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Touring New Zealand 2014 part 6

Waikouaiti: The last part left us leaving Dunedin with the clouds was rolling down the hillsides and much of the journey in cloud even after descending back to sea level and stopped at virtually the first campsite up the coast at Waikoaiti. Both the town and camp site were new to us and the camp site is one we may well use again. Waikouaiti has more history than we realised. We found a memorial close to the camp site celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Magnet at Waikouaiti with the first settlers for Otago in 1840. We had an excellent cabin with plenty of space looking over the site witha nice deck at the front of it and within easy reach of the somewhat wind swept beach. On our way out of the Waikouaiti Camp Site we stopped to look at the beach and then again to look at the Earliest Church in Otago/Southland in use since 1858. Unfortunately it was not open.

Syrah Tasting - Coopers Creek 2012 Chalk Ridge versus the Trophy Winning Elphant Hill 2012 Once we were installed in the cabin we settled down for a glass of wine - we already had Coopers Creek 2012 Chalk Ridge Syrah which was first class open. It seemed time to try the 2012 Elephant Hill Syrah which won the Air New Zealand overall Trophy for Syrah in 2012. There was no real competition - the Elephant Hill was every bit as good as one would expect from a Trophy winner and was surprisingly ready for drinking already although it would have improved for years. It was however not an entirely fair competition as the Coopers Creek had been open for a couple of days and the Elephant Hill had lost quite a lot of the spicy fire the following evening and a comparison then might have been different. Most people would be incapable of leaving much of such a superb bottle anyway.

Moeraki Bolders: On the way up the coast to Oamaru we stopped at Moeraki to see the boulders on the beach. There is a big centre which has a restaurant tourist tack for sale etc and last time we stoped they tried to charge to get to the beach - there is however a DOC run reserve which is well signposted which is only 250 metres fro the boulders and is a much better wayto approach them after reading the useful information boards..The boulders vary in size from half to over two meters and are gradually being eroded from the mudstone cliffs by the sea. They are apparently separation concretions formed when minerals crystallise in all directions round an organic nucleus. Further erosion exposes an internal network of veins of crystalline appearance in a softer grey stone. They have to be seen to be believed as they just lie on the beach like the results of a giants game of marbles - some perfectly smooth, some showing deep veining and some broken open to show a fascinating internal structure. Other concretions in the area have been found to contain the bones of extinct marine reptiles including a seven metre plesiosaur.

Vanished World Trail: We also found boards refering to the Vanished World Trail which has a number of sites and we decided to take the coast road which went past a number of them. Mostly there seems to be an ephasis on persuading people to visit the Vanishing World centre at Duntroon and the overall logic was not very obvious. Their web site states "The community-inspired Vanished World Society was formed in the early 2000's to help raise public awareness about the geology of the Waitaki district . The Society is active in promoting the science , conservation and appropriate use of fossils , outcrops, and landforms, through a process of education , science-communication and hands-on experience". We had difficulty in finding the sites without buying information only available at Duntroon or selected outlets and there is virtually nothing is on the basic web site - not even a list of the sites let alone the locations. There advice is to come to Duntroon and then buy information booklets only available at Duntroon (or selected outlets).

We found our first Vanished World Trail site at All Day Bay because there were large parties of school children on the beach - it turned out they were not interested in the geology of Mudstone with Fossils but in collecting in rock pools. We did find a small board and a seam of mudstone with the odd fossil. The Rocks at Campbells Bay had no information present but the web site did have a picture and the fascinating shapes are apparently limestone sculptured from shrimp burrows and the sea. We will keep an open mind but fear the logic behind the the Vanished World Trail was mostly "what do we have or what can we create which can be used to attract the tourist to Duntroon"! They need to do much better.

Oamaru: Oamaru was a very pleasant surprise. Previously we had been through when there Sculpture Symposium was on and had not realised how much more the town has to offer. Oamaru has a local quarry which produces a soft store - a bit like Bath stone - which is ideal for carving and every other year they hold a symposium which is attended by sculptors from round the world, each of whom is supplied with the stone to carve. It lasts for a month in the local park and one can watch the various works being helped to escape from the stone. When we came through in 2002 they were there about half way through so some of the pieces were well advanced but one could still watch the various stages and techniques from chain saw to chisel. Most of the works are out of blocks a meter or so square so the foreign participants and most of the locals sell them at a massive auction at the end. The stone is used widely for sculpture and we have also seen it being carved in a Sculpture Symposium in Wellington.

