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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 13


The last part left us on the road to Dunedin. We actually went straight through Dunedin and out down the Otago Peninsula towards Taiaroa Head and the Albatrosses. We had a basic backpacker room booked at the Kiwi Holiday Park at Portobello we have used frequently in the past. We were lucky to get accommodation there at short notice as it is very much on the tourist circuit. The wet and wild weather we had experienced in Manapouri had also landed in the Otago Peninsula and the Holiday Park had been without electric power the previous evening, although everything was now back to normal. The local newspaper reported the problems of a large cruise ship which was unable to leave Port Chalmers because of the weather, and the waves breaking over the road at nearby MacAndrew Bay. The only sign of problems were the candles in jam jars in the toilet block. In the evening a large group of big camper vans came in together which took almost every one of the close spaced campervan slots and by the end of the evening there was not even tent space left although there was one cabin vacancy. The site is expanding and have now added a number of upmarket self contained units, tourist flats and motel units up on the hillside.

Saturday 12 March

In the morning we drove to Taiaroa Head to see if we could see any Albatrosses flying, the wind did not seem very high but one can also often see them coming in over the sea. We were too early to visit the Royal Albatross Observatory because the centre does not open until 1130 and they still had no electric power after the bad weather - which meant no lighting and only old-fashioned paper credit card transactions. We crept by the ticket desk with our membership card. We did not plan to take a tour this time but walked down to look at the seals on the beach and noted that they seem to have set up 'stands' so people can watch the Blue Penguins coming in at dusk and they now close the beach and it seems you have to pay to watch. Sometimes we join the Monarch boat which cruises from Wellers Rock landing stage around the Head and gives a good view of the albatross nests and all the other nesting birds which prefer to nest on the side of the Head which is away from the road access, but is good for flying in the prevailing wind direction.

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

There are usually several nests close to the observatory and they now have a web Cam looking at one of them. We generally visit every two years, which matches the biennial return trips of albatrosses to breed. So we generally see the same adults sitting on their old nest in the same place - and usually there is one pair who nest just below the viewing hide. Although we did not go in this year to watch we have several times before and have previously been privileged to see them close enough to completely fill the viewfinder on the camera and one time we were able to get a long video of two birds pair flying, probably juveniles “bonding”.

There are two other two properties belonging to the Otago Peninsula Trust, the Fletcher House where we a couple of years ago were given an individual and fascinating tour and Glenfallock Woodland Gardens. Both are well worth visiting if you have half and hour for each and entry is free for Trust members.

Happy Hens: We stopped at 'Happy Hens' in Portobello as we wanted to find out about progress of the ferry, the Elsie Evans. Last time, two years ago, we spent a long time chatting to the owner, Shem Sutherland. He has spent a lot of time in the UK as a signwriter and narrow boat decorator. He produces many items with Roses and Castles, his letterboxes are particular favourites in New Zealand, and we were privileged to see some of his work which is not for sale. He also seems to have been involved or know of many of the restoration and steam projects we have taken an interest in. He has also been responsible for leading the restoration of the Elsie Evans and we obtained his phone number and rang him up as we gathered from his mother that he might be taking her out and found to our delight that he was planning to take her out to continue running in the engine the following morning. The timing looked as if it would fit perfectly with meeting up with Kerry for lunch in Dunedin.

When we got back to the camp site we looked up the hillside and saw a monument we had not noticed before with what looked like a path up to it. We enquired and although it is not actually a public path there was a nearby walking track which went over to the coast on the other side of the peninsula and gave views from the top. We followed the instructions and there were good views in both directions. The bay the other side was not particularly interesting but it made a pleasant end to the afternoon.

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

Sunday 13 March

We left early to get into Dunedin and to find the pickup point for our trip on the Elsie Evans. It was fortunate we left early as we had several hold-ups as there was a big marathon or some other form of charity run and they kept closing the road to let them run across. It turned out that they were all starting from very close to our meeting point on the pontoon just across from the Elsie Evans normal mooring.

The Elsie Evans: Shem and a group of others have completed the restoration of the Elsie Evans, the historic former Otago Harbour ferry, to a seaworthy condition and will be operating her again for passenger use on the Otago Harbour as a ferry and excursion vessel when all the certification is complete. Elsie Evans is the oldest surviving pilot boat in New Zealand as well as being the last ferry to run a scheduled timetabled ferry service on the Otago Harbour and is part of local maritime history which would be lost forever had this project not been undertaken.

