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|Touring New Zealand 2014 part 1|
We left home with the Thames in Flood and the river not only over our bank but three steps up into the garden from the landing stage. We had not been able to reach our narrowboat Corinna for nearly a week after we got back from our interesting times on the Marco Polo far a Christmas and the New Year cruise to the Canaries where we had one of the worst storms for a century in the Bay of Biscay, and that was only on the way down! The storms which we went through had the lowest pressure recorded in the British isles for 127 years (at Stornaway). The whole of Great Britain was hit and the floods had just peaked as we left and the water level had fallen a couple of inches but not enough to even think of getting onto the boat. Fortunately Pete had got on as soon as we got back from the Marco Polo and had gathered up most of the 12 volt electrical items we would need in New Zealand. We were glad to be leaving for New Zealand.
This time we flew with Cathay Pacific because they flew through Hong Kong rather than the USA and suffer the senseless abuse from their immigration. They were also the cheapest. It was a dual coded flight and the first part was on one of their own Boeing 777-200s and the second part was also on an Air New Zealand 777-200. It was interesting to contrast the two airlines and unfortunately Cathay Pacific came out better in almost every respect. The Cathay Pacific aircraft was much newer and had a much better audio video system, the service was better as were the meals. It is however worth noting that Air New Zealand are implementing an expensive refurbishment ent of their fleet of Boeing 777-200s so it may be quite different next time and one hopes the meal contractor is changed - the trays were too small to even rest ones knife and fork without it falling on the floor. It is a sham as we always used to fly ANZ by choice. One good thing about Air New Zealand which does continue is their wine awarsd and we found that there was a booklet covering their awards for 2013 and we are wondering whether we should make a journey through their award winning wines a theme for this visit.
We landed on time and cleared customs and the MAF inspections in reasonable time. We picked up an airport shuttle to take us to Rental Car Village to collect our van. Grant had previously emailed to say he had picked out a good van with two side doors for us. We have been using Rental Car Village (used to be Thomlinson) for many years and they have always given us excellent service. The vans are not new but are well maintained and we have done huge mileages and taken them everywhere with far less problems than our cars at home doing far less miles. We generally do not actually sleep in them but that is because we have so much kit stored in NZ which includes a tent which is probably big enough to drive the van into! Again we have written a lot in the past so will just keep to repeating than we are very happy to recommend them.
The first two days were spent with my niece Christine in her house near Riverhead – she has a large plot of land with huge possibilities and stunning views through 270 degrees as it is high in the hills. It currently has a workable sized Lockwood house and the land is sufficient to support a few cows or sheep as well as her new geese - last time supper was from one of her own sheep. She has now seen all the seasons so can make informed plans on building. We ended up in doing very little the first day other than a brief shopping trip and look at the nearby town of Kumeu - the area round Kumeu is one of the original wine areas in New Zealand where the wines were largely planted and tended by Dalmatian immigrants. Many of the larger wine firms still have their headquarters and main wineries in the Auckland and Kumeu area.
The next day we thought we would go and have a look at the coast at Muriwai where there is a large and accessible Gannet Colony on the headland, which is called Otakamiro, at the end of one of the spectacular surf beaches on the West coast where Tawhiriatea (Lord of the Elements) battles his brothers Tangaroa (Lord of the Seas) and Tane (Lord of the Forest) and their children. The best known of these battlegrounds is probably the nearby Piha beach which has featured on a television series. They all have their dangers from rips and there is a large surf school with rescue services. We did the Otakamiro walk round the headland which takes about 30 minutes and goes past a number of viewing platforms looking down on the Gannet Colony. We got some spectacular close up views of the Gannets with their chicks. We could watch the parents flying in, the bonding ceremonies of clicking beaks and intertwining necks before feeding the chicks themselves with regurgitated food. The chicks were already quite large but very disheveled looking in their soft down - little wings were just forming. Each nest is just a flat area the size of a large plate and separated by pecking distance from the next. As we were descending from the headland we watched a parascender take off from below us - he only looked as if he was a a few tens of metres up the slope from the beach but rapidly ascended in the strong wind over the headland and headed off nonchalently onto the main cliffs.
