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|Touring New Zealand 2006 - Part 2|
Our journey to South Island was on the new ferry Kaitaki which has been leased for 5 years to replace the wave-piercer. It was the 'Pride of Cherbourg' and has been renamed the Kaitaki, meaning Challenger, for the time under lease. It is much larger than any of the previous ones on the Wellington to Picton crossing of the Strait and is probably the largest ferry we have ever been on with many car decks, up to five? if you count the extra 'mezzanine' decks for small vehicles. We left on time, at 0845, and it was a 3 hour crossing which gave a chance to catch up a little on the writing up. There were few electric sockets but Pete eventually found a single one in the 'family lounge' enabling him to write up despite the kids entertainment being provided.
Our plan was to drive straight from the ferry to Blenheim, in the heart of Marlborough wine area. 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%). 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, that is if one can ever find it. You can find out more about our other favourites on our page covering New Zealand Wines and Vineyard Restaurants.
We went first to Spring Creek Holiday Park, a lovely older style camping site by the river. Even the simplest cabins at $32 have a fridge and kettle and you can get full en-suite facilities for about $45, (discounted by 10% for us) with a Kiwi Holiday Parks card. It is in a perfect situation for the Vineyards especially if you prefer to avoid towns. Follow 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 Giffords road takes you past Cloudy Bay, Allan Scott and Cairnbrae all of which we have written about.
Our first visit was to a favourite vineyard - Allan 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 for an excellent meal. This time the wind was strong and cool and all the sheltered tables outside were taken so for the first time we sat inside. Pete was driving so Pauline had a glass of the Allan Scott Prestige Pinot Noir 2003. 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 produces a wine that drinks well when they release it but that will still improve further as the wines gain extra age - they are already carefully pruned to reduce crop levels to optimise quality.
Last time we came we found Joshua, the son, had started producing limited quantities under his own name. Joshua has stopped making his own style wines and is now one of their winemakers making wines following Alan's style. He has however started making a special beer called Moa which Pete tried a little of with lunch leaving the rest to Pauline - it is a very good live beer but should be is as it is as expensive as some wines! The lunches were as good as ever and once we had finished we went through to complete our wine tasting and just bought a bottle of their prize winning 2004 Merlot as most of their other wines we like are freely available in NZ supermarkets and wine shops.
It was then on to Cloudy Bay where we sampled the Sauvignon Blanc 2005. 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. The only downside is that they command a premium price for their reputation and consistency. Even Cloudy Bay 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 wine tasting standards. During the discussion on closures we mentioned we had a corked bottle of Pinot Noir last visit and they immediately replaced it. We tried the current release and it was excellent - we used to have reservations when they replaced all the vines used for Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot with Pinot but now the new vines have aged the wine is fully up to their reputation. We enquired about the Te Koko (aged and slightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc)and the 2003 will be available at the start of February as usual for the Marlborough wine festival. We bought some of the 2002 in London just before Christmas. The new tasting this year was a very excellent Late Harvest Reisling which they only make when conditions are perfect, it equals the best of the old German Ausleses and most Beerenausleses. We bought a cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for immediate consumption and a bottle of the Late Harvest Riesling to savour some special day, perhaps on Pete's birthday.
We took a small diversion on the Renwick road back to Blenheim so we passed the cafe which has a complete Safe Air Argosy 222 parked outside. Last visit we spent a fascinating half an hour crawling round inside it and looking through the small museum. The Argosy was one of the largest civilian freighters in use and particular example had one of the optional passenger modules for 30 passengers installed, which occupied only a part of the huge hold - access was by the whole nose swinging open below a flight deck perched above rather like on a jumbo. It was in use until 1990 when it was rescued just before being cut up for scrap. The engines and instruments had unfortunately been removed but everything else is preserved in a state which could allow restoration - possible as none are now flying. This time we found the restaurant has closed, perhaps permanently, and although we could look round outside and spoke to the gentleman who was keeping an eye on it it is clear that a big clean up required before the aircraft will be open again for visitors.
On the way back we spent a while in Blenheim, a pleasant town with plentiful services. We looked around the shops checking out bookshops in particular. At Tam's Place, we bought an old book on Steam engine driving which we thought we might add to Colin's collection at Tokomaru.
The next day we had an early start as we wanted to reach Pegasus winery for lunch, several hundred kms down the coast. We passed Kaikoura town which is one of the few areas where tourists do seem to get exploited. Petrol stations without prices charging 12% over the prices published by the petrol companies and motels $15 - $20 more than one would expect. Unfortunately we had forgotten and were short of fuel but only put in the minimum to reach Christchurch. People go there for Whale watching and swimming with Dolphins which is another form of exploitation of the environment and wildlife. We are happy when Dolphins come to play with us round the boat but have observed them being hunted and herded with young by trip boats in other areas which is less than acceptable. Certainly on the occasion Pete swum with Dolphins at Kaikoura a couple of years ago the Dolphins had no interest in playing and disappeared as soon as anybody got in the water.
