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Touring New Zealand 2005 - Part 8

Leaving Napier, we stopped to look at Lake Tutira, a favourite camping spot we have written about many times before. Lake Tutira is about a mile and a half long and has a couple of basic DOC run camping areas, currently free but not to remain so for long we suspect. It was unusually deserted and both our favourite pitchs just after the gate were free and we parked on the best. They are a few feet from the water with a view which defies any description over the lake and a huge variety of scenery. One camps under weeping willows and the lake is covered in Australian Black swans - neither are natural to New Zealand and in some places Willows are being actively suppressed as they are displacing the natural trees such as Pohutakawa on coastlines. Today was not really a day for camping, we tried to convince ourselves it would improve as we had lunch as the wind rocked the van and low clouds scudded by and we finally left to keep our happy memories of better days at Tutira intact.

We stopped at Wairoa at the DOC office which provided some information sheets we had been looking for and then at the information office where they booked ahead for us at the motor camp at Waikaremoana as we had decided to take the SH38 across towards Rotorua. We have done the road before - to tourists it looks like a shortcut but ends up a nightmare and it is alleged has even broken marriages of New Zealanders! We wanted to spend a day at the lake and possibly do some walks or learn about trout fishing but we had some interesting times, as in the old chinese curse, instead. We will not go into details but just say we had to take the easier route back to Wairoa the following day to replace a tyre which had given up under the strain, fortunately on a flat stretch only a kilometer from the motor camp but unfortunately in pouring rain. What did impress us was that every, and we mean every, car that passed stopped to see if we were OK or needed help - we were OK as we had a good spare and everything to change it was exactly where it should be - thanks Rental Car Village. The campsite at Lake Waikaremoana is greatly improved over last time and we will return another time and plan to spend several days.

The tyre was considered too worn to be worth repairing so a new one was fitted at Wairoa. We took the high road from Wairoa through Te Reinga down to Gisborne - it goes through some magnificent scenery and is usually almost deserted. The views are great, we stopped several times including the signed Gentle Annie lookout which has a picnic table where we had a snack. The views are not the small areas you can capture on film but broad canvases from horizon to horizon. There are some river gorges and mudstone cliffs towering over the road and some times falling onto it. Last time a baseball sized rock hit the road just in front of us and we looked up to see a goat leering down from a near vertical face above us. We turned off at Te Reinga where a sign marked falls and went to the set of magnificent waterfalls with a viewing platform from above and we found a rough track with a final steep scramble down to look from below. Another track over a style allows one access to the top of the falls, also with a bit of a scramble at the end. An old picture shows they were an early and now forgotten tourist attraction.

Gisborne's main claim to fame is that it is the first city in the world to see the sun. The Maori name for the region is Tairawhiti which translates as "The coast upon which the sun shines across the sea". Kaiti beach beside the city is where the Maori Waka Harouta landed carrying the first immigrants and was also the site of the first European landing by Captain Cook who sailed into what came to known as Poverty Bay in 1769. It would seem that Captain Cook misunderstood the ceremonial and fierce traditional welcoming rituals of the Maori and employed his superior firepower before leaving hastily and without fresh provisions hence his calling it Poverty Bay. The Captain Cook Memorial records his journies, it is a huge globe of granite inscribed with the routes he took on his three voyages round the world - awe inspiring in those days in ships of only about 400 tons.

The European settlement started in 1831 was originally called Turanga based on the Maori Tuaranganui-a-Kiwa - "The stopping place of Kiwa" and the river is still called the Tuaranganui. The settlement had to be renamed Gisborne after the Colonial Secretary at the time due to a perceived confusion with Tuaranga in the Bay of Plenty.