This time there was no carving taking place and we first dropped into the Information Office where we found there was a 10 minute film running on a loop about the history of Oamaru. The first settlers arrived in 1850 and grew as a service-centre for agriculture and rapidly became a major port especially after construction of a breakwater in 1871. Oamaru flourished with the development of the frozen-meat industry which originated just south of the town at Totara. This led to easy money and a magnificent set of buildings sprung up in the local limestone. By the time of the depression of the 1880s Oamaru had become the "best built and most mortgaged town in Australasia" This led to near bankruptcy of Oamaru and the building fell into decline which was there salvation - whilst in most palces such classic Victorian building would have been replaced they survived as there was funding for change. Oamaru has made good use of this heritage and as the town grew with major dairy works nearby providing work as well as mining at Macraes Flat.

The main street has many magnificent buildings and is extremely wide because a large number of bullock trains used to come to Oamaru for the port and it proved extremely difficult to do multiple point turns with a bullock train with 12 or more bullocks- the solution was to make the main street wide enough for the largest bullock trains to do a U turn! Most of the public buildings use l the local limestone known as Oamaru stone. The Victorian precinct in southern part of Oamaru's main commercial district ranks as one of New Zealand's most impressive streetscapes due to the many prominent 19th century buildings constructed from this material. Several key historic buildings in the central area have been preserved the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust as part of a historic precinct. The Victorian theme has been embraced by local shops and galleries in this part of Oamaru in terms of shopfittings and decor. There are a large number of bookshops and a bookbinder. We spent quite a lot of time in the various bookshops and they are enthusiasts as in Dunedin and love to talk about their specialities and they had many old and rare books. I looked at an early copy of the Log of captain Cooks travels but lost interest when I saw the price was only $1500 because it did not have all the maps! I will not attempt to descibe all the building but let a picture gallery speak for itself.

We spent so long looking round and in the book shops that we had little choice but to stay in town. We found a cabin at the local Top10 camp site which was quite adequate but as with all Top10s perhaps not the best value. By then it was raining so we were glad anyway. There was however a sunset which filled the sky with red and then produced a red rainbow.

The morning was gloriously sunny without a cloud in the sky so we spent an hour in the extensive gardens which were almost alongside the camp site. I do not think I have ever seen such impressive and well tended gardens and they were by far superior to those in, for example, Wellington even if not quite the area. All the roses and other flowers were in full bloom yet there was not a dead head in site. The greenhouse was a riot of colour. There was a Japanese garden which slightly less colourful but that was probably just the contrast to the rest. We took too many pictures before going on into town to retake some of the pictures down the main street in full sun.

We then continued up the coast stopping briefly by the banks of the XXXX for a biscuit and to look at the longest bridge in New Zealand.

Timaru: Timaru is a more interesting town than one might expect with quite a lot of history, it used to be an important port. round Caroline Bay which has a good beach for swimming (tested in the past) and an interesting rose garden dedicated to Trevor Griffiths,Click for larger imageWe walked a local rose grower of world renown. He wrote a number of books about old roses and contributed greatly to the revival and popularity of historic roses from round the world. The rose garden has an internationally significant collection 1150 old roses and 590 named varieties going back to the early 19th century on display, all initially imported by Trevor Griffiths.

Rakaia: We then proceeded on to Rakaia where we tried a different camp site to usual at which we finally put the tent up in a nice sheltered spot with a power hook-up for the computers and a fan heater which is perfect to dry the big tent in the mornings - condensation does not really start to dry out until the sun hits a tent or until it is about 1000 which is latter than desirable. The tent was much better and more roomy than a cabin would have been but we had underestimated te noise from the main road and nearby railway line. Heavy lorry traficc did not start to abait a little until about 0330 and then built up quickly from 0400 and the trains shook the ground. Never again will we have a tent at Rakaia. Otherwise it was a good site.

We had a quick look at Rakaia in the morning - they are proud to be the Salmon Centre of New Zealand and have a huge salmon model on display beside which is the old Bridgekeepers hut from when they had the longest shared rail/road bridge in New Zealand if not the world. Traffic had to be stopped an hour before a train was scheduled to arrive.

