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Touring New Zealand 2007 part 4

We left Napier the morning after the Art Deco Festival ended after a bit of shopping including a trip to the Warehouse where Pauline also managed to secure a pair of walking boots for $9.95 and Pete a spare pair at the same price to leave in Nw Zealand. It looked as if the weather was set fine and it was a lovely day so we decided to leave on the Napier Taihape backroad which is a 140 km Heritage Trail, partially gravel, going over Gentle Annie. We first heard about it several years ago from some other campers at Lake Tutira who sent some information sheets to us in England. It is now one of a network of Heritage Trails which are sponsored by the New Zealand Visitor Network and the local District Councils. They all have information sheets and the main features are numbered and often have display boards on the ground giving something of the history etc. Their markers use cream/pale yellow letters on a, usually very faded, teal green background so are easy to recognise as are their information sheets which have a similar colour scheme.

The route which we know as "Gentle Annie" is officially known as the Inland Patea Heritage Trail and crosses the Dividing Range through an area of great natural beauty and historic interest where earth movements have created unusual mountains with limestone scarps with natural forest. It started as the route of an old Maori Trail from the East coast to the centre of North Island. In the 15th century one of the most famous Maori leaders Tamatea Pokai Whenui (Tamatea means he who explored the land) arrived in NZ on the Takitumu canoe and traveled the trail with his son Kanungunu. Many of the place names near the trail are called after the animals he carried in his basket.

Later Patea, a Maori living at Manawarakau, traveled the trail. Legend says he went on a hunting expedition for a long time and returned with a poor bag to find his woman had filled his storehouse. Her incessant nagging on how poor a hunter he was led him to take her for a walk off a cliff. Rather than face her relatives he fled into the wild country west of the ranges where he remained in what came to be called Patea's Country, a huge tract bounded by the dividing Ranges, Mount Ruapehu and Taihape. The Name gained the Inland to avoid confusion with the town of Patea. For 50 years the Inland Patea's main port was Napier and everything was packed on horses over the ranges. By the 1870s the Inland Patea had vast Stations with Merino sheep and transport was a tremendous undertaking - typical stations could be sheering up to 75,000 sheep and packing the wool over the ranges. on strings of pack horses. The strings were hundreds strong with one man to each string of ten. Mules were also used and one in five animals carried provisions and fodder for the trip. Each pack animal carried 200 pounds (91 kgs) and riding ahead were hunters with dogs providing fresh food.

It was a dangerous job and it was not unknown for animals to lose their footing on the narrow rocky path over the precipitous "Gentle Annie" and plunge to their end in the Ngaruroro Gorge a hundred metres below. Panic could easily spread with the rest of the team following. They eventually returned with mail and supplies. This used to be the busiest and longest trail in New Zealand and remained so until Gold Fever struck and eventually in 1908 the railway was opened up to Wellington.

The day was clear and hot and the views all across were stunning. We did not have time to take all the side trips we have done in the past but found time to followed signs down Lawrence Road to the Blowhard Bush Reserve, an area owned by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society which has a network of tracks through an interesting remnant of Podocarp and broadleaf forest which has escaped most of the fires which have decimated most of such forests. Intriguing rock formations of waitotaran limestone nestle among the trees - the huge rocks and boulders are weathered into fascinating shapes and there is a maze of narrow passages, tunnels and caves between them many so straight that they hardly look as if they could be natural. We only did a short bit of the Tui walk and the short Troglodyte loop walk but there are many others taking 2 - 3 hours round trip. We saw a very tame New Zealand North Island robin which followed round our feet looking for insect we disturbed - it would not perch on a hand but was happy to be photographed from a foot away even with flash. We also saw a big eel in one of the pools as we crossed the stream. If we had continued down the road it would have taken us 8 kms to a picnic spot with a short walk down to the Tutaekuri river and swing bridge. The most notable

We stopped for the night on Gentle Annie in one of the unpublished free DOC camp sites close to Kuripapango on the banks of the Ngaruroro River. Kuripapango is named after a Wanganui Maori warrior who was killed and eaten whilst trying to invade Hawke's Bay in the 17th century. There are several camping sites, the main one is down by the river and was fairly deserted - the track down is a bit broken up but it did not look as if there would be any rain so we risked it and were immediately followed down by a large camping bus. We could not get the new tent on the little slot under the 'possum tree' but we found a reasonably flat spot where we could get the tent pegs just a bit higher up in a spot which caught the sun early in the morning - important to dry the tent out well as it could be the last time of camping before stowing it before going sailing.

