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|Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 2|
We crossed from Ohakune to Napier on the "Inland Patea Heritage Trail" from Taihapi to Napier. This 145 km Heritage Trail, partially gravel, goes over Gentle Annie. We first heard about it several years ago from some other campers at Tutira who sent us some information sheets to England. It is now one of a network of Heritage Trails which are sponsored by the New Zealand Visitor Network and the local District Councils. They all have information sheets and the main features are numbered and often have display boards on the ground giving something of the history etc.
The route, which we know as "Gentle Annie", crosses the Dividing Range through an area of great natural beauty and historic interest where earth movements have created unusual mountains with limestone scarps with natural forest. It started as the route of an old Maori Trail from the East coast to the centre of North Island. In the 15th century one of the most famous Maori leaders Tamatea Pokai Whenui (Tamatea means he who explored the land) arrived in NZ on the Takitumu canoe and travelled the trail with his son Kanungunu. Many of the place names near the trail are called after the animals he carried in his basket. Latter Patea, a Maori living at Manawarakau travelled the trail. Legend says he went on a hunting expedition for a long time and returned with a poor bag to find his woman had filled his storehouse. Her incessant nagging on how poor a hunter he was led him to take her for a walk off a cliff. Rather than face her relatives he fled into the wild country west of the ranges where he remained in what came to be called Patea's Country, a huge tract bounded by the dividing Ranges, Mount Ruapehu and Taihape.
The Name gained the Inland to avoid confusion with the town of Patea. For 50 years the Inland Patea's main port was Napier and everything was Packed on horses over the ranges. By the 1870s the Inland Patea had vast Stations with Merino sheep and transport was a tremendous undertaking - typical stations could be sheering up to 75,000 sheep and packing the wool over the ranges. on strings of pack horses. The strings were hundreds strong with one man to each string of ten. Mules were also used and one in five animals carried provisions and fodder for the trip. Each pack animal carried 200 pounds (91 kgs) and riding ahead were hunters with dogs providing fresh food. It was a dangerous job and it was not unknown for animals to lose they footing on the narrow rocky path over the precipitous "Gentle Annie" and plunge to their end in the Ngaruuroro Gorge a hundred metres below. Panic could easily spread with the rest of the team following. They eventually returned with mail and supplies. This used to be the busiest and longest trail in New Zealand and remained so until Gold Fever struck and eventually in 1908 the railway was opened up to Wellington.
We stopped for a late lunch on Gentle Annie in one of the unpublished free DOC camp sites close to Kuripapango on the banks of the Ngaruroro River. Kuripanapango is named after a Wanganui Maori warrior who was killed ad eaten whilst trying to invade Hawke's Bay in the 17th century. There are several nearby sites and we have camped at that on two years and before that at Cameron a few hundred metres up stream - the site down by the river was deserted and we had it to ourselves and there were only a couple of tents at Cameron. The rain had obviously cleared the camp sites. The gravel stretches of the road had turned into a mud bath on the hills and we were quite glad to get back to metal again.
We stayed at Napier for a couple of days in a motel called "City Close" which is very close to the city centre. This is a well run older style motel with free laundry and where you still get a free newspaper in the morning without asking. The rooms have full cooking and fridge and we only paid $80, we initially we booked one night but extended to two to give a chance to get to the wineries. The current owners have been there for 4 years and we have used it several times as it good to be central - the Top Ten Camp site is over a mile from the centre and rarely has any economic accommodation available. We spoke to a number of people in the area surrounding Napier and they all knew the motel and owners and spoke highly of it saying we had chosen the best place downtown. It always surprises us how close a knit community New Zealand is - everybody knows everybody!
Napier now known as The Art Deco Capital of the World started life as a copy of an English seaside resort, renowned for its warm sunny climate, location in Hawkes Bay and its Marine Parade lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that was to change at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Chemist shops caught fire an a brisk easterly wind spread the flames. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe and the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.
Napier the Victorian town was gone and England offered no inspiration to the rebuilders with their clean slate in 1931 but the architectural journals of America were full of interesting ideas in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else do we find so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a common plan. Many of the buildings remain and even in the time we have been going to Napier the restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. It is well worth staying in Napier for a day or two to savour the atmosphere. It is also an excellent centre for the Hawkes Bay area, famous for its wines. There are references to an excellent book on Art Deco Napier and links to web sites on our site - search for Napier or Art Deco.
