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|Touring in New Zealand 2004 part 3|
We crossed the Cook Straight on the Lynx, the high-speed wave piercing catamaran service. We had expected a rough ride as the winds were forecast to be strong and changing to Southerly, the worst direction for the crossing. We were very fortunate as our crossing was during the wind change and there was a short lull and we had an almost flat calm in the open seas although the winds rapidly rose shortly after we entered the sheltered waters of the Sounds. Wellington and the region up to Wanganui suffered a real battering with 2.5 inches of rain and gale force winds - we latter found the ferries had been cancelled for several days, which is quite unusual during the summer.
We stayed at The Spring Creek Holiday Park, a lovely older style camping site by the river. Even the simplest cabins at $30 have a fridge and kettle and you can get full en-suite facilities for $42, (discounted by 10% for us) with a Kiwi Holiday Parks card. It is perfectly sited for the Marlborough vineyards as well as only being about 20 minutes drive from the ferry. One follows the Repaura road to the right as you enter Spring Creek (5 km before Blenheim) from the Picton Direction and it is about a kilometre on the right. Five kilometres further down the Repaura road you pass Hunters and the next left into Gifford Road takes you past Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott and Cairnbrae all of which we have written about previous years.
This year we did not go straight to the vineyards but spent an hour in Blenheim where we bought boxes for all the computer cables and spent some time round the second hand bookshops, obtained four interesting books including a 1937 New Zealand yearbook as well as three books covering life in the middle of the twentieth century, one the classic "A river rules my life" by Mona Anderson and a couple by Temple Sutherland, all of them costing between $5 and $10. By then the wineries were opening so we headed for a couple of our favourites to try the new wines and stock up for visits to friends.
New Zealand has a number of wine growing regions, which, between them, offer almost ideal conditions for most types and styles of wine. The majority of the wine areas are on the East coasts of the two islands with the majority of the area under cultivation (85% in 1995) in just three regions, Gisborne (18%), Hawke's Bay (27%) and Marlborough (39%) where we are. Marlborough is the home of some of the most famous New Zealand wines such as Cloudy Bay, whose Sauvignon Blanc is now a cult wine in most countries and strictly rationed in many wine shops. Almost next door is Alan Scott which not only has excellent and award winning wines (which you can sometimes get in the UK) but also has a very good vineyard restaurant called the Twelve Trees after the trees that shade it.
We started at Cloudy Bay where we sampled the Sauvignon Blanc 2003, it is hardly worth making any comment as it was as good as ever - they do not even bother to enter many of the shows as it always comes out at the top even though they have steadily increased their production. The only downside is that they command a premium price for their reputation and consistency. The main interest this year was that they have joined the increasing number of vineyards that are using screw cap closures to get round the problems of corked wines - even the best vineyards are getting one bottle every case which were not up to winetasting standards. We also tried the last of the 2001 Chardonnay; the 2002 will be released at the end of January and the 2002 Pinot Noir, which has been released slightly early for a major Pinot showcase comparison at the end of January. We have always liked the Chardonnay and rate it as highly as the more well known Sauvignon Blanc and this was no exception. The Pinot Noir is also very good although we have regrets that they took out all their Cabernet Sauvignon to plant Pinot - the Cabernet Sauvignon was not considered reliable but we had some superb examples a few years ago. We also bought a bottle of the sparkling non-vintage Pelorus to take to our friends; it is another old favourite, which we served at our 25th wedding anniversary party
It was then on to Allan Scott where we only intended to stop briefly this year to buy a bottle of their Riesling - we never used to be impressed with the New Zealand Rieslings compared to their European counterparts but we are finding that increasingly the Rieslings are being made in a style that is more to our taste. We tried the their Prestige Chardonnay 2001 (their equivalent of Reserve) with its typical rich butter and added one to our stock for drinking at our leisure.
We also tried the Allan Scott Prestige Pinot Noir 2002 and contrasted it to that from their son Joshua who started producing limited quantities under his own name. The two are quite different and the Joshua Pinot Noir shows promise, an acquired taste being very intense and smoky and barely ready for drinking, although it should continue to improve for several years. Allan has been steadily evolving his style over many years. The fermentation is in open topped but refrigerated stainless batch tanks and the must is hand plunged four times a day. The wine pressed and placed in a mix of new and old 225 litre French oak baroques for maturing. This has produced a wine already drinking well but one that will develop further. It will be interesting to see how the two family styles develop and both should improve further as the wines gain extra age - they are already carefully pruned to reduce crop levels to optimise quality. For the present our vote went to Allan's Prestige Pinot 2002 and another bottle joined our stock.
