|Touring New Zealand 2006 - Part 7
The last part left us checking in at the City Close Motel in Napier but before we continue we will give some background on Napier and the Art Deco Festival we had come to attend for the next three days - those who are regular readers can skip this part which we will eventually extract as a separate page.
Napier now known as The Art Deco Capital of the World started life as a copy of an English seaside resort. It is renowned for its warm sunny climate, location in Hawke's Bay and its Marine Parade is lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that was to change at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Chemist shops caught fire and a brisk easterly wind spread the flames. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe and the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.
Napier the Victorian town was gone and England offered no inspiration to the re-builders with their clean slate in 1931 but the architectural journals of America were full of interesting ideas in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else do we find so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a common plan. Many of the buildings remain and even in the time we have been going to Napier the restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. It is well worth staying in Napier for a day or two to savour the atmosphere. It is also an excellent centre for the Hawke's Bay area, famous for its wines. There are references to an excellent book on Art Deco Napier and links to web sites on our site - search for Napier or Art Deco.
Once more we arranged our visit to coincide with their Art Deco Weekend - this is a major event with visitors coming from all over the world as well as New Zealand.
On the Friday evening we attended our initial function of the Art Deco Weekend - the Opening Soiree which officially opens each Art Deco Weekend. Deco dress was de rigueur and everyone was showing off their finery. There was a complimentary glass of Brookfields wine, which was so nice that we purchased extra from the cash bar. There followed the usual speeches by the organisers, the local MP, the Navy and the Mayor. Then it was open house for a light meal - good value for $20 and an indication of the real enthusiasm of locals and visitors and the scale of the event. We had booked in October as many functions, including the Opening Soiree, are popular and can be fully booked within days of booking starting. After the soiree had finished we strolled down the Marine Parade and admired the many vintage cars now parked along the Parade and throughout the centre of town.
One of the major problem in attending the Art Deco weekend is choosing between the many overlapping activities. On earlier years we have concentrated on the buildings and tours such as 'Deep in the Art of Deco', a guided tour through 12 of the best classic Art Deco buildings most of which are normally not open to visitors. These tours inside the buildings have given us an excellent overview which one can not get from books alone. There are other tours which involve walks round the various districts but they can to some extent be duplicated using the excellent Heritage Trails information sheets so we did not book any of the tours this year. We did however want to take another steam train trip and in particular we were keen to fly in the Catalina again - we had a superb flight last year and joined the associated club. Last year the flying had been closely associated with the Art Deco Weekend and had been from Napier Airport - this year we could find little in the programme although the Catalina's presence was clearly planned and in the club newsletter. We knew that the aircraft had arrived because she flew over the town on Friday afternoon.
We set out fairly early to Napier Airport expecting it to be there like the previous year, along with lots of other interesting aircraft, but we could not find any activity at all. Eventually we found somebody in one of the flying club and service hangers who told us that they were fly out of an airport at Bridge Pa the other side of Hastings this year, so off we went. We got there just as the Catalina club were setting up and the Catalina was on the fuel pumps filling up. We were the first on the list to fly so our worries about being late were unfounded and in fact we had to wait a little after the 1100 mark for a full load of people to put their names on the list for a flight. The flying is on a cost sharing basis as she is not licensed for commercial operations - the costs are shared between the crew and all the additional people who fly in her. There was an active flying club on the airfield and they were holding an open day with their aircraft and had a few stalls and a barbeque - Pete did the rounds letting people know about the Catalina whilst we were waiting. Pauline meanwhile renewed our membership and bought two hats and a T-shirt - Pete reckoned we already have too many of both but it was in an excellent cause!
A large number of Catalinas (3200) were built in the war but less than 100 survive and under 20 remain airworthy of which only the one is certificated for passenger flights. We have always been interested in fly boats since our flights in the Grumman Widgeon in the Bay of Islands. We went out of our way in Australia to visit the The Lake Boga Flying boat Museum which has a complete Catalina airframe on display outside as well as a lot of exhibits in a grass covered bunker which used to be the communications centre. The main flying boats at Lake Boga were the RAAF Catalinas and those of the Americans but other aircraft included Sunderlands, Walruses and a few Dorniers, the only aircraft flown by both sides during the war. The Catalinas had many roles, they were thought of by many as intelligence and rescue aircraft but 70% of their missions were offensive against shipping and mine laying. They were painted black for night operations and known as the Black Cats. They were slow with a cruising speed of 112 knots (max 162) but had a long endurance and range carrying out raids and mining as far away as Hong Kong. After the war many were converted for fire-fighting by water bombing as well as passenger carrying.
