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Touring New Zealand 2012 part 5

The last part left us on the road to Dunedin. We actually went straight through Dunedin the first evening and out down the Otago Peninsular towards Tairoa Head and the Albatrosses. We stopped briefly to check out our room at the camp site at Portobello then went out to see if we could see any Albatrosses flying as the wind was plenty high enough for them to be flying. We did not take a tour but saw a couple coming in and out and also a couple of spoonbills.

The observatory is run by a Trust and we were members of the Otago Peninsular Trust for many years so we renewed in the morning - it actually costs less to join ($30) than two entries ($40 each) by the time the free entry for a visitor accompanied by a member is taken into account and it is good for their numbers and they also have other sites on the peninsular we wanted to visit. I have not time to go into the Royal Albatrosses in detail here other than to note that they come back to breed every two years to the same place and with the same partner - the remainder of the time being on the wing. They circumnavigate the globe many times achieving an average of 500 kms a day and often exceed 1000 kms in a day as they move from one feeding area to another. They are magnificent birds to see in flight exceeding 10 feet span. They often live for over 40 years and one known as Grandmother is known to have reached well over 62 years as it she breeding when first seen. The juveniles return after 5 years for their first landing ever on land, which can often be a spectacular crash when they realise the difference between sea and water.

There were several nests close to the observatory. The closest belonged to Button, the last offspring of Grandmother and we got brief views of the chick which was only days old. This time we were unlucky and dis not see the birds flying in front of the observatory but have previously seen them close enough to completely fill the viewfinder on the camera and one time we were able to get a long video of two birds pair flying, probably juveniles “bonding”.

We then went to the other two properties belonging to the Otago Peninsular Trust, the Fletcher House where we were given an individual and fascinating tour. We then went on to Glenfallock Gardens and spent some time wandering round. Both are well worth visiting if you have half and hour for each.

The next day was planned to be a quiet day and a chance to catch up with general logistics and we then drove into Dunedin. We looked in the Knox Presbeterian Church oposite where we were parked and found an interesting stained glass memorial window to a young New Zealand Pilot killed in 1944 in combat. There is an interesting juxtaposition of the Warrior Angel Michael and a modern airman. The wording at the top says "If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sky, even there shall thy hand lead me". We then walked into the centre and visited St Pauls, the Anglican Cathedral and the station, which is incredibly ornate both inside and out.

We then went round lots of second hand book shops, being a university town Dunedin is full of bookshops. Several had closed since our last visit when we bought 9 books and they seem to be less good value. They do not however seem to be very competitive and there a "Guide to the Second hand Bookshops of Dunedin" which list most of the local bookshops and many in the South to help us find what we were looking for. We worked our way through quite a few and found a couple of books we did not know existed “A Shower of Spray and we are Away” and “A bit of a Ladd”, both by Fred Ladd with Ross Annabell - they are about Fred Ladd, an aviation pioneer who brought and operated the Grumman Widgeon amphibians we used to fly in the Bay of Islands. Most of the booksellers seemed to be enthusiasts and were very happy to talk in fact on our last visit many were showing us the books they had bought for themselves, quite often from one of their competitors. We walked back to the van through the Botanical Gardens which are extensive - we looked in the ornate greenhouse in the centre which was full of delicate plants including cacti and then ambled through the rose gardens.

In the evening we were booked in for a meal at the 1908 Café just down the road from where we were staying - one reason why we return there! We have been there before and there are pictures of the food already on the web site - one always worries that when returns to one of one’s favourites it will have changed. It has changed hands since we last went but the new owners have been associated with the 1908 for 15 years so there is excellent continuity. Fortunately the meals were as good and large as ever and the service was excellent although they now use cheap paper napkins a no-no in a good restaurant. They only other change was that they no longer allow BYO. We both had lamb shanks (plural) in orange with a maple syrup glaze on a bed of something I had never heard of but seemed to be mash – we barely finished them and had to share a Kahlua and Coffee cheesecake, very light and tasty.

It was now time to head to the Catlins. We stopped in Milton en route - a small town which used to be centre for pottery as well as farming. We went into the Information Office/Museum which used to be the Post Office and sorting office for the local area - most of the inside forming the museum was unchanged. It turned out to be quite interesting and there were a lot of old photo albums which included coverage of the Royal Visit in 1953 when the Queen and Prince Philip stopped in the town. The lady was most helpful and we gathered up a number of information leaflets we needed.

