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|Touring New Zealand 2012 - Part 2|
Then it was only a short drive to our cabin at Spring Creek, near Blenheim. We have stayed at Spring Creek several times in the past because they are close to the Ferry and in the centre of the wineries area. We have always had their cabins and did so again. Unfortunately they have new owners who have tidied everything up and done some redecoration but it is now very user unfriendly – the cabin, like the rest of the site, was full of notices and according to them we could no longer cook in the cabin (the microwave shown on their brochures had been removed) and one could not prepare food in the cabin and one could not even eat in the cabin but should use the kitchen. Why would one ever have a cabin if you cannot even eat in it! It is unlikely we will return to a cabin although the tent sites still look appealing. Not surprisingly the site was fairly empty whilst it used to be full.
In the afternoon we went to Cloudy Bay where we were greeted as old friends by the manager Wendy although it must be 3 or 4 years since we went there last. The wines are always good and we bought a bottle of the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc to try against the bottle of 2010 we had already found in a supermarket. The highlight strangely were some beautiful deck chairs which had been made out of the staves from oak barrels for them. They were not for sale otherwise we might have bought a couple either for Chris and Ralph’s new house or to take back to the UK next year. We did however find out where they were made and we have pictures to give ideas to others.
We then dropped in briefly to Alan Scott, another favourite not only for the wines but for vineyard lunches at the Three Pines. We have again written at length in previous years so will only give and update here. The restaurant meals seem now to be largely cold – they always used to be predominantly cold but have a few hot dishes as well. The wines have always been good and have not had the premium price afforded by Cloudy Bay and this time there were some very good offers although by the case when one could get a selection of wine normally at $18 for $144 a case. We were tempted but decided we really wanted to explore different wines rather than just drink our known favourites. It is a winemaking family and they now have some additional labels to reflect that in including the Scott Sibling for one of the daughters and Josh continues to make robust wines which will age for a long period.
On the way back we went to see the Argosy which used to be operated by Safe Air which is outside a restaurant opposite the airport. It has been tidied up and preserved a lot although it is unlikely to every be restored enough to fly – all the electronics were taken out by chopping through the wiring. We have written about it previously and bought a book on Safe Air on a previous visit. This time we spent the best part of an hour on board, much of it watching the video of Safe Air and the last flight of the Argosy and bought a copy – all in a good cause as well as being interesting.Safe Air Developed a palatte system for freight and also had a clever Passenger Module which was loaded into the aircraft when required in place of some of the freight palettes.
We spent the following morning at Omaka, the Aviation Heritage Site which holds an airshow alternating years with Warbirds Over Wanaka. Both believe their shows are the best – Omaka tends to specialise on First World War aircraft whilst Wanaka has a broader sweep with a concentration on Second World War fighters. There is an impressive collection including many unique exhibits. Whilst we were there the aircraft display comprised the last Caproni CA.22, n Etrich Taube, a Fokker E.III 'Eindekker', an Airco DH-2, a Morane-Saulnier TYPE BB, a Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8, a Bristol F2b, a Halberstadt D.IV, an Albatros B.II, a Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a, a Nieuport 27, a Siemens Schukert D.IV, four Fokker Dr.1 'Triplanes', the 'Bluemax' Pfalz D.III, Nieuport 24, an Airco DH-5, and an Airco DH-4 as well as several 'set piece' exhibits such as the "Baron's Last Flight" and "Grid's great Escape". The original and reproduction aircraft are mostly flyable although many are laid out as part of a set of comprehensive tableaux reflecting their era and placing them in context using backdrops and models – it is difficult to describe but the pictures should make it clear. Also, by chance there was a Safe Air Bristol Freighter outside the hanger at Omaka.
One of the Tableuax concerns a remarkable incident in the carrer of Grid Caldwell who was New Zealand's highest scoring ace with 25 aerial victories to his credit. The display shows an amazing episode in which he managed to regain control of his SE5a fighter after it was crippled in a mid-air collision, managing to stabilise it by placing himself half in and half out of his cockpit for just long enough to nurse it back to the lines and jump clear just as it was about to crash. Caldwell survived his fall, and the war, and was C.O. Of RNZAF Base Woodbourne for the first half of the Second World War!
