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Touring New Zealand 2002 - part 6

Introduction and Summary | Waiheke, Tokomaru, Whanganui, Wellington | Marlborough, Christchurch, Lakes, | Haast Pass, Cromwell, Alexandra and Otago Goldfields | Dunedin, Naseby, Arthur's Pass, Golden Bay | Abel Tasman, The Sounds, Marlborough | Wellington, Rotorua, Coromandel, Bay of Islands | Sailing in Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island | Northland


We take up the story with crossing to Wellington on the Lynx - you may recall that we were threatened with the dreaded Southerlies for the crossing. The route across the Cook straight from Picton to Wellington looks as if there is very little open water from the time you leave the Sounds to entering Wellington Harbour but it is one of the worse pieces of water in the world. It has strong tidal flows sandwiched between the two islands combined with funnelling of the winds leading to very rough seas where wind and water are in conflict. The Lynx left early with a comment from the captain saying he hoped to get across before it really blew up, which was the case - a few big bangs as we hit waves wrong and dug in, otherwise just a bit of unpleasantly motion more like being shaken than rolled. We were lucky, they were briefing the crew when we loaded on how to handle bad weather and even so they lost a few piles of stuff in the kitchens. We heard later that our crossing which was the last by the Catamaran for several days.

We stayed with John and Blyth and found out the downside of their spectacular views - in a full Southerly the wind and rain comes up the slope at their house at an unbelievable strength. We finally ventured out the next morning and had a look in a couple of second hand bookshops and now have even more old books including an early copy of the "Long White Cloud" we were looking for, the third edition which was the last update by Reeves himself. We took John, Blyth and Isaac out for dinner to a restaurant they wanted to try which did an excellent Asian meal.

We were uncertain where to go, other than North, when we left Wellington which was still living up to it's reputation as "Windy Wellington". The plan A was Napier but the weather looked better the further North we went so called ahead to see if we could get our favourite room in Rotorua which was free so continued with a long drive - Wellington - Rotorua is about 6.5 hours.

We went North via the Dessert Road which crosses the high arid plateau beside the central mountains - no dessert however this time with water forming huge pools where normally all you would see would be the odd tuft of parched tussock grass. The cloud lay so low we could not see the mountains at all. Dessert Road is mostly above 1000 metres and peaks at 1071 metres, higher than the main mountain passes in South Island. As we came across the centre we could see patches of blue sky and the outline of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand before us. Lake Taupo was the result of a huge volcanic explosion several thousand years ago. It is still a very volcanic area - Mount Ruapehu was the last mountain to erupt which it did in a spectacular manner in 1996 and is now quite a different shape at the top to when we first saw it and flew over it earlier that year. The eruption closed the Ski fields for several years because they were covered with ash preventing the settling of fresh snow.

We passed Lake Taupo and stopped long enough to replenish our stocks of pumice - it just floats on the surface and sits in piles on the shore line, the result of the many eruptions in the area. The level of the lake looked a bit higher than usual and we thought the amount of rainfall might make it worth having a look at Huka falls on the Waikato river when we left Taupo town.

Lake Taupo feeds into the Waikato is a mighty river which has many dams and hydroelectric power stations. In total the hydroelectric power from the Waikato's 11 power stations provides an incredible 65% of the power generated in North Island and 25% of the total hydroelectric power in the country. The waters also provide cooling for the geothermal power plants in the area, overall it has huge importance to New Zealand. Click for larger imageIt is regulated on its outlet from Lake Taupo which acts as a vast reservoir. The average flow is 60 cubic metres/sec and the entire flow is funnelled through the Huka Falls where the flow is constricted from a deep river with an average width of 100 metres into a channel only 15 metres wide and 10 metres deep which plunges down a series of linked waterfalls constrained within the narrow gorge. It is always an impressive sight and it is well worth stopping to watch and absorb the power of the water.