The one good thing about Kaikoura is the Crayfish which are caught along the coast and can be bought from roadside stalls down State Highway 1, cooked and ready to eat. Kaikoura is, in fact, a Maori name "To eat Crayfish" - we stopped at a roadside stall Cay's Crays to buy a Crayfish for supper. They are getting more expensive every year, with ours priced at $35, but better than any lobster other than even the Maine lobster we once had on QE2.
Pegasus restaurant was very busy and we were glad we had booked, even then we had to wait till 1400 for lunch which gave a chance to taste the wines. Pete thought the Pinot Noir 2003 open for tasting slightly corked and said so, fortunately they agreed! The more we taste in NZ the more we agree with the move to Stelvin closures. The most interesting and surprising wine was the 2004 Sauvignon Semillon - we have always thought highly of the Pegasus Bay red wines and have perhaps underestimated their white wines. The Suavignon Semillon blend is one we also liked in Australia from the Margaret River region and the Pegusus one stands comparison with any other New Zealand white. It is a classical blend of 80% Suavignon Blanc and 20% Semillon, both naturally fermented from unclarified juice and aged on their lees for 9 months to develop mid palate complexity, the Semillon being in old oak barriques. The combination is very good already and will have the ability to develop extra depth and nuances with age. We bought a couple of bottles of the Suavignon Semillon and a couple of our old favourite Cabernet Merlot.
We tried two sample size glasses of the older Arias (late picked Riesling) with lunch. The 2001 was very good but the 1995 seemed over the top. The wine waitress came part way through and asked our honest opinion of it and confided she had concerns and replaced our by then almost empty glass with a 2004 Aria (now sold out) so it made an interesting comparison. The food was as good as ever but getting progressively more expensive, as we were to find throughout New Zealand this year. We had plates with a selection of three of their sweets which was exceptionally good.
It was then on to the Adorian Motel close to the centre of Christchurch where we were greeted as old friends. Only the one night was booked initially as they were full on the Sunday night but they offered us their back room if we had problems. The previous boss, Sushi the Siamese cat, has sadly passed away but her assistants Diane and Tom are maintaining the same high standards as before. The Adorian is a friendly traditional Motel which gives milk when you arrive and delivers a local newspaper on the doorstep in the morning. And they gave lots of advice on thngs to do and were keen to make sure we enjoyed our stay. We booked two extra nights and left food in their fridge until our return.
We spent the Sunday at Lyttelton, where we first went across to the Torpedo Boat Museum but it did not open in time to go inside. It is a few minutes drive outside town and then there is the short walk, which means it takes at least an hour to visit, including looking inside. We wanted to be back well before 2 pm as we were due on a cruise on the Tug Lyttelton, which left at 2.30. We wrote up the Torpedo Boat Museum for the National Maritime Museum last visit and the report was published in their magazine, Hobson's Choice.
The Steam Tug Lyttelton is still fully operational and does regular Sunday afternoon cruises as well as specials for weddings, business functions etc. The weather was excellent at the start of the trip and she was unusually full with over one hundred passengers as well as 14 crew, a couple over the minimum of 12 needed to operate her safely - four in the engine room, two on the bridge as well as crew for handling mooring etc. She probably has one of the best qualified crews almost regardless of size in the world and often has four with full skippers tickets as well as the now increasingly rare engineering staff with steam tickets. It does not need to be said that they are all volunteers operating and maintaining this lovely old ship.
The Tug Lyttelton was built by Ferguson Bros. of Glasgow and was sailed out under her own steam in 1907 taking 69 days - the 6 stops for bunkering took 15 of those days. She remained in service for over 60 years and shortly afterwards the preservation society was formed. A year of work was required to recommission her and to add the extra equipment needed for her to obtain a Marine Department Passenger Survey Certificate.
She is 124' long and 25' beam and is powered by two twin compound steam engines each of which is rated at 500 HP although they did significantly better on her commissioning trials. They each drive one of her twin screws and are supplied a single four boiler with 4 fireboxes. The boiler is identical to those used on the Mauritania also built in 1907 - the difference is that she had 27 of them. Her bunkers hold 32 tons of coal and she consumes half a ton per hour at full power. She was designed to be capable of salvage use and is fitted out to a standard we found surprising with very well appointed accommodation for the officers which now provides a luxurious saloon for passengers (max 150). There is a small on-board museum with a number of interesting marine artefacts, most unfortunately not from her operational life.