The museum’s chairman is Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) and he has provided many of the memorabilia and aircraft from his own collection. He has been responsible for restoring or making extremely authentic reproduction from the original drawings of many aircraft. His interest started with aircraft for films but seems to have become much wider. There are 4 of the Fokker Triplanes as flown by the Red Baron all lined up – reproductions but all flown on a regular basis. We wrote about our previous visit to Omaka so we will not go through all the displays but will note there are a lot of extra background exhibits as well as some new aircraft so we now have a number of new pictures to add. We spent some time talking to one of the voluntary guides – Eric Driver who was a fund of information and it seems has a huge collection of books on WW1 aircraft. Our discussion ranged wider than just aircraft and he mentioned a backroad we had not taken through the Molesworth Station which we will come to shortly.
In the afternoon we looked at a map to see what other locations we had missed in the area which led to a short drive to look at Wairau bar where we found the old pilot station still existed and was being looked after by the Historic Places Trust. It was not open but many of the old items were visible including the kerosene lamps, a pilots boat and an old buoy. The house was built in 1860. We then drove down to the end of the training wall where one had a view of the bar. There was a strong current outward past us and we could see areas of sandbank but the whole river mouth seemed full of breakers and the channel was not at all obvious – one could see why a pilot was essential.
The following morning was absolutely glorious with blue skies and not a breath of wind. It seemed time for an adventure and the high country backroad from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs through Molesworth station was an obvious choice. From the 1850s the main inland route between Nelson/Marlborough and North Canterbury ran through the heart of Molesworth. The old cob accommodation houses at Tophouse, Rainbow, Tarndale and Acheron are reminders of this. The stock routes never subsequently became public roads and throughout most of the 20th Century Molesworth Station remained terra incognita to the vast majority of New Zealanders.
It looked like a trip of 180 kms on mostly unsealed roads taking us high into the hills to the Station at around 900m with passes of up to 1150m. We did some basic research on the Internet and it seemed to be passable without 4 wheel drive in good weather and seemed to have some stunning scenery on route. We therefore drove into Blenheim and got the DOC information booklet ($2.00) and got them to confirm the road was open (there is a phone number to ring). Nobody we asked had done it in a 2 wheel drive but some knew people who had made it and we met one driver when filling up with gas who had been through and thought we ought to be fine in the van if we had plenty of ground clearance. We had already filled up with water and we filled the tanks as there is no petrol for 207 kms and also got the Calor gas tank filled just in case.
Molesworth Station is the largest high country station in New Zealand and visiting it gives a unique view of what current and past high country farming is about. This high country station is certainly high – the altitude ranges from 549 metres to over 2100 metres and is big enough to accommodate Banks Peninsula with room to spare. The 180,787-hectares unite what were originally the Tarndale, Molesworth and St Helens stations. Molesworth reverted to the Crown in 1938 when the runholders walked off - St Helens, including the Dillon Run, was added in 1949. The combined stations once ran around 95,000 sheep but, when the Crown took over, the land was suffering from loss of vegetation and severe erosion caused by overgrazing by sheep and rabbits and repeated burning of tussock lands which were added to stock losses in disastrous snowfalls, and economic recession. The station has remained in Crown ownership and has gradually recovered from its earlier desolation, thanks to extensive rabbit control and over-sowing of large areas in the 1950s and 60s and the replacement of sheep with cattle.
Today up to 10,000 cattle graze on lands that were almost reduced to a desert by rabbits and sheep. They are mostly Angus and Angus/Hereford cross cattle which are considered the most resilient breeds for the harsh conditions. Despite the climate and largely being left to fend for themselves, the station uses modern genetic selection and rigorous culling to achieve a calving rate of around 92% in October/November, which is considered outstanding for the conditions. The calves are kept on their mothers through their first winter, then are weaned in spring, just before the cows drop their next season’s calves. Over the years Molesworth has developed an almost mythical status akin to Tutira Station. For New Zealanders the name Molesworth Station is synonymous with the high-country - musterers and stockmen and their dogs working livestock in vast tussock landscapes. For Maori, the area was an easy summer route to the West Coast by way of the Upper Wairau or Awatere valleys, Tarndale and Lake Tennyson.