It was then on to Rotorua to our favourite studio tourist flat at the Top 10 - the names of the various options can get quite complex in holiday parks and they can get quite annoyed if you call their latest building project by the wrong name! It has almost the full facilities of a motel room including shower, toilet, fridge and sink, it only lacks a full cooker but has electric frying pan, microwave and toaster - you also supply bedding (or pay extra over the $49). The Rotorua Top Ten is about 10 minutes walk from the centre of town and has every facility one could want including swimming pool, Petanque free barbecues etc. We have camped and had various rooms there many times, not only is it very good, but it is the only camping area within walking distance of town.

We perhaps know Rotorua too well and went straight into town to the Pig and Whistle for a beer from their own brewery (snout dark ale) and we also had a snack of Kumara chips whilst deciding what to do about eating. The snack turned out to be a massive plate heaped high with a couple of bowls of dips - we did not have a measure but it was definitely heaped higher than a pint glass on a huge plate. We just struggled through it with the help of a few more Snouts and have up any thought of supper whilst wondering how they did it for $10.95. The Pig and Whistle used to be the police station and was built in 1940 very much in Art Deco style but with some addition Maori themes in the decoration. It used to have the brewery on the top floors but it has now moved to another building.

The weather was a bit better the next day and we spent the first part of the morning round Kuirau Park, an area with a fair amount of thermal activity although right in the centre of town beside the hospital. It looked as if one area had been very active and was fenced off - we heard that it exploded and showered the centre of Rotorua with hot mud a year ago. They have been trying to restrict people from drawing out too much private enterprise thermal energy for their hot pools and heating as it was believed that it was causing some of the major attractions to be muted. The results of keeping the thermal power constrained were unexpected to the planners, if perhaps predictable to everyone else in a town where steam comes out of drain covers and holes beside the roads.

We decided to indulge in a boat trip on Lake Rotorua for lunch. Click for larger imageThey have a stern paddle wheel boat on the lake which does a lunch trip with unlimited buffet for $30 (further discounted with a TT card!) which seemed a good way to stock up. The boat is fairly new but is actually driven by the paddles, unlike some, making it the only stern drive paddlewheel boat still in operation in New Zealand. It also has bow and stern thrusters which can drive it sideways almost as fast as the paddle wheel takes it forwards.

When we booked we overheard a discussion which implied the lake levels were falling slightly. The ensuing chat also made us realise how shallow the whole lake is. It is not the usual volcanic eruption crater found in the area but a shallow bowl ten of kilometres across caused but subsidence into an old volcano. The lake is mostly under 10 metres deep and the channel out from the landing stage is narrow and only one metre deep. The use of a flat bottomed paddle wheel boat drawing 80 cms was from necessity. The level being down 18 cms was therefore a slight concern to the operators.

The lunch was good and it was a pleasant trip round but when we came to come back it seemed worth taking a camera up top. As expected we went soundly aground, although well in the centre of the marked channel, and it took a long time to get free, not helped by a strong wind. The boat was then badly positioned for the difficult turning manoeuvre for the jetty and missed completely and we had to go back out through the narrow channel, and turn in the deeper water for another go. The next time was still not elegant but we made it giving us a trip almost twice the scheduled length. There were only a dozen or so on board and everyone took it well although the skipper was a bit embarrassed, even the cook had been called to the bridge to assist. Going aground is not unknown but normally a 6 monthly occurrence, as is getting blown off and having to have a second shot at the jetty. This time the captain hit the jackpot in doing both in one trip. To be fair we understand from various comments that the local council decided that stop planks controlling the lake level were getting a bit old and commissioned new ones - unfortunately the old ones were removed by the contractors to copy leaving the lake slowly draining into the river to the consternation of the lake users.

The afternoon was partially spent round book shops where we found some more of the classics we were seeking and arranged with the owner of the bookshop to use his phone the following morning for emailing the last newsletter. It was then time to celebrate our safe return to shore and our book finds with a late afternoon bottle of bubbly.

The next morning we dealt with email at the "Idle Hour" bookshop and soaked in the Polynesian Pools before heading for the Coromandel. The Polynesian pools have 8 natural pools of thermal waters at various temperatures from 35 to 46 degrees from two different springs. They leave you greatly refreshed and cured of many ills you never knew you had and with an aroma of Rotorua which survives all known cleansing methods for many days. They also dissolve or tarnish all metals other than pure gold. The therapeutic powers however are such that even the locals use them.

