|Touring New Zealand 2014 part 3
We woke to a lovely morning, had breakfast in the sun trap at in front of the tennis count next to the cabin and decided where to go and finally decided to go to Mount Somers, a favourite place where the road to Erewhon starts. We tried to ring ahead for a cabin at the Mt Somers Holiday Park before we started the drive of about 200 kilometres from Christchurch - they were not answering but we left a message and traveled hopeful. We have stayed here before and it comes high on our list of places to stay. The office was always surrounded by pots of the largest lilies we have ever seen from the lily farm down the road but since those days the owners have changed twice. The new owners have done an amazing job on the grounds but have yet to replace the Lilies. They have half a dozen of the basic cabins we were interested in on the site - good value at $55 as they are recent construction and very well equipped with crockery cutlery, kettle and toaster to complement the full kitchen, laundry etc. in the facilities block which again has an amazing collection of everything one might need, cupboards full. Outside the kitchen there are beds of every sort of herb you could wish for when cooking. The washing machines are reasonably priced at $3 whilst many other camp sites are asking from $4 or even $5. The site even has a games room with table tennis and the pub opposite does great meals.
We had made very good time and it was only 1200 so went round to the amazing old style local shop, which has settees in the window and a classic petrol pump out side and had a couple of ice creams - the cheapest this holiday and a good size. We took the trip into the mountains - the Road to Erewhon which is about 45 kms taking one past Mount Sunday to Erewhon Station, a trip we have made several times in the past but one that never palls. It initially passes an old limestone kiln, an old limestone working and the road down to the mines and jig. The road has superb views and a eventually to Erewhon Station which was featured in the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler, one of the classic New Zealand books we bought and read last year. Now the book has been mentioned in the Lord of the Rings Location guidebook by Ian Brodie it will probably become extremely expensive and difficult to find, however it may lead people to also read the other classics in the series - fortunately we now have copies of most of them!
This time we look a short side track to look at the old Limestone quarry - we must have been before but did not recall it well so we spent some time exploring and took some new pictures. There are a number of old artifacts as well as the original 'White Stone Lodge' with a variety of building styles of work. The Limestone which was quarried here was difficult to cut but was easy to split cleanly so holes were drilled at side and top and a series of wedges used to careful split out the huge block, many were taken as ballast in ships to Australia where they were used for important building works.
We also stopped to look at one of Mid Canterburies oldest buildings in an area which has just been opened up and serves as an information post into the Hakatere Conservation Park and the O Tu Wharwkai wetland. It now has a lot of the buildings converted into accommodation for what we assume are school groups and also has a room full of information boards. The stone cottage dates back to 1862 and despite some additions and alterations still retains most of the original characteristics of the early station days.
We looked at Lake Camp which has an informal
camp site at one end and has a large number of batches in a little township at the other. It is used extensively for water sports and was heaving on a nice summer day. Opposite is Lake Clearwater which is restricted to sailing, rowing boats and fishing.
As one approached the jagged snow covered peaks over a ridge one is suddenly presented with the view of Mt Sunday ahead surrounded by a flat covered in brown tussock and the braided tributaries of the river Rangitata. One year we just sat there admiring the view whilst Pauline got her watercolour paints out. We stopped at the top of the hill looking down and got our chairs out - the view is spectacular and one can just see the road below winding across past Mt Potts station which now offers weekend accommodation and heliport facilities for Heli-sking in the winter. The area just short of Erewhon was used for part of the filming of Lord of the Rings, a camp was set up for 11 months and near Mt Potts Station. Mt Sunday a rocky outcrop rising above the alluvial shingle plain left when ancient glaciers carved out the Rangitata River valley. This was used as the site of Edoras the capital of Rohan laying at the feet of the white mountains near the river Snowborne. It is called Mount Sunday because the boundary riders from the high country stations used to arrange to meet there every Sunday.
We continued past Mt Potts station to viewpoints where one could look up at Mt Sunday, itself a tiny feature in the vastness of the plain and surrounding mountains. A new car park has been set up with a permissive track to visit Mount Sunday and there is another new car park and permissive track half a kilometre further on which also has excellent views out to Mount Sunday. One can then drive as far as Erewhon Station, nestling at the foot of the mountains. Samuel Butlers description is as true now as when he wrote Erewhon “Never shall I forget the utter loneliness of the prospect - only the little far away homestead giving sign of human handiwork, the vastness of mountain and plain, of river and sky; the marvelous atmospheric effects - sometimes black against a white sky, and then again, after cold weather, white mountains against a black sky.” The book had led us to seek out Erewhon before we even knew the area had been kidnapped by for the Lord of the Rings although it is fair to say they have made good and you would hardly know there had been a small township for 11 months in this area. Erewhon Station now offers accommodation and the chance to take a wagon trip pulled by Clydesdale horses. This time we did not do the last stretch past the track to Mount Sunday but if you do go that far it is worth noting there is at least one interesting ford to negotiate on the way in addition to the rough gravel roads. We have put some pictures below from 2012 of the final section of the road to Erewhon.