We had an excellent trip out to the Heads and back with a couple of slow-ups to give passengers a chance to look at rare Hectors' dolphins which are found in the Lyttelton harbour. Pete spent a long time down in the engine room. The engines have not even needed a rebore yet and bearings are inspected and adjusted every 5 years. The boilers have had new tubes 9 years ago, a major but routine operation. Overall a superb afternoon on a gloriously and beautifully maintained classic ship - may thanks to those who spent so much time talking to us. It is surprising she is not better known and advertising is perhaps deliberately kept low key to restrict her to enthusiasts - they knew nothing of her in the Christchurch Information Office.
We tried a new campsite to us at Purau near Diamond Harbour on the Banks peninsula. Purau had been recommended on the Tug Lyttelton and was almost en route for Akaroa which we wanted to visit the following day. We are not sure if it was fortunate or otherwise that we did not take up the offer of the motels back room as we found that in exchange we could have been doing reception duty whilst they went out with their son who had made a surprise visit!
There looked to be a short cut from Purau to Little River, over the mountains, but we were warned against it. So we retraced our steps along the coast until we reached the turning to Motukarara, on Highway 75. Passing through Little River we decided to take the high road round the Banks Peninsula looking down on Akaroa harbour from all sides of the old crater walls before descending. We walked round the old town which still has a French influence, it was originally a French settlement, and bought a bottle of a local Kaituna Valley 2004 Chardonnay at $18.70 in the local supermarket and some of the local Salmon in the Provence Fine Foods store - it is farmed in the sea but has a richer red colour than we have seen previously.
We returned on the lower road, stopping for cheese tasting at Barry's Bay cheese factory where we had a long interesting discussion including the merits of unpasturised cheese. We bought a stock for tasting at our leisure including a Maasdam, a Gouda with Cummin and three Cheddars, all rinded and including a rare (and expensive) 5 year old example.
The following day was spent at the Ferrymead Heritage Park. We arrived early in the morning. Our first major stop was with Dave Newman from the Aeronautical Society who spent several hours showing us the progress since our last visit, to restore and preserve a DeHavilland Mosquito, or more correctly to make use of the parts from 2 ex RNZAF Mosquito aircraft to build one for display. They were part of a fleet of war surplus aircraft purchased from the RAF, the majority of which were stored, the rest active in 75 squadron. The two at Ferrymead were owned by farmers in Pigeon Bay and Oamaru and used for storage. They are in surprisingly good condition after being in the open for many decades.
It was fascinating to be able to see how the Mosquito had been constructed - the fuselage is a plywood and balsa laminate, overall about an inch thick. Parts of the airframe were water or otherwise damaged so one could see all the details of how the laminations were laid up with the ply at 45 degrees to the balsa. The wings again used laminated skins, in this case with plywood either side of approximately 1 inch square spruce stringers separated by about 2 inches. There were also more major spars in spruce. Interestingly the ply skins were screwed at 2 inch spacing to the spruce - they obviously did not want to entirely depend on the glue or perhaps it was to aid fabrication. Both the wings and fuselage were finally covered with doped canvas.
We then caught the tram to the other end of the site and spent over an hour being taken behind the scenes by Barry in the tram museum. We knew little about trams at the begining - it was a different language. They provide the trams for downtown - leased to Christchurch Council who let out the franchise for maintenance back to the group. Their nine trams including Steam trams, ex horse drawn trams now serving as trailers, most however are electric drive using 600 volt motors of 25 - 90 HP. The trams originate from Christchurch, Dunedin and Melbourne. We saw how power units have been rebuilt and wheels re-tyred. The coachbuilding was exceptional, some of the best woodwork we have seen using American Ash, Oak, Mahogany with Maple veneers to name a few.
We completed our fill up of Heritage with our first visit to RNZAF Museum at Wigrams Airbase on the edge of Christchurch. We got a little delayed collecting email and system updates etc via WiFi outside a Noel Leeming store. We arrived just after one of their 'Behind the Scenes Tours' which take place at 1100 and 1400 to see the restoration work taking place and some more aircraft currently not on display. Fortunately one of the guides took us across to the workshops to catch up with the group of about a dozen people.
It was fascinating look at the meticulous attention to detail and 'detective work' required to restore a vintage aircraft even if it is too unique to be flown and only destined for static display. We had talks on the Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk and Vickers Vildebeests NZ102 being restored. Amongst the aircraft awaiting restoration was a Catalina, hidden at the back of the hangar, which had served in the NZ Air Force during WWII in 5 and 6 squadrons. Alongside was a RNZAF Launch W-88. A Landrover looked lost in the Bristol Freighter. There was also a restored a WWI Sopwith Camel replica which had crashed on its first flight!