We had well over half an hour in the air and as soon as we had left the ground the 16 passengers were organised so that turns were taken to stand behind the pilots and move through the two cabins as well as spending time in the two large observation blisters at the back which have almost as good a view forwards as the pilots and better in every other direction. Only four can go into them at a time otherwise the aircraft's C of G is moved too far aft with dire consequences. The slow low flight took us along the coast for a couple of passes over Napier before viewing the Vineyards round Hastings, we flew beside rather than over the viewpoint at Te Mata Peak where we had looked down onto Craggy Range winery and we got a glimpse of its distinctive shape in the distance. Pete has flown in many aircraft, some older, but nothing approaches a flight in a Catalina.
The Catalina in New Zealand is the PBY5A version used by many allied forces including the RNZAF and RAAF. The RNZAF had 56 of the pure boat versions in the Pacific between 1943 and 1953. The one we flew on was an amphibious version initially built by the Canadian Vickers in March 1944 for the Royal Canadian Airforce where she served for 3 years. There are gaps in the history but it is known that she was never modified for water bombing which was important as the changes made and flight stresses imposed virtually ruled out subsequent certification for passenger carrying.
It is known she was converted to a civilian aircraft in 1955 in Costa Rico although some of the paperwork was missing and she had to be re-certified in New Zealand. The original changes for civilian use included changing the flight engineers position from the pylon to the cockpit and the removal of the front gun turret removed and addition of a semi-clipper bow. She served many small airlines before being stored then refurbished for tourists flights down the Nile by the Catalina Safari Company of Zimbabwe. The route proving flight was the subject of the BBC documentary "The last African Flying Boat" for which she was registered Z-CAT her nickname to this day. Political unrest led to the service being discontinued in 1994 when she made an epic 10,000 nm journey in 90 hours over 13 days to her new home in New Zealand where she is operated by The Catalina Club of New Zealand who keep her in beautiful condition operating from fresh water whenever possible and land when not. She does not operate from the sea because of corrosion fears and she needs large lakes as the water run can be up to 3 miles off still water, a few waves help a flying boat unstick. The P&W Twin Wasp 1200 hp 14 cylinder radial air cooled engines still purr and the huge wing (104 foot span and 1400 sq feet) gives a leisurely cruise of 90 - 100 knots, an endurance of 27 hours (with multiple crews) and range of over 3000 miles.
We spent so long at the airfield we did not get back in time for the Vintage car parade through the centre of town which is an absolute must on ones first visit. We have however seen it twice and have hours of video and hundreds of pictures already. It is however where one really begins to understand the scale of the weekend. This year there were 267 cars, a considerable increase on the previous years 178 cars, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s all in> showroom condition as well as being in full on-the-road condition. There were also many other vintage cars from a later period, many brought from England, which did not qualify for the parade but still added character to the town - everywhere one walked there were old cars gleaming in the sun. A few days earlier the Bentley Rally had brought an additional 40 gleaming early specimens to Napier and some left their rally to stay on for the Art Deco Festival.
The parades are always led by the Royal New Zealand Navy band. The Navy takes their relationship with Hawke's Bay very seriously because of the presence of HMS Veronica in the port when the earthquake struck and the important and courageous work done by the Navy in the days that followed. We got back just after the formal parade had finished but in time to see all the cars on display ready for the judging to be announced in the Sound Shell at 1500 and we had a chance to look at the ones we had not found earlier round the town.
We looked in a few shops but they were all closing early. Pauline was trying to persuade Pete to buy a new fishing rod before we went sailing as the old 'boat rod' was starting to fall apart - the reel could rotate on the rod making it difficult to use. The fishing shop almost threw us out as he couldn't make up our mind whether to buy just a new rod, or a rod and reel combo which was at a very favourable price, in the end the manager offered the rod alone at a very good price by which time the tills had closed!
