|Touring New Zealand 2012 part 9
We got up at the start of the dawn chorus to dry out and take the tent down before the forecast heavy rain reached us. It is getting quicker with practice and we cheated at set the hot air blower going to help dry out the heavy overnight condensation. The journey took us over Takaka Hill to reach Golden Bay from Tasman Bay; it is a big climb exceeding many of the major passes and offers some excellent views from lay-bys and from the recently installed DOC Hawkes lookout which is reached by a ten minute walk through some fascinatingly water sculpted rocks. It has a viewing platform which hangs out from the hillside giving one a magnificent view out to sea and down the near vertical hillside to the valley a thousand feet below - a must stop. The other good viewpoint is on the descent at Harwood's Lookout where there is a much shorter walk to a viewpoint.
We pused for the view at the summit where there is a car par at the entry to the caves at Nagarua where they run tours every hour. The caves are well worth a visit the first time you visit the area as they give an understanding of how the area was formed. You also see some Moa bones from a Moa which fell into one of the many vents leading down into the caves. The caves are normally quite dry but after a few days of heavy rain there can be quite a lot of water which enhanced things even more - our visit in 2000 was after heavy rain but fortunately not so much that it prevented pictures. They were happy with flash pictures but not video - too many tourists were falling over trying to film whilst walking and looking through the viewfinder!
We also stopped to look at the end of the half day Takaka walkway which we did a few years ago (2004) our friends Peter and Jean and the Wednesday Club, an informal group that meets at the information office every Wednesday morning for a walk, often on otherwise inaccessible private ground. It was an excellent two and a half hour walk - a little longer including coffee and lunch stops - with a very friendly and well informed group of about our fitness level. We had a lot of local flora and fauna pointed out to us including the unusual large carnivorous snail, the powelliphanta, and a minute orchid which we almost sat on at lunch. A big initiative to save the native giant land snails has just being launched by the minister of conservation at Takaka hill.
Once over the summit one is in Golden Bay which only has a population of only 7000 - mostly farming and in the seafood industries now. It has a much more varied history involving gold mining, coal mining, timber, paint manufacturing and asbestos mining in its time. It has also become a major tourist centre with an increase in population in the season to circa 35,000. It has a very good climate but without suffering the droughts which Marlborough and Canterbury suffer. The Bay is a very sheltered and comparatively shallow, fewer than 35 metres over most of the area bounded by Abel Tasman and the huge sand spit called Farewell Spit. The shallow warm waters has led to the development of many mussel farms and cockles are also harvested from the large sand flats, which stretch up to 9 kms from the coast.
Once we had checked into our cabin at the Takaka Camping ground (small but good, well equiped and friendly, it was time to sort out our finances in the BNZ in town, it is in an a very impressive old building. BNZ offers free internet access from a single machine - that could be useful as Vodafone coverage in Takaka is very flaky - we only found coverage at the exit end of the visitor centre car park where it was reliable and high speed but move ten metres and real problems. We then spent some of it in the Takaka museum, small but very interesting with a lot of local history about Goldmining, coalmining, iron smelting, paint manufacture and asbestos mining in Golden Bay, we bought a little booklet which had the text and some pictures from many of the boards last time we came - unfortunately we think it is back in the UK.
The DOC office had weather forecasts which confirmed we were right to book a cabin with predictions of half an inch a day. We also talked about the reconstruction of a stamper battery that they have just completed on the Aoerore gold field - they had no information other than the pictures in the windowbut they marked its position on a map for us. It is off a 4WD track which extends to the South beyond the normal walking loop track and the exit to the 20 minute tramp to reach it is just marked by an orange triangle at present. we also got a copy of the Wednesday Club walks program in case the weather improved. Our amble round town was completed with provisioning at the Freshchoice supermarket, very reasonable prices and better than average choices especially considering how far we are off the beaten track. We then made our way to the school to see if we could make contact with an old friend from college who is now teaching mathematics there and arranged to meet up the following evening.
The following day had extremely heavy rain and we ended up doing very little but watch the rain beating on the van and get up-to-date with writing up and read a few books. There was a total of 121mm in Takaka town during the day according to the Met Office on the TV and 220mm on the ranges. We met up with Richard in the evening and went to the Brigand - even the 10 metre run into the restaurant left us wet. The food was good and we were served by some of Richard's students - its a small town.
By the morning it had let up enough to allow us move on. We had found that the camp site at Pakawau, a camp site in a super position towards the top of Golden Bay did not seemed to be alive and well as it did not answer the phone and during an internet search we found the associated camp store had been suddenly shut down 18 months ago. (We later found that it is operating and run through the local cafe but you have to go there to find that out). We therefore rang the Collingwood camp site and booked a cabin which turned out to now be a real winner.