We continued to Helensville which did not have a lot to offer. On the way back we stopped at the Coopers Creek Vineyard. We had been looking at the Air New Zealand Wine awards booklet on the aircraft and had bought one of the award winning "The Limeworks" Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2012 for dinner the first night. It came from fruit harvested from the ‘Middle Road’ vineyard, owned by Coopers Creek since the late 1980s. The vineyard is strewn with limestone and in fact sits next to a limeworks (hence the name for this wine).
We sampled the rather unusual "Bell-Ringer" Gisborne Albariño 2013 which is getting awards already and bought a bottle of the very well thought of 2012 to try at our leisure. Albariño hails from the North West of Spain and Northern Portugal. The wine is so named because it tastes and smells as pure as the peal of a bell, and it was grown by Doug and Delwyn Bell in their vineyard just outside of Gisborne.The bulk of the 2012 wine was tank fermented with a small component going to old barrels for a spontaneous ferment. The two components were then reassembled and the wine was bottled young.
We also tried the "Chalk Ridge" Hawkes Bay Syrah 2012 which will make an interesting comparison to our favourite Stonecroft Syrah at some point. This wine is from their Chalk Ridge block, just to the south of Havelock North. It is a steep, north facing amphitheatre that is strewn with fossilised limestone. Only the ripest fruit from the top of the hill is used in this Syrah and a tiny amount of Viognier (<1%) from the same block was co-fermented with the Syrah to add fragrance and complexity and to help fix the colour. The wine spent 12 months in one year old French oak before assemblage and bottling. The Winery is only 5 miles from Christine's house and has Jazz every Sunday afternoon so it could be a very bad influence. Few of the wines are grown locally - the have vineyards and contract growers in most of the main regions but the winery is in Kumeu.
It was then time to head to my other niece Jenny and Kev, Kerri and Jaz on Waiheke Island. We went across on one of the ferries from Half Moon Baybut stopped off on our way from Chris's to see Rob Threxton who runs Charterlink - we chartered yachts from him for many years before Kev bought Shanti, a Piver Lodestar Trimeran and his pride and joy. Jenny and Kev's house is set on the hillside above Takirau bay, a deserted beach beside a reserve with the most magnificent Pohutakawa trees. The beach has excellent swimming and the rocks at either end are supposed to be very good for fishing. Kev keeps a canoe down by the beach so one is never short of things to do. The house has a separate flat underneath which was made available to us.
Waiheke is the largest of the Islands in the Hauraki Gulf other than the Barrier Islands with a permanent population of about 7000. Frequent passenger ferries serve it from downtown Auckland allowing commuting for work as well as the car ferries from Half Moon Bay, which we used. It is primarily a holiday destination with the population quadrupling or more in the summer with many baches as well as more conventional accommodation. Jenny and Kev now have a series of baches, which are available on short, and long term lets as well as the flat under their house.
Baches (also called cribs in some areas) were, and still are, are a very Kiwi thing. They started as extremely basic holiday accommodation in deserted areas, often coastal, built out of wood, fibrolite and corrugated iron (or whatever came to hand). Many have been in the same family for many generations and progressively extended. The Oxford Dictionary tells us the term Bach is derived from the same root as bachelor - an undomesticated person living alone in simple surroundings. Baches are very much DIY enterprises and are often camouflaged to blend into the surroundings and built by those with empathy for the land. There was a brief period when there were moves to close some of them down but the import part they have played in the heritage of NZ is now recognised.
Baches were places to get away from it all, for fishing not phones and books not TV. The originals were without electricity and with a long drop hidden nearby. Water came from a tank filled from the roof and the more sophisticated added an outside washtub and mangle. They were a place for lace curtains, candlewick bedspreads and homemade rugs on a varnished floor. Bunks were the norm and curtains closed off doorways. Outside would be a shower on the wall, a smoker for fish and a barbecue or a fire pit. As time went on some gained electricity and a Zip heater with its steam whistle and cutout - many live on. Some baches even gained a huge curved front fridge, more for the fish than anything else and gradually oil lights and candles have been replaced by electric lights, even if the bulbs remain bare. Baches often started out as something else - an old caravan or tram, extended and surrounded till the original disappeared.