Arthur's Pass: We cross to the West Coast over Arthur's Pass. This is a delightful trip in fine weather either by car or on the Transalpine train from Christchurch to WGreymouth, a trip we did a few years ago. The first part was beautiful and sunny and we had magnificent views, we had forgotten how long the journey was and how one reached an upper valley after the first saddle with wide gravel river flats across which the railway line runs on a low viaduct. We stopped at various points for pictures and debated whether to stop at the The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve which we had writen about in the past - it sits amongst spectacular limestone outcrops with views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges and contains a 362 metre long cave which is one of the most outstanding natural features in the Canterbury region. To quote DOC "the open country is ideal for picnicking and gentle short walks while going through the limestone cave is a cool adventure" what a refreshing contrast to the normal approach of a government agency. Their information boards positively encourage people to go through the cavern whilst offering sensible advice. We plan to have a go some time and make sure we have some extra waterproof torches and suitable clothing - they say the water level can be up to waist level at one point and you have to climb a 3 metre waterfall on the way out however they state that if care is taken, fit but inexperienced cavers can go through. We once more put off this cool adventure as the torches were not charged fully.

We completed the final climb to Arthurs Pass and stopped by the DOC information office where we got our first confirmed sandfly bite to welcome us the the West Coast - a land ruled by the sandfly. We were also greated by the Keas, a native parrot which will eat anything it finds, especially the rubber round windscreens and wipers - tyres on cars are too big but bicycles are another story. The Arthur's Pass information centre is a worthy stop and has moved to a new building they have always had a good set of information as well as periodic talks by DOC, guided walks etc. Boards cover the latest upgrades to the road through the Otira Gorge, which was always a problem with falling rocks, slips and steep gradients in icy conditions - there are now some new sweeping viaducts. We descended on the new road scheme down the Orira gorge and eventually out onto the coastal plains. The West coast ranges get considerable rainfall, about 4 metres a year at Arthur's pass.

Lake Brunner backroad - failed: We decided to take a back road touching the south side of Lake Brunner and going across to Kumara Junction - the map says it is sealed but we were not surprised that it was gravel and we were sure we had done it in the past. This time we got to Lake Brunner with no problems although it was more mud than gravel in places then we met a tracked JCB which was working on the road and from then on it deteriorated rapidly and by the time we started the climb up from the lake it was a mud bath with two inches of soft mud and no gravel other than in the ditches. We were sliding from side to side. When we got to a ford we had doubts we were even on the correct road and finally turned back, a very rare action by us! The descents of the hills were even more interesting than the climbs and Pauline was getting quite vocal.

Pauline ook revenge for that suggestion of mine and took me on another backroad across to join the Hokitika - Greymouth road which was supposed to save 12 kms. As we left the main road with no where to turn a road sign proclaimed 3km of corrigations, a sign we have never seen before, and that was just the start. At least it was not a mud bath and the scenary was great. Even the main roads in South Island are different to what a European is used to, bridges are often one way even on main roads and there are still a few where trains and cars share one way bridges - all without even a traffic light. The one pictured to the right of the Arahura River now has a new bridge but at the end is a roundabout with the railway line going through the middle! Parts of the old bridge are now on display in a heritage area at the end of the bridge.

Hokitika: We planned to stay for several days at Hokitika, a small town which used to be the major port for goldmining activities on the Northwest coast and is now a world centre for Pounamu. In the old days it was however not an easy port to access with a treacherous bar on the entry and over 42 ships were wrecked in a short number of years. We stayed once more at the Hokitika Kiwi Holiday Park which has small basic cabins which offer excellent value at $46 and kitchen cabins with fridge and freezer for $64 including our discount from the card. The kitchens are usually very busy but other facilities are spacious and close.

Hokitika is home to the West Coast Historical Museum. It is in the Carnegie Building, an impressive and recently restored building which used to hold free public library - huge columns and tall windows. It is an interesting building in its own right as it was one of 18 libraries built in NZ with the assistance of the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The museum has an interesting collection of the gold exhibits which include a huge dredge bucket and a set of superb photographs taken by Jos Divis of Waiutu, the ghost town which we visited earlier this trip. They are incredibly sharp and high resolution, many were taken with a box camera as much of his equipment had been impounded when he was interned as a foreigner and suspected communist during the war. He continued to live at Waiutu until his death. The museum has some of his plates and negatives. the museum merits at least an hour.