There are now two routes through the station - the Acheron Road which goes from close to Blenheim to Hanmer Springs and the Hanmer Springs to St Arnaud Road (via Rainbow Station) which goes up the western edge of the station and through to St Arnaud..Of these only the Acheron Road is suitable for 2 wheel drive and the 207-kilometre journey from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs through Molesworth takes around 6 hours, with the 59-kilometre Acheron Road section through the station taking at least two hours. It is largely unsealed but is considered to be suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles but not for caravans or vehicles over seven metres long and AA cover is questionable in the central section and there is absolutely no cellphone coverage – we checked periodically. It is only open from late December to early April, from 7.00am to 7.00pm when the gates at either end are physically locked. It may also be closed without warning due to weather conditions or fire danger. We had checked in Blenheim at the Information office for the status and a weather report before leaving but the status can also be checked 24 hours a day by contacting the DOC on +64 3 572 9100.
The following description makes extensive use of background material selected and précised from the DOC leaflet as well as the information boards and internet – we later found the DOC leaflet is available as a PDF on the internet. We suggest checking the latest version if you have internet access. The DOC information gives some health warnings but I will give my own just in case! The road is not as bad as some other sections of gravel road we have travelled but they have been short – in this case one has 160 km with a number of fords and bad surfaces. There are long sections with corrugations on the road which shake a vehicle to pieces if you are at the wrong speed as well as surfaces worn so large stones (usual smoothed by traffic) stick out of the surface as well as many potholes to dodge, mostly only a few inches deep but with the odd big one. Much of the road is single track but passing is easy except on the steep hills and passes where visibility is reduced and the road a true single width with fearsome drops. It needs continuous attention for 6 hours or more from end to end and is not for your first trip on gravel. In addition it is dusty, the van was full of dust, the stacking boxes were dusty inside and even sealed ice-cream containers were full of dust. Make sure you have fuel, water, good tyres and a spare, jacks etc – there is no AA cover and little traffic but what there is are mostly big 4 wheel drives and Utes so you might get hauled out of a ford but that would be it. We travelled in ideal weather – rain would make it more challenging and the fords would be deeper and more slippery to enter and leave.
It however turned out to be one of the best of our backroad trips. One turns off the main road about 22 kms from Blenheim where signs remind one that there is no fuel for 185 kms. The journey continues along the Awatere Valley Road - the first point of interest is the picnic facilities at the Blairich Recreation Reserve (37km) – the mileages are from Blenheim and use those in the DOC leaflet – we used the odometer and a tracking GPS which both showed the DOC estimates were a little variable and perhaps on the short side but they are good indications.
The Awatere Valley is known for fine woolled Merino sheep and there are many vineyards including a number belonging to Oyster Bay. By the time one starts to run out of vineyards and starts to climb one has left the last sealed sections and the roads are gravel, not too bad at the beginning. Next one reaches the Hodder Bridge Picnic Area which has a longdrop (at 76km) where we found another RCV van parked. No one was there and we guessed they had probably set out to climb Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku (2885m), New Zealand’s tallest mountain outside the southern divide, which is accessible from this car park. .
From here on the views improve and the roads slowly worsen until one reaches the first of several gates and finally the Molesworth Cob Cottage (122km).The original cob homestead built by John Murphy in 1866 is the gateway to Molesworth Station where the Acheron Road begins. There is another gate which is locked 7 to 7.
Camping is available near the cottage at the standard DOC price of $6.00 per night and there are toilets, water and information panels and a house occupied by the ranger. The current Molesworth homestead replaced the cob cottage in 1885 and still houses the farm manager and his family. We followed a short walk up a low hill behind the cottage to view the current homestead, historic woolshed, staff accommodation and the various outbuildings which including a blacksmith shop for shoeing the 80-odd horses on the station. The Station is the highest continuously inhabited habitation in New Zealand at 900m - there are others higher during the summers but not throughout the year. There are 5 stockmen present during the summer who make extensive use of dogs. We considered camping but the day was still absolutely clear and it seemed sensible to see what else was on offer while the conditions were so good so after our walk and a bite to eat we set off.
Whilst crossing the flats from the cob cottage, one can look south towards the triangular-shaped Dillon Cone (2174m) and straight ahead to Barefell Pass, first recorded by Frederick Weld in 1850 and still used for moving stock from the Awatere to the Acheron catchment. The road then climbs to Wards Pass (131km). At 1145m this is often closed by snowfalls for long periods. As we dropped from Wards Pass, you cross a section of Muller Station, courtesy of the runholders. Next comes Isolated Flat (132km) - the 250-hectare expanse of Isolated Flat is an outwash plain, bounded by the Awatere Fault. From January until April it is a mass of bloom with tall, white gentian flowers growing amongst clumps of short tussock and pasture grass. Introduced blue borage was growing profusely with the blue flowers attracting bees, which we understand produce delicately flavoured honey.
