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Touring New Zealand 2003 - part 4

Introduction and Summary | Auckland, Waiheke, Rotorua, Ohakune | Napier, Gisborne, Wellington | Marlborough, Abel Tasman, Reefton, Lewis Pass | Christchurch, Mt Somers, Lakes, Otago | Queenstown, Wanaka, Christchurch, West Coast, Sounds | Whanganui, Taranaki, Coromandel | Sailing: Hauraki Gulf to Bay of Islands | Kauri Coast, Northland, Russell

We stayed at an excellent little motel we have used before, the Adorian, about ten minutes walk from downtown Christchurch in Worcester Street owned by a Siamese cat called Sushi and run by Diane and Tom Johnson. It is a classic small NZ motel with full cooking facilities in the rooms, very comfortable, quiet and the hosts are always extremely friendly and helpful. It was clear many of the people staying there were regulars which is the best indicator of quality.

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In the morning we went to the Ferrymead Heritage Site - we went there last year and only had time to look at a part of the exhibits and thought we could cover the rest before visiting the newly opened Torpedo Museum which had been recommended to us by Larry Robbins. In the event we only cover a further small part of Ferrymead. I will not dwell too long as I covered it a lot last year. It is mostly a loose federation of small bands of enthusiasts in various areas who have restored or maintained various areas of important or unique New Zealand heritage. It contains a complete village mainly set in the early 1900s as well as the specialist areas.

For example we spent a long time in a rebuilt and working section of a Telephone exchange from the 1930s with continually moving mechanical shafts engaged by clutches to automatically connect the numbers - way before the mechanical uniselectors and relays came into use. We spent a long time with the person who had put it back into a working state using largely original parts and wiring. Likewise we spent a long time in the section covering tele-printers and the like with a gentleman who has kept the large collection running and interconnected. He is currently helping a group in England by providing advice in an attempt to rebuild Colossus, the original computing engine used by Turing to crack the German codes during the second world war.

We spent so much time on such discussions we only covered a few more areas. When we were just about to leave we looked in on the hall of fire which turned out to contain dozens of perfectly preserved fire engines all in working order. Pete's comment about the magnitude of the task in doing justice to such an exhibition brought Stuart out to talk to us - he is one of the employees of the Heritage Park rather than an individual society and he gave us some more insights into how it all came together. We will have to go back again next year and allow lot more time as it is almost impossible to show any interest without getting involved and 'behind the scenes' as was brought out so well last year with the Mosquito.

It was then a rush to the Torpedo Boat Museum. at Lyttelton, it is not in the centre of town and you turn to the right when you leave the tunnel from Christchurch. We spent time talking to John Cleaver, who used to be Captain of the Wellington-Lyttelton Ferry and was chairman of the group who masterminded the recovery of the remains of the Torpedo boat and the restoration of the old Magazine. he was happy for me to take pictures of everything and I will put some on my web site. They do not yet have a web site or full brochure. The magazine started life as a store for explosives and then became the magazine for the battery on the hillside above.

Click for larger image The torpedo boat was one of 4 supplied to New Zealand by Thorneycroft in the UK. Hundreds were made and, although few were used in anger, they were the start of transformation in naval warfare from cumbersome large ships blazing away at each other to modern fast moving manoeuvrable craft. It could be argued they were the craft that, in the next 30 years, developed into the frigate and destroyer.

The Torpedo was what was called a Spar Torpedo - a 35 lb. charge carried on the end of a spar which was swung forwards and down under the water ahead of the boat. The Torpedo boat made use of its high speed (17.5 knots) and small size to stealthily approach a warship, preferably under cover of night. The Torpedo was exploded an contact well below the waterline and armour plating of the victim and the Torpedo boat steamed rapidly away.

