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|Touring New Zealand 2000 - part 5|
This part covers the period in North Island from the ferry to when we go sailing just over a week latter in the Bay of Islands - far too little time to visit many of our favourite places!
We spent two days in Wellington when we got off the ferry. The ferry was late because they were down to three engines on the Lynx - at least we got a further reduction in an already very low price to compensate. It, however, made it a very late evening - we did not get to the cabin we had booked at the Top Ten just outside Auckland at Lower Hutt until after midnight but fortunately they held the room and left a key out for us. It was a good job we had the cabin as I do not think we would have been welcome turning up on John and Blyth at that time. We however had a very pleasant time staying with them for the next two days and catching up.
The first day in Wellington involved a lot of rather abortive shopping although I did get an excellent Contemporary Atlas of New Zealand which is full of fascinating information presented in ways which are both provocative and instructive - I will give review of bits of it periodically. I was less fortunate in trying to find a filter to protect the front of the video camera which has been suffering from rain and spray this year - the lens is much smaller than any camera and I will have to wait until Auckland.
We once more had a snack at Shed 5 - a plate of the Kumara chips and a couple of starters did us proud. It also gave the chance to try the Alan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 1999 against that from Church Road. We both preferred the Alan Scott which had more bite and lovely citrus tastes. The Church Road was very good and had a better bouquet and is very highly rated - it all comes down to personal taste at the end. Church Road is made in a small winery which was started up again by Montana, one of the biggest producers, to show that even the largest producers can put the personal attention and loving care to turn out wines in small quantities which can stand comparison with any made, and they do it at a very reasonable price. We had a trip round their winery (the old Macdonald's winery) many years ago and the marrying of the best of new and old techniques was very interesting. We had a couple of bottles of their Cabernet Merlot the same evening when we took John, Blythe and Isaac to Shaeffers, an Italian Restaurant overlooking the Marina where we all ate far too much of their excellent food and even then ended up with enough in doggy bags for everyone's lunch the following day before walking it off round some of the trails in Otira park.
We decided to return to a favourite area, the Taranaki National Park, on our way up to Auckland and rang ahead to book a room at Mountain House, one the few hotels in the park sited at the end of one of the only three access roads into the park. We have been there before - it is small but serves some of the best food we know in New Zealand. The rooms at Mountain House are simple but adequate and the price is moderate at circa $95 a night for a double room. The owners have run hotels in the area for twenty years, Keith is local and Berta came from Switzerland and they take great pride in the service they provide. Keith is also an artist and there are many of his pictures on the walls. The set up is very much a family affair and one very much feels a guest in their home - the lounge has their photo albums on the tables and their scrap books going back twenty years.
The food is out of this world with a mixture of local specialities and Swiss dishes. We selected chopped Paua and Whitebait as starters the first evening, both are sea foods much exploited in the past by Maori. Whitebait is a local speciality and is very small, almost translucent fish and it was served in what is described as a fritter but one made so the Whitebait were on a base with more egg of the white and topped with more of the yoke. Paua is another local seafood like a Black Abalone - it needs to be beaten into flat sheets to soften it and then left to marinade in its own juices in fridge for three to four days after which it is tender enough to eat. At the Mountain House it is served minced in a cream sauce which is probably not the classical way of serving. The Paua shells are also very beautiful and are used for a lot of local jewellery.
The main courses served do not have any Maori connections, typical NZ and Swiss styles - we had Rabbit and Lamb shanks, both very good but both were European imports by the first settlers. Rabbit is now a pest although not in the class of Possums at present.
The wine list is almost entirely NZ and understates the wines - the Brajkovich Merlot we had was one of his signature series, hand picked grapes with an extended (3 week) fermentation on the skins followed by 9 months in oak and natural finning with egg yolks. There were many other of our favourites on the list. They also have a special list as well which includes wines such as Cloudy Bay Sauvignon and Montana Reserve Merlot (but note the list varies rapidly so do not expect particular examples). For more details of the food and wine see last years account
Mountain House is right in the middle of the walking areas in the Taranaki National Park and we did a one hour loop walk when we arrived and another short walk the following morning before breakfast plus another from just below on the access road into the Potaema Bog, the largest of a string of lowland mires, as we left.
