didn't repeat the water race walk which passes the place where the gold was first discovered on Jones Creek and an area which is available for public gold panning. It then takes one up and along some of the old water races and sites of some of the old fluming which carried water 40 metres above the ground for 150 metres and past the faces where sluicing activities took place. It continues past a Hatter's (single isolated miner's) hut before dropping down through the old cemetery and into town. It was almost too wet to stop at the Ross dairy for an icecream.
On the way back from Ross to Hokitika we followed signs to a heritage area which was the site of the original airfield where there were a number of information boards on South Westland Aviation Services. There used to be DH Fox Moths and Dragonflies operating a mail and passenger service from 1932 to about 1952. We have seen Fox Moths at Wanaka and at Mandeville as well as at a 'Moth' rally at Hokitika. It was an interesting development of the Tiger Moth with a small passenger cabin below the pilot who still sat in an open cockpit with a small hole between his feet for communication with the passengers. The old airfield was the start of the first commercial passenger flight in New Zealand to Haast and was by the Fox Moth now flying at Mandeville where we went for their annual fly-in. By the time we got there it was raining heavily, looked at the information boards from the van without getting out, and went straight back to Greymouth. By late afternoon the weather had passed and so it was going to be better for the drive tomorrow.
Our first stop leaving Greymouth 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, totaling 58.
As we had been approaching Blackball on the main road we had kept ours eyes open for one of the old Gold Dredges in case it was still sitting in the paddock at the side of the river where we last saw it but this time there was no sign of it. We had done an internet search to find out where she was and had then located her on Google Earth where she was large enough to be quite obvious. We then marked the position on our GPS map on the phone so we had a good idea where to look as we drove past.
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 Kanieri 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. By 2014 the Mining Permit (41933) had 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 even though it was out of operation for several years 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. It seemed all that nonsense is now behind them but we have seen adverts on Trade-me indication it has been up for sale with all the mining permits agreed but can find nothing to say it has been bought or by whom.
It is interesting to note the production of this one dredge has already been close to that of the most productive mines such as the Martha at Waihi and the Waiuta Mine.
We continued on and took the side road to see the small village of Blackball. There used to be 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 but they all seem to have disappeared - we tend to take pictures of such boards and I hope we still have our own records. Blackball itself would now qualify as a ghost town if it did not have the well known Blackball sausage, salami and black pudding works - we have often bought at the factory door and this time we stocked up with various 'offcuts' which were all vacuum packed as well as an excellent rib eye steak and some wood smoked and honey cured bacon. There is an old hotel, still known as the Blackball Hilton to most although the Hilton chain forced them to change the name. It is full of interesting pictures of past and present including a lot about the Pike River disaster a couple of years ago. We were too early and it was closed but there is still 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.
The back road continues to join the main road at Ikamatua which is then only 26 kms from Reefton and just a few kms from the turning to the historic site of the town of Waiuta.
Waiuta, now a ghost town but was the site of the last and richest gold discovery in South Island. 4 prospectors found the 'Birthday Reef' on Edward VII's birthday in November 1905 and sold it to a speculator for 2000 pounds, he spent a little more proving its potential and sold it to the London based Consolidated Goldfield Company for 30,000 pounds and it took three years until it was fully operational - a big difference to the rushes in Otago where thousands of people would arrive in days of a new discovery and move on within months, or even weeks, to the next find. It was a huge operation continuing till 1951 and over 730,000 oz of gold was extracted from about 1,500,000 tons of quartz ore. Only the Waihi Martha mine was more productive in those times.
A complete model mining village was set up at Waiuta (Maori for Blackwater) to support the operation with a population of 600, hospital, school, post office, churches, bowling green, library, hotel, clubs and police station in addition to a wide range of shops. Even so it could be a boring life and the row of houses between the hospital and the school containing many of the young families became know as Incubator Alley - at one point five families living there had 54 children between them. Many of the roads were made from mullock and if not paved with gold are at least flecked with it.