It was a highly dangerous activity as the Torpedo boat had no armour other than round the steering position, which was reminiscent of a conning tower, and the light steel could be penetrated by even rifle fire. In fact the whole appearance was rather reminiscent of a submarine as it was total enclosed with smooth lines to avoid being swamped by the explosion only a few tens of feet ahead. The lines were very fine and although 60 feet long it only had 7.5 foot beam and drew less than 3.5 feet. None of the Thorneycroft boats saw action but French equivalents sunk several Chinese battleships and survived the actions.

The Torpedo Boat on display was built in 1885 and used for defence of the Lyttelton harbour and was kept on a ramp alongside the magazine now housing the remains. It was decommissioned in about 1900 stripped of engine and boilers and abandoned on the beach. It was dragged further up and in doing so broken in half, after which it served as an informal children's playground for many years until buried by the local council. Members of the restoration group eventually found it with the help of pictures, contemporary photographs and finally aerial photographs. Once the area was identified the final search and excavation was carried out with the assistance of the New Zealand Army.

The Bow section and stern sections have been reconstructed into a recognisable form, Click for larger image much of the centre section is in storage and it alleged that the steering position is in the hands of another museum, hopefully it may return. Click for larger imageThe metal is badly rusted away and has been treated to arrest further deterioration and the humidity is controlled to be under 55%. It is interesting that such a high figure has been chosen - the SS Great Britain trust are aiming for under 20% as the research carried out in the UK shows that 19% or under dramatically arrests deterioration in iron/steel which has been in extensive contact with salt water. The damage is mostly from the salts in the metal rather than conventional rusting (oxidation).

The Engine was driven by steam from a coal fired boiler. The one display is beautifully restored and comes from the sister ship which was stationed at Port Chalmers (now Dunedin). It is a memorial to Professor Scott, Dean of Canterbury Engineering School between the wars, who rescued it. The boiler is missing but the engine looks as if it could easily be returned to a running state and is rotated by an electric motor for display purposes.

Click for larger image The displays, the restored magazine and the surrounding reserve and gun emplacements alone make the trip interesting but the icing on the cake is the video which is shown (and is available for sale) which has a lot of contemporary film and pictures of the torpedo boat during exercises and training as well as considerable background. The current video is 36 minutes long and we found it fascinating and were engrossed but they are wisely looking at a shortened version for visitors, in particular school trips. The attention span of anyone other than a true enthusiasts is unlikely to be as long as thirty minutes and it is, in my opinion, better for them to buy the full video or be permitted to watch it in a separate area.

Overall a very worthwhile visit to a museum showing how much a small band of enthusiast can achieve and covering a largely neglected part of naval development shown at its original site. It is very much a Uniquely New Zealand activity they have carried out. Check opening hours before visiting as they are only currently open a limited number of days every week and only between 1300 and 1500. They have no web site but can be contacted by email at john.cleaver@netaccess.co.nz

Click for larger imageOn our way back through Lyttelton we stopped to watch the Steam Tug Lyttelton come back into the harbour - we had a great trip on her last year

We expected to meet up with friend from England in the evening who was flying in from the Cook Islands. Unfortunately we discovered he was not due in till 1130 so we had a buffet at the Riverview restaurant, an excellent selection at a favourable price with a table looking over the Avon. We finally met up with Phil the next morning. It was unusually cold and wet for New Zealand so we took him to Pegasus for lunch and a wine tasting. We had already bought and tasted but could not resist another taste of the Finale a honeyed late picked Chardonnay from individually selected 100% botrytis grapes.

We left late in the afternoon to head to the lakes hoping to camp late but the conditions were increasingly miserable so we pulled off down a side road to Mount Somers and stopped at the small but excellent Mt Somers Holiday Park (www.mountsomers.co.nz) which had several cabins free. We went to the pub opposite for a meal - a fish and a huge mixed grill for $26 in front of a roaring log fire! The walls of the pub were covered with information boards on the history of the area and walks through it. It used to be a small scale coal mining area for may years and there are pictures of the railway, initially narrow gauge and with several home-made engines. There was also an 'inclined plane' for a balanced up and down coming truck covering the final 164 metre height gain.