The Collingwood Camp Site is right beside the river delta and would normally have swimming but the flow would have been too much for most swimmers whilst we were there after the heavy rain - the river had a lot of sediment which we were told made fishing impossible whilst there are normally lot of kahawai and there is even a picture of a huge Kingfish. The camp site it is now under new and friendly management who have transformed the site in the 5 months they have been there. We had an excellent kitchen cabin ($60) which had a beach view for the first night. It was large, two linked rooms, well equiped with full linen, pictures on the wall, microwave fridge and TV and a small shetered deck. We then transfered to their 'house' often used for school parties at a discounted price as the kitchen cabin was only available for one night - we were rattling in a house cabable of taking 11 people which even had a dish washer. The normal site kitchens and other facilities are good with a well equiped library internet etc. The owners have returned - they did most of the setting up twenty years ago when they leased it from the Council but then sold out and moved onto other things. They have now returned and rescued it from the very run down state we found in 2000. It shows how things can change and it is now definitely our favourite in the area.
The next point of call was Pupu Springs. The springs are accessed through another of DOC's interpreted forest walks which is very interesting in its own right as there are early pictures of the area when it had been cleared by Gold workers and the various stages of regeneration are brought out. The Springs themselves are the largest in New Zealand and big on a global standard. There are a number in individual springs but the most impressive come out of a bed of sand in a lake of crystal clear water and you can see the sand being thrown up by the incoming water giving them their nickname of the dancing sands. There are also giant periscopes giving an underwater view of the springs - a must to visit but put on your sandfly repellent if you intend to stay still to take pictures for long. The area is also a sacred Maori area.
The area was also a Gold mining area and Golden Bay got it's name from the early rich discoveries and the first gold rushes in NZ rather than the golden sands on the sweeping beaches as now thought by most people. Not at lot remain although there are some good Goldfield walks one of the best being very close to Pupu. We did it last visit and it takes you up to and along one of the old water races that brought water at high pressure (a 130 metre head to power the gold extraction along a 3 km race begun in 1901 and completed by 8 men in six months including several aquaducts - it involves a vigorous climb before the long walk along the channel which hangs on the steep hillside. After the gold field was exhausted the race was restored in 1929 and about half of the race is used to power a small hydroelectric plant, which remained in operation into the 0950s by which time it was the smallest plant connected to the grid. It has recently been once more restored by enthusiasts and is now reconnected and can be seen in operation most of the time. A new return track has just been created and opened by the volunteers - we did not do it on our last visit as the skies had darkened and we cound see heavy rain over the hills and we were not prepared with full waterproofs so we beat a hasty retreat. An interesting two hours round trip if you have the time to spare.
We had a run out to look at the Golden Bay Machinery and Settlers Museum at Rockville. The Museum has a lot of interesting early machinery and some steam engines which are occasionally steamed in the summer. It is run by volunteers and is not very well presented at present so is more for the enthusiast - it is however only a donation ($2 suggested) so it is worth a quick look. We found some interesting old pictures showing some of the Gold Mining and Coal Mining in the area as well as spending a happy hour looking at farm machinery, early diesel engines and tractors. Some exhibits of "household/settlers" have been reorganised into rooms, although we believe there much is still locked away. There is a complementary very small museum in Collingwood also run by volunteers which has good displays with typical early settlers rooms.
We also stopped at the Devils Boots - an interesting Rock formation and series of pools in the river bed which can only be reached by climbing under a dummy electric fence crossing the track to the river. We did not go down this time but did return a couple of days later.
The Devils Boots are on route to the Aorere Goldfield - the car park is kilometres further - it is marked in all the information as suitable for cars and there are signs that there is a car park at the end. It is presently not suitable for a normal car, only 4X4. We have made it once as we had no choice once we were part way down and found it had deteriorated to have huge ruts, holes and boulders. Pauline was often walking ahead directing so we did not hit anything vital underneath - it is best to stop at an intermediate small parking just short of a gate you have to open or even by the Devils Boots.
The walk is a pleasant long climb first taking one past Druggan's flat which was worked by tunnelling last century and reworked by digger and rotary screen in the 1980s. We continued the steady climb through regenerating bush for a total of about 45 minutes which brought us up to some water races and associated tunnels which once brought water about 4 kms to the workings. There are two large caves which DOC say can both be explored given the right clothing and care. We looked at Stafford's Cave from outside as we did not have walking boots and duplicate torches. Ballroom cave seemed safer and we went in as far as the Ballroom using the trusty Maglite. In any case DOC say there are no tracks yet to many of the most interesting features so it is best regarded as a nice place for a walk which happens to pass through a goldmining area.