The whole sector from Dunedin to Te Anau via the South Coast is a designated Heritage (Tourist) Route called the Southern Scenic and must be high on ones priorities if one visits South Island. The Catlins are relatively unexploited and have some magnificent scenery, sculptured by the prevailing Southerly gales and hosting a wide range of wildlife. They include Yellow-eyed Penguins, Little Blue Penguins, Fur seals, New Zealand Sea Lions (Hookers Seals), New Zealand Elephant Seals and Hectors Dolphins.

We stayed at a camp site at Pounawea, which we had used before. We had rung to check that their original Batch (or to be more correct a Crib on South Island) was available. Batches were simple basic holiday homes built by many people which they returned to and extended every year, they were often close to beaches or lakes and would have started life with water collected from the roof or a stream/well and a long drop outside but by now some are scarcely distinguishable from a normal home with all mod cons. This one was built in 1938 and until recently had an original style Zip water heater. When we got there we found it had been done up and lost a lot of the character and gained a lot in cost so we settled for a simple cabin. The only problem we could see in staying for several days was that there was no Vodafone signal and Pauline needed to collect her eTMAs from the OU for marking - we were told there was no Vodafone coverage on the Sothern Scenic from Balclutha (-45kms) to Invercargill (+130Kms)!

There is a bush/estuary loop track from the camp site which is only possible at mid-low tide and the whole area is alive with wildlife - we heard and saw several Tuis and it was here we first actually saw a couple of Bellbirds, small and brighter green than we had expected from the pictures. On the far side of the estuary is Surat bay where there are New Zealand Sea Lions, also known as Hooker's Sea Lion's on the beach and one can see the bulls fighting and jostling each other. The Sea Lions belong to the family of eared seals and the males can reach 400 kg and 3 metres in length and are rare and endangered.

It was only early afternoon so we set out for Nugget Point - a must in the Catlins. There is a lighthouse built in 1869 at the end, which is a good viewpoint - on the approach we could see several colonies of seals below us with the pups gambolling in the rock pools. The area is covered in wildlife and we saw spoonbills in the distance and dozens of seal pups playing in the rock pools. Unfortunately the scales are big at Nugget Point and the wildlife always seems beyond range of the cameras although it was very clear with binoculars our recently obtained vintage binoculars

On the way back down from Nugget Point one passes Roaring Bay where there is a hide for watching Yellow Penguins - this is the time of year when many are staying ashore for the moult and we were also a bit too early in the afternoon but just - we were about to give up one came ashore and we could watch it come up the sand then hop from rock to rock until it reached the edge of the foliage where it stopped for about ten minutes to preen. On a previous visit we saw a several come ashore and also had the rare chance to watch some playing in the surf.

We took the long way back via a gravel road so we could revisit Cannibal Bay, named after all the human bones found in the dunes. The beach is an impressive sweep of sand and there were rocks with fascinating rock pools and formations - it is another place where one often finds Sea Lions flipping sand over themselves to keep off the sun and a little bit of jostling for supremacy. On the last stretch of the way back we saw a couple of spoonbills in the estuary and stopped to get a picture.

When we got back to the cabin Pete noticed a TXT message had come in which from the time must have been received while we were by the lighthouse at Nugget Point - there must have been a line of sight to Balclutha. It indicated that we had a series of messages from the Care Home where Pauline's mother was staying and timed at three o’clock in the morning UK time. It looked like bad news and we drove to the nearest phone box which was 7 kms away in Owaka - we really were at the edge of civilisation. As we feared Pauline's mother had died during the night. We cancelled the next night at Pounawea and left at the crack of dawn for Invercargill where we could guarantee some communications.

We set off early for Invercargill and only stopped for a couple of moments to take a picture of one of the famous blowholes on the coast - it was only from a distant car park but the fountains of water were very clear. As soo as we reached Invercargill we found and set up camp at the Southland’s Art Gallery and Museum where we had seats and a table for the computers and a good Vodafone signal whilst Pauline started sorting out her mother’s affairs. Pete had a look round the museum where they had a couple of bits of Burt Munro’s motorbike, the Fastest Indian but not as much as at the Hayes shop in the centre of town. Pete also spoke with the Curator of History at the Southland Museum, David Dudfield who was most helpful in helping us find some information on Mike Bryden’s father and grandfather who came to New Zealand whilst working for Marshal Fowler, the producers of steam locomotives. After we finished at the Museum we went past where Mike’s father was supposed to have been born but the house no longer existed. We then went to an Op shop in the hope of buying Pauline a suitcase so she could, if essential, fly back to the UK leaving Pete to sort out the van. We finally had a short break and went into the Hayes shop in town which has the major collection of Burt Munro memorabilia.