The owner extolled the virtues of a trip into the mountains down a Click for larger image gravel road which turned out to be very worthwhile. It initially passed the mines and a old limestone working which we stopped to look round on the return trip. The road had superb views and led eventually to Erewhon Station which was featured in the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler, one of the classic New Zealand books we bought and read last year. Now the book has been mentioned in the Lord of the Rings Location guidebook by Ian Brodie it will probably become extremely expensive and difficult to find, however it may lead people to also read the other classics in the series - fortunately we now have copies of most of them!

Click for larger image The area just short of Erewhon was used for part of the filming of Lord of the Rings, a camp was set up for 11 months and near Mt Potts Station. Mt Sunday a rocky outcrop rising above the alluvial shingle plane left when ancient glaciers carved out the Rangitata River valley. This was used as the site of Edoras the capital of Rohan laying at the feet of the white mountains near the river Snowborne.

Click for larger imageAs one approached the jagged snow covered peaks over a ridge one is suddenly presented with the view of Mt Sunday ahead surrounded by a flat covered in brown tussock and the braided tributaries of the river Rangitata. We continued past Mt Potts station to viewpoints where one could look up at Mt Sunday, itself a tiny feature in the vastness of the plain and surrounding mountains, Click for larger imageand on to where we look into Erewhon Station nestling at the foot of the mountains. Samuel Butlers description is as true now as when he wrote Erewhon "Never shall I forget the utter loneliness of the prospect - only the little far away homestead giving sign of human handiwork, the vastness of mountain and plain, of river and sky; Click for larger imagethe marvellous atmospheric effects - sometimes black against a white sky, and then again, after cold weather, white mountains against a black sky." The book had led us to seek out Erewhon before we even knew the area had been kidnapped by for the Lord of the Rings although it is fair to say they have made good and you would hardly know there had been a small township for 11 months in this area.

Click for larger imageOn the way back we took the other branch to Lake Heron, pleasant but not quite so impressive as Erewhon and then walked round the old limestone quarry and restored cottage. Overall a very enjoyable morning but be warned, much of it gravel roads with rough large stones so you need a 4x4 or other vehicle with good tyres and ground clearance like our Toyota from Rental Car Village.

This side trip had made us later than we had planned so we stopped at Fairlie at a Top Ten camp site a little short of the Lakes. Fairlie is on the Tourist route and we watched campervan after campervan speed past looking alternately at their watches and schedules, the stream occasionally broken by coaches full of tired people.

Next day we stopped at Tekapo with the mountains clear and crisp in the distance. The Church of the Good Shepherd had a wedding so we did not stop - it is small and has no stained glass just a huge picture window with an awesome view of the central Alps behind the alter. We have used the view for Christmas cards. We spoke briefly to the guide David Clark and his wife. We have chatted to David several times in the past and we then set off to have a walk up Mount John as he recommended. We first did it a couple of years ago and know it has super views over the lake and into the central Alps when as clear as the day was proving.

Click for larger image His wife said he now does it several times a week and only takes an hour and a half so we decided to do the extended one returning in a big loop beside the lake. It took us nearly an hour and quarter to get up and it was three hours before we got back. The views were as good as we had hoped and we certainly felt we had plenty of exercise. We stayed overnight at the campsite beside the lake. We tried to get one of the tourist flats by the lake, they are expensive, but we had one a couple of years ago because of the superb view, unfortunately they were taken.

The next day was an early start as we had a problem with the alternator and had booked into an automotive electrical service in Timaru to have the alternator rebuilt at 0800! The campsite were very helpful and lent us a charger so we could charge it overnight just in case. They were very good at the electricians in Timaru in fitting us into a busy day and we were back on the move by 1500.