This year we heard the Possums growling in the distance but no worse - last time we were here our night was disturbed by a shaking of the tent in the early hours by Pete's head followed by a more major disturbance above our heads - Pauline beat Pete out in time to see a Possum sitting right on the top of the tent glaring back at her in the light of the torch - they are completely fearless but it took off shortly before Pete could arrive with a camera. There are still claw marks on the fabric of the old tent. The delights of camping in the Bush.

We left as soon as the tent was really dry as we had decided to see if we could get down to Tokomaru to see Colin and Esma at the Tokomaru Steam Museum. Esma had emailed a few days before and they had sounded very despondent over problems with certification of the boilers. We did however find time to stop and look at the old Springvale Suspension Bridge over the Rangitikea river which had informal camping for anglers at the rivers edge beneath it. The bridge was built by William Salt in 1923 and traffic is now carried by by a modern replacement which takes traffic over the historic ford. There looked as if there was a swimming hole just above the bridge and Pete had a swim - perfect with a hole perhaps 4 metres deep carved out by the eddies below a set of rapids, clean cool water and a back eddy so one did not have to continually battle the current which he found was quite strong when he swam to the other side.

We rang Colin and Esma when we got a signal in Taihape and confirmed they would be in and hammered South to Tokomaru on the main roads past Fielding and Palmerstone North. Even so it was mid afternoon before we got to the Steam museum. We had a quick look at what was new since last year before having coffee with Esma and Colin. Last year their latest acquisition had just arrived - a massive sheet metal press which had served in Germany throughout the war making aircraft parts before coming to New Zealand where it was in full time use from 1955 to the day it left for Tokomaru. The fascinating feature is that it still bears the marks of the Allies attempts to destroy the factory during the war and has deep pits and holes from machine gun and cannon fire from Typhoons - some look like frozen water splashes whilst others have penetrated the steel completely before being halted by the next layer. They do not seem to have affected production then or now. It is now in place in the workshop, no mean achievement as it weighs about 12 tons and needed 'adjustments' to their crane to lift it into position and the 4 foot deep pit into the floor and matching foundations have been installed so it can be utilised for repairing and restoring their huge collection of Steam Engines and other machinery. It looks much smarter too as it has all been repainted.

They have an impressive collection of engines with over 50 on display. They are mostly from last century with an emphasis on farming, ice making plants, gas plants, generators and ship engines although there are many others on display or in storage. Many originated in the UK or built under UK licenses although the centre piece of the collection is a huge refrigeration plant built in Milwaukee which used to produce 180 tons of ice a day for the meat trade. Most of the engines were rescued from being scrapped and were in full time use until they came to the museum. It must be the biggest and most comprehensive collection of working steam engines in New Zealand and quite possibly of the Southern Hemisphere.

Their other acquisitions are completely at the other end of the size scale. They have been given some magnificent models made completely from raw materials without any of the commercial castings and parts utilised by most model makers. Parts such as the flywheels have been cast and in some cases they have the patterns made in wood and used for the castings. Other parts have been machined from brass. They already had an impressive collection of models, mostly now run by compressed air, but these are definitely the gems in their set.

The models sit next to the huge engine powering the freezing plant and in looking at the contrast between the tiny casting for the model flywheel and the one towering over him Pete noticed what looked like a crack in the cooling plant flywheel which had been repaired. He was correct, in a way - the engine was built in the USA and there flywheels were often cast in one piece and then broken into two for assembly over the shaft unlike those built in the UK which were cast in two or more precision pieces then joined up. Every time we look round we see and learn more! For those of you who want to read more we have a complete page about the Tokomaru Steam Museum based on our earlier visits as well as their own web site.

