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|Touring New Zealand 1999 - part 2|
We stopped to look at potential places for the future and found a good camp site just short of Tolaga bay beside the Tolaga Bay Wharf. The wharf is reputed to be the longest in the Southern hemisphere at 660 meters. It is now derelict and a group is trying to get funds to preserve it. It looks as if it should offer good fishing. It was built in 1924 and augmented the surf landings on the coast where bullock carts were driven into the surf to produce temporary landing stages on a coast without proper road transport.
We found an even better site at Anaura Bay, cent red on an old converted school house - a lovely situation on a good beach. We nearly stayed but it was early in the day and the winds were now directly onshore and rising. The site offers little protection from a brisk Nor Easterly.
We were not impressed with Tokomaru Bay or with Te Puia for camping. Tikitiki has the farthest East campsite in the world but we decided to go on to a big and sheltered site at Te Araroa where we got the last cabin (full cooking and running water for $35!) - in practice the site seems so sheltered that a tent would be OK in almost any wind strength and direction. The large private beach was bleak with the onshore wind and drizzle but looked as though it would normally be pretty good. The campsite also has the Furthest East Cinema in the world for times of bad weather.
We met a couple in the kitchens with two large Crayfish they had caught snorkeling in only about 10 foot of water about 90 mins South on a rocky beach (name not known but 2km south of a Shell petrol station). We must look more closely in the future and try our luck - judging by his hand one should wear heavy gloves.
The decision to have a cabin was justified, overnight it started to rain cats and dogs and we got soaked just packing the camper. We retraced a few kilometres and took the 21 km gravel road down to East Cape Lighthouse but the cloud base was so low that we could not see anything and it was not sensible to climb up into cloud to try to reach the Lighthouse which is 136 meters above sea level. We did however visit the furthest East Dunny (long-drop) in the world. The whole journey round East Cape was characterised by slipping in and out of cloud so - we missed all the magnificent views we had seen last time. The camp site we had used at Maraehako still exists but seemed to have gained some informal horse riding and kayaking - it is owned and run by a Maori trust. It looked as if it was primarily used by regulars and still only costs $5 a night.
The rain became intermittent in the afternoon and we stopped a few kilometres short of Opotiki at the Tirohangi Beach Motor Camp - we had been attracted by an advert with aerial view showing it to have well spaced and sheltered sites almost on a calm sandy beach. We were fortunate as they had just had a cancellation for a tourist cabin - full cooking, fridge, loo and shower plus double bed within a stones throw of the beach for $40. The sea was a bit rough still for swimming but there were a lot of fishermen surf casting. It looks a good place for either a tent or cabin and is strategically placed at the start of the East Coast Highway. It also has a good and surprisingly cheap store at the entry so extended stays would be practical. One for the list of places to return to.
If you do go round the Pacific Coast Highway make sure you keep full of petrol - it is nearly 400 kms including diverting to the East Cape Lighthouse. Petrol stations very are infrequent and you pay a 25% premium - We paid $1.00 instead of the usual 79.9 cents a litre at Te Aroroa at the single pump opposite the store and were very glad to fill up. The whole area also has no mobile coverage (with Bell South anyway). We sent the last report at Gisborne and that was the only place we have seen a signal for the 4 days since Napier! I sat in the Pak'N Save car park with the computer whilst Pauline did the shopping.
The weather still looked variable so we rescheduled having rung in to bring forwards our booking at Rotorua - there is plenty to do and see there even if it continues to rain and we will be under cover in a tourist cabin. In the event there was an enormous thunderstorm in the early morning after which it turned into a crystal clear and scorching day! You could see White Island with it's plume of smoke from the volcanoes 50 kms offshore quite clearly. We spent a while chatting to the motel owner he recommended take a trip over the Old Motu Coach Road next time which links to the SH2 part way to Gisborne. Spectacular scenery with sheer drops - gravel??.
The Journey across to Rotorua look us through a fruit and vegetable area with many roadside stalls - even the petrol station in Opotici was an irresistible temptation to Pauline. When we unpacked I discovered 44 tomatoes (a bargain $2.50 bag), 5 avocados, 17 oranges, a melon, 4 new-season pairs, 5 sweetcorn, 3 kilos of onions and a big bag with a couple of dozen new-season apples - a slight food crisis, but they were all bargains. We also discovered a good potential camp site with thermal pools at Awakeri on the way across.