Jenny and Kev have a number of baches used as rental properties and they had been good enough to store all our kit in a dry ‘cellar’ under one of those. We keep almost everything in large storage bins which keep out most of the dirt, water and wild life and can be moved straight into the van and we also have a few round totally waterproof containers for more sensitive items and the kit we take sailing. That only leaves big items like fishing rods and folding chairs loose and at risk. When we landed at 1600 we had to rush straight off to collect our kit from under the bach where it is kept secure and dry - fresh people were expected early the following morning and we did not want to disturb them.
The next day was far too windy to get out to Shanti, leave alone fit the jib which had just come back from some restiching. Pauline took the oportunity to make good progress on her next essay for the Master of Law she is taking with the OU during a year or two of sabatical - currently there is a dearth of students so they are happy to have volunteers for a year off.We ventured out briefly to go to Oneroa to the bank and for a walk on a very windy beach. We sat for a while at Little Oneroa which was slightly more sheltered. next
The morning there were blue skies and light winds and we went out on Shanti with all the family and a few friends. First stop was at Palm Beach to pick up a friend of Kerry and to have a picknic lunch. Several people lost enthusiasm for swimming when a huge Sting Ray was observed under the boat. They are normally harmless in the sea unless one actually stands on them but have a vicious tail if caught and landed - a lash from it can cut right through a leg to the bone and is very slow to heal. The vote was to continue to Cactus Bay, further round the North coast of Waiheke. Almost everyone swam to the beach or used the sit on kayak or the large new canoe. We left with virtually no wind and motored back arriving just before sunset - an excellent day out.
We had an early start with a 0700 check in for the ferry back to the mainland. We stopped for a short time at Waihi, best known gold mining. The Martha Gold Mine at Waihi produced a huge amount of gold by mining to depths of 600 metres from 1878 up to 1952 and was then reopened using open-cast mining in 1982 in a huge pit which is now 600 metres across and 200 metres deep. The Martha mine produced over 5,600,000 oz of gold in the period from 1879 to 1952 and over 1,000,000 more in the first 12 years after it was reopened for open cast mining. The open cast mining is drawing to a halt and the pit is being prepared to be turned into a recreational lake. We bought a copy of "Gold Mining at Waihi 1878-1952" by J B McAra, (published by Martha Press 1988 edition, ISBN 0-908596-29-4) in the information office a few years ago. This is a fascinating and definitive, if somewhat repetitive, account of the early days by an ex mine manager and battery superintendant at Waihi who then became Inspector of Mines for the Hauraki area for 19 years before retiring.
Perhaps the most iconic image of Waihi is the old pump house which had to be moved as it was slowly collapsing into the open pit and the area had to be stabilised - it was a major task which we watched at times on the internet as it was cut free and gradually moved on tracks by hydraulic rams to its new location over a period of months. We walked up to look at it and into the pit - there was less activity than usual, but it was a Sunday, and no real sign of it being turned into a lake in the near future.Tthe Martha Mine has been operated by Newmont Mining Corporation as an open pit since 1987 and since 2006 they also operate an underground mine - the Favona. The old Cornish Pumphouse is the starting point for the new Martha Mine Walkway which is a complete circle around the Martha Mine - it is worth the hour or so it takes to complete and gives good views into the pit and back to the pumphouse.
It was then on to Rotorua using the back road from Tauranga passed Mills Reef Vineyard - it is one of our favourite vineyard both for the quality of their wine but also for their restaurant which does an excellent lunch. It was a sunny Sunday and we had never seen the car park so packed so we decided not to stop and to press on to Rotorua - we had been fed to well by Jenny and Kev to need a big lunch anyway.
Rotorua is in the centre of the thermal areas and forms an excellent base for touring. Rotorua and the surrounding thermal areas sit right on the pacific "Ring of Fire". There are often small shakes and on a recent visit there was one whilst we were eating breakfast out side on a picnic bench. They occur two or three times every day although this one was slightly more noticeable and we were told it was about 4 on the Richter scale. There are a number of thermal areas of interest in the town itself as well as plentiful accommodation and economic restaurants. We come every time in New Zealand and often end up staying for two or three days and on one occasion stayed four days - Rotorua and the thermal areas is a must on a first visit to New Zealand.
We stayed at the Manhattan Motel – we have stayed there before so we got a slight discount to $80. The Manhattan is the old style motel that we prefer, only has a small number of rooms and has the big advantage of being very central – the are always lots of motels seeming to offer good rates up Fenton Street but then you need to drive into town.