We spent some time talking about boilers - they currently have problems with certification of the boilers - not safety problems but those of ever increasing paperwork and cost as things move from government to private industry combined with a decreasing number of people willing and capable of carrying out safety checks on old equipment. We finally dragged ourselves away after even wider ranging discussion over coffee and cake and wondered what to do as it was getting late. We were however within a couple of hours drive of Wellington and we had thought it was going to be impractical to see our friends John and Blyth so instead of ringing ahead to get a cabin at Levin, the closest town, we rang John and were invited down for a couple of days. We finally reached Wellington at about 2000 and cooked a snack and caught up with the last year.

Wellington is a delightful city - the most pleasant capital we know. It has a small central area and round it many of the houses almost hang on the hillsides with decks and even carports cantilevered alarmingly from the steep slopes. It is a clean tidy city and not overwhelmed with tourists - most people seem to have a purpose and it is one of the few places in New Zealand where one would only feel slightly out of place in a suit and tie. John and Blyth's house is perched on a hillside overlooking the town with unbelievable views. Their parking space is up an impossible looking slope with part of the drive cantilevered out on a wooden structure. We just make it up in the vans, we have tried reversing up in the past but the wheels just spin - Blyth said it is quite difficult when it gets icy!

The following day was spent in Wellington. We avoided some of the hills by going in by bus and came back back up part way on the cable car which takes one to the botanical gardens which we have often looked round in the past. We got Pete's watch fixed, repairs are much cheaper in NZ than the UK - the pins on the strap had taken to coming out and they serviced the strap and tightened up the dozens of pins for $15. We had lunch at Shed 5 on the water front. It was windy so we sat inside in the posh area last time they refused to let us in in shorts and trousers, almost unknown in even a formal restaurant but this time was fine although we did feel a bit out of place with the suits and crisp napkins. The food is always very good but it looks as if they have reduced the outside menu and it is better to get a starter or small main inside. They also have an excellent wine list including good wines by the glass.

We spent a bit of time round the shops, there is an excellent wine shop, 'Central City Wines and Spirits', where we spent some time chatting to the manager after we found we both of us shared the same views on Craggy Range. He had a very wide knowledge of wines and his stock closely matched our tastes - we had tasted 16 of his selections (out of about 80) already at various wineries. We looked round some new book shops as we are looking for a good bird book and have been trying to locate one in two volumes that has been recommended to us - it is possibly by Buller and old.

We also went round the Wellington Museum of the City and Sea - this used to be a first class maritime museum but it has lost much of its interesting and certainly the controversial displays, for example about the loss of the Wahine, an inter-island ferry which went down in bad weather - they used to have a lot about the reasons behind such incidents, how they should investigated and blame apportioned. It now has lots of sanitised displays and cameos of people with a few associated artifacts but little from which one could gain any new insights or more important lessons one could learn from the past. There is much less emphasis on the sea and more on general matters and Wellington so it overlaps to some extent with Te Papa. The new section at the bottom which covers developments year by year is quite good but again very general. Even so we found we were running out of time and one could spend a pleasant couple of hours on a wet day down-town.

The last day was spent in Wellington on the water front at the Museum of the City and the Sea - this used to be a first class maritime museum but it has lost much of its interesting and certainly the controversial displays, for example about the loss of the Wahine, an inter-island ferry which went down in bad weather - they used to have a lot about the reasons behind such incidents, how they should investigated and blame apportioned. It now has lots of sanitised displays and cameos of people with a few associated artifacts but little from which one could gain any new insights or more important lessons one could learn from the past. .

The building itself is interesting as it is was rebuilt to be Earthquake proof and is suspended on rubber shock absorbers if I recall correctly. In fact NZ seems to be suffering a bit at present and there was quite a big shake whilst we were at lunch - it felt as if something had hit the quay but then we realised we were not on the piled bit but on solid land! It was apparently about 4 on the Richter scale and since then Auckland has had three shakes one of them the biggest for 25 years. They are all from plate movements not volcanic activity.