It features had audio-video show of Greenstone and Gold on the West Coast - perhaps the best AV of its kind we have seen and we would have bought a copy if it had been available to show friends so they could understand our enthusiasm. It is largely a clever use of old pictures with quotes and poetry from contemporary books. They promised a few years back to investigating if it can be copied from DVD for sale. They now have a comprehensive exhibition about Pounamu which we found interesting and instructive. There is also a Research Section which is not open at the weekend. The archives are very interesting, like many they are primarily oriented to the lucrative genealogy market, but has one of the best indexed set of old pictures we have found, 10,000 in total with photocopies of every one and a cross reference index by heading such as 'Gold Mining' and 'Dredges'.

We sought out a bookshop we have visited several times before - in the time we have known them they have moved from a private house to within the old Town Hall where it is in the rooms used for the registry - they had a door more suitable for a bank vault and are now in a more normal shop in town opposite the clock tower. It now seems they may have retired as the shop closed a couple of months ago and there has been no reopening r sales from home peopleknow about. It is a shame as they were always a fund of knowledge about the area as well as interesting books. He was involved in building the replica Fox Moth which is dispalyed near the new airfield. and did the sign writing on it. He told us a lot about the start of the airport and postal services down the West Coast before the coastal roads were built which led us to the old airfield site just across the bridge.

Rather aptly we were just about to sit down for the evening we saw a Tiger Moth, rapidly followed by another and another then an old Auster fly overhead heading for the main airfield. We went up to have a look and they were all parked close to the buildings whilst a De haviland Beaver was on the fuel pumps. As soon asit was known we had an interst in vintage aircraft and supported the Catalina we were cleared to go over and see them - it seemed odd to be walking across an airfield next to an Air New Zealand aircraft and to meet up with its crew round vintage aircraft. When we got closer it was clear that two of them were not Tiger Moths but the rare Fox Moth which was similar but with a tiny cabin for two passengers just behind the negine whilst the pilot was in an opencockpit or latter with a small cover high up behind them - he could shout or pass messages through a hole by his rudder pedals. They were from round New Zealand and heading for a gathering to celebrate the Centenary of first cross country flight from Invercargil to Gore at Mandeville on the 20th February 1914. We saw two more Fox Moths at Mandeville earlier this trip and there is a replica outside the Hokitika terminal. They had intended to go to Haast but had been forced to divert because of bad weather at Haast.

The next morning must have been a dream for their onward flight - it was calm and crystal clear. We could easily see Mount Cook 120 kms away and visabilty must have been much greater - from the air ones view would have only been limited by the earths curvature! We went down to the lookout at Sunset Point, otherwise known as Sandfly Point where we were mobbed to the extent that one could not hold a camera steady until anointed with repellant but the views of the mountains covered in snow were ultimately worth the pain. The lookout also has excellent views over the bar and back to the port and we tried to visualise how it had been in the heyday as the port of entry to Westland for most of the miners. We looked out at the surf breaking over the bar and could easily visualise how the 42 ships were completely wrecked. Many more went aground and were left high and dry - most were raised on jacks and winched and hauled over the sandbar to be re-floated undamaged in the harbour. It was jokingly referred to as 'taking the land route'. Despite its reputation there were 41 ships tied up at the wharf on 16 September 1867, only two years after it was officially declared a port. There is an old lifeboat displayed on the waterfront - the oldest remaining example in NZ and the customs house.

Bonz n' Stonz: We then went into Bonz 'n Stonz which offers one the ability to carve ones own pounamu taonga (treasures) to ones own designs. We had a chat with Steve who owns it and caught up with the changes since we carved our own taonga for Pauline's 60th Birthday and Pete's 64th on Valentine's day two years ago. Read the full story of Two people and a piece of Pounamu - a love story set on St Valentine's Day. Steve has now moved back into his original building which he owns and the workshop is used by some other carvers when he does not have a full complement of 'students' . Steve only uses materials found in and around the Hokitika area. He provides all the help you need when creating your jade treasure, but he places great emphasis on an individual approach to each piece. He wants each person to "find a design that speaks to their own tastes and is an expression of who they are". Steve is a professional carver and has taught at polytechnic and has all the skills to guide you through the carving process. He helps with the entire process from beginning to end - cutting the basic shape, carving the details, and polishing the piece. A very important factor is that you have access and the basic training needed to use all of the professional tools Steve uses himself when carving his own pieces. He will help and guide when required especially in the early stages but the the final piece is yours and yours alone.