We had a number of short walks round town and we started on the lakeside walk which we entered close to the Polynesian Pools (an area of thermal pools) and first did an out and return away from town then back into the centre of town. We continued using a section of walk taking us up past the hospital with views over the lake - for some reason we had never found it before. That took us down to the corner of Kurai Park which has a lot of thermal activity and hence back to the motel.
We ate in the Pig and Whistle the first evening – their barbecue spare ribs were the enormous plate we have become used to and had even bigger lashings of plum sauce but they no longer do the kumara wedges – Pauline had to settle for the piggy tail ones which even a medium portion between us gave far too many for us to finish. The prices have gradual risen but so do the portions and the $23.70 ribs had 15 very large and meaty pieces which could probably serve two normal people even without the chips. The Pig and Whistle used to be the police station and was built in 1946 very much in Art Deco style but with some addition Maori themes in the decoration. It used to have the brewery on the top floors but it has now moved to another building and the range of their own beers id restricted and usually the only one available is the Swine Lager. It is worth checking the local 'guides' as there is often the offer of a free drink if you look closely. We had picked up a guide at the Poly Pools as we passed and cut out the coupon ready.
We had intended to go out to one of the thermal areas in the morning - there are several which are musts for a first visit but we have been to them all several times. We however seem to have gained a lifetime pass to Wai-o-tapu (we gave it an excellent write up on the internet in the early days) and often go there. It is still the one to choose if you are restricted in time. . The highlight for us is always the Champagne Pool, which has such wonderful colours and is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see. Unfortunately a gentle rain when we awoke had turned to a downpour by the time we had intended to go The pictures below are of Wai-o-Tapu from 2012 to show you what we missed!
Instead we ended up doing little more than walk briefly round the shops which are largely sheltered by large verandas. We stopped for lunch at The Thai Restaurant, another favourite, for a bowl of there soup and a main course at $17 each.It is very obviously a family run enterprise. Pete requested his Red Curry medium to hot when they asked and that was a lip burner so beware! he wonders what the '**** Thai Hot' is like. Most of the rest of the day was spent by Pauline finishing off some work for her Open University Master of Laws and Pete writing up the trip so far.
The evening was time to continue our exploration of the Air New Zealand wine awards. We had three of the Esk Valley Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec 2012 which had won Pure Elite Gold in the Merlot, Cabernet and Blends class. We had bought them with $5 off at Christine's local farm store along with a few other award winners. It was suberb and appropriate as the plan was to go to Esk Valleyand see Sue the following morning. We started it alongside some Telegraph Hill Olives (the Flowering Origano and lemon Olives) , again very appropriate as we went to Telegraph Hill for the special Esk Valley winemakers dinner which we were invited to by Sue a few years ago. By the time we had drunk most of the bottle with the Olives and one of Pete's special Avocado Dips any thoughts of eating out had dissipated and it was pot luck and doggy bags time!
The morning was an early leave for Napier, a three hour drive passing Taupo which has one of the bigest inland lakes in New Zealand. We did not go into Taupo as there is a new bypass and we did not need any Pumice! Lake Taupo is an old volcanic crater and the beaches are still covered in lumps of pumice so we often gather up a couple of new pieces to las us for the holiday. We made very good time and had reached our first and one of the most important stops - Esk Valley Winery which is about 12 km short of Napier. We were greated by Sue, the manager, who is an oldfriend - her daughter lived in reading for a while. It turned out she had been reading our website a few days ago - she is on our mailing list so must have had a xmas newsletter. Esk Valley has done very well in the wine awards, again. We pointed out that the botttle we had drunk the previous evening had been incorrectly marked as a Gold winner when in fact it was in the much higher Elite Gold catagory and it seems ANZ are issuing far too few labels to go round, which was to be confirmed at other wineyards. We had a chat about the wine with Sue and, as we knew, blended from grapes grown within the prestigious Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay sub-region which has free draining shingle soils and low vigour, ideal for the production of high quality red grapes. The Esk Valley sites are close planted and yields per vine are kept low to maximise quality. Selected yeast strains are used and the fermentation was hand plunged to gently extract tannin and colour from the skins. After a period of maceration on skins the new wines were pressed to barrel and tank for malolactic fermentation. The individual varietal and vineyard parcels were aged separately in barrel for 12 months before being blended and bottled by Gordon Russell the winemaker who we met a few years ago at the Esk Valley dinner. The final blend is: Merlot 54%, Cabernet Sauvignon 24% and Malbec 22% and it was aged for 12 months in French oak barriques, 25% new. It deserves its high a awards and is drinking surprisingly well already for so young a wine although it will keep and age gracefully for many more. We bought 6 more, some of which have the correct "Pure Elite Gold" tag - we hope we havethe odd one left to leave for a couple of years!