Burt Munro was the archetypal example of the embodiment of Kiwi ingenuity. He was a cantankerous, eccentric and obsessive inventor capable of making use of anything available to turn out advanced and innovative engineering, using the most basic facilities in his backyard. He was in many ways like Richard Pearse, who arguably made the first powered flights in New Zealand before the Wright Brothers yet never gained public recognition for many years. He also had much in common with Hayes so it is not surprising they knew each other well and Burt made use of the Hayes Engineering works.

Burt Munro became a Kiwi motorcycling legend, and held numerous land speed records, some of which still stand. Burt Munro was born in 1899 at his parents home in Invercargill. At 21 year he was entranced by a brand-new motorcycle in an Invercargill garage. The bike was an Indian Scout, with a V twin side valve engine of 600cc capacity, cast alloy primary case, leaf sprung front fork and gleaming red paint. The price was £120 complete with acetylene lighting. This begin a partnership which was to last until his death in December 1978. The bike was destined to become the world's fastest Indian.

Burt's Indian Scout, engine number 50R627 was a standard model and although it was very advanced for it’s time the top speed was only in the region of 60mph. In the 1920's Burt started tuning the bike for speed. He raced it round Invercargill, much of the racing and trials were on the firm sands of the nearby beaches and ultimately he had it exceeding 90mph in side valve form. In the mid 1930s Burt made patterns for an overhead valve engine conversion but initially he was quite disappointed as it was not faster than the original side valve, he however persevered and in 1940 he gained the New Zealand Motorcycle speed record at a speed of 120.8mph. Originally the Indian Scouts had only two cams and this limited the valve timing so Burt changed this to a four cam system which allowed him to alter the valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust valves - his cam designs were a major factor in the performance of his engines and nobody seemed to be able to reproduce his results.

By now Burt was finding many of the original parts were no longer capable of taking the strain and he started making his own replacements from old but carefully chosen materials. He made his own barrels, flywheels, pistons, cams and followers and lubrication system. The con-rods were manufactured out of old Ford truck and Caterpillar tractor axles, largely by hand with a file, before hardening and tempered. Burt cast his own pistons using a large kerosene blow lamp and dies he made himself. A major problems was big-end failures. The original lubrication was a total loss system with no direct feed to the big-ends and crank pin. Burt made new fly wheels and increased the diameter of the crank pin which he bored to feed oil direct to the big-ends. He also fitted an Indian Chief oil pump and in doing so changed it to a dry sump lubrication system. Burt had very little equipment as far as machining was concerned and there was a lot of handwork associated with the manufacturing. Over the years Burt gradually increased the bore and stroke which enlarged the engine to just on 1000cc capacity. Burt built four different streamline shells for the Indian Scout over the years.

Burt took many NZ road and beach records. In February 1957 he set a NZ Open Beach record of 131.38 mph, raising this in 1975 to 136 mph at Oreti Beach. In April 1957 he set a 750cc Road Record at Christchurch at 143.59 mph. But Burt's ultimate ambition was to take the Indian to the Bonneville salt flats in the USA and find out her ultimate performance. He was a grandfather of over 60 when he finally achieved his ambition and on his first trip to Bonneville in 1962 he achieved a speed of 179mph, a speed that people attending “Speed Week” found absolutely unbelievable considering the age of both the bike and the rider. On the 26th August 1967 Burt claimed the World Record Class S-A 1000cc - with an average speed of 183.586mph (one way 190.07mph). This record still stands to this very day. His old Indian originally designed for speeds of 55 mph and still with many original parts was measured to be exceeding 200 mph on occasions.