Once back it was round to the Internet Cafe (actually a bicycle shop which has diversified to have a couple of computers and an old settee at the front). They were happy to unplug their modem and allow us direct onto a phone line for their standard charges of $2 for 10 minutes or $5 for 35 minutes. Unfortunately the OU server was down although the connection did allow us to clear our normal mail. Back to an Avocado dip to reduce the vegetable crisis and eventually a Mexican meal in town. This has got a bit long so the recipe for the dip will have to wait (sorry Sue and Pipeline) but I will note that it was inspired many years ago by the same Mexican.So back to the Bike shop early in the morning when everything was alive and Pauline did enough to put off the OU problems for another week - the students unfortunately seem to know who their tutors are as Pauline is starting to receive their work but tutors are not due to have the conferences set up (which will tell us who the students are) until the official start of the course on 8th February. Pauline says the OU tries to work on at JIT basis which Pete believes is all to often JTL. We spent the remainder of the day in the Thermal Areas. First went to see The Lady Knox Geyser at 1015 - they now check who is there but we had the undated tickets from the day before so no problems. The geyser is provoked to erupt by the addition of a little soap - it was discovered by prisoners doing their washing in a nice warm pool who got up a nice lather then had it all blasted 20 meters into the air. On a good day it goes at least that high and can play for up to half an hour. The bubbling mud on the loop road to Wai-O-Tapu is always worth a look and is free so we had a look whilst waiting for the 1015 spectacle. We then continued to Waimangu where you walk down through a long and active valley with huge hot lakes. One is a magnificent pale blue and slowly fills and empties changing its level by many meters over a 17 day cycle - it was higher than we had previously seen and only a couple of meters from the top. There is much to see and the area is very active so it is always different. A new boiling spring has just started which covers the old path so you are now on an elevated wooden walkway through that section. The walk takes a couple of hours down to a picnic area overlooking the Warbrick Terrace, one of our favourite features although a little subdued this year. You can then continue for a 15 minute bush walk and take a boat trip round the crater lake Rotomahana which was formed along with the rest of the area in the 1886 eruption which destroyed the fabled Pink and White Terraces. The 4 hour eruption blasted 22 new craters along a 17 km fissure line. The trip is expensive but a worthwhile extension to the day and gives a scale to the magnitude of the eruption. The new lake Rotomahana which was blasted out covers 7 square kilometres and is up to 200 meters deep and an area of 15,000 square kilometres was covered up to 22 meters deep in mud and ash. There have been many less major eruptions since then, the last significant one being in 1951. In the evening we went to the Pig and Whistle - a pub which owns a micro brewery and is built in an old Police Station originating from 1946 - interesting architecture. We had the good, if a little fizzy, Verdict Bitter (A traditional brown beer, batch brewed and incorporating pale and dark malts from fine NZ barleys with an addition of NZ hops, regarded in NZ as the best in the world) and Snout Dark ale. They also do a Swine Lager, which we did not sample. Meals looked enormous. The next day we had an early start to get to Orakei Korako - the "hidden valley" before the heat of the day. The thermal areas all vary year by year as activity starts up and ends and the water tables change in level. This year the displays at Orakei Korako were very good, the geyser was playing almost continuously and The Terraces very fresh and clean looking with many contrasting colours. Orakei Korako has a good range of thermal features and probably comes number two in our list after Wai-O-Tapu. We then went on to the Craters of the Moon which differs in several ways. Firstly it is free and therefore fairly empty as it gets no publicity and there are no incentives for tour buses to come. Secondly it is a new area of activity which only started when the geothermal power stations disturbed the balance in the area. It is very active with vast new craters and is continuously changing. Last time a big section was closed and the paths have been extensively re-routed and there are long sections on slightly raised wooded walkways with the ground too hot to touch and covered in small hissing steaming vents either side. It does not have any geysers at present but currently has some bubbling mud. It is worth visiting but is poorly signed - it is on the main Taupo Rotorua road where the 1 and 5 are merged about 5 kms from Taupo. We then went to see if the old river boat was still running and found the African Queen, a tunnel boat (a 1908 predecessor of the modern jet boat) had been replaced with a 1907 paddle boat, the Otanui, whilst a new bottom being fitted. They both used to run on the Whanganui through the rapids (220 of them in total). They were fitted with winches and picked up fixed cables to pull them up through the rapids. We had a fascinating trip which showed us a bit of the Waikato down to the Geothermal power station - which alone provides 7% of New Zealand's power - and back up to the bottom of the Huka falls. The Master had been on trawlers for thirty years before starting on the river boats and was a real enthusiast who was very happy to show off his skills in reading the river and the capabilities of his paddle ship - it