We let very early the following morning as we were completely the wrong end of NZ from where we needed to be to be ready for sailing. We set out with the camp site at Motutere Bay as the first possible stop but we hoped to get further. Despite a lot of road repairs we made good progress and it was a pleasant drive North. The skies were clear so we got a good view of the mountains as we past them on Desert Road but it was not crystal clear like sometimes so we did not stop for pictures. In the end we kept going as far as Rotorua here we knew accommodation was easy and stopped at the Monterey getting one of the last rooms no 16 which had a little balcony where we sat and celebrated a safe arrival after a long day with the bottle of Esk Valley 2005 Reserve Chardonnay we had set aside - excellent.

We had a walk around Kuirau Park, an area with a fair amount of thermal activity although right in the centre of town beside the hospital. A couple of years ago it had started getting more active and areas were fenced off - we heard then that it exploded and had recently showered the centre of Rotorua with hot mud. Rotorua has been extracting a lot of thermal energy and water for heating houses, pools etc., and the council has been trying to restrict people from drawing out too much private enterprise thermal energy for their hot pools and heating as it was believed that it was causing some of the major attractions to be muted. The results of keeping the thermal power constrained were unexpected to the planners, if perhaps predictable to everyone else in a town where steam comes out of drain covers and holes beside the roads.

This time many more areas were fenced off and the level in the biggest lake was very high. There were now some pools which equal the best in the 'commercial' thermal areas such as Waimangu and Wai-o-tapu for the colours, deep yellows at the surface contrasting with deep blues and greens in the holes with bubbles rising to the surface - miniature Champaign pools. We wished we had a camera but we thought we knew the area too well to bother.

The next morning was clear blue and pete went back into the park and took a number of pictures of the new features. We heard in the motel that there had been what was described as another 'big glup' about six weeks before which had produced all the new activity and and raised the water levels. It seemed a good idea to get picture before the next activity changed or destroyed it!

We left on the Paes Pa road which is now sealed and renamed the SH36 which takes one to Tauranga - it is possible to wiggle across the main road and cut through to Bethlehem to get to Mills Reef Winery without going into the town. I do not have time to do Mills Reef full justice before we go sailing so I will note we had bread, a beautifully crisp French loaf the French would be proud of, followed by their new fish dish a well spiced kingfish on a 'salad' and an 'Ode to the mighty Lemon' with two glasses of Chardonnay to compare, the Reserve and the Elspeth. Both were very good and quite distinctive with the Reserve having a lovely citrus flavour along with all the flavours one expects of a high quality oaked Reserve Chardonnay whilst the Elspeth had the edge but was a slightly more conventional and exceptionally good chardonnay.

We spent some time in the tasting room with Olie who recognised us as soon as we walked in the door. We have learnt a lot more about the Gimblett Gravels area and where there own blocks are situated, right next to those of Craggy Range - they must have been one of the first in the area as he said the Mills Reef blocks have owned the blocks for 15-18 years. He was very proud of the Elspeth Syrah which is now one of only two with 'icon' status meaning it has won Golds consistently and for the last three years. The other, would you believe, is Stonecroft whose Syrah we tried last year at the County Hotel in Napier and went looking for the vineyard. The Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah certainly lived up to expectations when we got try it and we bought a bottle. We also bought a bottle of the Pinot Noir, one of the better New Zealand Pinot's we have tried. Both the ordinary Riesling and the Riesling Ice wine were nice but we are running short of drinking time this year.

I am also running short of writing time so use extracts from the last two years to give some more background on Mills Reef and explain why it has now moved to the top of our list of wineries and winery restaurants to visit due to its consistency as well as quality.

Start of insert from 2005

We first visited Mills Reef Winery and Restaurant in 2005 at Garry and Sally's suggestion. The wines and the tasting led by Olie, who used to run the Morton Winery Restaurant which we used to enjoy greatly, were excellent. Pete's overall impression from bouquets and a few taste's (he was driving) 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, standard of tasting and quality of the restaurant food. We both agreed the slow roasted duck on wilted Asian style greens 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 criticism 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 comfit 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 followed up in 2006 when 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 Olie who we met last year and clearly remembered us. We tried several other wines including the Syrah and ended up building our stocks ready for sailing.

End of inserts from previous years

We then continued to Waihi to see the old Cornish Pumphouse, which is the iconic building representing the town of Waihi in its new position. 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. It has been moved as it was sinking into the old shaft due to subsidence and the whole area needed to be regraded to stabilise the rim of the mine. They plan to move over 9 million tons to achieve this.