Leaving the flat, the road climbs up and over Isolated Saddle and down to the junction with the Tarndale track. We passed the signs for the Red Gate where we saw on the right the stand of pines and willows which mark the grave of Ivanhoe Augarde, who shot himself in 1868. The story goes that Augarde, a worker at St Helens Station, was courting Miss Kate Gee, who lived in the Upper Wairau. He had written her a letter and given it to ‘German Charlie’, who worked at Tarndale, to deliver. Charlie, however, opened the letter en route and entertained various groups of men along the way with its contents. Learning of this, Augarde rode to Tarndale and shot Charlie (who died shortly afterwards) then carried on to Red Gate where he shot himself. Mount Augarde, to the right of Alma Valley, was named in his memory. What happened to Kate is not recorded. From here we could look down the Alma Valley and see the routes to the upper Wairau and Tarndale, where cattle spend summer after calving. On the opposite side of the Acheron is the confluence with the Guide River, still important for stock movement between the Awatere and Acheron Valleys which lead down from Barefell Pass.
We then reached the Acheron Accommodation House (181km) the site of the other gate to the station. The Acheron Accommodation House is the oldest building on Molesworth and is at the confluence of the Acheron and Clarence Rivers, It was constructed in 1862 and features a tussock-thatched roof with beech rafters tied with flax, still visible from inside the building. Until 1932, this was an overnight stop for travellers and stockmen moving though the inland route between Nelson and Canterbury. Camping is also available here, at a cost of $6.00 with toilets and water. It was still a superb day with not a breath of wind so we could not resist getting out our small tent and setting up in a shady corner with wild gooseberry bushes behind us, pointing straight towards where the sun would rise. We just sat and admired the views of the hills as gradually the sun set.
We only had a short distance in the morning to Hanmer Springs but the road got progressively worse and much of it was at 30 kph or slower as we dodged the big potholes. We also had a couple more fords at least one of which needed great care - it was only 6 inches deep but was smooth looking stones perhaps 4 inches in diameter and there was a 45 degree slope down for about a foot either side. We went down slowly and steadily and accelerated just enough to have the momentum to ride up the other side but not so fast we wrecked the suspension.
We paused at the Jollies Pass junction (193km). This was the original road to Hanmer but is now suitable only for 4WD vehicles. Cattle leaving Molesworth from the southern end are still driven over Jollies Pass and then trucked from the bull farm at Hanmer. Jollies Pass was once the social centre of the district, boasting a store, unofficial Post Office and hotel but little sign remains. We descended Jacks pass which drops steeply to Hanmer Springs (207km) where one enters a different world full of tourists - little do they know what they are missing only a few tens of kilometres away and we are selfish enough to hope it remains so.
Once we were at Hanmer Springs and knew the timing for the rest of the day we rang ahead to the Pegasus Bay Winery to book lunch. We then travelled on down the Weka Pass and stopped to see when the Weka Pass railway was running – in the summer they now have to use a Diesel locomotive rather than their steam engine so we were not too disappointed to find it was only weekends. We then passed Waipara Sleepers, a campsite which also has a number of cabins built into old railway carriages and stopped to have a look and were seduced into staying in an old guards van for a night. There are three vans, sitting in a neat row, each on a short length of railway track. Two were already booked, with a large group of overseas students who had not found accommodation in Christchurch and come out to Waipara instead. Our van had a brass double bed, a seating area with three original red upholstered railway seats, and an additional balcony built on the side with table and chairs. Their vans were similar but with bunks. Once we had installed our fridge and chatted to the managers we continued for lunch at Pegasus Bay Winery.
We discovered the Pegasus Bay winery almost by chance ten years ago - we had picked up a campervan in Christchurch and our first stop was to fill up with food and drink at a supermarket where we discovered one could not buy wine on a Sunday (this has now changed). This turned out to be very fortunate as we discovered the Pegasus Bay winery. New Zealander in those days had a certain flexibility and Wineries could sell on a Sunday. We tried a couple of their reds and immediately ordered some and also enquired about their restaurant which turned out to still have some seats available. The food was as good as the wine and we have been coming back ever since. The winery has had an ambitious expansion programme which includes accommodation an increased size restaurant and an expansion of their programme of opera evenings.