Timaru was a more interesting town than we had realised with quite a lot of history, it used to be an important port. Click for larger imageWe walked round the centre and Caroline Bay which has a good beach for swimming (well tested) and an interesting rose garden dedicated to Trevor Griffiths, a local rose grower of world renown. He wrote a number of books about old roses and contributed greatly to the revival and popularity of historic roses from round the world. The rose garden has an internationally significant collection 1150 old roses and 590 named varieties going back to the early 19th century on display, all initially imported by Trevor Griffiths.

We left at 1500 and decided there was still time to go over Dansey's Pass past Kyburn to Naseby in the Otago Gold Fields Click for larger image- we know an excellent campsite there which has a number of historic cabins and a mine managers residence. We stayed in one of the 1896 cabins last year so we booked the managers residence this year. We found it was set up for up to 9 people and could sleep 11 if you used the convertible settee and had all the usual facilities - all for $52 with our own bedding. We ended up staying for 3 nights although we had to move downmarket to a workers cabin for the last night as the swish one was booked for the Saturday night. It is an excellent site and highly recommended. Last year we borrowed a telephone line from his office and this year we found a socket had been installed outside for regulars who stay for a few days. He does not even feel he needs to charge but we always try to put something into a charity box under such circumstances otherwise such help and privileges will disappear.

Click for larger image We covered the walks last year Click for larger imageso will say little. We only managed to do the local goldfields walk before the forest was closed because the ground was very dry and the 100 kph winds forecast posed a considerable fire risk. We spent time in the museums.

The last day at Naseby did a big loop by van starting at Ranfurly, down the Pigroot, one of the early routes for minors into the interior and back via Macraes Flat and Hyde. Ranfurly has set up to sell itself as an Art Deco town, with little justification in our view compared to such places as Napier - in fact many New Zealand towns have a greater proportion of true art deco buildings. It however does have a good information office with an excellent display of contemporary photographs of the Manitoto.

Our objective was to look at Macraes Flat which has one of the few current large scale mining actives in New Zealand - it is extracting close to 100,000 oz of Gold per year from 3 million tons of ore. On the way we tried to find the historic plaques at Dead Horse Pinch , near the Pigroot summit, placed to commemorate the hardships faced by the miners travelling to the goldfields on such routes. We believe we found the correct car park and track but it led nowhere.

We however had no difficulty in finding the new mining areas at Macraes Flat. Click for larger imageWe approached Macraes Flat from the East and met an area devastated by open cast mining activities, huge pits and Click for larger imageterraces with huge diggers and trucks looking like toys extracting ore and in the distance great banks of spoil being shaped into a new landscape. We turned off down the side road leading to the Golden Point mine and found even more workings and eventually a viewpoint of the processing plant. It is difficult to convey the scale of operations but we came past workings for perhaps two kilometres before we turned and the track was 5 kilometres long and the workings were almost over the top of the old mine. Aerial pictures of a few years ago show the workings to be near circular so we are looking at tens of square kilometres being open cast mined to depths of tens if not hundreds of metres - Round hill has already been converted to a deep lake. The yields are low and the mine has a throughput of 3 million tons of rock per year to produce only 100,000 oz of gold, far lower yields than were considered economic in quartz mining in the past.

Click for larger image The area was first the site of a rush in 1863 and nearby there were quartz mine workings. A highlight of the area is the Golden Point Mine in Deepdell creekClick for larger image. This area was opened up for Gold and latter Scheelite (Tungsten ore) mining in 1889 and worked till the 1930s. The small battery remains, supposedly in working order, Click for larger imagein the original buildings. The Golden Progress Mine is dwarfed by the new workings on the hillside above. It would all fit into a couple of the dumper trucks. It is remarkably well preserved and the Stamper battery and separators are all, by repute, usable. There are remains of more modern crushing mills outside, developments of the Berdan with rollers by the look of it. There were various boards round the site but we have , as yet, found no DOC information sheets for the area - we have some pictures of the boards which will help fill in the details when this goes onto the web.

The area had many other nearby operations, which are also covered by the boards, and many of the original shacks and the managers house are still standing. The old adit can be reached by a short track and various other artefacts for supplying the battery remain. A very interesting area to visit and an interesting comparison between modern brute force and the skills of the past. We can see why areas are not enthusiastic to have mining restarted.