Our first stop was at Crab Farm. We have visited Crab Farm several times in the past, mainly because of the excellent vineyard lunches they used to serve. We were disappointed to find that they no longer do lunches and even charge for tastings if you do not buy. This, we have heard, has come about because there have been some changes in the family that owned the vineyard and restaurant and the new management wishes to concentrate on the wines. The main vineyards are planted on ground which was under the sea until it was raised by the Hawkes Bay earthquake hence the name Crab Farm. The wines are adequate - we tried their standard and Reserve Chardonnay this year and bought a Reserve as the price of our tasting. On occasion they make a "sticky" made from late picked grapes has been renamed Venito as they found their previous name Finale was already covered by a trade mark - we had a bottle of the 1996 Finale to round off Christmas dinner last year. They will remain on our New Zealand Wines and Winery Restaurants page in the hope they will sort their internal differences and reopen the restaurant - whilst we were there several other groups arrived expecting lunch and they are obviously under pressure to reopen.
We then travelled on to perhaps our favourite vineyard for red wines, Esk valley. Unlike many of the New Zealand vineyards Esk Valley export to the UK. We have normally bought their various red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon in various blends with Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Frank. We were remembered and greeted as old friends by the sales manager, Sue, who remembered us from previous visits and we had a long talk. Last visit we were fortunate in our timing and tagged onto a tour round the facilities with Sue giving the chance to learn a lot more about their production techniques from her excellent and enthusiastic exposition. All the pressing and fermentation and maturing in a variety of French and American oak barrels is done at the Esk Valley site. It was interesting to see and learn about the various oaks used and degrees of toasting employed to get the best from every batch and parcel of ground by their master winemaker Gordon Russell. Esk Valley is now part of a group with Villa Maria and Vidal and the bottling and shipping is jointly organised providing economies of scale without any sacrifice of quality or style by the partners.
In the past we have generally bought a stock of the reds for our travels and we did the same. The big discovery this year was their Riesling. We have normally not like NZ Rieslings which we have found disappointing compared to the German or Alsace competitors in Europe. Gordon Russell has, however, turned out two excellent Rieslings which are more in the style we like, one of which is from a small parcel of land owned by some enthusiastic growers. There were only enough grapes to turn out 75 cases which are only being sold from the winery door - we bought several bottles and may take one back to England to try against a good German. Continuing the path of learning by trying wines we would be less likely to normally buy we also tasted the Rose which was also very drinkable and we bought a couple for our travels. After leaving we looked it up in the 2003 version of Michael Cooper's respected buyer's guide (a Christmas present) and found it was one of the best regarded (****) and widely available Roses in New Zealand. Since writing this we have tried the special Riesling (distinguished from the other Riesling by the label Central Hawkes Bay 2002) and the 2001 Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec we bought and both were exceptionally good - we wish we had bought more of both.
The following morning set out on the search for a Winery restaurant to replace Crab Farm. We had received two recommendations, firstly Clearview Estate, well to the South of Napier on the coast, who also have wines which are highly rated in the books and competitions. The second recommendation was Mission, a vineyard we had visited in the past and almost within the city boundary. It was also adjacent to the Church Road Winery which we wanted to visit for their wines.
We therefore first set off for Church Road. Church Road wines are made in the old Tom McDonald Winery by Montana. Montana are now by far the largest wine makers in New Zealand selling under a variety of names as well as their own. With their recent acquisition of Corbans they have about half of the New Zealand wine production. Despite, or perhaps because of, their reputation as mass producers they were determined to turn out first class award winning wines and set up Church Road in the Tom McDonald Winery to do exactly that. They sought the assistance of Corbier, the well known French winemakers on how to improve standards. They can select the best of the grapes from any of their plots and use the best practice and equipment to make small amounts of superb wine which can take on and often beat the best of the boutique vineyards. It is good to see that being big does not have to lead to a reduction in standards. They do trips round the Winery and we went on one shortly after they had the first vintages available. Our timing was poor and we just missed the 1000 tour this time but spent a long time tasting and talking to John Milne, an ex pat from near Liverpool who has spent the last twenty years in various sectors of the NZ Hospitality game.