It is very much a family affair with the father a professor who lectures and writes about wine, his wife has trained as a chef under Pru Leith in London and one son has been sent to Adelaide and has a degree in wine making and is now their winemaker. Pete sampled most of the range before we ate and both whites and reds were all consistently very good. Pegasus are probably best known for their reds but they are also very proud of their Rieslings. It is now two decades since the vineyard was planted and the Riesling is doing well on an old river terrace with good drainage leading to high stress and low vigour resulting in tiny crops of 2 ton acre of excellent quality from well ripened grapes from there 'stressed' grape vines. They typically stop the fermentation with a little (7.5gms/litre) sugar - it can compare very well with a good German Kabinet and most Spatlese. The family have done a lot of experimenting to get wines from each variety that fully express the site.
They offer the option of 4 half glasses to try with the meal and we picked the old wines (Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot). Pete’s Steak was one of the best ever and Pauline’s lamb chops were excellent and cooked to pink perfection – we never made the sweets. We found the restaurant came joint first in the Cuisine Awards for Winery Restaurants 2011 (with Black Barn of Napier), a well deserved accolade.
The vineyard has good shelter from Easterlies surrounded by hills. The local micro-climate 3-4 degrees warmer than rest of Canterbury and is now recognised as a separate sub-region. It is particularly good for muscular Pinot Noir and Riesling . Chris is very keen on Opera and they have operas in the gardens in the summer, Chris sings in many operas in the area. Opera links extend to their top wines which are called Aria, Finale etc. Their building have been extending steadily since we first visited in 1996 and are now almost finished, the finale stage being a library of older wines. We walked round the grounds after lunch and watched the feeding of the eels and spoke with the gardener who was watering the grounds who turned out to be the lady of the house! There is now a beautiful relocated villa, private and lived in by family, on the edge of the immaculate grounds.
We stopped at the post office and general store in Waipara because we needed a loaf and got seduced into some of her home grown organic vegetables which she supplies to Pegasus – we bought some of her courgettes and she insisted that we waited whilst she collected some of her basil to go with them. We had already had her tomatoes at lunch at Pegasus. It was then back round to cook and have supper at our Guards Van, sitting on its balcony. The kitchen is a converted Railway Station and is very well equipped as they are set up very much for backpackers who carry little with them and it is well sheltered for tents, many cyclists carry small tents for which the site is ideal.
We were ready to depart our Waipara sleepers historic wagon just before 1000, then discovered that the beautiful home made white loaf made in the bread-maker in the communal kitchen was for people to help themselves for breakfast. One of the claims of the site is that one wakes up every morning to the smell of fresh hot bread baking which is “ to just to help you kick start your day and it's free first in first served.” - there are “fresh eggs at the chickens convenience.”. We couldn’t miss the opportunity, on the basis that if no-one eats it then there will be no bread making next time. We smeared some of our boysenberry jam on top and crammed a thick slice into our mouths. Excellent. Although not quite as good as the bread Pete makes at home. We missed the eggs - the basket to help oneself from was by then empty.
We had been undecided whether to visit Christchurch, partly because of the risk of future earthquakes while we were there, partly because we were not sure we wanted to see all the damaged and destroyed historic buildings, and partly because our family in Auckland discouraged us. There were lots of petrol stations on the way into Christchurch, so we topped up the tank. We were already full of water so were self-contained. In previous years, before all the earthquakes, we always stayed at the Adorian motel in Worcester Street. But was that area damaged ? We saw an advert for the City Worcester Motel in the same street and when we rang we were surprised when it was easy to book a room for the night. Rumours at Waipara were that everything that was open was full, but that must be the backpackers – motels everywhere had vacancy signs. Approaching Christchurch from the north and east, along Marshlands, there was little evidence of problems. The City Worcester Motel was opposite the Adorian Motel, which was the one we used to stay in – run by a Siamese cat called ‘sushi’. We knew the owners were leaving when we stayed last and retiring to Australia. They had vacancies too.