It was too early for lunch and we needed to get to Golden Bay that evening so we left Marlborough and moved to a much smaller wine region round Nelson for lunch at Seifried's Winery. The buildings are new and spacious with room for functions - we ate outside and there seemed to be at least 15 outside tables all with sunshades and trees surrounded by the vineyard. We have had some of our best winery meals in South Island at Seifried and this was no exception. The Olive Bread starter was exceptional - our single portion must have been half a loaf, lovely and crisp on the outside and still warm and moist on the inside served with a little bowl of olive oil and another of homemade chutney. We spent so long eating it that the mains arrived before had finished. Peter's Winemakers Whim - Baked fish of the day, in this case Bluenose was again first class with a crisp skin and a succulent inside and with a superb homemade pesto, which we wish we knew how to make, and a risotto alongside. Pauline however had a chicken salad with hot Thai chicken and crispy noodles, which she said was very repeatable. After the Olive bread there was no way we could get to the Lemon/lime tart we had enjoyed so much previous years! It was Pauline's turn to drive so Peter had a glass of the Winemakers Collection (reserve). We resisted sampling the other wines but added the Gewurztraminer which we already knew and two of their simple but very acceptable Sect (sparkling) to our stock.
One needs to travel over Takaka Hill to reach Golden Bay from Tasman Bay; it is a big climb exceeding many of the major passes and offers some excellent views from lay-bys, from Harwood's Lookout and from a walk to a viewpoint, which we found last year. We also noticed there was another new walk opened up close to the summit but did not have time to stop to investigate.
Golden Bay has a population of only 7000 - mostly farming and in the seafood industries now. It has a much more varied history involving gold mining, coal mining, timber, paint manufacturing and asbestos mining in its time. It has also become a major tourist centre with an increase in population in the season to circa 35,000. It has a very good climate but without suffering the droughts which Marlborough and Canterbury suffer. The Bay is a very sheltered and comparatively shallow, fewer than 35 metres over most of the area bounded by Abel Tasman and the huge sand spit called Farewell Spit. The shallow warm waters has led to the development of many mussel farms and also cockles which are harvested from the large sand flats, which stretch up to 9 kms from the coast.
We stayed with Peter and Jean Adkin, friends going back to the time when Pauline worked with Peter in DTI. They have just finished their new house in Takaka, the largest town in Golden Bay. We joined them for a walk round the new Takaka Hill Walk that we had seen as we crossed the summit on our way. The walk was organised by the Wednesday Club, an informal group that meets at the information office every Wednesday morning for a walk, often on private ground.It turned out to be an excellent two and a half hour walk - a little longer including coffee and lunch stops - with a very friendly and well informed group of about our fitness level. We had a lot of local flora and fauna pointed out to us including the unusual large carnivorous snail, the powelliphanta, and a minute orchid which we almost sat on at lunch. A big initiative to save the native giant land snails has just being launched by the minister of conservation at Takaka hill.
On our return Peter took us to the port to show us some of the mussel processing boats, he has several mussel lines himself. The mussels are collected as spat, small mussels, and grown on lines several kilometres long which are looped beneath buoys in long lines secured at either end by massive anchors. The lines are grouped into farms. The spat, either local or brought from other areas is initially added to the lines on the mussel boats using a pure cotton wrap which degrades by the time the mussels have firmly attached themselves. The mussels then grow for about a year before they are stripped from the lines using machinery on the mussel boats. These specialised boats can harvest over 100 tons a day, each line typically yielding over 25 tons of green shell mussels. The latest of the boats, an aluminium hulled catamaran can travel at 32 knots to allow several trips back to unload during the day, each with two 25 ton lorry loads. Peter not only has a number of lines but has also developed some of the equipment including some special 6-ton concrete anchors for the ends of the lines, which not only dig in but also have a specially shaped smooth underside to use suction on the mud of the ocean floor. On the way back we stopped at a new cafe opposite the campsite at Pahara Beach which roasted coffee on the spot, the first we had seen in New Zealand and the coffee bought by Jean was first class.
In the morning we had a little time before our trip to Farewell spit and we spent some of it in the Takaka museum, small but very interesting with a lot of local history about Goldmining, coalmining, iron smelting, paint manufacture and asbestos mining in Golden Bay, we bought a little booklet which had the text and some pictures from many of the boards.