The movement of the pumphouse has been quite a feat - we had a visit last year when they were explaining to the residents how it would all occur. The pumphouse weighs 1800 tons and was cut from its even more massive foundations by diamond saws and moved slowly on a special track on teflon pads by massive rams. The journey of a few hundred metres took many months. We walked on the new walkway round the rim to the Mining Centre where they put on the video of the film specially although it did not finish until after the usual closing time. We then had time to visit the bookshop before leaving for our last stop before Auckland and packing at Thames where we had booked ahead to Dixon's Holiday park where we knew they have adequate cabins - we wanted to keep the tents dry.

In the morning we made a short diversion to Coromandel town before returning to Auckland t find out what had happened to the paddlewheeler Otunui that we had found moored at Coromandel last year. She was originally a Whanganui riverboat built in 1907 in the Yarrow shipyard and brought out in kit form for Hatrick's fleet. She used to be a trip boat in the Huka Falls area where we had trip many years ago before being vandalised and set fire. She had an extensively modified drive when we went on her with independent hydraulic drive to each paddle giving her an unusual maneuverability - all the other boats had, and still have the paddle wheels on the same shaft and depend only on the rudder for steering. Last year we spoke to the new owner at Coromandel and he explained that he had seen it for sale and was restoring it to operate as a trip boat from Coromandel. This time there was no sign of the Otonui but another boat owner at the wharf told us she had been there recently and told us how to find the owner. He was just leaving but took time to tell us that she had just been taken to the maritime museum at Paeroa - very bad timing for us as we had passed through there the previous day!

We then had to rush to Auckland to get ready for sailing. The sailing is covered in a separate page Sailing in the Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island.

The two days after sailing do not merit a separate page as they ware mostly taken up with the tedium of cleaning and packing before leaving for Hong Kong so I will continue after sailing here. We had a car from Rental Car Village for a couple of days which enabled us to get everything back from the yacht and we hoped would allow us to go out to the wineries north of Auckland for a lunch. That was defeated by going out for a meal with Ralph and Chris at the best Chinese restaurant we have ever been to. It was only a few blocks from where Ralph works and he was obviously well known there from lunches but it was the first time they had been in an evening. The place was heaving with people, mostly Chinese and although they managed to fit us i we had to wait to be seated which gave time to get a bottle of Te Mata and Brookfields Syrah from a nearby wine shop. It was a memorable and huge meal, the only argument was over which of the dishes was best with an unlikely candidate, the Green bean's probable just having the edge closely followed by what everyone agreed was the best prawns around.

In between the cleaning and packing we found time to go to the top of two of the local volcanic cones, the Auckland area has quite a number including, of course the latest one on Rangitoto island which wa formed only a few centuries ago. We went first to Mt Eden which provided excellent views - we were surprised how green the Mt Eden area where Christine lives seems when seen from above. The houses are all well spaced and the gardens are full of mature trees so that the houses hardly show up. The core of volcano is very obvious and so are many signs of old fortifications as it was a Maori Pa (fortress).

We then looked round Cornwallis Park and One Tree Hill, now sadly without it's tree. The tree was badly damaged a few years ago by a Maori activist with a chain saw and despite considerable efforts to save the tree it eventually perished. One Tree hill used to be a major Maori Pa and one can still see the terraces and other signs of the days when up to 5000 could be protected within the Pa. We also looked at Acacia Cottage, once the home of Logan Campbell, the founding father of Auckland who donated the park to the city. The Cottage was moved to the park in the 1920s and has recently been restored. The park headquarters is opposite Acacia cottage and they have a new interpretation centre with some quite interesting boards on the area and a video. There also have an excellent set of information free booklets with walks in and around the park and Auckland.

The last day we went out round the coast road to Mission bay where we had a snack lunch of Snapper and a last ice cream before returning the car to Rental Car Village and catching a bus back to collect our suitcases and be taken to the airport to catch an 2310 flight to Hong Kong.

The 4 night stay in Hong Kong will be the first in a new set of pages as we work our way Back to the UK on QE2.

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