Our unit in the City Worcester Motel was perfect, and downstairs so it was easy to unpack, although we wondered about being downstairs in a two-storey motel. It was only 1100 so we unpacked and set off on foot towards town. The advantage of a motel in Worcester Street is that it is walking distance of the CBD and the cathedral could in the past be seen by standing in the middle of the road, although after the series of earthquakes it is no longer standing. We expected our walk into town would be limited by the ‘Road Closed’ signs, and the demolition work going on. We had been warned that Worcester Street, which used to go to the cathedral, was closed, and that we needed to go south, along one of the parallel roads, to reach the other side of town. The attraction of the other side of town is that there is a Museum, and Botanic Gardens.
The list which follows of our route clockwise around the red ‘danger’ zone of town is intended to help us identify the buildings from our photos. We turned south along Barbadoes Street, expecting to then turn along Cashel Street. However we saw more ‘Road Closed’ signs and the first open road for traffic was at St Asaph Street. This meant we were now parallel to Worcester Street, but south. Heading back towards the CBD, the first open road was Colombo Street, which led to Lichfield Street and for the first time we saw groups of other people. Until now there had been just occasional people, each clutching a map and looking confused. We had finally reached the River Avon, and could approach Cashel Street. Here was the new Cashel Street Container Mall, with shops inside rows of cheerful coloured container boxes, and buskers to entertain while shopping. Ballantyne’s department store is still standing, and open, with only a slight reduction in floor area. We were told that there had been a fire many years ago and when it was rebuilt it was done with only two storeys, and of course it is a modern construction too. Pauline wanted to do some shopping, which she explained as her way of supporting the local community, so she is now the proud own of two hooded fleeces and two lightweight hiking towels. They were all in the Kathmandu sale and she says we saved $315. The remains of the cathedral could just be glimpsed at the cordon, and in December there had been limited guided tours on Sundays into the red danger zone so that local people had the chance to look at all the damage. Some locals we met said it had helped to go inside the cordon and had been several times. Others, including the owners of our motel, said they had not been near the centre of town since the earthquake, and did not want to go there.
We knew Christchurch well and we were shocked at what had happened, and there are still so many buildings in the CBD which are cracked and marked for demolition. Places we know have disappeared, and so many historic buildings have vanished, beyond repair. In addition there is the sadness of people for whom Christchurch was their home, and have lost friends, family, or house. When the first earthquake happened at Darfield the first thought in Christchurch was that it was at Wellington, and only after hearing the news on the radio was it clear that the centre had been near Christchurch. Now there have been so many earthquakes, and buildings which survived in the beginning are now weaker. People talk about the problems of insurance cover, and there is criticism of politicians who do not seem to be delivering their promises. We walked back to the Bridge of Remembrance and turned along the River Avon – usually we discuss whether to walk on the Oxford or Cambridge side, but the Oxford Terrace, passing the Rydges Hotel (Phil stayed there when we met) and other significant buildings, was closed. Rydges is being repaired. Unless it is in a dangerous condition, whether a building is repaired or demolished can depend on the insurance situation, and what can be afforded. At the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Worcester we could look again towards the ruin of the cathedral but not get any closer. The cathedral was in the very centre of the CBD, seen from all directions, and everyone misses it.
Our clockwise walking tour continued to Durham Street North, where so much of the Council buildings and the Court buildings were damaged, then along the side of Cranmer Square, to Peterborough Street. We went around the outside of the Casino, which by a miracle is open for business in the midst of so much other damage, in the hope of finding an open route, but were turned back again to Peterborough. At the junction with Colombo Street we could see the bridge over the River Avon, towards the cathedral, but not get to it. The little restaurants we used to visit in the area had all disappeared. The Christchurch Convention Centre was still standing but the ground was covered with broken glass from a large missing upstairs window. Pavements were raised as if pushed upwards by a monster and we walked past the residual sludge of the liquifaction..
Very little of the Christchurch we remember was still standing, and there were many open spaces offering cheap parking. The residential area was a mix of broken houses next door to ones that were undamaged. There seemed to be an element of luck as well as the construction of the properties. The two motels in Worcester Street are both OK but other properties in the road are a mess, and others seem to be untouched. We did our shopping in Stanmore Road, walking distance away, and heard sad stories about the damage to the Butcher’s shop although the present new building is beautiful and the food good quality. Roads to the south and east are said to be in bad condition – we will see what we find when we head out tomorrow.