The next day we spent at the far north around Farewell Spit an area we have only explored in the past on a tour. The Spit is a conservation area and only a small area is open to the public other than by formal tours. The spit is the longest sandbar in the world stretching out 35 kms from the end of South Island and curving round to protect Golden Bay. Much of the spit is under a kilometre wide at high tide but the vast inter-tidal plain extends nearly another ten kilometres at low tide. It is a haven for a tremendous range of wild birds, native, exotic and migratory. We have seen many of them in our journeys but never in the numbers that we saw on our tour and in one place - waders stretching as far as the eye could see. There were a number we had never seen such as the small and lively Turnstones. The far end has a Gannet colony, which our trip did not visit, which we regretted when we discovered that one could actually be led in amongst the juveniles on the nest.
This time we stopped first at the information office which actually has no information sheets but does sell coffee and meals and but will tell you what to do if it is quiet and they have nothing to sell. We were fascinated to see notices tell you you could not take your own food or drink down the path to the beach from the information office. We therefore took the van down to the beachside Farewell Spit Nature Reserve car park which is just beyond Port Puponga and in the Puponga Farm Park. Access is prohibited from most of Farewell Spit unless you are on an expensive tour like we did on an earlier visit however the first couple of kilometres are accessible. We took the walk which is signed Fossil Point which takes you across Triangle Flat over farm land and dunes to Fossil Point. Fossilised shells and worm casts can be found in blocks of mudstone fallen from the cliffs. Seals can often be seen here playing in the water. You can then walk down the Tasman coast and cross back from Ocean Beach at the start of the dunes on the Spit track or a couple of km further on a marked path which is the limit of free access. We crossed on Spit track and then came back along the edge of the sea - the tide was high and we had to duck under a few trees or get our feet wet. There were some interesting Jellyfish beached along the tideline - they were completely transparent and looked like a magnifying lens when they were free of sand.
We then continued towards Wharariki Beach which normally has a seal colony and views of the the Archway Islands with their fascinating arches and caves. We stopped to look briefly at the new Wharariki Beach Holiday Park, actually a long and challenging walk from any beach - however they advertise very heavily and have magnificent glossy brochures showing their site as the eye of the kiwi and the land and spit forming the head of the kiwi. The site looks very unprotected for tents to us, maybe their tent sites are completely hidden. They are in the process of building some cabins and have a dormatory style backpackers. If the want total isolation and the potential for beautiful sunsets it the site for you. We went the extra 500 metres to the official car park and walked to the beach - we took a lot more than 15 minutes to reach the high water mark, up a hill, along a narrow path and down through wind swept dunes with sand you sink into - perfect as a training run - it looked as if it took us closer to 25 minutes from the timings on our pictures although a lot of the time was struggling through the loose sand dunes. The wind was very high so we got few pictures as it was sweeping in clouds towards us. At high tide one can not enter the caverns and we had a restricted view of the Archway Islands which was a shame look magnificent on the postcards, especially when there is a sunset.
Whilst writing up we looked at the DOC site and gained some further useful information - to quote DOC "Wharariki Beach is a Wild West Coast beach with big waves, caves, seals and massive sand dunes. The walk is easy taking between 20 minutes and 2 hours return but warn there is a steepish drop-off on one side of a section of the track. On arriving at the beach, there are three rocky islands – the furthest out is inaccessible at all times and features a dramatic archway through its centre. The next island inland features a series of rock pools when at low tide, baby seals can often be found at play and provide great entertainment for visitors. The closest island has two caves running through it out to the sea which can be explored if you have a flashlight with you. For the more adventurous, you can proceed down the beach to the left to a stone arch and several caves – a path cuts inland and allows you to return to the car park via an inland farm track. Take warm, windproof clothing with you and beware of tidal changes. Not safe for swimming."
We debated whether to walk up to the Pillar Point lighthouse but we were already windswept and had got plenty of exercise for the day. We did take a detour and short walk to Cape Farewell, the northern most part of South island and admired the views of the cliffs, echoing caverns in the rocks and seal pups playing in the pools far below. It was then back to our luxury accomodation to warm up and shake out the sand.