I will not go into detail on every wine as we tried many, including their reserves - John realised we were interested and open several bottles of Reserves for us to try including the exceptional Reserve Chardonnay 2000 which scored ***** in the latest Cooper guide and also qualifies as "Classic" which means it has achieved similar standards three years in row. It was everything one could ask. Other of our favourites Vineyards which have Chardonnay classed are Esk Valley, Pegasus and Cloudy Bay. Another wine which stood out from an exceptional selection was the late harvest "sticky" as the New Zealanders irreverently refer to Dessert wines. It was a rich honey taste with citrus flavours reminiscent of marmalade. We understand that some EU trade restriction prevents the import of such wines into the UK so they are worth taking back.
We then moved next door to Mission. The old Mission's Winery at Greenmeadows nestles against the hills looking out over their vineyards. It is a superb setting in which they host vineyard concerts drawing up to 20,000 people. The current site is the last of several occupied by the Marist Mission in its long history in Hawkes Bay - the monks planted their first vines in 1850. The first vines were planted at Greenmeadows in 1899 and the seminary itself moved to the site in 1910, the huge wooden building was cut into parts and hauled to the site by steam engines - there are some fascinating pictures inside showing the early days and the move.
When we made our first visit many years ago Brother Martin, the Missions resident historian showed us round the wine cellars, a both amusing and instructive experience. Unfortunately none of the brothers remain on site but the building have been beautifully maintained and redecorated and hold both tasting rooms and an excellent restaurant where you can eat inside or on the patios where you have stunning views over the vineyard and Hawkes Bay.
We first sampled a few of the wines, the standards have been steadily improving and we eventually persuaded them to let us sample their Reserve Chardonnay 2000 (9 months on the lees in new French oak and rated ****) which was good enough to merit a glass with lunch and a bottle to take away. We also sampled the Gewürztraminer which had a lovely bouquet but was flabby and a little sweet compared to an Alsace or most German versions - it was difficult to imagine food to eat with it.
The lunch was one of the best we have in New Zealand. We started with a small home-made loaf with a lively course cut humus, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar dips. It was almost a meal in itself with loaf sliced into 8 thick pieces. Peter had a Snapper in a nut crust and Pauline had a pork fillet, both were very good and laid out to delight the eye on fancy plates. Peter could not resist their citrus cheesecake with combed manuka honey and a little ice-cream supported on a crispy ring and Pauline had the creme Brulee, again they were exceptionally good and well presented. It is not often when you can have five dishes without being able to fault any of them and at very reasonable prices - the total with a glass of Reserve Chardonnay was $75 for the two of us, less than we pay for one and a half courses and a couple of beers at the local pub at home.
The next day the skies were pure blue and we went up to Tolaga Bay to see how the restoration to the longest wharf in the Southern Hemisphere was proceeding. Last visit it was not even safe to walk out on it to fish.It is now safe but still in need of much more work to arrest the deterioration. The initial contractors were alleged to have used a lot of sand from beaches in the concrete and the salt has rusted the reinforcing rods and exploded the concrete. We also went into the adjacent campsite, which is in new hands.It looks a very attractive option for a stay either on a trip round East Cape or just for a couple of days fishing.
It was such a glorious day that we decided to make it a long day and continued round the East Cape and back through the Gorges to Gisborne. We have done the East Cape Trip in 1999 taking several days but the weather was not so good and the views had been restricted by thick fog. This time it was a marvellous trip with hardly a cloud in the sky and excellent visibility. We stopped to look at an interesting church and the largest Pohutakawa tree in New Zealand. It was a long trip (470 kms and 10 hours including the few stops) and we only got back at 1930 to pitch tent for the first time this holiday. Pauline had jut finished sewing on some new plastic fittings to the tent which is now starting its seventh season.
The following day we started the journey South from Gisborne stopping at Napier to buy a couple of seat covers to take back to the UK - sheepskin of course and bought from Classic Sheepskins on the outskirts of Napier. We spent a long time selecting two matching ones from the box of bargains and chatting - it turned out that one of the staff was from Tikitiki on the East Cape and was active in the small church we had stopped to photograph the previous day, a small world. It was then on to get a couple of tyres fitted before finally making it to Clearview Estate for a late lunch.
Clearview is a boutique winery with a very high reputation - the Reserve Chardonnay is one of only seven rated as a Super Classic by Michael Cooper. That rating requires 5 successive brilliant vintages and a proven ability to mature well. We had a glass with lunch and we can understand why it is so well thought of. The Reserve Sauvignon we tasted was also very acceptable although not so highly rated. We also tried the "Old Olive Block" 2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Franc which only confirmed how good Clearview wines are.