The walks from Mountain House cover a variety of different forests as one works up through the tree line. Perhaps the most interesting is the Goblin forest which is primarily Kamahi which began life perched on the trunks of other trees, developing distinctive gnarled, intertwined trunks as they grew around the branches of existing trees which have now been stifled. The Kamahi trunks and branches are covered in mosses, liverworts and ferns while other trees and shrubs grow perched on the Kamahi forming compound trees.
It is difficult to give a proper impression of what one gains from these walks through these spectacular rain forest which surrounds Mountain House. Even the 15 minute circular Kamahi walk enables one to sample the goblin forests. We also did the longer (one hour) Patea walk and last year when we stayed longer we had time for the Enchanted walk of a couple of hours taking us up to 1150 meters where the forest makes the transition to sub-alpine scrub.
The Potaema bog walk is also interesting as it takes one through a wide variety of different scenery as one approaches the edge. Swamps are areas where the normal sequence of vegetation is interrupted. The Taranaki swamps are, in effect, huge frost hollows, trapping cold air and creating completely different microclimates in the acidic conditions created by the high nutrient concentrations with abnormally cold temperatures for the height. The Potaema bog is surrounded by a forest of Rimu, rata and Kamahi with kahikatea, New Zealand's highest growing tree growing at the edge. The forest quickly gives way manuka, lancewood, flax and large sedges with sharp cutting edges. The walk ends over the swamp on a boardwalk so one can see the rushes, sedges and blue flowered orchids.
Last year we also went over to Dawson Falls and did other walks including one we recommend highly up to Wilkies Pools. For more details of see last years account.
Once more we spent a lot of time trying to film the local birds and there calls, the Tui and Bellbirds which contribute to the outstanding dawn chorus down to the Rifleman which is almost as small as a Wren and the, almost as small, Silvereye. I hope we have got a few good pictures including the New Zealand North Island Tomtit and Fan Tails. The Taranaki forests have less bird life than we expected - this is largely because of the height and low temperatures which dramatically reduces the insect population and hence reduces the number of birds. It also means the birds tend to follow one in the hope one disturbs the insects.
All the walks, even the shortest, do need good footwear - both walking boots and insect repellent are desirable. Conditions can change very quickly and Mount Egmont is not forgiving and local recommendations need to be followed for all but the shortest walks.
We took the SH43 Heritage trail, rather than the main road, across towards Rotorua. It was a fascinating trip on one of the early roads cut across the grain of the countryside over a number of saddles giving commanding views. It is a road which is only 150 kms from end to end, some of it still unsealed, which merits (and takes) plenty of time. The first of the saddles the Strathmore Saddle can give superb views and on a clear day gives a vantage of the four main North Island mountains, Taranaki (Egmont), Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Shortly after is a side trip to Aotuhia (Bridge to Somewhere) which has a number of walks.
One then passes over two more saddles. The Pohokura Saddle, named after a Maori chief was settled first in 18880 - in those days the road was so bad it took three days to pack in supplies. As with many other points on the trip their are interpretation boards at the viewpoints.
The Whangamomona Saddle has a walk leading off from the viewpoint which looks sufficiently interesting we will schedule it for next time. Then comes a highlight of the trip, Whangamomona Village. We had first been recommended the trip and the village whilst in the Catlins by some people we met (Anne and Mike) and it had been reinforced by another suggestion from a chance meeting in Auckland with someone's whose father had worked in the village. Whangamomona, the Valley of Plenty, was first settled in 1985 and quickly reached it full size of about 200. It has always been controversial and had difficult access - in 1903 the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon was tipped into a pothole by the inhabitants as a protest at the road conditions and eventually improvements came.
The community spirit still survives, although to some it now looks little more than a ghost town. In 1989 the village declared itself an independent state in protest at changes in the regional boundaries which removed it from its home in Taranaki. Independence day celebrations are held every year on the Saturday closest to November 1st. There is a signposted walking trail round the village which we followed part of - much of the village is like a time warp which has led to it being used for several films.
The next high point is the Tahora Saddle where we found a cafe and "camp site" perched on the peak - a wooden platform on the peak doubles as a view point and helipad. The cafe looks as if the meals are good and there are several cabins and many slots for camper vans. The sheltered camping area is relative only to the exposure of the remainder of the hill top! The cafe is full of old pictures and information despite being only a few years old and we had an interesting talk to the lady who runs it who was Russian. Somewhere to return to stay but in a cabin I think.