We put our tent up at the Kiwi Holiday Park and across to Old Nick's Head only spoilt by the barbed wire and searchlights making it seem we were in a prison looking out. We crossed to Opotiki on the SH2, a surprisingly scenic road for a state highway, whick takes one through the Waioeka Gorge. Pete wishes we had paused for a picture of the road sign on entry to the gorge "Falling Rocks for 50 KMs". On the way through the gorge we noted a camp site was marked on the GPS without details and found it was a delightful DOC site by the side of the river with an old bridge where we had stopped in 1998, it is no longer free but a well placed stop for future trips. If we had remembered it we would have avoided the modern prison at Gisborne even if we would have had to endure a few sandflies and mosquitoes. We stocked up with Smoked fish at the Oyster farm on the entry to Ohope and on the way along the coast identified the two beaches with Pipis (first on GPS as PIC1) including the one with little cabins we had spent so long searching for which was actually at Little Waihi not Maketu as on the postcard.

We had arranged to meet with friends Garry and Sally who used to live in Palmerston North but had recently moved to Tauranga. They have bought the Bethlehem Motor Inn which is a large spacious motel with over 20 rooms, tennis court, swimming pool and good conference facilities. We liked it better than their previous motel and the location, on the edge of countryside yet just a short distance off SH2, is good. It has the added bonus of being within walking distance of a good restaurant and a winery with restaurant. So the following morning we had no choice but follow their recommendation and took the two minute drive to Mills Reef Winery and Restaurant. The wines and the tasting led by Olie, who used to run the Morton Winery Restaurant which we used to enjoy greatly, were excellent. More to follow from Pauline whose turn it was to taste in due course - in the meantime Pete's overall impression from bouquets and a few taste's was that they were exceedingly good, the 'tutorial' was excellent and we learned far more than usual from a very informed and forthright 'tutor' who invested a lot of time. They were happy to share their top of the range 'Elspeth' wines with us as well as the normal and Reserve ranges. The pride of the father and son winemaking team Paddy and Tim Preston shows through in everything we heard and read and their success has been confirmed by the fact that they have won over 250 medals in national and international shows since the Prestons established the winery in 1989. We bought more wines from a first visit than usual, we prefer to try a few quietly, perhaps alongside an old favourite.

We were so impressed with the wines and the advice of Olie that we decided to change our plans which had been to continue to Morton for lunch and instead try Mills Reef. The first impressions were good - crisp linen napkins, attractive large glasses, water glasses with condensation on the outside, solid cutlery and pepper and salt grinders. The service was friendly and with a light touch. The starter set a new standard for The breads came with an avocado oil and complemented the starter we shared but would would have been a little light as a starter by themselves.

The mains removed any lingering doubts that Mills Reef was a contender for our top slot as a combination of wine quality, stardard of tasting and quality of the restaurant food. We both agreed the slow roasted duck on wilted Asian style greeens with creamed potatoes was the best duck we have ever had. The Seared Saddle of Rabbit and rabbit legs braised in shitake, orange and tomatoes garnished with a beef tendon came with so much sauce Pete had to request a spoon. We were told it was a new dish first presented a couple of weeks ago and that they had been "walking out the door" - we can see why.

Pete was driving so Pauline had a glass of their Elspeth One, the wine their winemaker Paddy believes to be their finest wine, and at 11.50 per glass it was certainly the most expensive wine we had ever bought by the glass. It is a merlot based blend and was certainly good but we both had a similar cautious reaction to it after trying several of the 'components' in the Elspeth range earlier. The reason came at the end when we found the wine in the glass had considerable sediment. Our reactions had been different, Pete had detected a slight harshness whilst Pauline had described it as dowdy. We commented and the manageress came over to explain that they they keep the wines under a blanket of inert gas (argon rather than the Nitrous Oxide which she said would cause a laugh with most visitors if she told them) to preserve them in the restaurant and draw from the bottom. Duh! She went on to say that they however decant all Elspeth wines when bought by the bottle in the restaurant. Check if you go to the restaurant and either drink whites, the excellent Reserve reds or buy a bottle if they have not changed their ways. Interestingly they have the same system available in the tasting rooms but, not surprisingly, do not use it. Olie also said that wine tasters can detect the difference in wines using an argon blanket as having a subtly different taste. Note: Looking back I wonder if in fact the wine was corked, it can happen to the best and the slight disquiet we felt and lack of consistency with its peers was very consistent with a slightly corked wine - I still do not feel a wine with a thick sediment at the end of the glass is attractive or acceptable but our critism of taste may have been misplaced.