We had not booked any of the Art Deco functions for the evening. Last year on the Saturday evening we had dressed up, .Pauline in a long black evening dress and fox stole and Pete in his dinner jacket, for the 'Cafe Crawl de Luxe'. It had been great fun but we were slightly disappointed that the food and service had not been up to what we were accustomed to with a $60 meal, perhaps to be expected when they were doing multiple meals for successive groups against the clock.
This year we choose to have an early dinner in the Chambers restaurant in the classic Art Deco County Hotel - we had picked it out on a previous visit when we had been taken round the County Hotel as part of a tour of Art Deco buildings. We booked by email before we left the UK as our research had shown that they have a very high reputation in Napier and are almost invariably booked solid, especially so during the Art Deco Festivals. It was an excellent choice, formal enough to dress up in Art Deco finery but informal enough enough for the hotel manager who kept in the background to be dressed in jeans (unlike his staff). We met him when we looked through the wine list and asked if they had anything which would make an interesting comparison with the glass of C J Pask Syrah we had initially chosen. He came over and said they had a bottle of 2003 Stonecroft Syrah which had been accidently opened the night before which was from the top end of their wine list which he would cut some of his losses letting us have by the glass - it was very good and we ended up with a second glass and booked a table for dinner the following day. We strolled along the promenade admiring the old cars and walked through town listening to the street music and absorbing the atmosphere.
There are always a range of steam train excursions which are great fun. Sunday morning was occupied with what was described as the Sunday Sojourn, a vintage steam train to Waikoua, drawn as usual by steam locomotive Ja 1271. It was an early departure, at 0900, and we arrived at the station ot 0845 to find few people. One advantage of staying at City Close Motel is that the railway station is just a few minutes walk away. Eventually a steady stream of old cars arrived, and everyone seemed to be carrying their picnic hamper. Then the carriages arrived, pulled by the steam engine. Everyone was trying to take photos. This was another trip booked solid months before and the carriages were soon full of people all of whom were entering into spirit of the weekend in Art Deco dress.
Our seats were in Carriage A, so we had to walk along the track and then climb aboard. Some of the carriages were from the early 1900s and made of wood. The seats were interesting as they had cast iron frames and were reversible to allow one to face forwards or to form groups of facing seats. Other carriages were from the early thirties. The ride was an authentic bone shaking ride on the NZ narrow-seeming rails, especially viewed from the open platforms at the ends of the older carriages and the black smoke was as thick as we have ever seen - you had to watch carefully for tunnels and even outside the tunnels you could find you were getting covered in bits of black soot on the observation platforms.
The excursion was to Waikoau and this meant that we travelled in the opposite direction to our steam train excursion last year to Hastings. It was a pleasant slow journey along the seafront, then past Napier Airport. The railway line passed close to houses, and many people were standing in their gardens to give us a cheerful wave. After Napier Airport the line went along the main road towards Gisbourne and along the Esk Valley, so we got a good view of Esk Valley winery. Soon after the road and the railway separated and we clung to the hillside, above the Esk river. It was all very pretty.
We had expected to find a jazz band at our destination, Holt's Forest Park, so we were disappointed when there was only a little barrel organ. We crossed the railway line and found a nice grassy spot for our picnic. There was plenty of space for everyone. We had plenty of time before our return, so we were able to explore the reserve, and admire the rows of stately trees. Our return was at 1200 and just before that deadline the train came back and everyone was encouraged to cross the track to be on the correct side for boarding.
The only disadvantage of the steam train trip was that we returned to Napier well after lunch. We had barely got back to the hotel room when the flying displays started including aerobatics from the RNZAF display team, the Red Checkers who put on a nice display with their 5 trainers including many of the set piece close passes and formation aerobatics with smoke - it was a perfect day with little wind or convection to destroy their writing in the sky but it would have been better if we had been back a bit earlier and down on the water front at the Gatsby Picnic.