Blackburn Mine and Jig: We then took the side track to look at the coal mines and the Jig that served them. There is a turn off about 8.5 kms short of Mt Somers which continues as a gravel road another 3.5 kms to the Woolshed Creek car park. We followed the old Miner Trail which forms the initial part of the Mt Somers walkway up past the Jig and on to the old Blackburn Mine coal workings. We have walked to the mine on previous trips but this time we did not have the boots for 'rock hopping' across the streams. The Jig was a tramway arrangement with an up and down trolley linked by cable with suitable brakes to allow a load of coal to descend whilst the empty truck was taken back up. It ascended 170 metres in 550 metres so even the old miners track which zigzagged a little gave us a little exercise.
One climbs through the forest of black beech which has a thick black coating over the bark which seems to be a sweet fungus which delights the wasps which feast on it. There were some interpretation boards. The mining started in tunnels but after the coal seam was set on fire by spontaneous ignition it converted to open cast and the fires were put out every morning before work started. On the previous trip to the mine we saw there was a hydraulic monitor on display and we were not sure if the everybody was sluiced away or if it was used to put out the fires. On the way down there is an alternative route via a nature trail - it involves two crossings of the Woolshed Creek which involved a little rock hopping. Overall a very enjoyable afternoon but be warned, much of it is gravel roads with rough large stones and a ford so you need a 4x4, or other vehicle with good tyres and ground clearance like our Mazda Bongo from Rental Car Village.
In the evening we decided to quench our thirst from the hot day at the pub which is right opposite the camp site and is an old favourite. On the way we had a look at the the old mustering hut which has been brought down from the mountains and installed as part of the museum in the domain opposite to the pub. It has served as many things including an mountain hut for the mountanaering club and is full of memorabilia. The cooking at the pub looked as good as ever and after a jug of beer we got seduced into a couple of huge mixed grills which were all of $24 each, washed down with a few jugs of ale. Everyone drinks beer in small glasses, poured from a large jug. In the past we have even sat in front of a roaring log fire, the weather can be very variable in the mountains! The walls of the pub are covered with information boards on the history of the area and walks through it. It used to be a small-scale coal mining area and there are pictures of the railway, initially narrow gauge and with several home made engines, one based round a 20 HP McCormick Deere tractor engine that we had just seen an example of at Fairlie. There was also an 'inclined plane' called the jig for a balanced up and down coming truck covering the final 164 metre height gain. . The combination of the accommodation and pub makes it a perfect stopping place even if you do not want to do the “Road to Erewhon”.
We left Mount Somers the next morning in pouring rain undecided where to go. It ended up being a largely traveling day although the skies cleared when we got the other side of Burkes Pass as we dropped towards the lakes but the winds were still too high to stop and camp which had been our intention.
We made a number of stops to look at views and take some pictures - the scenery gets better and better as one works South and into the lakes and mountains. Our first stop was at Geraldine, a pleasant town in its own right with camping shops but more important this time - a large FreshChoice supermarket which we needed to stock up with basics. It is now a very popular 'comfort' stop for long distance buses and must have the largest number of toilets per head of population of any town in the world and the highest prices for snacks and fruit. It is also famed for the largest pullover in the world (naff) and an interesting tapestry we have admired in the past.
It was then on through Fairlie - cheap petrol at BP. Fairlie has a fascinating Heritage Museum which has a large collection of largely farm based items - we have spent hours there on previous visits. It spreads over a number of large buildings including an original pioneer cottage, now in a time warp and the blacksmith's premises. The entire Fairlie railway station had been added - it had been moved complete from its original site in the main street and must have been quite a sight as the building and transporter was 114 feet long and about 24 wide. To these had been added a number of new 'hanger like' buildings which were full of basically agricultural and transport machinery from a stage coach similar to those of 120 years ago carrying 17 people inside and hanging onto open seats on top to veteran cars. There is a lot of old farm machinery much of which is under cover but outside which was a challenge in some of the rain storms. There was a big collection of fixed engines and lots of farm machinery as well as the railway exhibits and hospital equipment in the old station. There is even an autogyro hanging from the roof. There was also a lot of interesting information about sheep farming, especially shearing through the ages. and lots of unlikely but fascinating displays inside including barbed wire – hundreds of types and almost as many types of fencing wire tensioners. The tractors and cars have recently moved to a huge new building the other side of the road which one collects a key for from the shop. We have spent so long in the past we gave it a miss this time but if you are passing by for the first time allow at least an hour or two.