When we arrived in Auckland we found all the copies of the Historic Places magazine, and the most recent copy included a special supplement about the series of earthquakes in the Christchurch area. The first major earthquake was in September 2010, with epicentre at Darfield some 44 kms west of Christchurch and at depth 11 kms. It was magnitude 7.1 and was followed by a serious of aftershocks. This caused the original damage and the spire of the cathedral to fall. Then the next serious earthquake was on 22 February 2011 at 12.51, with epicentre close to Lyttelton and only 6 kms from the CBD and at a depth of 5 kms. It was magnitude 6.3. It happened while we were in Hastings, just before Pauline went to the dentist to get emergency repairs done. Again it was followed by aftershocks, and more recently there was another significant earthquake on 23 December 2011. Experts say it is not unusual for there to be a 6 month gap as there had been between the 7.1 earthquake and the 6.3 magnitude aftershock. That is no comfort for those people trying to re-build their lives in Christchurch who begin repair work and then have to start again.
We only wanted one night in Christchurch and left the motel early on Friday morning with the intention of going to Ferrymead Heritage Park but we had some time before it opened so we went through the tunnel to the port of Lyttelton. Lyttelton has also been badly damaged in the 22 February earthquake and was at the epicentre. Fortunately the tunnel remained intact although the buildings at the portal were damaged. Lyttleton itself suffered and many houses on the hillside are insecure or falling and buildings in the centre are damaged or demolished. The information office has moved to a modified container and likewise some of the banks. There is a pub, again created from containers, in the main street. A major loss has been the Timeball one of the properties owned by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that we joined many years ago - it has reciprocal rights with the UK National Trust which we find useful in the UK. Accurate timekeeping is an essential part of navigation and finding the Longitude was not solved fully until the invention of the chronometer in the latter half of the 18th century. The accuracy of the chronometers was essential to navigation (1 second error corresponds to about 460m at the equator) so they had to be checked whenever possible and visual signals became an important feature of many ports.
The visual signal was often a large spherical ball, the Timeball, which was dropped at a known time. The first Timeball station was built at Greenwich in 1833 and gradually others were built around the world. The Lyttelton Timeball, built in 1876, was the third in New Zealand and the only survivor. It is now one of only a small number still operational in the world. The Lyttelton Timeball Station is unusual in that it has a dedicated castle like building built of Oamaru limestone and local Scoria (volcanic stone) sited so it was visible from all of the port and most of the town. From 1876 to 1934 a ball dropped from the mast at 1300 (sometimes 1530). The mechanism was from the German firm Siemens Bros. and the astronomical clock was from Edward Dent and Co of London. The operational use was discontinued in 1934 when it was replaced by radio although the use of flags form the same site used for notifying the arrival of ships continued till later. The tower itself was severely damaged and much fell to the ground – the remainder is being dismantled stone by stone. The mechanism is apparently relatively unscathed although the building was damaged. The road up to the area was closed, so we do not know how much demolition work has taken place, but there was no evidence of anything on the corner on the hill.
From there we went to Ferrymead Heritage Park - it is mostly a loose federation of small bands of enthusiasts and clubs who have restored or maintained various areas of important or unique New Zealand heritage. It contains a complete village mainly set in the early 1900s as well as the specialist areas. Over half is still open but unfortunately the main aviation halls were closed as was the work by the Aeronautical Society by Dave Newman who is restoring and preserving a De Havilland 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. We visited on a Friday, and we know there is more to see at the weekend when many of the enthusiasts and volunteers are on site. Without someone to open the buildings they stay closed.
The tram was running despite damage to the tracks which restricts the speed considerably. There were only 4 of us all of whom were talking to the driver about them and the driver stopped at the tram museum and gave us a short guided tour of the newly restored steam tram and the double decker tram - the coachwork was exceptional, some of the best woodwork we have seen using American Ash, Oak, Mahogany with Maple veneers to name a few. We also saw the new sheds for the trams for downtown - they were leased to Christchurch Council who let out the franchise for maintenance back to the group and the future of their use is now uncertain because the tram routes through the centre of Christchurch are in the red danger zone. Their nine trams including Steam trams, ex horse drawn trams now serving as trailers, most however are electric driven using 600 volt motors of 25 - 90 HP. The trams originate from Christchurch, Dunedin and Melbourne. The power units have been rebuilt and wheels re-tyred.
We spent several hours round the rest of the site, there is still a lot to see, and eventually dragged ourselves away as it was early afternoon and we still had no idea where we were going and where to stay for the night. Find out where in Part 3 - Mountains, Lakes and backroad adventures: Mt Somers, Tekapo and Cromwell
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