After the hour long tour we spent almost another couple hours round the main museum which has an impressive collection from a Bleriot, Avro 626 and Tiger Moth through Anson, Harvard, Dakota, Hudson, Spitfire XVI, Mustang and Avenger on to Vampire, Canberra and Skyhawk plus assorted other support, transport and helicopters.
It was still not good weather for camping so we decided not to go to the lakes and mountains but to have a long days drive down towards Dunedin - ringing ahead finally secured a cabin at Portobello on the Otago peninsula at the Kiwi Holiday Park, another site we have used before. It has improved dramatically since we have been coming and is now 4* and well placed for the Albatrosses, Yellow Eyed Penguins and other wildlife the Peninsula is well known for. It is also almost next to the 1908 restaurant where we have had some excellent meals in the past. We booked for two nights to enable us to go to the restaurant on the second night, whilst consuming the remaining fish from Akaroa on arrival. We were welcomed by the two cats Zaks and Josh who seemed to either remember us from the past or sense fish in the future. The cabins ($36 with discount) are small but as well kept and decorated as any we know and the kitchens are now well equipped and have lots of fridge and freezer space.
In the morning we braved the 30 knot winds and took the 1030 trip on the Monarch from Wellers Rock out to Taiaroa Head to see the Albatrosses. Many were flying because of the high winds including some syncronised pair flying by bonding juveniles. The advantage of the boat is that you can also see them down at sea level, dynamic soaring the wave crests and feeding. We were very fortunate and we not only saw the Northern Royals which nest on Taiaroa Head that we have seen several times before but we also saw Southern Royals and the Shy Albatross. We also saw the various shag colonies and also the colonies of Spoonbills which have recently come to Taiaroa. We went up to the Albatross Centre run by the Otago Peninsular Trust but did not renew our membership or go round this year as we would have been too early to see the chicks and we had such a good view from the Monarch. In general it pays to join any Trust as normally the cost is little more than a visit and future visits are free or greatly reduced, and the Trusts benefit from increased numbers when seeking funding etc. We sat and had a snack in the restaurant of home made Venison Pies ($5.95)and had an excellent view as the winds were high so the Albatrosses were flying well above over the headland.
In the evening we had an excellent meal at the 1908 Cafe just down the road from where we were staying - one reason why we return there! We have been there before and there are pictures of the food already on the web site - but one always worries that it will have changed or one will be disappointed. Fortunately the meals were as good and as large as ever with a tender and truly rare steak covered in bacon and cheese for Pete and a Venison stir fry for Pauline. This time we forewent all breads and starters so we had a chance at a sweet - even then we had to share one which was a huge kahlua cheesecake with three balls of icecream and lashings of cream and chocolate ornaments. The service was as excellent as ever this time by the daughter of the family run business and her father left the kitchen to come to chat and make sure the food was OK several times - we learnt a lot about New Zealand meats, not all complimentary. Last time we took Miles, Felicity and Phil and my notes from then comment "where else would one find a restaurant happily open four BYO bottles for only 5 people, warn one that the meals were big and could we really handle breads, entrees and mains and when they received an American sized tip (Miles and Felicity have lived too long in the States) come back and say we had made a mistake" - nobody made sweets that time and Pete and Pauline only just managed her Doggy Bag the following evening!
In the morning we stopped in Dunedin to check accounts at the bank, check internet at Harvey Norman, where for the first time, we had some problems with the Telecom Wifi service and finally to look at the second-hand book shops. Being a university town Dunedin is full of bookshops and they seem to be very good value. They do not seem to be very competitive and issue a Xeroxed "Guide to the Second-hand Bookshops of Dunedin" which had 17 adverts so we could find what we were looking for. We have worked our way through quite a few of the shops in the previous visits and found most of the books we wanted for less than we had feared we would end up paying. Most of the booksellers seemed to be enthusiasts and once one had started talking they could not be stopped from talking and showing us the books they had just bought for themselves, quite often from one of their competitors. This time we restricted our visits somewhat having bought nine books last year - at the first Hillside Books, the owner recommended we visited a friend of his in Naseby who had a collection of Automobile Memorabilia. As often, we ended up with one we did not have on our list of wanted books namely: "Evergreen Journey" by Temple Sutherland published by Hodder and Stroughton 1983 ISBN 0 340 342870 - an autobiography which brings together his other writings and puts them in context. Dunedin will continue to be 'The Place' we go for books in the future.
We took the back roads and stopped at Middlemarch, the terminus for the Taieri Gorge Railway just in time to see the train and make use of the sausage sizzle laid on for its twice a week visit; other days it terminates at Pukerangi. We had a memorable trip on the train in 1998 when Pete rode part of the way back on the footplate. The line used to run on from Middlemarch to connect at Alexandra and the remainder of the track has been turned into a cycle trail which attracts many visitors.
The journey will be continued as we enter the Otago Goldfields at Naseby in Part 3