Ross: After a walk round the rest of town we went to Ross, 28 km down the coast. Ross was known as Goldtown. T he goldfields heritage area which has a small museum and area set out with displays as well as miners cottage with a lot more displays and old pictures. The first major Gold discoveries on the West coast were in the area round Ross. The first indications were in 1864 a little South at Totara but the main discoveries, including Jones Creek, which led to the Rush were in 1865 and August saw the number of miners grow tenfold to 2,500 and Ross was quickly laid out with shops and hotels. Gold was found all around and the town grew further. Initially the Gold, alluvial gold, was extracted by panning and cradling in the many stream beds, in fact one of the largest nuggets ever found in New Zealand was found 50 years latter on the banks of Jones Creek - it weighed 99oz and was named the Honourable Roddy after Rod McKenzie, the Minister of Mines.

The mining activities were restarted in the 1990s - the current heritage area is right alongside what was briefly one of the largest alluvial open cast mining operation in the Southern Hemisphere. You could look right into it from the Heritage Centre, in 2003 it was about 400 metres across and 90 metres deep (45 below sea level). Even in this age it proved difficult to pump. By the time we returned in 2004 the ground was being reshaped and the new lake was partially filled. In 2012 it appears to be completely full and the surroundings show little evidence of the mining, it just seems unnaturally barren and symetric.

Ross - largest alluvial open cast mining in Southern Hemisphere in 2003
Open Cast Gold Mine pit at Ross in 2004 now partially filled with water

Ross Water Race walk: Unfortunately the mining activities have severed one of the historically significant walks in the area over Jones Flat. We repeated the other walk in the area that Pete did last visit, the water race walk which passes the place where the gold was first discover on Jones Creek and an area which is available for gold panning. It then takes one up and along some of the old water races and sites of some of the old fluming which carried water 40 metres above the ground for 150 metres and past the faces where sluicing activities took place . It continues past a Hatter's (single isolated miner's) hut before dropping down through the old cemetary and into town. A worthwhile hour.

Lake Mahinapua: We took a backroad round Lake Mahinapua which we had not previously explored. Last time we investigated the other side of Lake Mahinapua where we found the remains of an old steam boat and the boards made it clear that the various lakes and waterways used to be linked to give an inland route between Ross and Hokitika, the two main centres in the area. This time we found a track which followed an old logging tramway which led to a picnic area on the lake and then on to the main road.

Rimu and Woodstock Goldmining area: The road continued to Rimu where we found a lookout and realised we were in an important Gold Mining area we had completely neglected. We continued to Woodstock at the bottom of the hill and followed the riverside road which passed many of the boards on the circular walk of one hour from the lookout. All stages of extraction were carried out in the Rimu area culminating in the Rimu dredge which worked 8 miles of river flats and alone extracted 300,000 oz of gold during its life.

Blue Spur Loop drive: The morning had low cloud and a bit of drizzle and Pauline spent much of it working. It got a bit lighter at lunch time and we did the Blue Spur Loop drive. We stopped on the way to see the displays on the old bridge which we have a picture from 2003 when we were crossing it stradling the railway line. Now there is only a roundabout with the railway line crossing through the middle to contend with. There were a lot of new subdivisions on the the Blue Spur loop but also some evidence that mining is once more taking place. Pete did the the one hour 'Blue Spur Bushwalk' last year which took him up the old stone steps of the miners track and through the remains of a good range of mining activities including tunnels, past adits, through paddocks, stacked stones, past shafts, short tunnels and through some long and very narrow sections which had been cut into the rock as drainage channels ten or more feet deep and just wide enough to edge one's way through sideways. The information board said stout boots and resonable fitness and we agree, the ground was very rough and some scrambling over slippery rocks but well worth it. We thought of repeating it but fould we had left the Sandfly deterent back in the cabin and that made it a less attractive option to returning for an ice-cream.

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