We tried some of the other wines, they are always very proud of their rose and one of the agents has had some tee shirts made in a violent pink colour with something like "Real Men drink Rose" - Pete did not indulge.
It was then on to the Westshore Holiday Park which we usually have a cabin for the Art Deco Festival rather than put up a tent. Fortunately they had our favourite cabin (one of the older but more spacious kitchen cabins) free so we booked in for just a single night. The cabin had been done up and now has nice new single beds but we could drag them together so no problem. They also have free wifi (150 Mbytes) and the cabin had a good strong signal so we are still preserving our Vodafone data. As soon as we had put our food in the fridge we headed for Elephant Hill which not only has one of the trophy winning wines but also has a superb, if expensive, restaurant.
We were running quite early and had time to have a wine tasting before sitting down for lunch. Sue had suggested correctly that the Sauvignon Blanc was very good and Pete also tried the 2012 Elephant Hill Gewürztraminer from hand-picking and hand-sorted grapes. 2012 was a challenging year but it was possible to select excellent fruit from vines that only produced 1.4kg/vine. The grapes were whole-bunch pressed in a basket press which is a delicate process to keep all the aromatic characters of the variety. 5% of the juice was barrel-fermented in Acacia wood which I had never heard of but apparently gives excellent texture but no dominant oak character. 30% was fermented with wild yeast in old French oak barrels and the rest in stainless steel, temperature-controlled tanks. It was then blended and put back to one-year-old oak for four months with minimum lees stirring. The care all paid off with an intense, concentrated wine with more spicy than floral Gewürztraminer character - full-bodied and well balanced with a long off-dry finish quite unlike many of the New Zealand ones and very pleasant.
The reds were the highlight and both the trophy winning 2012 Elephant Hill Syrah was very good but, as was made very clear to us, needed another 5 years before drinking The 2012 Syrah is made from Elephant Hills own Gimblett and Te Awanga Vineyards. It is not realised by many people how important the clones used are and Elephant Hill used 80% Mass Selection, 15% Chave and 5% clone 470. The bunches were gently de-stemmed and fermented in traditional open-top oak cuves. After pressing the wine was put to French oak barriques (30% new) and allowed to age for 12 months before bottling. It has a beautiful bouquet and displays typical Syrah characters of spice and blackberry. It will be glorious and although we bought a bottle it is almost a crime to drink it so young.
The 2011 Elephant Hill Hieronymus, an unusual blend of primarily Malbec with Merlot from their Gimblett and Triangle vineyards has the same problem and again needs time to be at its best and Pete thought it would be a better choice with Lunch. The name Hieronymus comes from an ancestor of Elephant Hill Proprietor Roger Weiss. Hieronymus was the Lord Mayor of Nüremberg and patron of the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century. At this time Nüremberg was the financial and dynamic city of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a free imperial city and the centre of the German Renaissance which pushed classical thinking, the arts, and the natural sciences to the forefront. Science, art and dynamic thinking are all characteristics required to craft premium wines. To quote "The grapes for the Hieronymus were harvested by hand and carefully de-stemmed to an open top cuve and fermented over a twelve day period, then gently pressed to new oak puncheons. Slow malolactic fermentation in barrel and minimal intervention has created a full, ripe and well balanced wine with a core of ripe fruit and a long finish" We could not argue.
Lunch was memorable. The location is super with views out across the mirror pool to the vineyard. We normally sit outside but the rain had left all the tables too wet tobe used. The service was excellent and the stiffly starched napkins were laid neatly on our laps - a detail missing from so many restaurants. The breads came with an excellent olive oil and a small granit dish of sea salt. We had two different starters and swapped half way. Pauline had picked the . Pete picked Pork and Black terrine, smoked beetroot jam which came with garlic bread and was almost ameal in itself. We both had the - often such complex mixes do not work but this was the exception and the crackling was crisp without being a breaker of teeth. We had no hope of getting to the sweets.