The skies suddenly cleared as we went over Burkes Pass. Burke’s Pass village has the earliest ‘United’ church in New Zealand – tiny but worth a halt as there was also a lot of information on the new heritage trail set up round the village. Burke’ Pass itself is relatively low at about 750m
It was then on to Lake Tekapo -by then the skies were blue with just a few cumulus clouds over the mountains and the odd cloud in some of the valleys. Tekapo lies in MacKenzie country, a vast basin of golden tussock grass with the lake at 2,300 feet above sea level, an area known for sheep. Maori were the first to venture into this area. In 1855 James MacKenzie, of sheep stealing fame, found the pass used by the Maori opening up the area which now bears his name. The Maori name for the lake comes from Taka, sleeping mat and Po, night. The views across the lake were some of the best we have seen - the light blue of the lakes provided by all the granite suspended in the melt water from the glaciers - this time speckled with light from the little waves driven by the high winds.
We went into the tiny and very beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd which was open, and there were lots of tour buses outside and swarms of tourists all taking photos of themselves against the mountain backdrop. The Church of Good Shepherd has a plain glass window over the altar with a stunning view of the lake and mountains - far better than any stained glass. I use an earlier picture taken in 1999 for my Xmas cards. Who needs stained glass? The Church was built in 1935 and is now interdenominational and as well as regular services it does a good trade in Weddings. The builders of the Church were instructed that the site was to be left undisturbed - even the Matagouri bushes surrounding the building were to remain. Rocks which happened to be on the lines of the walls had to remain. The stones for the walls had to be procured within 8 kms of the site, were to be left in their natural condition. The original wooden shingle roof has however had to be replaced with slate. We got one of our few tourist free pictures of the church - tiny but perfectly formed. In the past we have spent a lot of time speaking to the regular warden, Dave Clark who has a huge fund of knowledge about the church and also what is going on in Tekapo. He is also a great walker and was responsible for our first walks up the nearby Mt John, which he used to climb most mornings, and many other tramps over a wide area. It was very clear down the lake to the central mountains almost 70 kms away but to the side there was a fascinating view with cloud pouring over the hill tops and down thousands of feet like a huge avalanche almost to ground level.
We usually follow the canals as much as possible towards Cromwell - there are many private roads following the canals, which connect the various lakes and power stations providing hydroelectric power. These roads are open for use with some restrictions, such as speed, and most are tarmac and to a very high quality, in fact some of the Heritage trails such as the Bullock Trail, use these roads. There has been much argument over the flooding of the valleys but the results are, to us, a number of extremely beautiful areas with good recreational facilities. You can follow these hydroelectric scheme roads for miles along wide canals with pale blue waters and past vast power stations with banks of pipes several metres in diameter bringing the water down from the canals above. The waters are the same incredible light blue colour of the lakes. The Tekapo Canal road was closed for construction work so we we could not even reach the Mt Cook salmon farm.
The next stop was Lake Pukaki where we stopped for pictures beside the lake and at the big viewpoint at the end where one can see right up to Mount Cook. The Mount Cook Salmon farm which we normally stop at on the canals has been forced to move its sales to the viewpoint buildings and we bought some half price 'sushi' salmon which had been frozen. Outside was a statue of a Tahr, a Himalayan chamois imported for hunting; we had been trying to find out about them as they were recommended to go with one of the Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir and they knew nothing about them at the winery when we asked.
There is a second salmon farm alongside the main road near Lake Ruataniwha but we were already stocked up. Our next stop , as usual, was Omarama to fuel and have an ice-cream. It was then over the Lindis Pass where we again stopped for the views and then on to Cromwell where we had a basic cabin at the Top Ten Campsite we have used many times in the past. It is now getting quite expensive ($75) and the kitchens were very full but it is ideally sited, and far too windy for our tents. We managed to sit the other side of our room with a table and chairs as the wind howled round us.
The wind had dropped a bit by the morning but it was still overcast so we had a slow start and then went into the information office in town. We had left most of our South Island information back at home - a problem of weight. The information office is one of the best we know and they had everything we needed for the Otago Gold fields and the rest of the local area including the detailed sheets for the Thompson Gorge Road and the road to Nevis - two interesting and challenging backroads following gold trails which are at best fine weather roads with 2 wheel drive and ideally 4x4. We have done the Thompson Gorge road a couple of times and been as far as possible on the Nevis Road as well.
Bannockburn Sluicings: By now it was sunny and getting hot so we set off the Bannockburn Sluicings which are only 5 kms from Cromwell. We have been before but even so it is difficult to appreciate the scale of operations and the magnitude of materials removed. The walks round the area have been re-routed in places to avoid erosion and the main walk now takes about two hours the first time allowing time to read the many explanatory boards and to explore and photograph a little. There are some additions which are not so well signed but the main walk is enough to get a good understanding. The scale of the old operations is awe inspiring - cliffs perhaps a hundred feet high and hundreds of yards across cut out of the hillsides making huge amphitheatres and the whole area between stripped away. One is just seeing little "islands" standing to the original surface level.