We have covered the fabulous thermal areas before but Click for larger image we can not resist adding a picture we found of the Pink and White terraces before they were destroyed by the huge eruption that created Lake Rotomahana.

Pauline had to get a filling replaced and as we left the camp site we passed a dentist's sign and did a U turn. The reception was quite a difference to the UK, especially on a Saturday morning. She was welcomed, although the sign said closed, and the dentist immediately spent 40 minutes doing a beautiful repair. He even provided a set of before and after pictures showing colour match etc - the bill even at a weekend was only $110, about what we pay per month in the UK for Denplan. Whilst waiting I was reading a copy of Cuisine in their reception which reminded me I had not shared a hot issue in New Zealand wine with you.

Whilst we were in Marlborough we had become aware of an issue that is dividing the wine industry and drinkers in a way that has not occurred for decades. There is a move towards sealing the bottles with a screw closure called the Stelvin. It is accepted that the traditional cork leads to a lot of problems with off wines with figures given by the profession Masters of Wine being between 10 and 15% of good wine kept for a length of time becoming corked, tainted, oxidised or otherwise off to a greater or lesser degree. It is only the lack of confidence in the general public in their judgement and the knowledge what to expect which has contained the problem. The counter argument that the permeation of air is essential to ageing seems to be refuted to a large extent by research and experience of the few wines closed by other methods. The bench mark paper (Australian) demonstrates that the rate of change is slower with a significantly greater retention of primary fruit characteristics.

Vineyards have on occasion tried closures other than cork on top wines in the past but public resistance has driven them back to cork. It appears that a significant number of the major Marlborough vineyards are trying again with the 2001 Sauvignon Blanc and it will be extremely interesting to try the results in a few years time especially where some has been bottled both ways. Is the romance of the cork about to end? Will the campaign of the Marlborough "Screw Cap Closure Initiative" with many of the best know names and led by arguably the best known Master of Wine in New Zealand, Bob Campbell, overcome prejudice to allow a fair assessment?

After that brief interlude it was on to the Coromandel. The weather was now looking superb and stable and camping definitely called. We headed for the DOC site at Broken Hills, a favourite site by a river amongst spectacular towering hillsides with a number walks through the old goldfields - I should say that we did not return because of the gold fields, we have seen plenty enough in South Island and we have covered gold in the Coromandel in previous years newsletters, so fear not regular readers, - new readers will guess where to find it!

Even at a weekend the camp site was largely deserted, three other pitches were occupied plus a large group from the International Rotary Caravan Federation on their annual bush taking one of the flats by the river. We chose a well sheltered corner which caught all the afternoon and evening sun. Click for larger imageThe hills towering over the site cut off the sunClick for larger image in the morning and it was fascinating to lie in the tent and hear overnight the Moreporks (a type of owl) calling and the strange grunting whistling and snuffling noises of Possums - quite frightening the first time you hear heavy breathing outside the tent! Then comes the start of the dawn chorus of Bellbirds, Tuis, Fantails and many others then the cicadas starting up in far distance where the sun was hitting the ground and getting closer and closer as the sun rose until one knew it was time to arise oneself.

We went on the longest of the circular tracks taking one first to a high viewpoint looking over the towering rock formations beside the site (322m) then back down to cross under the hill in a 500 metre long old mining adit, correctly called the number two level but always referred to as Collins drive. It was a bit wet and muddy in places but safe enough with a couple of torches and spare batteries. The tunnel has lots of glow-worms with their trailing sticky cords and surprisingly bright lights - some you could still see the lights even when a torch was illuminating them. Once out of the tunnel their are steep descents past more tunnels, we explored a few until they got too deep in mud.

There are remains to look at of the stations for the aerial ropeways that crossed high over the valley to the Stamper batteries used to extract the gold from the quart ore on the other side of the river. As we descended further the track made use of the old horse drawn tramways where one could still see one was walking on the remains of the sleepers. Finally we followed the route of an old water race round the side of the hill through short tunnels and over the remains of aqueducts until we reached the site of a major landslide almost opposite the Golden Hills Stamper Battery and then descended back down. It was a vigourous walk - the climb up never seemed to end - and definitely needed walking boots. With all our extensions it took close to three an a half hours, quite a bit longer than the DOC boards implied at the entry.