We stopped to look at the Stanley's Hotel Click for larger imageand went in to see if there were any trips round the new mine or operation of the old and stayed for lunch. Stanley's hotel was rebuilt in 1889 but dates back in various forms to the earliest days. It still has the motto outside - "Whilst I live I'll Crow referring to an earlier rivalry between Stanley and Griffin, the publican of the competing United Kingdom Hotel.

After a pleasant evening back at Naseby we continued our journey across the Otago to Cromwell. We took a back-road through the Ida valley, our first stop being at Oturehua, an old mining town which had been the source of the cabin we were staying in 1896. The historic store dates from 1882 and still largely in its original state with Kauri counters, box shelving and cabinets still occupy one side in which are displayed many items of yesteryear - well worth looking into as well as being one of the only sources of ice-creams in the area.

We did not stop to look at the nearby Golden Progress mine as we spent time there last year but we did stop for a quick look at the Click for larger imageHayes Engineering works (covered last year). We spent far longer (2.5 hours) than we intended mostly speaking to the curator, whose Click for larger imageChristian name I failed to get but I believe is from Glenida Station - she gave us a lot of additional insights into many other 'heritage' and conservation matters including the habits of Japanese and other oriental visitors. She also gave us access and permission to copy a lot of old pictures which she has obtained from the neighbourhood. Click for larger imageShe has been is steadily obtaining information on the locations from other locals. I have, in exchange, got a picture of a strange piece of equipment produced by Hayes which they are seeking the purpose of to put up here in case anyone can identify it. Hayes invented many other things for the agricultural and gold industries other than the wire strainer for which he became famous.

We then took a largely gravel back road from Poolburn past Moa Creek at her recommendation - lovely scenery taking us past old goldmining areas and the areas where the Moa dredge originated. The area round Poolburn lake was used for filming part of the Lord of the Rings - it needs a 4x4 to reach the lake area used for filming of Rohan. The scenery was wonderful on the drive when one cold take ones eyes off the twisting gravel road long enough to see it or find the occasional pull off.

We stopped in Alexandra to find a Bank and more importantly go to the museum. Alexandra is another old gold mining town on the banks of the mighty Clutha river. In the later days of gold fever some of the greatest dredging operations took place near Alexandra. Their are two excellent 'Historic Sites Viewing and Walking Tour' leaflets available freely in the town which are historical tours of old goldmining sites and places of interest from the golden days of Lower Dunstan. They are baked by the Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust, Alexandra Museum and DOC. You need the car to reach some of the places of interest such as the viewpoints and dredgings and not all of the places of interest concern gold but they are extremely useful for the maps and background information so are must to collect. We went to quite a number of the places covered last year - the estimate it needs one day to do each of the two tours with all the walk options. Alexandra also claims to have the highest average temperatures in New Zealand and the lowest rainfall in its advertising brochure.

Last year the Museum was closed during our visit, its earlier buildings had been flooded twice recently, so we were very pleased to find it open in the new buildings in Pioneer Park on the main street (Centennial Avenue). The displays are currently quite restricted as the move has only recently taken place and 95% of the material has been in storage, even so it already has a number of interesting exhibits many related to gold. Progress should be rapid as it is regarded as the most significant cultural, heritage and tourism investment ever made

It also has the most comprehensive display boards covering gold dredging we have found with pictures of many of the dredges linked to location maps showing the claims. The maps seem similar to those in Kawarau Gold by Sinclair taken from the Otago Daily Times. What we found most interesting was that they also have a large folder in the research section full of goldmining pictures. This contained a number of the pictures we have already got copies of from various private sources and has enabled us to identify where some of them were taken - for example one of our pictures of sluicing is the Never Fail claim at Shepherds Flat and one of the Hydraulic elevators at St Bathans was taken in 1906, latter than we realised. More important, it also provides a potential source of better copies with provenance. The number of early pictures is limited and we have found the same pictures in many places. Some probably are in National Archive Collections such as the Alexander Turnball Library but have been used by many different people over the years and we suspect ended up separately catalogued and attributed in books and displays.