We took the side trip recommended by Anne and Mike (who we met in the Catlins) down a gravel road to see the Mt Damper falls, which are one of the highest inland falls in New Zealand at 76 meters. It was well worth the 20 minute walk and the falls are a narrow stream cut deeply into the side of a huge "bowl" eroded into the mudstone - quite unlike anything we have seen before - the only way I can show it on a picture is with a fish eye lens. Very worth the slow trip down the gravel road. Part way down the road is a large parking area for the Moki forest tracks. The Moki forest is the home of the endangered Kokako bird but we did not have the time to go in search this visit.
We stopped at a number of other points to read the interpretation boards - there are nearly thirty features of interest marked on this Heritage trail. We were glad we had rung ahead and booked a cabin as it was a late eventual arrival at Rotorua and a quick dash to the Pig and Whistle, in the old police station, for an enormous meal - Monday night is mussel night with Greenshell mussels at 25 cents each not to speak of some huge plates of ribs and Kumara chips washed down by their own-brew Snout dark ale.
We therefore went to the Polynesian pools for an early morning cleansing in the hot thermal baths before looking round one of our favourite thermal areas at Waiotapu (Sacred waters) - we have been to most of the thermal areas several times but they are always different. They have also added to and extended the walks at Waiotapu.
Perhaps the highlight of Waiotapu is it's Champagne Pool. The Champagne pool is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see.I will not say much more as we covered the thermal areas fairly well last year but leave a couple more pictures to convey the variety on many scales. One picture shows some details of one of the terraces where water flows down from the outflow from Champagne pool and the evaporating salts have left a series of miniature pools. The other shows how the sulphur from one of the vents has condensed into a myriad of tiny crystals gleaming yellow in the sun.
It was then a long drive to Auckland to stay for a couple of days with Chris and Ralph whilst we sorted out our kit, provisioned for sailing and Pauline caught up with the Open University stuff whilst we had a fast link via a land line. The following morning there was another of those coincidences that just seem to keep happening in NZ. We had just decided that Christine would come up and join us sailing on the 1st of March by bus when the phone rang - it was David Bott who had first taught us to sail in the Bay of Islands (BoI) who was looking to see if Christine could crew on the return of a boat to the BoI on the 1st of March! He had not been in touch for over a year with Chris and that was when we had also been there to see the boat he was building on the hard standing nearly ready to be launched. He was equally amazed that we also happened to be there and took us out sailing on Pengwen his 38 foot home builtTrimarann in the Hauraki Gulf.
Fortunately it was not an Americas Cup competition day so it was fairly quiet - he is moored well up the Tamaki river (past the Buckland's Beach Marina where we Charterlink used to be based). We went out past Brown's Island and across to Rangitoto. The winds were very light and variable but Pengwen sails beautifully even with a smaller set of sails than she will eventually gain. She is plywood sheathed in glass-fibre and built for eventual blue-water cruising - David hopes that they will be able to live on her and do a world trip.
We ended up in the Fish Pot cafe in Mission bay (well known) chatting and caught up with the progress of Rory who we met with David and Christine on the first trip resulting in Christine's crossing of the Tasman with Rory on Cooking Fat (think about the name - it took us years to twig) his 21 foot Catamaran. That was the first leg of his voyage back to the UK completing his round the world trip - which was the record for the smallest Cat. We saw him with Cooking Fat at the Southampton Boat show 18 months ago when he was in Australia running the Moorings base in Australia - he is now in the Caribbean with his new wife and even newer child which could be a good excuse to go and charter over there.
It was then a straight run up to BoI only stopping at the Dutch Cheese shop for provisions and at a roadside van to buy 5 avocados for $1.00, our best bargain yet.We staying the first night at another favourite site at Twin Pines camp site just outside Pahia at Haruru Falls - there is a restaurant next door which has now been done up which served an excellent Venison. I am catch up with the diary writing this as the tent dries on a clear still morning - it is good to be back under canvas at last and will be even better to get to sea. The rest of the day will be provisioning before staying at Russell for the evening. Russell has a long history and was once the hell hole of the region being a R&R town for the Whalers!
Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 26th September, 2001