Almost all of the operations were powered by water, first ground sluicing where water was just allowed to pour over the edges of the faces washing the gold bearing gravel down into sluice boxes, then latter, hydraulic sluicing where high pressure jets of water were used from below to bring down the faces. The tailings followed complex channels cut into the ground to eventually be washed away down the Kawarau River. During the walk we saw some of the water races and dams bringing in the vast supplies needed to wash away millions of cubic feet of gravel and the complex channels cut to get the tailings away to the river. The water was often reused and we saw an intermediate dam used to collect the water from sluicing before using it to periodically flush the build up of tailings down the tailings races to the river.
One walks through an old settlement, Stewart Town, - a few mud brick houses beside one of the larger dams. In its day it had big orchards with hundreds of fruit trees irrigated as a bonus of the water races. Now the area is once more arid and only a few pear trees and apricots survive - the pears were still hard but the small apricots were starting to drop off the trees so we tried quite a few. The sole Plum was still too hard to eat. The whole area of Bannockburn is also alive with wild thyme and there is the most wonderful smell - wherever one walks off the new trail one crushes it underfoot. One can still see the shape of the water races leading from the dam, in some places running beside each other along the slope, each feeding a different set of workings or claim. As they descend the channels were stone lined and complex flumes, aqueducts and pipes distributed the water - there was often more money to be made in supplying water and removing tailings than in the gold itself. Bannockburn is perhaps the best place to get to understand and appreciate large scale sluicing operations and the couple of hours walk covers all the main features.
Nevis Road: Having walked round Bannockburn for a couple of hours we thought we might go up the Nevis Road far enough to get to the site of the Young Australian mine where there are supposed to have renewed the old water wheel. When we got to the start of the road we found there was a sign advising it had had a lot of flood damage and was not recommended. There was a steady stream of heavy lorries carrying stone in and out and they were operating a one in one out system to avoid passing. We flagged one down who said the road would be OK up to the pass at 1300m but it would be best to wait to till the last lorry had come out so we gave up - it may be possible at the weekend. Whilst we were waiting a larger camper came up and was surprised we were not going through - they were using the GPS in their mobile phone which was telling them it was the best way to Te Anau! They eventually were persuaded to turn back.
We then followed a road along the Kawau river where we stopped at a lovely riverside area and then continued through vineyards till we were forced to turn back just short of Cornish point just opposite the Junction. We found a camp site which looked promising on that road - The Cairnmuir Camp site - unfortunately nobody was around but we will investigate as an alternative to the Top Ten which seems very busy and uncontrolled in the kitchens as well as expensive.
Old Cromwell: We got back at about 1600, just in time for a walk round Old Cromwell. Cromwell was a major centre during the Goldmining days and was at the junction of two of the major gold-bearing rivers, the Kawarau and the mighty Clutch. For many years it was just known as The Junction. In 1862 gold was discovered just below Cromwell and the rush was on. As Gold ran out Cromwell became a centre for farming and fruit-growing viewpoint. The Lye dam, which formed Lake Dunstan, flooded a Old Cromwell. The area is already quite interesting and can easily occupy an hour or two. Cromwell Museum has a lot of local history from the town’s start and initial signification as a centre for the gold fields on to fruit farming. A major part covered the changes on the area when the hydroelectric scheme started.
Before flooding, some of the historic buildings representative of the original town were rescued from the main street and rebuilt mud brick by mudbrick and corrugated iron sheet by sheet above the water level. This comprises the (free) museum area of Old Cromwell. The first building is the Victoria Arms Hotel, then the Masonic Lodge. Both are opposite the parking area. There are then eight historic buildings which were relocated, including the Cobb and Co Store, London House, G Stumbles General Merchant, Cromwell Argus and Jolly's Grain Store. It only takes a short time to admire the buildings, unless you get tempted to stop for a coffee or look at the various arts and crafts – but most were closed by the time we got there. In the period after the buildings had been recorded, demolished and moved the mining companies moved in to mine the glacial drift gravels opposite Cornish Point which had been denied to them because of the town - it is believed that over 4000 ounces were recovered in this final ‘goldrush’, more than enough to reconstruct the old town.
We fuelled and bought a tub of Lite Hokey Pokey Ice Cream in New World - Pauline had spotted an advert that the 2l tubs were reduce to $4.99 - less than a couple of single cones. Fortunately the kitchen madhouse had abated and there was space in a freezer for it. We tried some of the Mount Cook Salmon as a Sashimi starter (raw to most of us) and we could see why it was so popular - we went back for piece after piece with Rice Crackers and pickled ginger before having the last of the Akaroa Lamb cold with Kumara cooked with lemon and garlic - its a hard life camping!