We only had time to have a bread and main course siting on the outside patio at Clearview looking over the Petanque court. The restaurant has won a number of awards and the prices were slightly higher than at most vineyards at $22 for mains and $10 for breads. The breads were excellent with a selection of three breads with a humus, salsa, balsamic vinegar and olive dips. The main courses were also memorable with a beautiful pink lamb fillet wrapped in bacon and olive paste for Pauline and rare local venison medallions for Peter, both well presented and so tender they could be cut with the back of a knife. The only slight problem was that Pauline had ordered the Game and Rabbit but the lamb looked so good when it came she kept quiet.
We did not have sweets but those we could see did not look anything exceptional. Overall Clearview Estate has some of the best wines in Hawkes Bay and a very good restaurant - it is well worth the 8 km drive off the main road.
It is impossible to make a simple recommendation between Clearview Estate and Mission for a lunch at a winery with a tasting. Clearview has the reputation for wines and the tastings were more comprehensive. Clearview wines are not easily obtained in the UK (try Berry Brothers in St James off Pall Mall) nor are Mission Estate. Mission has beautiful buildings with stunning views, a lot of history and winery tours. Mission is perhaps more formal and Clearview has more a bistro style welcoming children. Both do excellent meals and, without trying sweets at Clearview it difficult to say which offers best value. Both were superior to the, now discontinued, meals at Crab Farm Winery although none would disappoint the visitor. The only thing to do will be to return again next year and continue our assessments.
Following lunch we drove non stop to Palmerstone North to our friends who own the Camelot Motor Lodge - our luxury stop of the holiday. It also gave the chance to sample some of the wines we had bought and to catch up the gossip on other friends currently in New Zealand - we will not cause embarrassment here! It was quite a late night especially after Pauline was overcome by the urge to start another watercolour of the Camelot starting at midnight - the verdict in the morning was awesome.
We also ended up spending time discussing web sites and Peter will have a look at theirs at some point with respect to optimisation for Search Engines and make sure it is in the important directories such as the Open Directory used by many other Searches. We plan to drop in again on our way through from South Island to the Wanganui and Taranaki.
After a late morning and gathering up the information on Pauline's OU students from the web we left for the Steam Museum at Tokomaru - we will not go into many details as we covered it fully last year and it is also on the web site. They also now have their own web site operational so my fill-in is not so important to them. Our pages do still contain the only transcriptions of sections of their book, now sadly out of print. We spent a couple of hours looking round and mostly chatting to Esma and Colin. Colin has now largely recover, last year he was running the Steaming day whilst carrying round an intravenous chemotherapy bottle. It worked sufficiently well for surgery to be able to take place and this time we found him on the roof fixing a new stainless steel water tank in place. Their grandson has spent most of his holidays at the Museum restoring one of the engines. Esma still finds time amongst all the other activities to keep teaching part time but has, as yet, not found the time to produce the email newsletter. We had a long interesting discussion on objectives and implementation of the newsletter and to a lesser extent the web site.
It was then on to Wellington to stay with friends for a couple of nights. Wellington was noteworthy this year for the Pohutakawa - it had been an exceptional year in much of North Island and they were still in bloom in Wellington. Pohutakawa are known as the New Zealand Christmas tree and have large red bunches of flowers. They are not only found inland but also line the edges of beaches in many places including much of the Coromandel coastline. The winds had covered some of the pavements in a thick carpet of red from the Pohutakawa. As we went out on the coast road to Eat Harbour we past a sign warning of Little Blue Penguins crossing in the evenings and we could visualise them marching through the red carpet leaving neat tracks behind them.
We had a fine bush walk in the East Harbour Regional Park taking much of Sunday by the time we had ferried vehicles between the ends. We did the Ridge Walk from Wainiuomata Hill Summit to Days Bay taking us up to close to the Lowry Trig point (373 m) and on to Days Bay. The track was mostly well formed but there were a number of steep sections where we were glad we had the support of walking boots - the final descent was hard on the knees. The track was almost entirely in bush but one could still get some occasional good views out over the bays. We took close to the scheduled 2.5 hours to get to Days Bay where we had left the camper complete with lunch.
After all that exercise we took our friends out for and Indian meal and then had an early night ready for an early start packing and getting down to the ferry for an 0830 check-in.
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003