The mine became the deepest in New Zealand and 17 levels were opened up first from The Blackwater shaft and latter operations were switched to the nearby Prohibition shaft. The final depth was 879 metres, more than a third below sea level. For most of the mines life the quartz was taken from the main shaft along an adit to the banks of the Snowy River where a huge water wheel powered battery of stamps extracted the gold. The pulverised ore was washed over copper tables covered with mercury and large vats of cyanide were used to extract gold missed in the initial processing - all very healthy activities as was breathing quartz dust from drilling for the explosives to be inserted. Once the main activity had shifted to the Prohibition shaft a new and modern extraction plant was built at Prohibition, the most advanced at the time in New Zealand. This used Ball Mills to grind the ore instead of Stamper batteries and an oil flotation system to save fine gold. The overall extraction efficiency reached 98%.
In 1951 there was still enough rich quartz to continue operation for many years however production was forced to stop when the Blackwater shaft suddenly collapsed. It was not in use for materials or personnel but was a vital part of the ventilation and pumping system and water and poisonous gasses rapidly entered and spread to the Prohibition workings. The closure of the mine also quickly led to the end of the mining town at Waiuta and most of the buildings, as well as the equipment, were rapidly removed. The mine at Waiuta is owned by OceanaGold and it was announced in December 2018 that a new underground mine is planned by OceanaGold/Tasman Mining which will extend below the old seams of gold at Waiuta without damaging the historic site.
Today only 5 cottages remain along with countless relics at Waiuta, the Snowy Battery and the Prohibition Mine and Ball Mill site. The remains of the Waiuta township, Blackwater Mine and the Prohibition Mine are all adjacent and easily accessible. There are also many walking tracks in the area and those were all still open. It merits several hours to fully investigated the township which has many display boards showing how it used to. Much has disappeared but there are, for examples a flat patch on the top of the mullock tip where the bowling green used to exist - the private hedge is now high tress and the steps and base of the veranda of the pavilion remain along with the fireplaces and chimney breasts. It is a good place for a picnic. The remains of the boilers and chimney nearby are standing but the engines and Poppet head are no more. It is however possible to find traces of most of the buildings.
This visit we again drove round the main loop and looked at the many old pictures by Jos Divis which are set at the locations where they were taken. There are several houses in situ which we saw previously . The old Post Office is at the main parking, and then there are the Rimu house and the Barber's house. In addition we also looked at the Gills cottage which is a local project to restore a typical family house built in 1937 to the state of the 1950s, with the hope of making it available as a rental. Unfortunately the inside of the house is not in good condition and we were told later that the main enthusiast had died 3 years ago. There is also the house of Jos Divis, which is a large house but needs extensive and expensive repairs to the outside walls and entry doors. In spite of its condition, people have obviously been staying inside because there were utensils and furniture.
The 3km Pro Road leads to the Prohibition Mine and Ball Mill is narrow and rough but last visit in 2016 the site had been closed and we were not sure it had reopened. There were many more artifacts - last time areas had already been fenced as there are traces of all sorts of noxious chemicals left over from the processing plant including arsenic and these were being removed in 2016. We hope the many boards revealing fascinating insights into the operations survive although we could not find the ones on, for example the lifting engines which must have been inside the fenced off area. The lifting engines had all sorts of safety features and control on the winding gear when men were being hauled up or down but operation with ore was 4 times faster when they were over-ridden which was done on a regular basis for ore. The power came from an AC-DC converter with a huge flywheel capable of storing sufficient energy for two complete 'lifts'. The generator and flywheel took 40 minutes to come up to speed and 'liquid' rheostats were used during running up - plates were slowly lowered into large underground electrolyte tanks, a technology I have never met before.
All the drilling used compressed air tools and one of the enormous riveted pressure tanks were present. Before the Ball mill was installed the ore was sent to the Snowy River Stamper Battery using an aerial ropeway and there were pictures of it in operation. We have saved the tramp to the Snowy Battery for a future trip but it is reputed to have even more artifacts and in a better condition.