The Gatsby Picnic is to many the highlight and archetypal event of the Art Deco Weekend and Pauline had spent much time in antique and junk shops over the year gathering together suitable attire and equipment. Every area of grass from the War Memorial centre to the Sound Shell is filled with elegantly laid out picnics many under gazebos and taking many hours to set up. Some look more as if an elegant period living room has been transplanted to the shoreline complete with period furniture and wind up gramophones. The owners of the elegant displays finally settle at about 1430 in full 1930s attire to sip their tea from delicate china or more often indulge in a glass of champagne from cut glass and indulge in a few of the tiny sandwiches and little cakes and delicacies displayed on the multi-tiered cake stands and curved gleaming chrome tea trolleys. The Jazz band strikes up in the Sound Shell and vintage cars pull up bringing more guests to the picnic. As the afternoon progresses there are strolling groups of players mixing with television cameras and judges. The prime slots are filled early in the day, we suspect it is like an English sale in the morning.
By the time we arrived, not long after the nominal start, it was all in full swing and, of course, the best slots were all taken. So we set up our table and chairs for our relatively simple tea down by the sea front. Pauline had been building a collection for this throughout the year so we had bone china cups and saucers and a vintage crochet-edged linen table cloth, originating from Pete's mother, although we had to settle for a thermos jug of coffee to go with our plates of cakes and scones. Afterwards we joined the promenaders in the main areas. The local strolling jazz group reminded us of the groups on QE2 and we stopped to listen. They were selling CDs so Pauline insisted we purchased one.
The only problem with carrying our table, chairs, coolbox and two rucksacks was that we were too laden to join in the return of the Veronica Bell and thanksgiving service at 1700. The Veronica Bell, from the HMS Veronica, is installed in the Veronica Sun Bay on the Marine parade for the afternoon, guarded by sea scouts and is then carried back in a procession led by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band to the St John's cathedral where the thanksgiving service follows - it is described as a 'swing and a prayer'.
For the evening it was back to the County Hotel for dinner. We had time to chat to the manager, who was named Richard Vaughan. Again we decided to have wine by the glass, and compared the Clearview Cape Kidnappers 03 Merlot, Te Mata Coleraine 03 Merlot, and Kemblefield 02 Merlot. It was another excellent evening. Sometimes going back to a restaurant after one good meal can be a disappointment, but we were very pleased that we had returned for a second evening.
Too soon it was Monday morning and time to leave and we set off for a final shopping trip in Napier. Pete had decided to buy the 6 foot fishing rod to replace the old 5'6 rod which had its handle glued up this year. Pauline tried to sell her mink wrap but the Art Deco clothes shop were not interested - it only deals in fox now. She did succeed in buying a few spare beads for repairing her headdress.
We then thought we would explore a few wineries before leaving the area. We first went to the Gimblett Gravels area looking for Stonecroft winery, whose 2003 Syrah we had enjoyed at the County Hotel. The Gimblett Gravels are famous for Syrah. Unfortunately Stonecroft were closed - it was our fault; when we looked in the winery guide leaflet it said they only open to visitors at weekends.
We continued to Brookfields Vineyard, hoping for lunch and certainly a wine tasting - we had enjoyed their wines at the opening soiree and at the picnic but had failed to get a booking for their jazz evening with meal which had sold out the first day bookings were open. In spite of a sign on the road outside, there were no lunches today, and the place was deserted although the tasting room door was open. We heard noises from the kitchen so we knocked on the door. Sharon Robertson, wife of the winemaker/proprietor Peter, emerged surprised. The large marquee outside was still being tidied after the Saturday night event we had missed. In the circumstances she gave us a friendly welcome and explained the delay was because they were making peach chutney in the kitchen. We were invited to taste a few wines, and we bought some including their winemakers and a gerwurtraminer. We also had the chance to try their top of the range, and very expensive red which she told us was selling for 85 pounds a bottle in London - it was good but needed time to mature so even at $55 we resisted! Unfortunately we did not make good enough notes so we will have to fill in some details from their web site when we get back.
We quizzed Sharon about the Saturday night "Charleston at Brookers" Art Deco dinner and dance event. She said that they had chartered two Red London buses to take people out from Napier to Brookfields where there were professional dancers who demonstrated the steps of the Charleston so that everyone could try and dance. We do not really do dancing, but it sounds good fun, and of course everyone dresses up. She said seeing we had missed it this year she would make sure we got tickets for 2007 if we contacted her before the tickets came on the general market.