was almost like dancing in the turbulence below the mighty Huka falls as he exploited eddies and backwaters after he found out we had a narrowboat. It had already been a very full day however Pauline wanted Venison for supper so we called into Deer World which on the surface is a just a tourist attraction but proved very happy to sell us venison steaks and home-made sausages from their kitchens. They have an interesting museum showing the problems the imported and freed deer caused terminating in a long program of helicopter hunting with guns and latter net guns from specially modified helicopters. The displays used to be free when we saw it but they now make a fairly nominal charge of $2. It gives an interesting insight into the problems of the many animals which were introduced without thought to the long term consequences. Wild goats are a current problem and are actively being hunted on DOC land not to speak of Possums which have head money. Possums have now reached an estimated 77 million and are ravaging some areas. Once back at Rotorua it was out with the Red Devil and Barbecued Venison steaks and Sausages with Kumara. The last day in Rotorua was spent locally - a visit to the Orchid Gardens and Water Organ (Ok for a wet day) and round the shops. New Zealand is very different to many places - you ask for something which a shop does not have and they tell you where to go rather than try to sell anything different to you. There is also odd diversification - we got our Internet access through a bicycle hire shop, we bought ice creams in a ice cream parlour which also rents out bicycles and we stopped at a dairy in the back of beyond and it sold computer parts from the same showcases as cloths pegs. One phone shop was quite happy to send us to their competitor across the road for information on coverage of Bell South which we discover has now been taken over and renamed by Vodaphone and we had a long discussion on tariffs and the way technology was progressing in telecomms and data communications. His information on tariffs and charges when roaming have made me more relaxed about using the Mobile and clarified that normal mobile charges apply in the country with a small surcharge applied by the UK provider. He said it was cheaper to use our phone roaming that to pick up a prepaid NZ phone - very knowledgeable and a real contrast in attitude to the hard sell in the UK. We rounded off the stay in Rotorua with a game of Petanque, the motel has put in a pitch and they are increasingly common in New Zealand. Then a soak in the Polynesian Pools, strong and very hot mineral waters - you come away very refreshed but with a distinctive and lingering aroma. We ate at the Pig and Whistle - the helpings were enormous and we persuaded them into Kumara rather then normal chips undoing a lot of the good from the pools.
A lot was missed and the heavy 'tailings' were then further treated in Berdans - inclined, revolving cast-iron basins containing a heavy iron block. The slow revolving action ground the sludge even finer enabling even tiny particles of Gold to be freed and recovered by amalgamation with mercury which was in the bottom of the Berdan. When the Mercury got thick the amalgam was separated by squeezing the paste through a chamois leather and distilling off the mercury from the Gold and Silver which was melted and cast into bars. These techniques only extracted about 50% of the Bullion and were latter augmented by a Cyanide treatment which increase the extraction to about 90%. The whole process from hand mining underground to use of mercury and cyanide was not the most healthy way of life!We continued up the Coromandel keeping to the West coast which is particularly magnificent north of Coromandel town - all rocks and little bays lined with Pohutukawa trees with an atrocious gravel road. We were down to 25 kms/hr or under by the time we reached the first and most sheltered of the DOC camp sites at Fantail Bay. It is a much nicer site than it appears from the road with a series of little plateaux, surrounded by native bush and dropping down like an amphitheatre to lovely old pohutukawas lining the beach. The beach is very rocky unlike Fletchers bay but the view down from the site is just as good and it is a lot more sheltered from the wind. Fletchers where we stayed last time is very open to anything from the North East quadrant and is also a farm site so has sheep etc roaming it whilst Fantail has Kiwis in the surrounding bush and a little blue penguin turned up in the Wardens caravan awning in the morning and had to be forcibly removed in a towel - they are quite strong, have a vicious sharp beak and get quite angry when being evicted. Somebody else hard noises during the night and looked out of their small tent to find themselves eyeball to eyeball with a possum. The dawn chorus was also particularly tuneful and drowned the noise of the waves on the beach completely. We ended up staying at Fantail Bay for three days, the second was just a lazy day, reading the Goldmine book, getting the logs up to date, swimming on the stony beach, having a barbecue, watching the showers come and go and just having a holiday. The final day we went up to look at Port Jackson and Fletchers Bay. The road is awful and we rarely got above 20 kph and never out of second gear on the way back - 25 minutes to Jackson and another 20 minutes onto Fletcher Bay. Fletchers Bay is still the same as we remembered but was almost deserted because of the strong onshore wind - we were glad we had decided not to move. We stopped to try our luck fishing off the rocks and, despite losing a lot of tackle in foul ground, we caught a legal (over 27 cm) Snapper which gave us a great lunch with mashed Kumara and fresh lemon.