Note: Not all the tracks are marked on the maps and there now seems to be a shortcut down from Collins drive past the Aerial ropeway which would cut some time off at the expense of a number of interesting features such as the tramways, adits and water race. We also noticed that many of the information boards were missing - hopefully they are being refurbished but we were warned that there are pressures to play down the amount of goldmining in the past as a part of the campaigns against the restarting of some goldmining.

After a swim in the river, which has a reasonable swimming hole, we had recovered enough to do the two shorter walks the other side of the river which takes one to the Broken Hills Battery and the Golden Hills Battery. We explored both a bit more than last time and found all sorts of interesting old structures buried in the bush as well as the foundations of the Stampers. They were mostly tanks and other equipment concerned with the cyanide treatment of the ore as far as we could tell.

After a couple of pleasant days the pleasures of washing machines and ice for the cold box called and we headed for the tourist part of the Coromandel on the East coast. We took the back road up to Ferry Landing past Hot Water Beach - here under water springs bubble up through the sand at low water and you can dig big pools to which fill with water almost too hot to lie in. We have indulged in the past but unfortunately the tide was too high as we passed this visit. We stayed at Hahei in an upmarket cabin at a camp site right beside the beach and cleared all the domestic problems like a few weeks of washing which never got round to at Rotorua. We sat watching it dry almost instantly the sun hit it in the morning with a cat which seemed to have adopted us at our feet. It was probably hopeful after already eating all the remnants of our smoked Kahawai from supper - the site claimed no responsibility but said it was called Interloper. A quick inspection of the cabins told us that next time we should try for 3A, a basic cabin with fridge freezer at no extra cost whilst we had paid $10 more for fridge and cooking which we did not really need.

We then worked our way across to the West coast past the well known Twin Kauri Click for larger imageand North through Coromandel town and Colville. We topped to swim at Colville bay, which was delightfully calm, then on up on poor gravel roads to Fantail Bay DOC camp site. The wind had suddenly come up so we did not set up tent immediately but flung some dead fish in the water of the little rocky point opposite the camp site whilst waiting to see if it calmed down. The wind however rose to the extent that the safety line on Pete's hat was coming into use so we left, with regret, one of our favourite site and backtracked as far as Otatua Bay Farm Camp where we got an old caravan they let out. The site is very extensive but mostly taken up with permanent caravans, so has few facilities other than showers and toilets which suited us fine as we have almost everything we need and a lot we don't.

We seemed be the only inhabitants in the hundred or more caravans and were promptly adopted by another cat, this time called Shadow. We could see why as it followed us everywhere and leapt onto laps as soon as we set up our deck chairs. It is one of the first times we have stayed in a caravan, we usually use cabins which are cheaper - it was OK but very hot in the evening compared to a cabin and we could see few advantages that would make us use one if cabins are available. The camp site was right on the beach with only a high hedge for shelter - a twenty metre walk took one from our door to high water mark and there was a permanent deck outside the caravan to sit on for supper. A good place when weather precludes the DOC sites at Fantail Bay and Fletcher's Bay.

We went to the wharf at the end of the bay in the morning as the tide was coming in. We ended up landing 6 Snapper and a Kahawai but unfortunately all the snapper were too small, one by only 0.5 cm, to be eaten and the Kahawai was little larger than a sardine. Even so it was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours and we gather we were alone in the area catching anything at all. Click for larger imageIt is very different to the old days like in a picture in the camp office of a boat returning from a trip with the rails hung with huge snapper and even some Kingfish. The picture is labeled as a trip from Auckland in 1955 when over 2000 fish were caught at Colville in the one day. We were told that there were so many people on board on those trips that only hand lines could be used. Commercial fishing has turned much of the Gulf and shores of New Zealand to barren wastes for fish and it will take decades for them to recover.