The Elsie Evans was built in Auckland in 1901 by the firm of Charles Bailey Jnr, a contemporary and competitor of Logan Brothers whose classic boats we have often admired, as the first pilot boat for the Timaru Harbour Board. The Elsie Evans had a length of 42 feet, a beam of 8 feet six inches and a draft of 3 foot 3 inches. The hull was of three skins of kauri, copper fastened and sheathed in muntz metal below the waterline. The original engine was a 20 h.p. Union Oil (petrol) engine developing 280 r.p.m. which gave her a maximum speed of 8 knots. She was brought to Dunedin in 1928 and used for general purposes and to ferry passengers during the surveys of the Portobello Railway and Ferry Company's ferries Tarewai and Waireka. In 1944 she took over from the Tarewai and regularly sailed the one and a half miles between Portobello and Port Chalmers and was licensed to carry 37 passengers. To cut a long story short she is being restored from the original kauri hull with a new superstructure suitable for a passenger ferry on the Otago Harbour. The superstructure is not original to the vessel, but is of a 1907 design to be in keeping with vessels of the same vintage. Shem told us that he hopes she is only months from starting service.

She has been beautifully restored as we found out when we saw her and got aboard, everything apart from a few missing access panels seems complete and Shem is in the process of adding some roses and castles for decoration. The engine is a Lister and seemed very sweet and had only completed 11 hours when we got on board so we were very privileged to be some of the first people on her trials. We also picked up his parents and the Trust's Lawyer and some others who were involved were aboard. We had an hour trip out to the wharf at Glenfallock where his parents joined us and then turned round at MacAndrew Bay taking it back slowly so we could watch some of the rowing 4s racing.

We had arranged to meet up with Kerry at the Octagon which is walking distance from the wharf and is in the centre of town and we got there a few minutes early. We sat waiting next to the Robby Burn's Statue and took it in turns to walk round the Cathedral which was adjacent. The cathedral is a strange mix of new and old as it was 'finished' in quite a different and very modern style to the style it was started in.

We ate at the Morning Magpie which Kerry had recently been to for a friend's birthday breakfast party. We decided the best word to describe it was eclectic - there were lots of papers and books, everything was mismatched and the food, which was very good value was served on chipped enamel plates. A place to remember and go back to, we could see why she chose it. She needed to get back to her essay writing, but recommended an ice-cream shop which she said served the biggest best value ice-creams in town which was about 15 minutes walk away.

Dunedin Railway Station: This is a fascinating and very ornate building which clearly shows its Scottish ancestry. We walked in and found the Taieri Gorge train was in the station and that it had a guards van almost identical to the ones we have stayed in at Waipara. Last time we got talking to the guard and he showed us round and tried to persuade us into a trip - the staff on the trains are all great enthusiasts and when he heard I had already done the run on the footplate he offered to see what could be done again - unfortunately it would not have got back till 1830 and the cloud was quite low so visibility would not have been good. This time the train was just leaving when we got there after lunch . The journey, especially the longer ones to Middlemarch, is something one must do once although they have got quite expensive - when one looks at the bridges and other structures they need to maintain one can understand why.

Dunedin Otago Settlers Museum: We then went into the museum where they have made quite a few changes and have a new and modern entry which links on the old museum buildings which are within what was the Art Deco style NZR long distance coach station. It is well worth a visit and deserves longer than the hour we had to spare. The buildings themselves are quite interesting and the way old and new has been mixed in the exhibits works much better here than I have seen before with computer screens on front of many of the showcases so you can click on any exhibit to get more information. It works very well in the room of local photographs and is fasted than looking for numbers and labels on most exhibits. Unlike many museums most of the articles are real and where they are not the effects are good, the horses in front of the stage coach were a good example of blending new and old to give a stunning effect.

Dunedin Bookshops: One problem of being in Dunedin on a Sunday was that all the bookshops were closed. Being a university town Dunedin is full of bookshops. Strangely they never seem to be very competitive and there a "Guide to the Second hand Bookshops of Dunedin" which list most of the local bookshops and many in the South to help one find what one is looking for. Most of the booksellers seemed to be enthusiasts and were very happy to talk in fact many have shown us the books they had bought for themselves, quite often from one of their competitors.

We then moved the car and went in search of the Rob Roy Dairy which Kerry had recommended. We found it was out close to the Botanical Gardens and the other Dunedin Museum and being a Sunday we could park nearby for free. The Botanical Gardens are extensive - last time we looked in the ornate greenhouse in the centre which was full of delicate plants including cacti and then ambled through the rose gardens but this time we were focused on our ice-creams.