After lunch we visited perhaps our favourite vineyard for red wines - Esk Valley. Unlike many of the New Zealand vineyards we buy from, Esk Valley exports to the UK. We have normally bought their various red wines, Merlot in various blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and sometimes Cabernet Franc. Esk Valley. We have got to know their sales manager, Sue, quite well and are usually greeted as old fiends and have a long chat. She has recently been to England for a long holiday - her daughter is living in Henley, only a few miles away from us. Sue was away for family funeral, but we left our card and our best wishes.
We have spoken at length about the wines in the past so all we will say is that we tried many wines and bought half a case for the next part of the holiday as well as a picnic rug for our neighbour Suzanne. All the pressing and fermentation and maturing in a variety of French and American oak barrels is done at the Esk Valley site and on a previous visit we had a fascinating exposition about the various oaks used and degrees of toasting employed to get the best from every batch and parcel of ground. Esk Valley is now part of a group with Villa Maria and Vidal and the bottling and shipping is jointly organised providing economies of scale without any sacrifice of quality or style by the partners.
We stopped at Lake Tutira which is a basic camp site now run by the local council on the lines of the DOC sites - it is currently free with a box for contributions which they suggest should be at a level similar to DOC sites. Lake Tutira is about a mile and a half long and we camped on our favourite spot, one of the two pitches just past the first gate and opposite a long drop. We were just a few feet from the water with a view which defies any description over the lake and a huge variety of scenery. We were camped under weeping willows and the lake is, as usual, covered in Australian Black swans - neither are natural to New Zealand - in some places Willows are being actively suppressed as they are displacing the natural trees such as Pohutukawa on coastlines.
I took a swim off the sand bottom in front of the tent amongst the black swans. The water was quite warm and the only problem was it shelved very slowly and once it got waist deep one was into deep weed on the bottom which one had to swim out over. We were told the weed has come since the extensive use of fertilisers on pastures which eventually drain into the lake.
The lake has a host of wildlife and we could watch pukeko, little white shags, no larger than a grebe, New Zealand scaup whilst fantails flit by and a Kingfisher sat quite close fishing from a nearby willow. All of those are local. In this visit and previous ones we have observed at Lake Tutira: Scaup, New Zealand Grey Duck, Australian Black Swans, Little White-throated Shags, Black Shags, White Faced Heron, Pukeko, Fantail, Thrush, an Australasian Harrier, a Pair of New Zealand Pigeons, and Kingfishers as well as the common imports - swallows, mallards and sparrows, magpie and starlings. Strangely at Tutira we rarely hear Moreporks overnight or Tuis and Bellbirds in the dawn chorus.
In the morning we were woken very early by a stampede of hundreds of sheep with sheep dogs and the farmer past the tent. We heard the occasional splash in the water as sheep and dogs went by. Having got dressed and grabbed a camera we could just see them in the distance. Some time later they were loaded into a lorry at the farm with lots of noise and some excellent dog work. Then the farmer brought another flock of sheep back past us. It was a nice day and we thought of re-doing one of the local walks. There is one round the small adjacent lake which takes about 20 minutes and we have also done the two hour Pera loop track which takes one high up above the lake with some spectacular views before dropping down to the main camping area and back along the lakeside.
We had decided to try to find a different walk in the area and proceeded first to the Tutira store which is just up the road. Our excuse for stopping was that we were looking for the famous book about Tutira Station rather than an icecream. No, we are not talking about railway stations, but about serious large sheep stations. We found the store, like so many places this year, is For Sale. The owner had heard of the book but did not have one for sale - we had hoped they might have a facsimile copy which we heard an American University, somewhere in Washington State, has produced now it is out of copyright. We however gained some suggestions of other places to see in the area and decided we had time for some exploration up the nearby back roads. We wanted to see Lake Opouahi - we were told in the store that it was an even nicer camping place than Lake Tutira.