It was then on to Collingwood where the tour departed. Collingwood once had aspirations to be capital of New Zealand and a very comprehensive plan for the town was laid out, some of which is still in evidence. It had brief periods of prosperity and a vast increase in population during the Gold Rush at the Aorere Goldfields and the coal-mining period. The town however burnt to ground many times and now only has a population of a few hundred. We went into one of the older buildings, the old post office now a tourist shop and bought for the great sum of 30 cents what Pauline believes to be one of the best books from a contemporary New Zealand Author we own. "Gather the Wind" by Daphne de Jong published Harper Collins 1999 ISBN 1 86950 301 5 a sweeping historical novel by a well known author involving whaling, sealing and gold and set around the time of the treaty of Waitangi. It claims to be historically correct and has a list of references. We had lunch from a restaurant opposite to Original Farewell spit tours offering excellent value - a very filling scallop pie, full of scallops, for $3.50, how it can be profitably escapes us.
The Original Farewell Spit Safari was a highlight of our stay in Golden Bay. The Safari uses classic Bedford RL trucks from the early sixties - their four-wheel drive dug us out of the softest sand and the high bodies afforded an excellent view. The Spit is a conservation area and only a small area is open to the public other than by formal tours. The spit is the longest sandbar in the world stretching out 35 kms from the end of South Island and curving round to protect Golden Bay. Much of the spit is under a kilometre wide at high tide but the vast inter-tidal plain extends nearly another ten kilometres at low tide. It is a haven for a tremendous range of wild birds, native, exotic and migratory. We have seen many of them in our journeys but never in this numbers and in one place - waders stretching as far as the eye could see. There were a number we had never seen such as the small and lively Turnstones. The far end has a Gannet colony, which our trip did not visit, which we regretted when we discovered that one could actually be led in amongst the juveniles on the nest at this time of year.
There were a number of stops including Fossil Point at the start of the dunes on the Tasman Sea side and at the lighthouse where there was a coffee and comfort stop. The lighthouse area is fascinating, as it has become an oasis of trees on a largely barren spit. The lighthouse keepers spent a long time trying to grow some plants and finally succeeded by packing in soil along with the mail and provisions. Eventually shrubs then trees grew forming a windbreak and stabilising the ground and now an area some hundreds of metres across is green and lush - a fascinating indication of the possibilities for stabilisation and reclamation of desserts and dunes. The final stop was in an area where the sand is heaped into Barchan sand dunes up to 25 metres high which slowly move with the wind. We walked to the top of one for the panoramic view and then for the children, followed by everyone else who was young at heart, to run/slide down the steep sides - down was interesting but climbing up the soft steep sand for another go was extremely difficult and hard work. Overall an excellent 6 hours out and one we can thoroughly recommend, our only regret being that we did not spend the extra $25 to also walk the kilometre into the Gannet colony.
In the evening we ate at Brigand where we had an excellent meal - 400 gm steaks and a plate of spare ribs, which everybody was sure, would defeat Pauline, however she not only finished them but also went on to have a Lemon tart. The wine was from a local Nelson winery which we were recommended as one of Jean's favourites - we had a very drinkable 'prestige' 2002 Sauvignon Blanc from McCashin's, which was more refined than many with hints of melon and pineapple rather than the usual grass and gooseberries and merited a second bottle and us noting down the winery for a visit next time we go through the area.
After 3 very pleasant days and stimulating evenings of conversation its was time to move as we wanted to see the White Herons at Okarito particularly as we were informed there were still many chicks in the nests. It was an 8 drive so we stopped at Reefton, in the middle of a major area of goldfields and also the first town in NZ to have electric lighting. Reefton is an excellent centre for exploring the surrounding Goldfields as we did last year for several days, this year we did not have the time but we did do the short Power Station loop walk and examined the site of the power generation station, an early use of hydroelectric power with initially a 70 hp turbine fed from a water race from upstream driving a 20 Kwatt generator supplying 500 lights during the evenings with an extension to the supply on Tuesday mornings to allow electric irons to be used. The walk was closed last year because of work on a long swing bridge
We drank the bottle of Saratoga Estate 2003 Rose bought at the vineyard in Waiheke. It was excellent and fulfilled all the promise shown when we tasted it at the winery. This has so far proved the only one of all the other wines we sampled and then bought on Waiheke which have all proved disappointing when tried in a different context and in areas producing good wines, which are much better value. The Saratoga Estate Rose is from entirely Waiheke grapes - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Frank with the unusual Sangiovese - we can understand why it has been winning awards and will look for some more. Saratoga Estate is trying to produce wines which show influences from the boutique wineries of Saratoga in California, with which this family firm have links - we certainly like the resulting style of Rose, a wine we normally rarely drink.