Reefton is a town steeped in Gold Mining History as well as being the first town in New Zealand to have electric lighting. We have previously done the short Power Station loop walk over a swing bridge and along the water race and examined the site of the power generation station - this was one of the earliest use of hydroelectric power. Initially a Pelton Wheel was installed to drive a 70 hp turbine fed from a water race from upstream driving a 20 Kwatt generator supplying 500 lights during the evenings with an extension to the supply on Tuesday mornings to allow electric irons to be used.
We stayed in a cabin in the camp site on the local domain. The facilities and cabins had been updated since our previous visit and we were surprised to have a nice double bed, bunks and fridge/freezer and all for $50 for the cabin for the two of us for the night. There are also cheaper small cabins. Once we were installed we went down to the information centre and picked up a few extra leaflets to supplement our already large collection from previous visits. Reefton and its information centre is a good place to start a look at the Goldmining activities in the West Coast area. They have a collection of books, maps on information boards showing the walking tracks, a simulated Quartz mining operation and a restored and Holman Steam Winding Engine circa 1895 which served in several local mines including the Wealth of Nations Gold Mine ended its working life in the Surprise Coal Mine. The winding engines were used to lower and raise men and equipment and raise the quartz ore and 'mullock' the waste rock.
The Goldmining activities which surround Reefton were largely quartz mining and extraction of gold from the quartz ore. Some initial alluvial (free) gold started rushes to the area but mostly the gold was found in veins of quartz, some very long lived and deep. These could clearly not be extracted by single miners or even small teams and the development was later than that in alluvial fields and continued much longer. It is worth noting that the West Coast also has many coal mines allowing plentiful fuel for steam engines to power the Stamper batteries whilst other Gold Fields depended more on water powered equipment using Pelton wheels or simple water wheels.
Reefton was one of the first towns in new Zealand to have a School of Mines. It is only opened on demand by a local volunteer who will, if available, open it up for you and show you round. Last time we were sent to the Bakery by the Information Office and after an hour round town met up with our guide who owns the bakery and also had an impressive knowledge of the contents It is much as it was when finally closed down, the classrooms where supervising staff were taught in night school, the books still on the shelves and the papers on the shelves in the supervisors office. As was normal there was also a small assay laboratory. There is an excellent book, written by a local pharmacist, on Gold Mining in the area - "The Golden Reefs" by Darrell Laytham, Nikau Press ISBN-908568-12-6 - An account of the great days of Quartz-mining at Reefton, Waiuta and the Lyell. Unfortunately our copy is now back in the UK.
We left Reefton early so we arrived at the Black Point Museum at exactly 0900 when it opened.
Blacks Point Museum: Another interesting source of information is the Blacks Point Museum a couple of kilometres outside Reefton - this is open Wednesday to Sunday 1300-1600 and 0900-1200 the same days excepting Saturday and again is run by volunteers. It has recently been repainting and has been a little reorganised. The curator said there were plans for staff from Te Papa in Wellington to visit to give advice on how best to catalog all the artifacts. The museum has a research room and an excellent air conditioned archive for the more valuable information. It is overflowing with every manner of interesting local exhibits covering the Reefton area including Goldmining and there are a lot of panels of original pictures from the mining era as well as folders of additional information. Well worthy of a visit for the museum alone but there is also an adjacent five head Quartz crushing battery and Berdan on the site of the former Golden Fleece Battery.
It is all working and powered by a Pelton Wheel recovered from the Golden Lead Mine site in Deep Creek. On a previous visit Bill Wells whose father Colin Wells who had constructed the battery was only too happy to take us round and run it up after we had looked round the museum. It is one of a very small number of places where original equipment can still be seen in operation. The leaflet says it is only operated Wednesday and Sunday afternoons but it seems as if the volunteers who can operate the battery are happy to open it up and run it if they are quiet and you are interested.