In the afternoon we explored one of the shorter tracks up to a swimming hole in the stream - deep and very refreshing in a magic setting at the foot of a series of pools and waterfalls set in the bush with trees arching right over the top and shafts of sunlight striking the water. Another such hole further up into the mountains feeds the water supply to the camp. The notices says boil the water but the warden says the periodic tests DOC run show it to be some of the purist water in the Coromandel. He has been most helpful and told us how to find the swimming hole and advised us where to fish. Fantail Bay is well worth a visit despite the poor roads especially if you want to fish - those with boats (mostly 3-4 m open Aluminium on a small trailer or the top of the vans) have been regularly coming back with large catches every time Snapper, John Dory and what looked like a 3 lb. Kingfish.After our lazy few days we continued on the Goldfields trail in Coleville where we had a look at the Government battery which has been restored to a working condition. The stamps are powered up briefly for one to see as are a couple of the Berdans. There is also a Ball Mill, a letter alternative to the Stampers, which feeds a small mercury amalgamating table. The visit was interesting and the Battery is the only one working on the original site - as the name implies it was a small battery set up by the government for assay purposes and occasional small runs under contract. The guide was not as knowledgeable as the one at Thames but the equipment is complementary and worth a visit. We also went into the associated Museum in the old Coleville School of Mines - it not only has a number of mining artifacts but also covers something on the Kauri logging and Gum digging (for varnish) which was also carried out in the area. It is being built up, we gather, by an enthusiastic band of volunteers so it may well be more comprehensive in the future. We then went on to Thames to revisit the Museum and School of Mines there to see the bits which had been closed last time. We were just left to ourselves to wander round the School which finally closed in 1954. There is a lot of fascinating stuff and the laboratory looks as if it has never been changed - the bottles of reagents are still on the benches with their contents! There are also a lot of old photographs etc some of which showed the small Battery which was used for assays and experimental runs (one ton). We then had a real piece of luck as I asked the person on the front desk if their was anything left and if we could see it and it turned out there were a number of artifacts they hope to retire and he took us into the old building to have a look. He was a fund of knowledge and we found out he had worked as the accountant for one of the gold firms and then had been the original curator when the museum was set up. He is now retired and only comes in as a volunteer. He is knowledge goes back a long way and, as he cycled off slowly into the distance we were told us he is now 87 - we hope we will be as fit, sharp and active at that age. He had stayed talking until well after normal closing up time. As we were leaving I noticed on the shelves that some of the artifacts were for sale and we are now the proud owners of one of the original crucibles used for melting the Gold with a flux to purify it - even better it is from the Broken Hills mine which is the area where we camped and walked round the remains of the Broken Hill Battery. It was now time to go back to Auckland and sort out Pauline's teaching which took 4 hours, a lot online, and to go to see the boatyard about the yacht for the next couple of weeks. Between them it took most of the day - just time left for a quick swim on one of the local beaches and an ice-cream before returning for a barbecue on the deck.
Another day spent in the area North of Auckland. We set out with no fixed destination and within a few tens of kilometers started to overtake a few vintage cars and shortly afterwards discovered a rest area almost full of the - we had come by chance on one of the clubs annual and unpublished runs. We spent some time looking at and filming them. Many were from 1905 -1910 and there were some magnificent machines including an early Renault open bus with solid wheels and an Overland - all gleaming paint and brass.After they had left chatted with the organiser for some time. He enquired if we were also interested in old aircraft and pointed us towards the airfield at North Shore where the Confederacy Air Force has its base and we were welcomed and shown round both there fleet and that of another aircraft restorer. The aircraft included a De Haviland Fox Moth which was completing its restoration - it is like a Tiger Moth in some ways but has a small two seat enclosed cabin for passengers just aft of the engine and the pilot sits above and can speak to them via a hole in the instrument panel. There was also an immaculate Auster the airforces Piper Cub, a Yak and several Harvards were in the air. We stopped at a fish stall beside the road and found they had some Mutton Bird (Sooty Shearwater) named after their texture. They were hunted and salted and were a classic Maori dish. We kept boiling and changing the water but they were still slightly salty when we had them for supper but were much better than the previous time when we did them over an open fire at Lake Tutira. Not a lot of flesh but extremely tasty and we were glad we had tried again although Pauline will take a while to be persuaded to experiment further.
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 23rd June, 1999