We left late in the morning with our first 'target' the Chard Farm Winery in the Kawarau Gorge on the way to Queenstown. We have always enjoyed their wines, in particular the 'River Run' Pinot Noir which we have a few bottles at home and their Rieslings which are some of the best we have tried in New Zealand. We were very disappointed to find they did not open until 1100 so we continued to Arrowtown. We have always liked Arrowtown and its Chinese settlement was one of the first goldmining heritage areas we visited in Otago and it, along with Kawarau Gorge, started our interest in the Goldmining days. We have been several times but I have tried to combine the visits as there was considerable overlap in the text. Arrowtown has a restored Chinese settlement on the banks of the river Arrow where Gold was found in 1862. The small group who first discovered the gold brought out over 200 pounds in the first 4 weeks before others tracked them and it down and started another gold rush. Up till then Arrowtown was an obscure church settlement but after the discovery of Gold its growth was dramatic and within three years the population of the area grew to 30,000 making it the foremost province in New Zealand. The fall was just as rapid in 1865 and the population plummeted as miners left in their thousands for the newly found Westland Goldfields.
This greatly concerned the Otago business community and shopkeepers and led to the provincial council inviting and paying for Chinese miners from Victoria, Australia to come to Otago. The numbers eventually grew to 5000 and one of the major settlements was close to Arrowtown on the banks of the Arrow. This settlement has been extensively restored and forms part of the Otago Goldfields Park which has many interesting sites spread throughout Otago. We have been several times before but it was still nice to walk through and read the information boards, which are all new and look at and often in the reconstructed huts built on the old foundations. It was a hard life.
There are several DOC Goldfield walks in the area, some of which we have done but they are often washed out. The best one is Tobin's track to a viewpoint over Arrowtown - a hard slog for 1.5 miles at a relentless 1 in 5 as there was not a cloud in sight or a tree for shade on the track the last time we did it - it was worth it for the view but we were very weary on our return. This time we wanted a short walk and picked one which we (incorrectly) thought started at the end of the Chinese Settlement and there was a track in the right place but not as well marked as we expected. It however had the compensation of leading through an old cherry orchard and the red cherries were small but perfectly ripe and very sweet and tasty! In the end we came to a ford which looked too lively for our footware and we turned back and after an ice-cream and a quick look round the town we left to head for Wanaka
We took the Cardrona Valley Road which follows the Cardrona River and takes one to over a thousand metres over the Crown Ranges and past the old coaching inn at Cardrona. In the past the road was slow and difficult, but it is now sealed. It is a hard climb up into the Crown range from the South and has some spectacular views back over the valley to Cromwell and Lake Dunstan but is reasonably flat once one is over the Crown Range and made the initial descent to the Cardrona River Valley with gradual descent to Wanaka. What has struck us the last couple of times has been the number of subdivisions and new builds starting on what was previously a scenic backroad.
Cardrona itself is still a small place; the old School and the Church buildings have been preserved and are sited opposite to the Gin and Raspberry gold workings, named after the owners reward whenever a days washup exceeded an ounce of gold. Just a few yards further is the famous restored Cardrona Hotel - it used to be one of the famous inns on the Gold Trails and does excellent food as we have found previously and has lovely gardens. It is a good place to stop for an ice-cream but we had already done that at Arrowtown and already had plenty of pictures so we just passed slowly and admired it.
A few kilometres after the Cardrona Hotel, next to the Waiorau Snow Farm, is the the car park for the Roaring Meg Pack Track. This track goes all the way to the Roaring Meg Powerhouse on the banks of the Kawarau River that we had passed a hour earlier. It was described as a nice 4 hour return walk to either the Meg Hut or the Miners Hut, along the river valley as it climbed into the hills over a 3,500 feet saddle past the remains of old gold workings. We once tried it but on a day that was so hot and it was so exposed that we gave up - a day like today.
Wanaka is a nice town and we have stayed in the area several times and it is beside one of the most beautiful and largest lakes in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka and close and parallel to another, Lake Hawea. They have been gouged out of solid rock by the actions of glaciers and lie parallel, almost connected by a narrow isthmus part way down. To give a scale Lake Wanaka is 45 kms long and Lake Hawea 35 kms. Lake Wanaka is a thousand feet deep and Hawea even deeper and glaciers have smoothed the sides down to the water from their maximum height of 3000 feet above lake level. The bottoms of the lakes are below the present sea level.
These lakes are fed by Glacier melt water and have the most incredible colours, usually a light blue, sometimes almost white, from all the fine rock, ground to a powder by the Glaciers. The colours and the surface are ever changing - we have seen them so still that it is almost impossible to tell the reflection from the mountains behind when you turn a picture upside down and we have seen them with waves crashing on to the beaches. They can be so still and clear we have looked down and watched cormorants hunting underwater over a bottom perhaps 50' below. There are a few boats, mostly tinnies or glass fibre boats trailed in for fishing so they are virtually still on the surface, dots in the vastness of the lakes.