The Rob Roy Dairy was everything she had described but unfortunately its fame had spread and there was a zig-zag queue filling the entire shop and almost out the door, perhaps 25 people. We have never had to queue for ice-creams before but it was worth the 10 or 12 minutes wait. They did a Learner Cone then the normal Single Serve whish was was two huge scoops of different flavours and the Double Serve which was four scoops of two flavours. We settled for the Single Serves at $3.20 and the only problem was what to chose out of the dozens of flavours! We ended up sitting on a wall opposite to eat them although we found a small park just down the road which we noted for next time. We walked up and down the road, a surprising number of shops were open for a Sunday.

Knox Presbyterian Church: We looked in the Knox Presbyterian Church opposite where we were parked and found an interesting stained glass memorial window to a young New Zealand Pilot killed in 1944 in combat. There is an interesting juxtaposition of the Warrior Angel Michael and a modern airman. The wording at the top says "If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sky, even there shall thy hand lead me". The organist had just arrived and was rehearsing so we stopped to listen for 15 minutes.

Monday 14 March

In the morning we left Portobello to work our way back to Otago, we were not quite sure where we planned to stop but expected it to be somewhere round Lawrence or Alexandra the first night.

Milton Museum: We stopped in Milton en route - a small town which used to be centre for pottery as well as farming. We went into the Information Office/Museum which used to be the Post Office and sorting office for the local area - most of the inside forming the museum was unchanged. It turned out to be quite interesting and there were a lot of old photo albums which included coverage of the Royal Visit in 1953 when the Queen and Prince Philip stopped in the town. We found some pictures of dredges we had not seen before, probably they were local and on the Clutha, they were certainly much smaller than the ones on the Kawarau river or up round Cromwell. The lady was most helpful and we gathered up a number of information leaflets we needed.

Lake Mahinerangi: We made a mistake and we should have the road up to Berick and on to a back-road through up the Waipori Gorge past the dams and power stations through Waipori Falls Village (originally built for power station workers) and up to the Mahinerangi Lakes and the Waipori goldmining area and then down to Lawrence as we did in 2014. Lake Mahinerangi was deepened for hydroelectric in 1924 covered all traces of Waipori, a gold rush boom-town and the location of extensive dredging but two historic reserves have survived. and one can visit the reserve at Pioneer Stream which has excellent examples of water races and reservoirs and the OPQ (Otago Pioneer Quartz Co) reserve which was the site of the first underground quartz mine in Otago - there is a Stamper Battery still on the site in a very sad condition.

Waitahunai. We did however remember the Waitahunai Gold fields and took a 4 km diversion to see the Miners Memorial and set up our chairs for a snack lunch. We saw considerable evidence of current mining activities just short of the memorial and it looked as if they were using standard earth moving equipment and there were also some jets of water so they may have been sluicing as in the old days. The Waitahunai Memorial is actually on a loop road and one can continued on the backroad through the Waitahunai Gully, a major goldfield where the first discovery was in 1861 and rejoin the main road but it would have been 10 kms or so back in the Dunedin direction so we just retraced our steps this time.

Lawrence Gold Holiday Park: We then drove into Lawrence to the holiday park we found last visit. They had a set of 6 ‘basic cabins’ round a facilities area, the prices had increased by 50% to $60. The owners have been steadily doing the site up and although basic they can be recommended. The kitchen was small but adequate and we found there was once more a raging wood burning stove in the morning whilst one was making coffee. There was also a small lounge area in the same block which served as a library. The site has a separate area with accommodation and a separate kitchen which has been occupied by sheep shearers on both of our visits, we made use of the huge shared barbeque in the evening to do our lamb.

Weatherstons and the Daffodil Fields: Once we had settled in we set out for Weatherstons. Although only one gully east of Gabriel's Gully the Weatherstons goldfield was not discovered until mid July 1861 when the Weatherston brothers found gold while on a pig shooting trip. The field grew very with 1500 miners arriving from Waitahuna over a few days and it was claimed that over 4 week period more gold was recovered from Weatherstons than from Gabriel's Gully. Over this late 1861 period Weatherstons was arguably the liveliest town on the Goldfields. However after the news of the Hartley and Reilly find at Dunstan came through in August 1862 only two miners remained, Ben Hart and Sam Gare. The population slowly returned as miners worked over the material again. By 1864 there were still 8 hotels operating as well as stores, drapery, post office, blacksmith, news agent, watch maker, iron monger, butcher and 2 banks. Beer was first brewed in 1863 and by early 1866 the Black Horse Brewery was in operation It has a number of owners until 1884 when it was bought by JK Simpson and Ben Hart, one of the miners who remained true to Weatherstons. The Black Horse rose to be Otago's most successful provincial brewery, famed throughout the goldfields and from Canterbury to Bluff but was closed down in 1923 after being bought by NZ Breweries.