We stopped at a roadside parking just past Ngahere (15km short of Greymouth) where there was a railway engine on display - it turned out to be a recently restored Bush Engine used for pulling logs out of the interior of a very unusual design. The steam engine firstly drove through a set of gears and then all the wheels on the engine and on a powered bogey were linked by a chain to also drive them. This increased the traction considerably for pulling the trains of logs on slopes and over roughly constructed lines. The chains were also of a unique construction where the loads along the chains were taken by 'shoulders' on the cast components of the links rather than by a simple pin, giving much greater strength and resistance to wear. A fascinating insight into both logging and innovation.
We passed the site of the Brunner Mine that we stopped at and wrote up last year. The Brunner Mining Site is arguably of New Zealand's most important early industrial sites - coal mining I should quickly add! There is a leading to the main site with many remaining artefacts and tunnels including the remains of a large group of coking ovens. The bridge is reaching the final stages of restoration and they were promising it would open in late February. The site is a Historic Places Trust site and well documented and with a short trail round the site and a longer one which we did last year which went as far as the Pig and Whistle Mine and the St Kilda drive. The Brunner mining area used to produce a high percentage of New Zealand's coal just before the turn of the century. The Brunner mine is however best know for New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 when an explosion and poisonous fumes killed every single worker underground at the time, totally 58. The roads in South Island are different to what a European is used to, bridges are often one way even on main roads and there are still a few where trains and cars share one way bridges - all without even a traffic light. We paused briefly at Hokitika, a small town that used to be the major port for Goldmining activities on the Northwest coast. It was however not an easy port to access with a treacherous bar on the entry and over 42 ships were wrecked in a short number of years. Despite its reputation there were 41 ships tied up at the wharf on 16 September 1867, only two years after it was officially declared a port. We looked into the museum where we thought they had a shelf of historic books and were sent to a local bookshop where we bought "Historic Gold Trails of Nelson and Marlborough" by Tony Nolan which described itself as 'A traveller's guide to the goldfields of historic Nelson and Marlborough and a portrayal of the spirited characters and hardy pioneers who opened up the provinces and blazed the trail of their prosperity'. We have a book by him on the West Coast Goldfields.
We had another all too brief stop at the Ross visiting the goldfields heritage area which has a small museum and area set out with displays as well as miners cottage with a lot more displays and old pictures. The first major Gold discoveries on the West coast were in the area round Ross. The first indications were in 1864 a little South at Totara but the main discoveries, including Jones Creek, which led to the Rush were in 1865 and August saw the number of miners grow tenfold to 2,500 and Ross was quickly laid out with shops and hotels. Gold was found all around and the town grew further. Initially the Gold, alluvial gold, was extracted by panning and cradling in the many stream beds, in fact one of the largest nuggets ever found in New Zealand was found 50 years latter on the banks of Jones Creek - it weighed 99oz and was named the Honourable Roddy after Rod McKenzie, the Minister of Mines. The mining activities still continue - the heritage area is right alongside a modern mining activity, the largest alluvial open cast mining operation in the Southern Hemisphere. You can look right into it from the Heritage Centre, it is about 400 metres across and 90 metres deep (45 below sea level). Even in this age it has proved difficult to pump it.
It was then time to proceed to Whataroa where we had booked a cabin for the night with for the night with the organisers of the tours into the White Heron Sanctuary. The cabin had full cooking and two double plus two single beds with a separate shower and facilities block all for $45 a night.
The White Herons (Kokuku) have always been a sacred bird to the Maori but were almost whipped out by hunting for the feathers. At one point they were down to only four breeding pairs as they only breed at the one site at Waitangirito. There are now over 150 breeding pairs and there were many almost fully-grown juveniles at the site. The trip involves a twenty-minute bus ride to pick up a Jetboat to take one in to the sanctuary. The boat ride in one of the New Zealand Hamilton jetboats is almost worthwhile in its own right. The jet boats are capable of operating in rapids and water only a few inches deep - water is drawn in underneath and expelled as a jet at the back. The jet can be pointed to direct the boat and in a straight line can easily achieve speeds of up to 90 kms/hour - we had our GPS and were travelling at over 60 kph on the straight stretches on the initial stretch before we entered the sanctuary where we slowed down to a walking pace.