Immediately next to the store a turning was signposted towards Lake Opouahi and the Boundary Stream Mainland Island Reserve. We did not know what to expect and were surprised to find that there was another 'Mainland Island' where traps, poison and fences keep the area free of exotic predators such as musalids, cats and dogs. Until now we had only been to the one at the Trounson Kauri Park. The road rapidly turned to gravel and climbed steeply for what seemed tens of kilometers although it was probable only ten. We missed the turning to Lake Opouahi, and marked the GPS so that we could look around on the way back.
Our first stop was at Bell Bird Bush, and we did a small loop track through a beautiful stand of trees. Then we continued to Boundary Stream Mainland Island. It is a new North Island Brown Kiwi sanctuary, with eggs taken from the Kaweka Forest Park and then incubated and baby birds being hatched at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua and then grown birds are settled into the Reserve. At this point we turned back, the road was difficult, but with retrospect we should have continued. The road eventually joined the road from Napier to Taupo, which was our destination.
We found that there is a 30 hectare predator-free Reserve being set up at Lake Opouahi, which is taking the young birds at about 20 weeks old and helping them to become "street wise". Only time will tell how successful this will be as although numbers will certainly be dramatically reduced as losses from predators will no longer occur the downside will that all natural selection will be removed with the obvious consequences in the long term. When we arrived the Entry, with huge double entrance gates forming an 'airlock' to keep out unwelcome predators, was under construction. Our old information leaflet wrongly showed the area as having a car park on the banks of the lake, with camping, and there is still a ramp for boats. We will certainly visit it again another time to see how it is working, but clearly there will no longer be any chance of camping.
With no chance of camping there we needed to retrace our steps a little towards Napier and take the road to Taupo. We had to do some careful calculations as we were getting low on fuel and the only garage we found before the long town free stretch was unattended and one could only buy fuel with a Caltex card rather than EFTPOS. We crept into Taupo, fueled and overshot to Rotorua where we stayed overnight in the Rotorua Top10 in our tent - they no longer have basic cabins and the levels above that are getting very expensive. We chatted to the owner whom we have known for many years and have watched him steadily expand the site and take it progressively up-market. He has finally managed to buy some extra land which it was feared would end up as a petrol station and that has provided some extra tent sites now so much of the site is fixed accommodation and 'paved' campervan slots. Dinner was our favourite ribs and Kumera at the Pig and Whistle where unfortunately they no longer make any beers and their Swine Lager has been made off site for several years - it still has a good atmosphere and huge meals - they had a local guitar player the night we were there.
We spent the next morning shopping in Rotorua. We chatted with the owner of the Map Shop for some time and bought the DOC leaflets covering the Boundary Creek Reserve and Bell Bird Bush and found he not only knew of the book Tutira but had an early edition of his own, first editions are now fetching up to a $1000 each. We dropped into the second hand bookshop and looked along the shelves just in case and there to our surprise was a copy on the shelves. The cover was all bound up with cloth tape along the edge and the binding had been damaged but it was perfectly readable, in fact in was an ex-library copy and the loan card indicated it had hardly ever been borrowed and it was only $10. Pete rushed to the till and paid before even looking along the rest of the shelves. Once it was safely secured and we had another purchase we chatted to the bookseller and found that when he had found the binding was damaged he had nearly thrown it out as worthless so both of us felt we had a real bargain. The book is much bigger than we had anticipated and runs to over 400 pages in the fourth edition which covers up to Guthrie Smiths death and has a few updates to the Latin names of birds etc.
We then looked round some other shops including Doyles who had an end of season sale of tents. Tents are one area where Pete and Pauline come close to disagreeing. We both agree the old tent after 10 years is close to the end of its life; one good blow and we fear it will shred - it started life as a dark blue and it is now the colour of faded jeans or you could say it has changed allegiance from Oxford to Cambridge. Pete thinks the way to go is for a very strong 'mountain class' tent so we are not afraid of setting up or leaving it in high winds, that sort of tent could even end up smaller than our current tent. Pauline however wants a bigger tent so we have a 'porch' big enough to sit and cook in in bad weather although it would take longer to put up and down. One idea we both agree on is that it would be nice to have a tent which can be attached to the side of the van like a conventional RV awning but free standing so we could drive away - we have seen then advertised in England but they are very expensive and made in the old style with canvas over a steel frame.