We found a cabin in a camp site at Shelley Beach near to Coromandel town for the evening - it was low tide and it had a huge expanse of sand and shells with a glimmer of sea in the far distance and a hopeful sign saying the best swimming was to the left side of their beach. We walked down towards the waters edge hoping to be able to dig up some shellfish such as Tuatua for supper but never got far enough to find where all the empty shells were coming from. We do know why the site is called Shelley Beach! It was, however, a good choice to have a cabin - by the morning it was bucketing down again.

In the morning it was another swimming shorts job for loading the car, although we did manage to get it almost under the veranda over the door to the room which helped. This unexpected level of rain left us at somewhat of a loss as what we should do. Camping, beaches and fishing were obviously out so we continued a few kilometres to the edge of Coromandel Town where we knew there used to be a running Gold Stamper Battery and other gold mining exhibits at the site of the old Government Battery. It turned out to now be in the hands of a real enthusiast (and trained geologist) and we spent much longer with Ashley than we should have done and learnt a lot more than we would have got on the standard half hour tour - we were there almost 2 hours.

The Stamper Battery was set up just after the turn of the century as a Government Battery for crushing relatively small amounts for small prospectors. This avoid their having to use the large batteries already in existence and risk their small quantity getting mixed in with larger batches. The Government Battery had a total of 6 stamps which were divided into a battery of 5 and a single stamp for testing small batches for assay. It was set up with money from the Institute of Mines at Thames, the Government and other interested parties. The gold is currently separated from the crushed ore and water on corduroy sheets as it leaves the Stamper heads ready for further processing. The gold being so much heavier sinks and collects on the corduroy.

As well as the Stamper battery there are three Berdans which grind the gold and other ore collected from the corduroy even further. This grinding is done with mercury present which dissolves the gold present which can eventually be collected as an amalgam. The amalgam used to be separated using chamois leather but modern chamois leathers are oiled and do not work well and a synthetic material is currently being used. There is a big steel retort which is once more in active use for the distillation of the mercury amalgam over a wood/coke fire using an set up looking much like a forge. This 'forge' is the reused to heat the gold/silver alloy left after the distillation in crucibles with a flux (mixture of various salts) to clean it before casting ready for assay - most bullion from the Coromandel is 70% silver and 30% gold.

There is also a ball mill, a technique which largely replaced Stampers as time passed. Ball Mills are large rotating drums with a number of steel balls which gradually grind the water and ore mix to a fine paste which can then be washed through fine filters and on to conventional separation mechanisms such as the corduroy sheets or mercury amalgam covered copper sheets. These days Ball Mills are used to treat ore before Cyanide treatment - a technique which was not used at the time the Government Battery was set up.

The whole Battery is back in use for small runs. The Stamper is driven by an early Lister gas oil engine and the Berdans and other equipment by a large overshot water wheel - unfortunately not in operation as the floods had blocked the outlet from the dam and it was far too dangerous to risk clearing it till the levels fell. Even the bridge over the "stream" beside the Battery was at serious risk from the raging torrent. The council had decided that a minor crack along one of the vast pieces of timber needed investigation and had put a flimsy prop in the centre of the stream. One could hear the huge boulders being rolled down crashing against the prop which had been seriously distorted overnight and was twisting the whole bridge. Ashley said he had warned them what could happen if the stream came up when they did it and I suspect is thankful it is a council bridge not his!

We then went on into Coromandel town only to hear that many of the roads across the ranges and over the other side, which we had just left, were closed by floods and slips so it seemed prudent to head South for Thames after a lunch of the local speciality of Paua Patty. Paua is a shellfish living in shells with iridescent blues which are also turned into jewellery. It is similar to Abalone.

It was close to three when we got to Thames and we only got into the Institute of Mines, now looked after by the Historic Places Trust just before they closed. The gentleman in charge turned out to be the son of the previous curator who had taken a lot of time with us a previous visit (details are somewhere on the web site). We talked for quite a while past closing time and he made suggestion about where we could find some of the books we were looking for and told us about a place holding Internet auctions of the sort of books we wanted (Crow Nest Bookshop in Hamilton).