We had a couple of hours walking round town admiring the Art Deco buildings - more seem to be restored or redecorated every year. Napier although now known as The Art Deco Capital of the World started life as a copy of an English seaside resort. It is renowned for its warm sunny climate, location in Hawke's Bay and its Marine Parade is lined with tall pines. It had fine hotels, botanical gardens and bands playing in a rotunda in the square. All that changed at 1045 on Tuesday, 3rd of February 1931 when a violent earthquake struck - in less than three minutes Napier crumpled to ruins. Both Chemist shops caught fire and a brisk easterly wind spread the flames. The earthquake destroyed almost every water pipe and the fire brigade could do little and only a small area was saved from the flames. The earthquake registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and 258 people were killed mostly by falling masonry from highly decorated buildings with overhanging structures.
Napier the Victorian town was gone for ever. England offered no inspiration to the re-builders with their clean slate in 1931 but the architectural journals of America were full of interesting ideas in particular Modernism which we now know as Art Deco. Nowhere else do we find so many similar style buildings built over a period of only a couple of years to a common plan. Many of the buildings remain and even in the time we have been going to Napier the restoration and painting has further enhanced the city. It is well worth staying in Napier for a day or two to savour the atmosphere. It however seemed strange to be there outside of the time of the Art Deco Festival when the town is so alive and the streets are full of vintage cars. The parade attracts many hundreds of cars mainly from the 1930s.
In the evening we did not feel like much to eat but thought we should try the 2012 Ara Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc which we found in Countdown and had been a 2012 Air New Zealand Elite Gold winner in 2012. It was not a vineyard we had heard of before in Marlborough. It was very good and we looked up some details on the Internet and it will merit a visit when we reach South Island. Many white wines fade quickly but it was as good or better when we finished the bottle the following evening. We knew very little about Ara so we did some research on the Internet and the following is a summary and translation into English from broken winespeak on the Ara web site.
Ara make a series of different wines, all from their own estate. Their 'Single Estate' wines are a fusion of grapes sourced from all areas of Ara’s own single vineyard and selection from the whole vineyard allows them to deliver consistency in terms of style, flavour and balance. The different parcels are fermented separately with long slow cool ferments. This wine was aged on yeast lees prior to racking, blending and fining.
Ara’s estate lies at the elevated end of the Wairau Valley in Marlborough - Marlborough is arguably the best area in the world for Sauvignon Blanc. The Waihopai Valley has beneficial climate that have made the Marlborough region’s wines famous with additional advantages of higher altitude and a different teroir The Ara vineyard lies on a flat terrace where the Wairau and Waihopai Rivers meet, lifted above the rest of the valley by the Wairau Fault. The roughly rectangular vineyard is bordered by rivers on three sides, while the long western edge eases into the foothills of the Southern Alps. The Waihopai Valley marks the westernmost end of Marlborough’s main Wairau Valley. Beyond it lies nothing but rugged hills. Being further from the sea (30km) and at higher altitude (100m), nights are even cooler here than in other parts of the region. This slows down ripening, creating elegant acidity and more intense flavours. The soil at Ara consists of deep glacial outwash shingle deposits overlaid with finer alluvial or loess material, including lots of clay deeper down. The relatively infertile, free-draining soil is very much like that in Graves and Médoc in Bordeaux, as well as parts of the Rhône Valley.The Wairau Valley climate is one of the sunniest and driest in New Zealand. A rare combination of long, dry summers, bright sun (2450 sunshine hours per year) and cool, clear nights provides perfect conditions for growing ripe, intensely-flavoured fruit.
We enjoyed the wine but were still sated after the lunch at Elephant Hill so just had a few of the Olives from Telegraph hill with some salami and cheese to accompany it.