Doyles sale only had one style of even vaguely interesting tent, a huge dome with extended 'tunnel' porch they claimed was capable of sleeping 8. The inner sleeping area under the dome was 3 metres square and the porch a similar area and one could stand up in most of it. The end away from the porch could also be extended with another entry making it about 7 metres long! The points that made it attractive were the cost, $700 reduced to $350 (about 140 pounds), and the fact that the awning at the other end looked as if it could be modified to link onto the side door of the van for a dry if unsealed entry. It also had 4 poles for the dome, instead of the usual 2, so it was part-way to being the stable geodesic structure Pete was looking for. It was certainly stronger than our old dome with its 2 crossing poles. We walked round the block but Pete could see Pauline was sold on the idea despite Pete's warning about the time to take it up and down and dry it and his worries it would again be a problem in high winds. He finally rationised it on the grounds that it was only the cost of 8 nights in a cabin and we were using the old tent less and less and we could always stay in one place for a couple of days.
To celebrate we took the old road across towards Tauranga so we went past Mills Reef for lunch and and a wine tasting. Lunch was as good as ever and Mills Reef must be close to the top of our list of wineries with good tastings and excellent lunches. Pauline had a nice glass of Gewurtztraminer with lunch as it was Pete's turn to drive as Pauline had won the battle of the tents. Unfortunately it was sold out in the shop we were told it was still on the shelves in some supermarkets including PakandSave. We spent some time chatting to ?????? who we met last year and clearly remembered us. We tried several other wines including the Syrahs and ended up building our stocks ready for sailing. We now have a good selection of Syrah and a few Pinot Noirs ready for some comparative tastings.
So where were we going to stay tonight ? We wondered whether to go back to Auckland but first we knew that there were changes planned at Waihi with the Gold Mining as the open pit was filled in with water and the Favona underground mine was established, so we went to the Heritage Centre / Museum to check on what was happening. There we met ??????? who did PR for the company, and was a poacher turned gamekeeper as he had been an environment activist in his youth. Part of his job was to keep the local people informed what was going on, and to listen to their suggestions. When he found we were interested in gold mining, and had visited Waihi several times, he said that he would be taking the first Tour of the Pumphouse and the area for locals at 1700, and there were two spare places. We jumped at the chance to join in. But first we had to find somewhere local to stay, and we rushed off to the Waihi Holiday Park where we had stayed before. We didn't want to risk getting out tent wet and then leaving it while we went sailing, so we paid for a cabin with fridge at $50. The detached cabin we had last year had vanished.
We reported promptly at the Poppet Head and were issued with a hard hat and signed the paperwork to get a permit to allow entry to the site. We had been told that we must wear proper footwear, and everyone was wearing walking boots or similar. Health and Safety is always an important consideration, equally for organised tours.The company bus arrived and we boarded. We were going to look at the old Pumphouse, which is the iconic building representing the town of Waihi. We remember getting close to it some ten years ago, but later it was considered too dangerous for people to walk there, as the ground was unstable. Access is now only possible through the security gate, which is what was being organised. We felt very lucky to be able to visit as part of the set of special Tours. The plans for the area are that the old Power station, next to the Pumphouse, would be demolished shortly, and then the Pumphouse would be moved to a safer site. The idea is that it will be removed from its foundations and then dragged slowly along a track to its new location. There are plans to show the journey with a video camera, on the Internet, so we will look in June and see what happens. It is only going to move at a few metres per day, so it will be very slow and gentle.
The next morning was Thursday and we rang Rob and Charterlink to check on our sailing arrangements. He suggested we take Largesse away on Friday afternoon, instead of Saturday morning. He had a family commitment on the Saturday - later we discovered it was a christening. We are usually able to load the yacht the evening before we leave, so it was only a small change to our plans. We had to do all the supermarket shopping for 18 days away, so we rushed back to Auckland. Chris and Ralph were away on holiday, but we were still able to load everything from the van into their garage, and spend a tedious hour in the supermarket completing our provisioning for sailing, other than meat which we get vacuum packed from the Mad Butcher.
The journey continues in Sailing from the Hauraki Gulf to the Bay of Islands and back