The site is also the start of a number of walks into the Murray Creek Gold Field area. They look very interesting but the best is about five hours and we will have to come back to do it. We have only done a short stroll up to the dam which provides water for the pelton wheels which drive the stamper battery and provide power at 45v DC for the building. The information sheets on the various walks are available in the information centre for a dollar and contain a great deal of background information so are worth buying even if you do not have the time for the walks.
The journey to Motueka took us through the Brunner Gorge to Lyell and Murchison, on a route initially pioneered by Thomas Brunner, the surveyor, with his guide Kehu and three other Maoris in 1847 - 1848, a journey taking 550 days. Beyond Murchison we were finally beyond the reach of the West coast sandfly ! In recent weeks there had been serious wildfires in the Richmond area, with people being evacuated from their houses on Rabbit Island, from the Redwood Valley and most recently from the Moutere Highway. Our route was planned to avoid this part of the coast and drive along the Motueka Valley highway. There was a short stop at Tapawera where there is a useful convenience store, fuel and extensive Op shop. We stopped to look at the Tapawera and Valleys Museum in the little Kiwi 'station' which had information on the old railway line and various incidents that happened during the protests at its final closure.
Motueka: Our original plans did not include a long stop in Motueka but we had difficulty finding accommodation over the weekend before we were due in Te Mahia. In fact the whole week was displaced as we had hoped to be in Te Mahia for Pete's Birthday but when we came to book a few months ago we discovered they had a Wedding which took all their accommodation over that weekend. Combined with the serious wildfires which had earlier been raging in the Nelson area led to the change of plan to go to the Abel Tasman/Golden Bay area instead. The Fernwood Holiday Park was not our first choice, but other places we knew were all full. In spite of its entry in the Hema, it is several kms from Motueka shops but very close to Port Motueka and its Sandspit Scenic Reserve. There is Toad Hall pub next door.
Our cabin, $90, was small and basic for the price, with a comfortable double bed, jug and toaster and a set of drawers. The camping slots were a good size and there were some nice en-suite cabins and motel units, but much more expensive. Pete was going to celebrate his birthday later by having three nights at Te Mahia, so he tolerated the little cabin for 3 nights.
Motueka has two supermarkets, New World and Countdown, so it was easy to restock in the afternoon, and we were close to town so we could buy icecream. No birthday is complete without icecream ! Unfortunately all three of our options for a nice meal had closed : the Naked Possum near Collingwood, the Gothic Gourmet in Motueka and Le Petit Fleur at Seifried winery. So we decided to self-cater instead.
It was a beautiful sunny morning so after a short exploration of the shops in Motueka the day was spent at Kaiteriteri. The tide was good for swimming off the beach and then we drove along the coast to Marahau. We were not sure what to find there, hopefully food or an icecream, because it was the next access point for the boat trips and kayaks. The tide was getting low and the beach there was very shallow so it was a long, long way to the water. Pete was glad he had decided to swim at Kaiteriteri when the tide was higher. The route back was inland, and much less winding.
After coffee and cafe back at the cabin there was time to explore Port Motueka. It was easy to see the marina from the main road, then there was the large Talley's fish processing factory, and both were close to the Motueka wharf where people were settled fishing. As we drove along the lagoon there was a large group of white birds and the information boards listed Royal Spoonbills as one of several interesting birds there. There was also a large rectangular seawater swimming pool. Further along the coast road there was the wreck of the Jamie Seddon. It was a new and interesting area, and only a short walk from the Holiday Park.