We then had a 500-metre walk through Westland Rainforest, which also supports several rare orchids; none unfortunately in flower at this time of year but the bush rang to the song of bellbirds. We then reached a hide where we were just across the river from the only breeding site for the Kokutu (White Herons) with several dozen nests clearly visible in the trees, all with juveniles in view even with the naked eye and filling the view of the binoculars provided. It was possible to fill the screen on our video and Pauline got a lot of stills with a 300mm lens on our Canon EOS 500. The noise was almost deafening as the adults returned to feed the juveniles who were almost the same size and fought over the food. We watched a couple of juveniles fighting over a foot long eel with it almost disappearing down one throat only to be dragged out and down another. Overall a memorable experience - it is said it is an honour to see a Kotuku once during ones life.
As well as the White Herons the breeding site also has a large number of Royal Spoonbills which were returning with big twigs to augment their nests - they again are large white birds, almost as impressive although slightly more common. Another trip we can thoroughly recommend - it may seem relatively expensive at $89 a head but each visit can only take 10 people and lasts two and a half hours including a jet boat trip which is almost worth the money in its own right as well as the unique experience of seeing the only breeding site of the sacred White Heron not to speak of the Royal Spoonbills.
It was then time to have a look at the glaciers at Franz Joseph and Fox. After the sparkling white of the Kotuku and Spoonbills they were a bit of a disappointment. By the time we got to them it was pouring with rain - we were in Westland where the rainfall is monumental. We did reach the base as one can with a half hour walk but from a distance this year they looked very grey - as they reach the limit they thaw and expose all the stones and gravel they strip on their slow progress down to almost reach the sea. This time the top surface hardly had any of the sparkling appearance we had expected from our last visit and we could not see the higher slopes which we had reached with a helicopter trip a few years ago, maybe it was just the familiarity or the conditions but it was disappointing to us this year - however the hundreds of tourists looked happy as they moved like slow worms across the terminal moraine to the edge of the ice in the pouring rain.
We then followed a narrow side road for 21 kms from Fox township, mostly on gravel to Gillespie's Beach where a 15 minute walk over gorse covered tailings took us to the remains of a Gold Dredge and other mining relics. The West coast beaches used to be rich in Gold the alluvial gold was brought down in the rivers and ground and separated by the strong currents on the beaches, which behaved like a giant riffle table. The dredges operated on the beaches and the flats behind them slowly working their way forwards digging out the sand and soil in front and under where they floated and laid the tailings behind them after all the gold had been extracted on board. The remains were in poor condition at Gillespie's Beach but one could still identify many of the components including chains of buckets.
We then followed a similar side road down to Okarito where there is a large lagoon where the White Herons often feed before returning to their nests - only one was in view but an information hut had many pictures of when the area had been one of the richest for gold on the beaches, first worked by hand and then by large dredges. Okarito also has a basic camping site, which we had a look at.
After another night at Whataroa we headed for the Haast Pass to cross the central Alps to Otago. The weather was getting interesting and although we stopped briefly at Ship Creek we opted out of the Kahikatea Swamp forest walk we had looked forwards to taking as the skies opened just after we got out of the van - we were soaked by the time we had unlocked the door to get back into shelter. The Kahikatea is New Zealand's tallest tree and we saw examples 60 metres tall with clean straight trunks with huge heads - as impressive as Kauri in some ways. Last year we enjoyed the walk and also watched the Hectors Dolphins cruising just outside the surf line on the beach - they are New Zealand's smallest and rarest dolphins easily recognised by the rounded dorsal fin, this year we could not even see across the beach through the rain.
By the time we got to Haast Township the rain was sluicing down and even with wipers flat out we could hardly see and we were aquaplaning along on the surface water. As we left the town and climbed towards the pass the hillsides were covered in waterfalls and at times the water was cascading in arcs half way across the road. There are number of short walks off the road to waterfall viewpoints but we did not need to follow them today. Thunder Falls is usually a nice short bush walk through Kamahi and silver beach to look at the spectacular falls crashing into the river from a side valley tens of metres above but we could see and hear it from the road. Fantails Falls normally has a beautiful fan shaped waterfall spreading and twisting like a minute vertical braided river but today it was a sheet of raging water covering the hillside.
The pass proper starts at the Gates of Haast - Haast is the name for the whole area as well as a town and river. This is a place to stop and look - the river tumbles over huge blocks of stone cast in the river like a giants abandoned toy blocks. Trees swept down by floods look like matchsticks and one can only marvel at the power of water especially when in flood as today. Pete risked the elements and camera to get a picture from the bridge- it looked more like the gates of Hell than Haast. We heard that three and a half inches fall in a few hours at Haast Township on the coast, what the rainfall was in the mountains we can only guess.