As ever we spent a long time talking to the curator on duty, Esme Kilgour, who was also a member of the governing board of the museum. Everyone seems delighted to find people interested, especially from outside of the country. It is also becoming clear that we are observing some links and there is potential for building some bridges as we have perhaps travelled more widely than many New Zealanders. Some of our rather more extreme observations and views seem to strike chords - in this case it turned out that the curators husband Bob has been involved with gold mining and our talk may have added a few bits into a jigsaw concerning the battles over future mining activities.

As a slight aside we have realised that there are several areas where there is scope for publication of some of our findings. There are arguably too many books covering gold mining but even so some areas have been neglected and there is scope for some relevant research into the changing perceptions of gold mining over the years which is giving a new focus to the information we have been gathering.

We eventually dragged ourselves away from the museum and left for Cromwell where we intended to stay for the night. We took the back road to Clyde (Earnscleugh Road) past the major dredge tailings we visited last year. - the entry is still unsigned as we pointed out to the museum curator. She was surprised and was going to check and correct. We did not stop in Clyde but did drive through the main street which has changed little with time.

Click for larger image We also stopped at a roadside memorial to look over the area, now flooded by the hydroelectric dam, where the finds were made which started the important rush to Dunstan. In 1862 two Californians, Horatio Hartley and Christopher Reilly left the diggings at Gabriel's Gully hoping to win one of the awards for discovering a new Goldfield. They worked their way up the Clutha finding enough gold to keep them confident that better was to come. At one point they panned 40 oz in a week with a single borrowed pan. They kept quiet about their successively better and better finds until they discovered a very rich beach just below where Cromwell is today and where the memorial stands. In the succeeding months they washed a total of 87 pounds of gold with which they returned to Dunedin to claim a reward. They were then told they would only qualify if the new field yielded 16,000 oz in three months, a seemingly impossible change of the goalposts. In fact 70,000 oz was carried out in the remaining 4 months of the year by the Escort as well as that carried by miners. This rush started the major immigration from Australia and changed Otago and perhaps New Zealand for ever.

We stayed at the Top Ten in Cromwell. Cromwell, as we found last year has a lot more to offer than one might expect and, like Naseby, is a good centre from which to explore for several days. This time it was only for a night as we booked for a trip on the Steam Ship Earnslaw the following day and had to move on without even a trip to the Museum to check some points which had come out of the visit to Alexandra.

In the evening we settled down to a Pegasus 2001 Chardonnay - even better than we remembered from tasting it - why did we only buy one bottle, perhaps the price. It was very fine, possibly the best New Zealand Chardonnay we have had, certainly the best ordinary (as opposed to Reserve) Chardonnay. Edward had explained that only the 'Mendoza' clone is used and a fermentation in barrel is followed by one year maturing 'sur lie' in Burgundian baroque's of which 30% are new. The wine undergoes a malo-lactic fermentation in the spring and, unlike most wines, no preservative agents are used prior to the second fermentation. We looked up in the wine book and found that our views were echoed by the experts who award it ***** classic rating and describe it as "strapping yet delicate, richly flavoured yet subtle, this sophisticated wine is one of the countries best Chardonnays grown.." Why did we not buy more?

Introduction and Summary | Auckland, Waiheke, Rotorua, Ohakune | Napier, Gisborne, Wellington | Marlborough, Abel Tasman, Reefton, Lewis Pass | Christchurch, Mt Somers, Lakes, Otago | Queenstown, Wanaka, Christchurch, West Coast, Sounds | Whanganui, Taranaki, Coromandel | Sailing: Hauraki Gulf to Bay of Islands | Kauri Coast, Northland, Russell

Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 8th October, 2003