We returned to Kaiteriteri early in the morning so we could catch the 0900 boat trip into the Abel Tasman National Park. We had done it once before and that time we also did part of the famous Abel Tasman Coastal walk, one of the Great Walks series. People dream about places like the Abel Tasman - golden half-circles of sand, warm watered coves , with shady forest leading right down to the beach. Bushy islets dot the shore and rocks make strangely pleasing shapes. The boat trip took us up to Totaranui, the usual starting point for the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk although it should really start at Wainui and continue round Separation point to Totaranui. It was a pleasant cruise just over 3 hours in and out of the various bays and past Tonga Island to see the seal colony. There were various 'stops' where the ship pushed its way up the beach extending its long folding metal gangway and took people and supplies in and out of various of the DOC camp sites and lodges. The area is also well known and exploited for sea kayaking and the ship needed to dodge them all. As the morning progressed there were more people on the water, including the fast little water-taxis. Some boats had racks on the roof or on the side for carrying the large two seater kayaks. A popular trip is to combine the cruise with a short kayaking 'adventure' where they paddled across to Tonga Island to visit the seal colony. Another feature of the trip was that at various stops luggage was collected and deposited in special (waterproof?) bags for those doing the guided walks - those on guided walks stay in special accommodation and their luggage goes ahead to avoid them having to carry packs. It looks from the brochures as if they spend 5 days with three walking a small part of the track for as much per day as it costs us to charter a yacht - there are some born every day. You can also do exactly the same sections by kayak which does have more of an appeal. The overlap presumably means that whenever the sea is rough you have to hoof it!
Returning to Kaiteriteri at 1215, exactly on schedule, the afternoon was free. After sitting on the beach and reading we decided to go back to Motueka and finish the food shopping for our trip to Te Mahia the following morning. There are no shops or restaurant at Te Mahia so it is important to arrive with enough food to self-cater. Pete remembered a house advertising Nashi for sale - these are a cross between an pear and an apple which are excellent especially if eating cold straight from the fridge.
Mapua Smokehouse:Leaving Motueka early we reached the turning off to the village of Mapua just after 0900 and 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 have bought smoked salmon and smoked Kingfish in the past. 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. Unfortunately we were too early this time and the smokehouse was closed. It only opens at 1100 as the delicatessen is linked to a restaurant.
John Richard's roadside fruit stall: 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 already had some fruit so we ended up with a single bag of mixed apples and pears - $5 for as many as you could get into the small plastic bag. We will be starting a serious fruit eating project as there are usually lots of Banana Passion Fruit growing wild at Te Mahia.
Havelock: The final stop before turning onto the minor road to the Sounds is the small town of Havelock, with its range of cafes and an Op shop where they insisted we took a free marrow before they would let us out on a previous visit. This year there were free lemons. There is a whole wall at the back of the shop on the development of mussel farming in the area and one of the early machines is on display outside. Also in Havelock there is an important Memorial to Rutherford and Pickering. Rutherford is world-famous but Pickering is less well known but was director of JPL during the start of the satellite era and played a key role in the first Explorers. They both had links to Havelock. The information centre, unlike many, is full of interesting information and displays and we picked up information on Canvastown , an early gold mining site, which we passed on the way and merits a half day visit in the future. There is also a small museum which we went to for the first time. Entry is by gold coin donation and again there was a lot of interesting local information.
Te Mahia Bay Resort: It was then on to the Te Mahia Bay Resort for one of our few periods of luxury - we had booked for three days. 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 Kenepura 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. There are seven heritage units, four on the first floor (labeled A, B, C and D) and three on the ground floor (G, E and F). This time we had A on the end of the top level so we could park at the bottom of the steps which went straight up to our unit. G is on the end and does not have direct entrance onto the deck but there are super sea views from the main lounge and one of the bedrooms. G is more expensive because it has accommodation for 9 people . We were told that it is out of alphabetic order because E and F were original units and the owners lived in what is now G which is perhaps why G is also the only unit with a proper old-fashioned bath as well as a shower in its large bathroom; the rest only have showers. 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 in fact goes back to 1900 and they have a large number of pictures showing the history although they have 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 latest 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 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 tables 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, thinking about painting. The fishing gear was 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. A specialty are the Banana Passion Fruit which seem to grow wild like a weed at the end of the site - we were warned not to eat too many the first time. Subsequent research has shown they are an invasive non-native and are being exterminated on the site but it is a slow job as they grow quickly to five metres.
The story continues with the next part in
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th April, 2019