Returning to the food, we really did not need a sweet but in the interest of a full report we forced ourselves and tried the "Ode to the Mighty Lemon' which was memorable - it did not seem anything would be able to compete with the earlier offerings but we were wrong. It consisted of a lemon halved and overfilled with a lemon confit ice cream with lemon peel, a burnt lemon cream topped with a crisp caramel and an indescribably rich lemon sauce (closest to a lemon curd but that does not do it justice) in a dark chocolate case. Overall a restaurant worthy of a considerable detour to enjoy even without the winery side.

We made very little ground back to Auckland and stopped at Waihi where we identified a book for Colin at Tokomaru from some pictures he had shown us. We tried the information office, the Sterling Hotel shown in one of the pictures and finally tracked it down thanks to the curator at the museum to be "Waihi - Glimpses of the Golden Past" compiled by D W Adams 1978, printed by Eldon press Paeroa (no ISBN). It was commonly available in Waihi but was now out of print and it is not available from the Advanced Book Exchange (www.abebooks.com). We stayed at a motor camp site close to the river on the outskirts of Waihi in a very new but very small cabin, a good move as some of the rain was impressive. The new owners had brought a range of farm animals, so the grass was mown by a flock of mixed sheep, and there were ducks and a pig in the paddock by the owners house. We would not want to use a tent here because of the friendly animals, but the little cabins are a good option.

We spent most of the following the morning in the Waihi Museum which is in the old Waihi Manual Training and Technical School. They have a lot of pictures on the walls as well as a number of exhibits and boards about the past and the new developments at the Favona mine. The Favona was investigated several times in the past but modern techniques have now identified a huge ore body about 2000 feet down and the portal for the roadways has just been dug. The museum also have some of the best models we have ever seen by Tom Morgan for the Waihi centenary and other major events in the town.

We had a fascinating conversation with Bill Lawrence who worked in the Waihi mines in the 1930s -he is now 92 but his recollection is perfect and despite claiming to have gellyhead from the explosives you would guess he was much younger. He recounted all about the accident where a cage fell 1300 feet before it was stopped about 30 feet from the shaft bottom - the safety clamps when they finally engaged stripped 130 foot of the wooden guide. He had far more detail of the true causes than we had read in McAra and he was in the mine due to take the next cage and could have been in it if he had not been delayed. He also told us all about working the bad ground in the "Milking Cow" where they deliberately let the stopes gradually collapse as the ground was worked - eventually the surface subsided 60 metres forming a lake. As we were leaving we also had a fascinating discussion with Don Lockwood who has also written about Waihi and is now a councillor.

We also went back to the lookout into the mine and into the information building which is alongside which is mainly about the current operations by Newport and the future operations underground at the Favona site. We bought another of the crucibles used for assay smelting as a memory of the area - it looks as if it was one with a significant gold content in the sample as the 'glaze' is clear. The current open-cast mining has now produced a huge pit 600 metres across and approaching 200 metres deep. The Martha mine produced over 5,600,000 oz of gold in the period from 1879 to 1952 and over 1,000,000 more in the first 12 years after it was reopened for open cast mining. We watched a steady stream of massive trucks carrying 85 tons being filled by 4-5 scoops from backhoes and crawling slowly up to the crushing plant. The waste rock and tailings from processing is then carried by conveyor to a tailings area several kms away. In places one can see the old adits in the sides of the pit, tiny in contrast to the machinery at work now. The current production is about 100,000 oz of gold and 700,000 oz of silver a year worth $50,000,000 a year most of which is returned to the New Zealand economy.

On the way on to Auckland we stopped to look across the remains of the Victoria Battery and processing plant at Waikino in the Kaurangahake gorge that was in use up to 1952. It used the largest battery of stampers in New Zealand with 200 stamps; initially water powered then coal and gas from their own plant and finally electricity form the first Waikato River hydroelectric station built by the mining company. The crushed ore from the stampers was then further ground to a very fine powder in ball mills before a cyanide extraction method was used. Little remains of the stampers, other the concrete bases, but the bottoms of many of the huge cyanide tanks remain along with many other artefacts and structures. it is all falling into place now we have the book by McAra on the Waihi Mine

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