In the morning we packed early as wanted to make distance towards Wellington and our ferry but to also have time to drop in to see Esma and Colin at the Tokomaru Steam Museum - we have written about it many time so will just leave a link this time. On route we stopped at an Op Shop which we had discovered on our last visit when Pete discovered that Pauline had carefully packed all his Art Deco clothing and put in the suitcase ready for our return to the UK on the Queen Mary 2. I am not sure we have said a lot about Op Shops in New Zealand - they are an institution much like charity shops in the UK but can be much better doing an excellent job of true recycling as well as sometime offering real bargains. Last time Pete came away with an excellent, virtually unworn cream linen suit and a Harris Tweed jacket for the festival at prices we are ashamed to admit whilst the shop was absolutely delighted to get rid of items for which there seemed to be no demand. Pete took great delight in wearing them both extensively on Queen Mary 2 on the way back to the UK as well as at the Art Deco Festival! This time they were offering as much clothing as one could put in a carrier bag for $2 (£1.00) and Pauline found a lovely half mohair/half cashmere cardigan for her bag together with some tee shirts and blouses an dl Pete found 'carry on' bag for the electrical bits and pieces as our existing bag is shedding all its padding and one can hear the stitches going. This shop is well out of town and one should note that the town centre ones can be less fruitful.
We then had a very easy drive South - the roads seem to be emptier than we recall. We were seduced into a stop at a Dairy which had one of the old fashioned ice cream cones above it. We next stopped in Woodville when we saw a Butcher down a side street. We started off buying bought some venison sausages and steak but the butcher also found us some venison steaks in his freezer which he let us have at a bargain price so we are set for a couple of days with food fit to go with the Esk Valley wine.
We also stopped for a couple of minutes at the top of the Manawatu Gorge at a viewpoint. Last time the gorge had been closed by a major land slip and we had a fascinating diversion over a pass giving us a chance to look at the large wind farm which exploits the winds through and above the gorge. It was a close run thing this year as the gorge had reduced flow the day before following the big North Island quake - Magnitude 6.2 which was the same size as Christchurch and about 40 kms from our friends at Tokomaru (Epicentre was 38 km NE of Masterton). Not a lot of damage.
We had not realised how unusual the geology was in the region un till we read the information boards - it is very unusual for a river to cut its was through a major mountain range such as the Tararua-Ruahine range, one of the ranges dividing the North Island and formed by the bumping of the tectonic plates and resulting volcanic activity. As the land was uplifted most west-flowing rivers were blocked but the mighty Manawatu river fought its way over every new obstruction and with gravel and sand to help wore the channel through the rock to create this gorgeous gorge. The Manawatu is one just a few rivers in New Zealand to flow across a mountain range. There are a number of walks described on the boards which we photographed for a future visit - the only short one was unfortunately at the far end to where we were.
We had by then used enough time to get to Tokomaru safely after lunch time. Esma however produced some of her super home baked biscuits to go with coffee and we spent a couple of hours talking and generally catching ap as we missed seeing them last year. Colin also produced some of his information on family and famous locals going back to the war with lots of pictures of aircraft. many famous New Zealand pilots came form the area including Guy Gibson, famous for the Dam buster Raids by 633 squadron. They also described the effects of the earthquake which was quite close and shook things off shelves and the piano and broke glass in some of their museum display cabinets as well as terrifying the cat.
We stayed in Levin at the campsite which is in new hands and has been done up a lot and offers very good accomodation and excellent facilities at a very reasonable cost. It is an ideal distance from Wellington for the ferry tomorrow - it is about a 90 minute drive. The veneson turned out to be superb despite being frozen - almost as tender as the starter at Elephant Hill - why do we not get Veneson like that in the UK.
In the morning it was time to head South again to Wellington - a short drive of 90 kms with plenty of time as the feryy was not until 1330 with a checkin time of 1230. We got there early but they allowed us to use the short term parking and we walked into town - first to the station which is just opposite, we had remembered that there was a New World Supermarket at the staion and we needed some salad. It may be no surprise that we found they had some more of the AirNew Zealand Wine Award winning wines at cut prices from vineyards we did not know so our stock has increased once more. It is a good job we are here for three months. Once the purchases were back in the van we had a walk down the waterfront past Shed 5, a favourite restaurant before returning to check in and load
Bluebridge is very convenient as they are right in the centre of Wellington unlike Sealink who we normally use. Sealing however have had problems with their main ship, the Aratere whichlost a propellor in November 2013 and is still out of service. We had an email from them and made an immediate booking on Bluebridge before everyone else got into the queue. It all seemed a bit disorganised loading and vehicles were being squezed into smallspaces at odd angles. The passanger space also seemed very small and the set of seats we found were broken. However we are moving as I write this with the intention of being able to send out our North Island adventures [without] pictures shortly.