The mountains tower above the lakes - the mountains beside the lakes rise to over 7000 feet, some with a powdering of snow or ice at the top but mostly sheer rock faces angled upwards - we are sitting along the joins between the Australian and Pacific plates which are still tearing the fabric of this land and throwing it up at crazy angles to be smoothed by glaciers in successive ice ages.
A huge tract of this land of lakes, mountains, rivers and fjords ranging from alpine dessert to thick rainforest has become a World Heritage Area called Te Wahipounamu from the original Maori for the area, The Place of the Greenstone. This World Heritage Area covers the whole South West region of South Island and alone covers 10% on the surface of New Zealand and integrates and fills in between the National Parks of Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, Westland and Mount Cook, all vast in their own rights. Te Wahipounamu is one of the great temperate wildernesses of the world, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, tussock grasslands, lakes, rivers, fjords, wetlands and 1000 km of wild coastline.
We could not resist going the extra 20 kilometres from Wanaka to the side of Lake Hawea. Our first stop was at the General Store for the most enormous double ice creams. Next time we will only buy singles because it was almost too much to guzzle before it melted. We then drove about half way up the side of the lake to the Lookout full of people taking pictures then backtracked to a small pull off Pete had noted on the way up which was empty and had a track down to the Lakeside. We carried down our chairs and skimmed the flat stones which are found on all the beaches round Lake Hawea and Pete had a very short swim - the Lakes are fed with ice melt and it felt like it although usually it is not too bad close inshore. He has swum lots of times at Kidd's Bush, a camp site beside the lake about 30 km further on which is best known for its squadrons of sandflies which gather hidden in the sun before diving in formation on the unsuspecting swimmer as he or she emerges wet from the water. This year has been relatively sandfly free and we have not had to use deterent yet although we did get a few bites beside the lake.
The next day we decided should be in Queenstown although we did not want to stay in the town itself but we wanted to have a trip on the Steamship Earnslaw - we have done the evening trip to Walter Peak for a buffet dinner and demonstration of sheep dogs and shearing several times.
The Karawau Gorge: On route we stopped first at the Goldmining Centre in the Karawau Gorge for a few minutes to check what they were doing these days. We inspected the huge pump which was used to supply large quantities of low pressure water from the Karawau river which was driven by a Pelton Wheel driven by high pressure water from a water race high above - an interesting interchange. They have started doing meals which are cooked in old wine barrels converted to a barbeque/oven but it was far too early - in fact the amin reason for stopping was to use a little time to make sure Chard farm was open. For the same reason we stopped at the 'Roaring Meg' car park where one can look at the Karawau river and the outlet from Little Meg, now used for a small hydroelectric system. There are many 'exotics' which are taking over from the local trees and flora down the gorge and the boards explained how physical and chemical warfare was being used to iradicate them - the results are huge tracts of dead trees and bushes but they believe it will probably regenerate. There are some walks from the small picnic/camping area opposite which used tobe the site of one of the Coaching Inns. One of the walks goes up to eventually get close to Cardrona but looks much further than we understood when we contemplated it from the far end.
The Chard Farm Winery is well worth the interesting trip down the narrow unsealed road which seems to hang unsupported off the steep cliff down to the Karawau Gorge below. We have found their wines consistently good and they are difficult to obtain anywhere other than at the cellar door – they have an enthusiastic following and most are sold direct although they gave us the names of places in Wellington and Auckland where some wines could be obtained. It was Pete’s turn for the tasting and he tried most of their selection.
They have always been very proud of their Riesling and it is one of a small number of NZ Rieslings we like – Pete had the chance to try the 2012 and also also try their 'reserve' 2011 which is the favourite of the owner’s wife who is German and it is very much in the German Spatlese/Auslese style. The Gewürztraminer is also unusually good and they insisted Pete tried it first. Pinot Noir is there real speciality and they have a number of different blocks and have an impressive number on sale many of which were available for tasting. We have a couple of the 'River Run' Pinot Noir at home.
Vipers Vineyard Riesling 2011 was a must to buy and is from the Vipers Vineyard located on an undulating terrace in the Parkburn area of Cromwell. It takes its name from the wildflower Vipers Bugloss covering the area. Grown on the Arena Block of the vineyard, the steep north facing slope produces grapes with distinctive lime flavours and a mineral edge and the wine is made from a very small selective harvest of grapes that were just at the right balance of fruit flavour, acid and sweetness. It is made in a medium sweet style, and is a wonderful aperitif or great with food that has a little heat. It has a fragrant bouquet of limes and rose petal, with hints of spice and musk. The wine is vibrant and juicy in the mouth. With detailed lime and fresh fruit flavours on a long and energetic finish.
The tasting proper started with their Pinots and due to lack of time I have used their own notes until we get to try the bottles we have bought.