We started the next day with a drive to the end of the Kaituna track, the first 4 kms up to the forks is easy walking on an old packtrack route to a goldfield, after which it was extended to the quartz reefs west of the Wakamarama Range and the Taitapu goldfield. The latter section is now reopened as a basic track to Knuckle Hill which has a number of river crossings and is only for the well equipped serious tramper. When we reached the forks it was obvious that there was no way that the ford could be safely crossed as the stream was still high - one might have got across using ropes for safety and for packs but not for us! Information is sparse on the Kaituna goldfield and all our information comes from an old and by now very faded DOC information sheet. Workings started on the Kaituna River and Victoria Creek in 1859 and continued with a small number of diggers working throughout the year until the late 1800s. Dredging operations were tried with little success in 1902 and ceased in 1903 as only 7 oz a week was being recovered.
We spent some time exploring the gold workings on the Kaituna River - the DOC sheet has a map. Most of the workings were fairly obvious. The terrace of alluvial gold bearing gravels were worked by ground sluicing by water races channeled to the top of the faces which seem to have been up to 50 feet high. The water washed the cliff face and gold bearing material down and was directed into channels which then flowed into sluice boxes and down tailraces. Rocks too big to wash away were neatly stacked. All the above were easy to identify on the ground as was the trial adit. The difficulty was in identifying the old water races, many were barely discernable in the thick bush but we had fun exploring. We then walked on part way to the forks for some exercise before returning.
We got back at lunch time and had lunch at the Naked Possum restaurant which has got new owners but was as good or better than last time when we did the same walk in 2006. We had a couple of excellent home made game pies (venison with mushroom and wild goat a locally created curry) with dressing at $17 each, more than the $12 last time but thats 8 years of inflation and still good value. The big open fire was going well in the outside fireplace but we needed to cool down rather than warm up after our walk. We enquired where the name came from and apparently the site was owned by a Possum hunter and tanner who started an associated restaurant who decided the name was appropriate - there are plans to reopen a possum related activity.
After lunch we continued a little further down the same road to see the Langford store - a classic general store and post office nestling in the heart of the Aorere valley which has been providing essentials to the Bainham community and travellers since 1928 when it was set up by the great-grandfather of the present owner Sukhita. The store has remained in the family four generations - EB Langford was the initial proprietor, followed by his grand-daughter Lorna who ran the store and post office for 63 years untill she retired in 2008 handing over the reins to Sukhita Langford, who hopes to continuing the 80 year old traditions. It now specialise in teas served off classic china with home made cakes. They also sell china to visitors and have the inevitable small art gallery to browse in the old storeroom alongside some interesting memorabilia. The building is a Historic Places Trust registered building and it seems as if it is in a time warp with the post office looking little changed since the thirties.
to see other than the supports as the swing bridge, along with the new concrete bridge had come down in the floods a year ago. The Salisbury Bridge was a historic foot bridge built during the gold mining dayw hich led to Salisbury Falls and swimming hole. There are now signs across a field to the falls which were well worth the short walk. There was a super looking swimming hole at the bottom and Pete was all for going back to get his togs when the sandflies started to gather and the attractions of the swim faded.
On our return we diverted again to the Devil's Boots and this time we walked right down and over all the rock formations in the river to get some better pictures. This involved two crossings of the electric fence, one at a sort of style by the car park and the second an unmarked crawl under the fence out of the field and down a slope to the Devil's Boots formations in the river. An old hut serves as a marker.
It was unfortunately now time to move on - we had enjoyed our time at Collingwood Camping Grounds greatly, especially the luxury of the house but we had a booking at Te Mahia and a ferry booking constraining us so we needed to get over Takaka hill and stay near Nelson. We also had a docket for a free bottle of wine with lunch at Seifried on Suday to consider so we reluctantly set off.
Tasman Bay is a big fruit growing area, so we had to stop for fruit at John Richard's roadside stall. There were samples to try of all the new season fruit - This time Pete realised that the knife was to cut off samples! We bought several more bags - $3 for as many as you could get into the bag of plums and $4 for apples or pears. We are starting a serious fruit eating project.
We stopped at Seifried and tried two meals, the German Meat Platter on a carved barrel stave and the Asian Basket, both were very good although the seafood platter we had last time is hard to beat. We shared a sweet plate and bought a couple of extra bottles of wine. Pauline had the lion's share of the free bottle of gewurtztramminer with lunch as Pete was driving leaving him only a small bit for supper.
We stopped just short of Nelson in the Kiwi Holiday park which turned out to have an eighty year history and be the largest camp site in the Southern hemisphere. It featured airborn entertainment from dawn to well after dusk as it was right at the end of the Nelson runway - 5 came by at a few minutes spacing at 0700 so you do not need an alarm clock. It was a reasonable price and in the right place and the guy on the desk was a relation of Bill and Shelley Climo at the Collingwood Camping Ground. We walked down to the beach in the late afternoon and had a look round the site in the morning - it is huge and the far end is beachfront although it is closed off out of season.