Ben Hart was an enthusiastic gardener and from 1895 he was responsible for planting 25 acres around the brewery mostly with a wide range of daffodils and sourced from as far as the Netherlands, with no expense spared. Prices as high as 100 pounds were paid for a single bulb (Twenty times an normal weekly wage). During WW1 tens of thousands of bunches with 15-20 blooms were gathered by children and sent to Dunedin by train raising money for the Patriotic Fund. By 1937 3 special trains required to bring visitors from Dunedin to see the fields. A Daffodil Cavalcade was reinstated in 2005.

In 2014 we had been able to follow various trails round the site and up the river to the waterfall. There are lots of boards and an honesty box for entry of $5. The building were little more than shells but it was an interesting hour. This time we were disappointed to find the whole site was shut and the gates barred so we could not even get close. We therefore dropped briefly into the Museum and Visitor centre to find out why the Daffodil Fields had been closed and apparently it is run by a trust but two members of the board have recently died and also much of the labour to keep the paths open and safe came from the Department of Corrections who were unable to help last winter. The Trust have therefore closed it until it can all be sorted out and made safe after the winter rains and winds, many trees need work. The timescales are uncertain. We then set out for Gabriel’s Gully.

Gabriel’s Gully is of great historic importance. Gabriel Read's discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully in payable quantities first started the gold fever and the commencement of the gold rushes which were of huge significance to the whole of the new colony of New Zealand and heralded a period of economic growth and social turmoil in Otago. Within 7 months of the first discovery 10,000 miners had flocked to Gabriel's Gully and other parts of the Goldfield. Back in 1857 the Otago Provincial Council had offered a prize of 500 pounds for the proven discovery of a payable gold field, there were a number of finds including Lindis Gorge but after winter had set in the field was declared a failure. Gabriel Read was an Australian who had traveled to the Californian Goldfields but had little success and after trading in the Pacific returned to join the Victoria goldrushes again with little success. Following the success which finally came to him with “little more than a butcher's knife” in Otago, his claim was worked by his partners and he spent most of his time helping others before returning to Tasmania to take up his family lands and marry.

The field at Gabriel's Gully had long life and many of the techniques in Goldmining were used there making it an excellent first visit. Initially miners targeted a surface layer of alluvial gold lying on a band of blue slate below a 2 meter layer of mud and gravel - the claim size allowed was 25 feet by 25 feet - in the first months from May to mid August over 30,000 oz had been carried to Dunedin before the onset of winter and the discovery of new fields at Dunstan caused the number of miners to reduce. Once the easily reached surface gold was exhausted the deeper gold in a conglomerate, known locally as 'cement' was targeted, in particular on Blue Spur between Gabriel's Gully and Munro Gully. Water was by now the key and complex water races and dams quickly appeared. The techniques of Ground Sluicing quickly followed by Hydraulic Sluicing were employed until the tailings started to build up in the valley bottom. As the complexity increased the claims were progressively amalgamated and by 1879 to only nine, most of which were using Stamper batteries to effectively break up the cement. The ever-larger companies used more sophisticated equipment; reworking the tailings up to three times and hydraulic elevators were used as the cement was worked down below the surface level. All the terms are explained on our Introductory page to Goldmining .

This time we started on the backroad road through Blue Spur village which has a few houses but little to show from its gold mining times and that dropped us back down to Gabriel's at the far end. We had been there a few years ago but it was nice to see it again and place it in perspective. You can see a vast smooth slope where the sluicing took place and a pool at the bottom where there were hydraulic elevators raising the gravel to overhead sluices and riffle boxes. The valley floor has been steadily raised by the tailings and is now over 50 meters above the original level. Other interesting statistics for the area are that there were 450 kms of water races created in the first 4 years for ground sluicing, the longest of which was 40 km going right to the Waipori River. The one and a half hour walk round the field has received a complete set of interpretation boards which give some real insight into what happened at various stages, initially we thought they were set at a level more suitable to children (or a minister) but persevere as all the information is there!

We ended by following the signs to a picnic area which is the site of an old dam with a rather fine lake and a few picnic tables. It was also the start of a walk which was unfortunately still closed off because of landslips. We walked down to the old elevator pond rather than doing the 'set' walk round the rim of the area - it gave us some nice views up of the slopes especially as the rising sun angled across the surface. We looked at some of the side areas on the way back where we suspected some more recent investigations had taken place but there was little to show for it now.

The next part will involve a crossing of the Clutha on the classic Tuapeka Mouth Punt

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Content revised: 18th July, 2020