River Run Pinot Noir 2012: grapes grown in our vineyards in the Cromwell basin with a dash of Gibbston fruit from the home vineyard. The Cromwell vineyards give the wine its fine tannin structure and succulent fruit, while the old vines in the home vineyard give nice savory tones and mid palate density. The wine is made to display typical central otago bright, fresh sweet fruit, good texture and mineral length and has an intense bouquet of red fruits, spice, violets and savory earthy notes. Good fruit weight and fresh red berry flavours give a nice mid palate focus. The fine tannins and mineral acid lead to a long finish.
Finla Mor Pinot Noir 2012: Finla Mor is grown on selected vineyards in the Cromwell basin. The vineyards are all planted on elevated terraces in the Lowburn and Parkburn areas. Each of the vineyards feature a mix of the alluvial schist based soils that give these wines their purity and minerality. Ripe berry fruit, black plums on the nose with herbal and spicy undertones. The wine is full and supple on the palate, with lush fruit flavours and vibrancy. The fine tannins provide a velvety yet sturdy finish. Vineyards: The Tiger, and Sinclair vineyards in Lowburn, Cromwell and the Viper and Cook Block in Parkburn Cromwell.
Mata-Au Pinot Noir 2012: The Mata-Au vineyards are located in the Lowburn and Parkburn areas of the Cromwell basin. The vineyards are planted on the terraces and alluvial schist based soils formed by the Mata-Au (Clutha) River (pronounced – martar-o). The unique combination of site, soil and mild continental climate produces perfumed wines with elegant texture, structure and mineral length. The 2012 vintage is the third Mata-Au wine we have produced. We consider it to be our signature wine, and as such it was not produced in 2011 because we deemed the vintage to not be of the required standard. It is made from the best blocks in our best vineyards in the Lowburn/Parkburn sub-region. Mata-Au showcases the succulent red fruits and silky tannins that are the hallmarks of this sub-region, delivered in our elegant, textural and length driven style. The floral and spicy perfume overlays strong red berry fruits and dried herbs. The complex red fruit, spice and herbal tones are perfectly balanced by a silky tannin structure and clear acid; detailing lovely precision, tension and length on the finish. Vineyards: The Tiger Vineyard in Lowburn, Cromwell and the Viper Vineyard in Parkburn, Cromwell
The Viper Pinot Noir 2010: On limited availablility and is just becoming ready for drinking but will keep for many more years. The Viper Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in the Vipers vineyard in the Parkburn area on the western side of Lake Dunstan. The vineyard takes it name from the wildflower Vipers Bugloss that covers the area. This vineyard sits on an undulating terrace above the valley floor. The soils are predominantly silt loam over schist gravel. The terrace enjoys moderate temperatures and a long growing season. Ripening tends to be late into the season as the daytime temperatures are cooling. The cooler ripening tends to produce spicy wines with dark fruit flavours and a dense grippy palate. The Viper is always made from the Grandstand and North blocks within the vineyard and the wines always stand out as uniquely in the cellar as they do in the bottle. The wine has aromas and flavours of black spice and bursts of dark red fruits, with earthy-herbal tones that give character and depth. On the palate there is an immediate density and weight that is restrained and elegant. The fine complex finish is magical.
Tiger Pinot Noir 2012: We also got a chance to try the Tiger Pinot Noir 2012 whaich was opened as a wine critic was also present - it was surprisingly drinkable for the age but really needs to be kept 5 years. The Tiger Pinot Noir is a single vineyard bottling made from grapes grown in our Tiger vineyard in the Lowburn sub-region. The vineyard is on sloping land up off the valley floor and this elevated cooler position allows the vineyard to ripen slowly, building layer upon layer of flavour nuance and soft silky tannins. The wines from this vineyard typically display spicy aromatic red berry fruits and violets. The palate is characterised by a broad structure and layers of fine integrated tannin and fruit which is more textural than structural. The Tiger is always quite shy and reticent in its youth and after 4-5 years in bottle it really blossoms and expresses itself. The aroma displays a perfume of delicate spice and dried flowers, over a bed of red berries. The wine is beautifully layered. Fine silky tannins and a precise line of red fruit running through the palate, combining with the spice/floral notes to deliver an intense, yet elegant finish. We were told that Bob Cambell, one of the best known wine judges has just visited and awarded the 2012 a 95/100 which is exceptional and the highest awarded to a NZ Pinot Noir.
There was a special value mixed half case available with three of the Pinot Noirs plus a 2012 Riesling, 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 Chardonay which we could not resist and added the older Reisling 2011 from the Vipers Vineyard to it and decided not to try any more wines for a while!
If you want a quiet, informative tasting of top Otago wines Chard Farm is The place to go, and if you want a meal the Gibbston Winery does excellent lunches down the road with a chance to compare their wines, or purchase a picnic from the Cheesery next door. We went without lunch as we were saving ourselves for the evening.