We then decided to go back to Ralph and Chris in Auckland to dry out etc. We did little of note in Auckland other than visit Campbell park to look back at Acacia cottage, Click for larger imagethe house built in 1841 by John Logan Campbell, usually regarded as the founder of Auckland. It was moved from its original site in 1920 and has been recently restored. The interest came about because we are reading his boom about his early days in New Zealand "Poenamu", another of the New Zealand Classics we spoke of earlier.

It was then North to the Bay of Islands and, to be more precise, Russell for a night. Click for larger imageWe stayed in a cabin looking down on the sea at the Top Ten. We ate in the Duke of Marlborough but were slightly disappointed. It gave the impression of being in new hands who were moving it down market but were told that it was still the same owners - we now understand they have been trying to sell for four years without success and one can see why from the service. Wine not shown before opening, poured without tasting and left without a cooler - not the way to treat a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. They had also been telling everyone, including ourselves there was no need to book and then when they came telling them they had an hour or more wait. We fortunately came early and had little delay. The only mitigating factors were the lovely surroundings, in a building which held the first liquor licence in New Zealand and, to be fair, the food was still good.

In the morning we went to the Pompallier House, now another part of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Click for larger imageIt was the first Catholic printing press, used for Maori tracts, in New Zealand. It now has a fully restored and working tannery worked in the original style. There are also demonstrations of every stage of printing and binding mostly carried out with the original equipment. The Historic Places Trust staff are always very knowledgeable and we recently had a number of long interesting discussions with them on the reason why there had been such a high rate of change brought in Maori about by Pakeha and in particular the missionaries, just before and after the signing of the treaty whilst changes was very slow or resisted since that time. This point was first made to us during a discussion at Acacia cottage.

We then spent two days camping at Whangaruru, a favourite DOC camp site where our tent was pitched only yards from the high tide mark and the fish line could be cast out and the rod wedged beside the tent. Click for larger imageThere was not a lot of activity until Pete was setting up the barbecue and we were getting out our steak - the rod then bent and he pulled in a nice plump Kahawai just under 40 cms long. It was on the barbecue almost before it stopped moving. They always have to be gutted and head removed very quickly otherwise they get a slightly bitter taste.

It was so beautiful and peaceful we stayed a second day, Click for larger imagereading in the sun and fishing off the rocks at low tide or the beach at high. It is perhaps the best of the sites we know and usually very quiet, no tourist is going to follow so many back roads to find it.

It was however time to be provisioning and preparing for sailing so we worked our way to Kerikeri to do our fruit shopping and have a look at the Stone Store and Kemp House (the first Mission House). They have a lot of fascinating material on the early missionary days and their 'trading post'. The missionaries struck some hard bargains with Maori, both written and unwritten and changed the balance of power dramatically in the early days by sales of muskets to the local tribes.

It is becoming more clear why change was so rapid at the time and also the roots of many of the problems leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi and following it. It needs to be covered more fully and with more evidence but, for example, the contract purchase of the land for the missionaries is on display. They bought 13000 acres (about 20 square miles) for 48 axe heads according to the contract but there was also an understanding that 12 muskets plus a double barrelled gun and a passage to England were an unwritten part of the bargain. There were some problems in Marsden, one of the most influential missionaries delivering the guns but arrangements were made by others of the missionaries for a thousand extra guns to be traded for more land in Hokianga during the visit to England. These guns completely changed the balance of power in most of Northern New Zealand and were considered, even in those times, a rather unconventional way of setting about the process of conversion to Christianity.

This part completes with us working our way back from Kerikeri to Auckland staying at Whangarei on route to prepare for sailing. The next part covers our fortnight sailing in the Hauraki Gulf.

Introduction and Summary | Waiheke, Tokomaru, Whanganui, Wellington | Marlborough, Christchurch, Lakes | Haast Pass, Cromwell, Alexandra and Otago Goldfields | Dunedin, Naseby, Arthur's Pass, Golden Bay | Abel Tasman, The Sounds, Marlborough | Wellington, Rotorua, Coromandel, Bay of Islands | Sailing in Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island | Northland

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Content revised: 12th May, 2002