We spent two hours in Nelson in the morning including looking round the Cathedral which was started in the 1930s but never properly finished to the original design - it finally gained a lower permanent roof in the 1980s and a shortened tower. It also had a huge organ suspended on a stalk high above the transcript. We found Nelson has one of the few remaining Pararubber shps which had a vast selection and stock - we bought two 'skins' from when they make the closed foam used for mats etc which will make ideal undermats for the matresses when camping as they will reduce condensation on wet ground $8 for 2 square metres seemed too good to be true as single small mats are are now about $20 - our last ones were eaten by the rats when in store. We went past the Museum but it was free for locals but too expensive for visitors - a pity as it has a good reputation and a lot of archives which you pay even more to access.
Finally it was shopping in Coutdown where we found that the wine we had bought at Seifried was half price making it $6 a bottle cheaper than at the winery so we bought a couple of extra bottles to console ourselves. We also bought a lite ice-cream at $4.68 which was much less than a couple of cones. We had some as we left then stopped again at a picnic where we supplied two german cyclists with ice cream - they seemed to be on a round the world trip and had cover 12,000 kms so far but had almost been defeated by the NZ roads - they had to replace 4 spokes on one of their wheels yesterday.
for one of our few periods of luxury - we had booked into the Te Mahia Bay Resort for three days before catching the ferry. We have used it as a base in the Marlborough Sounds several times. They have a small number of units on Kenepuru Sound. We always remember the first time we came - after a while we went back to reception and said "you forgot to give us the key" - the answer was the key had gone missing 3 years before and nobody ever locked anything up anyway - and its still the same! The 'heritage units' in the old building, which we prefer, are actually rambling suites with several bedrooms kitchens, lounges bathroom etc - the first time we thought all the interconnecting doors were open but were told it was all ours. Everything is provided, from fridge freezers and stainless steel thermos bodums in the kitchen to big baskets of towels covered in fresh rosemary in the bedrooms. It is very much like being in somebody's home with old pictures on the walls and flowers in the vases.
The Te Mahia Bay Resort goes back to 1900 and they have a large number of pictures showing the history but they had nothing in writing. We quizzed the owners Jann and Trevor and found it was extended to have a double level set of rooms in a large wing in 1930 and the main residence gained an extra floor in 1948. There are some good pictures of it in that configuration and in excellent condition taken in 1955. It then got very run down and the end block was deliberately burnt down. More recently a luxury motel block has been built slightly further back on the site of the old tennis court and there are 2 even more luxurious apartments where there used to be a few caravan and tent sites. We have had a chance to look inside the new apartments and they were very impressive and luxurious with everything one could think of to make ones stay comfortable and life easy including washing machines, driers and even a DVD player. Te Mahia translates as "indistinct sounds" which is very appropriate.
They have lots of Kayaks if you want to go exploring or fishing and a comprehensive library if you want to do nothing. Unfortunately the last regulations preclude them offering the tinnies they used to have for hire. The shop has a sensible collection of food and they do a series of gourmet meals which are frozen and ready to microwave. This year they have also started to offer Stoneground Pizzas. Normally there is no real need to leave for provisions during a stay, although you can take a water taxi if you fancy eating out. Many groups return every year at the same time and they rarely need to advertise (over 70% is repeat business or direct referals) so they can be difficult to find unless you pass by although this year we notice their new luxury apartments are featured in the AA guide although they do not expect to bother next year. Since last visit all the balustrades on the heritage units have been replaced with new glass ones and the decking extended with lots of new tables and chairs. The building has obviously been repainted very recently outside and many of the heritage units have been redecorated. There is also a new sun deck for casual visitors as well as the table inside - they now do a lot of teas and I can see why when I looked at the cakes.
We spent most of our time just relaxing, thinking about swimming, reading (they have a huge library of classic/heritage, non-fiction and fiction books), writing up the journal and, in Pauline's case, painting. The fishing gear was unpacked for the first time as there is a wharf at the end of their private beach for water taxis. Many of the houses in the Sounds are only accessible from the sea so water taxis are an essential part of life. The fishing gear was all in perfect condition thanks to some magic gunk we had sprayed everything with. We only saw a few spotties, but it did prove everything was working and we now have some salted bait. A couple of years ago we caught a good size Eagle Ray from the same wharf.
Finally it will be time to drag ourselves away from this hidden paradise and head for the ferry - we will take up the story again in North Island in North Island