Queenstown is not the ideal place to stay, it is an expensive and the camp sites are one of the few places in NZ where one can not trust the inhabitants and stuff tends to walk away from the fridges and freezers so we decided to have a see if the Campsite at Frankton we used two years ago had a cabin. The site is certainly cheaper than Queenstown especially for a tent and much more friendly - last time they gave us one of their pitchs which was down by the waterfront. It was quite small - it was fortunate we only wanted to put the small tent up and it turned out to be a power site al though we said we did not need one. The other waterside pitches for camper vans and caravans were even smaller and the occupants were complaining they could not even put their awnings up. This time they had a cabin available, although they called it basic it had a fridge, TV, kettle and toaster as well as a big table and chairs, all very clean and tidy. The kitchen and facilities were right nect door in the same block and they have two Siamese cats on the site. The site did however have excellent views over the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakitipu and of the Remarkables and other mountain ranges. It was also completely sandfly free - they promised a refund if we got bitten!
Once we had unloaded the cold box and valuables, it was then on to Queenstown known in the early Goldmining days just as The Camp. A town meeting was held to decide on a name and somebody said it was a town good enough for a Queen and the name stuck. To some Queenstown is the essence of New Zealand - the centre of the adventure sports NZ has become known for with bungy jumping, rafting, parachuting, parascending, hang gliding and jet boating to name a few. It is a place you really have to visit the first time one comes to New Zealand but much of what it is best known for is not what brings us back to New Zealand - yes we have been on the Shotover Jet boat rides (which are an incredible experience in a rather theatrical way) and we have watched or participated in many of the other activities. It is however thronging with tourists unlike almost any other town in New Zealand. It is also one of the few places where one worries about leaving things or bad behaviour; mostly we regret to say from Europeans.
Despite everything said above we come through and sometimes even stay for a day or two. There is the magnificent scenery round Lake Wakitipu looking across to the Remarkables and all up the road to Glenorchy, one is close to the Goldfields with Arrowtown and the Kawarau Gorge and there are several of the Otago vineyards within an easy drive. There is the superb old steamship the Earnslaw still running as smoothly and silently as when she entered the water over 100 years ago. She was initially built and had a preliminary assembly in Dunedin before being brought up by train to Kingston in February 1912 where she was reassembled and fitted out before steaming to Queenstown for final fit-out and her maiden voyage in October 1912.
The Earnslaw does trips from Queenstown to the Walter Peak Station every two hours during the summer, starting at 1000. The trips can be combined with morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner in the old colonial house. We prefer dinner, where there is a good buffet meal with very plentiful food and the carvery has now been changed to a barbeque cooked outside although one still eats inside. Unfortunately their residen piano player, Bob no longer palys at dinner but only on the ship, he has been playing the piano for them before we made our first visit in 1993. We have his CD at home. Dinner is followed by a sheep dog demonstration and shearing. They used to try to persuade the visitors to have a ride on their bull - the previous one called Robby, which we had seen and Pauline was persuaded to ride, has unfortunately been put down because of arthritis and the young replacement 'did not prove reliable', one wonders what is hidden behind those innocuous words.
The trip is not a cheap trip at $115 including the barbeque and buffet dinner but the experience of the Earnslaw is un-forgetable and the food very good, with a wide selection and plenty of time to revisit the buffet many times. Highlights were the various Cloudy Bay clams, the barbequed chicken, lamb and beef and the double cooked pork which was exceptional with a crackling which almost melted in the mouth. There was a fascinating hot sticky toffee and date pudding cooked in individual Cheasea GoldenSyrup tins which we shared and a good selection of Whitestone boutique cheeses. Even the set-piece sheep dog demonstration and shearing was well worth watching because of his interesting commentary. There was no longer the option of sitting on a bull, but that gave more time to visit the souvenir shop.
The Walter Peak Station is still very active and huge by UK standards running 15,000 sheep, merinos on the high country and Peridales on the flatter parts, along with 800 cows. When they bring the sheep in the shepherds and dogs are now taken up by chopper to the top of Cecil Peak 1975m and they use 15 dogs to bring them all in. The homestead block and demonstration area has now been separated off from the main station and is called the Walter Peak High Country Farm but it still covers 450 acres. It is owned by Real Journeys who operate the Earnslaw.
Once we were onboard again we went down to look at the engines as they were in slow astern holding the Earnslaw in place on the wharf and found Bob was sitting down there before he started on the piano. We got talking and he was a real font of knowledge on various walks into the old goldfield areas and told of many we knew nothing of and are probably not on the maps. He also seemed to have a great interest in gealogy and fossils and told us of several areas of interest, some only just off the road in areas we had just visited. We had found a good place to sit beside the engine room access on the outside deck and he was replaced by Ken, the Chief Engineer, who we also spent quite a while talking to. It was just dark as we arrived back at the wharf.
We left Frankton having done a couple of batches of washing - the campsite facilities were good and the washing machines were only $2. It is definitely a place to return to and may even replace Cromwell as a base in the area. Its only disadvantage is that there are few good camping slots especially with a large tent or if one required power but there are planty of good cabins.