The story of Burt's life and his sacrifices to the God's of Speed are detailed in the book “One Good Run: The Legend of Burt Munro” by Tim Hanna publisher: Penguin, 2006 ISBN 978-0143019749. We had tried to buy a copy in the UK after we had watched the film “The World's Fastest Indian” on a flight to NZ and then bought the DVD. We finally found and bought a copy second hand in Napier. We were enthralled by both and could not resist going to Invercargill to see his bikes at the Hayes shop. hayes have just added a new display - the complete set of shelving which filled the wall of his shed which contained a collection of many of his development and other failures, some spectacular. He titled this collection "Offerings to the God of Speed". There is an excellent write up of Burt Munro's achievements and pictures of him in action as well as the bikes as they are currently in the museum on the E Hayes web site. The synopsis I have written above has drawn on it and many other sources including the book and film. Another site worthy of a visit is the tribute to the Tribute to Burt Munro on the Indian Motor Cycles web site.

We left Invercargill and decided to make our next overnight stop in Manapouri. Manapouri is much more tranquil than the nearby Te Anau where most tourists stay and we had views out over one of the most stunning lakes surrounded by snow topped peaks. We. rang ahead - it is not usually necessary but it was approaching Waitangi weekend and it would be late when we got there so it seemed a prudent move. We intended to stay for a single night on our way towards Christchurch but it soon becoming clear there was less urgency than Pauline had expected and she could do more via the internet than she would achieve by rushing back to the UK. In the end we had three days at the excellent Lakeside Chalet and Motor Park in a room with stunning views over the lake and mountains – a perfect tranquil and uplifting place perfectly matched to the circumstances. .

It is old style camp-site we like with lots of character and at a reasonable price. Every cabin is different with some being two story mock stately abodes almost like home. It is a collector's paradise with a collection of old Morris Minors and other cars and a games room full of classic arcade games. It also has a good kitchen and although there was no Zip there were no less than 4 electric kettles. Pauline however noted it was the only camp site where there were more washing machines and driers than stalls in the ladies, which is unfortunate as they are full of cartoons so everyone tends to linger. There is an Inn and Café almost next door which we made use of the first night sitting drinking jugs of Speight's Gold and looking at the view until we were forced back by the sandflies.

We did little of interest the first couple of days – Pauline had a lot to sort out which included all the OU marking she had downloaded before knowing about her mother. We did go as far as Te Anau to buy envelopes and note-lets and walked round the town and the DOC centre for an hour. The next day Pauline spent mostly marking and Pete took the chance to get up to date with the travelogue, the text anyway before having a walk along the lake in the afternoon from Fraser Beach (opposite the cabins) round the Glade to Pearl Harbour where the trip boats depart for Manapouri Power Station and on to Doubtful Sound, a trip we have done in the past.

The next day we did the swing bridge and going far enough to look at the two huts. The section we did has only moderate height gains, has two swing bridges and passes through beech forest. The ground and many of the trees are covered in a thick layer like moss - it is reminiscent of the Goblin forest round Mountain House on Mt Egmont. The smaller hut was very quiet having only six beds - last time Pete took the opportunity for a swim but he remembered cold it was, and this time the beach was not really quiet enough. The other hut sleeps 40 and has a sandy beach and stunning views. We first did a section of the track in 1998 when it was part of a DOC orientation trip on the lake and track and this walk was a repeat of that in 2008 and totalled about 14 km.

It took us 4.5 hours but a lot of the time was taking pictures and just sitting on the beaches - the DOC estimates of 1 hour ten mins to the point where the paths diverge to the two huts is perhaps a bit long but the 15 and 20 mins extra to the huts is correct. The track is very good, perhaps too good, the courageous could probably take wheel chair over the section we did, but for some reason it is not so popular and exploited as the Milford Track and some of the other so called 'Great Walks', perhaps because there are no fancy places to stay for the commercial operators.

Pauline had to spend the remainder of the afternoon and early evening marking and after that we went into Te Anau to the La Toscana Pizzeria and had there 'special' of garlic bread, two medium pizzas or pastas and two sweets for $45 for two people. By the time we had finished we could hardly move - we should not have added so much parmisan to the the garlic breads. The light was incredible as we came back with the sun low in the sky illuminating the evening haze and mountain tops showing above it looking as if the were almost metalic. The character of the views was for ever shifting. But by now we had stayed for 4 days, as long as we have ever been in one place in NZ so it was time to move on.

Follow our progress in The Mavora Lakes, Lake Wanaka, Haast Pass, Glaciers and Ross

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