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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 3

Sunday 7 February

In the morning the road had been cleared and the only evidence was sand on the road in the gorge. There was a short cut around Waihi along the old Paeroa road which cut a corner and joined SH2 at the Athenree gorge. Having left Paeroa at 1000 we reached Mills Reef Winery at Bethlehem at 1120 and in spite of not having made a reservation we were welcomed and shown to a table for lunch.

The Mills Reef Elspeth 2013 Syrah had won a silver prize in the 2015 AirNZ wine awards and it was available by the glass with lunch. Alongside we added a 'Red Paddle'. This is a small glass of each of 4 reserve wines – in this case the 2014 Syrah, 2014 Merlot Malbec, 2014 Merlot and 2013 Cabernet Merlot. To accompany these was Lamb Rump for Pauline and half a Duck for Peter. The food at Mills Reef has always been excellent. After lunch we went to the wine tasting and found that there were two different Mills Reef Elspeth 2013 Syrahs. After discussion with the experts we purchased a bottle of the one served at lunch which was said to be more ready for drinking. We were also persuaded to taste the 2013 Elspeth Cabernet Franc and liked that too. Each was $49 per bottle, but at our age we say we are becoming too old to drink cheap wines.

The drive over the Pyes Pa road seems to be becoming easier each year and the road seems to be getting wider although it is still very winding through the gorges. Check in to our cabin at the Cosy Cottages Holiday Park in Rotorua was easy and we were pleased with the size and the useful kitchen. It is walking distance to the centre and we could see the hospital on the hill once we were back on the main road. Rotorua is quiet on a Sunday but the cafes and restaurants were busy. We noticed that the Monterey Motel where we used to stay had been demolished and presume that a larger place will replace it. Our pleasant stroll included an ice cream at Lady Jane's then a check that our favourite eating places (the Thai restaurant and the Pig and Whistle) were still in business, followed by a stroll through the Government gardens down to the lake.

Monday 8 February

It was now time to visit one of the major thermal areas - there are several which are musts for a first visit and we have been to them all several times. We however seem to have gained a lifetime pass to Wai-o-tapu (we gave it an excellent write up on the internet in the early days when uniquelynz.com was one of the few web sites covering NZ) so we often go there. It is still the one to choose if you are restricted in time. It is only 30 kms from Rotorua and we always try to arrive at about 1000 as the Lady Knox geyser is provoked to erupt at 1015 by the addition of some soap and that always draws most of the tourist the couple of kilometers to watch it so we have the main site to ourselves! Again the geyser is interesting to see once but we value the peace more. The highlight for us is always the Champagne Pool, which has such wonderful colours and is always gently steaming with thousands of tiny bubbles rising to the surface from the very blue water and is surrounded with a shelf of bright orange-red deposit before it plunges far too deep to see. The completed walk is said to take 75 minutes but we go more slowly.

We stopped on the loop road to look at the bubbling mud pools which had high water levels this year - there was more of the big splashing and less of the little soft eruptions.

By 1200 we were back at the vehicle and heading back towards Rotorua and supermarket shopping.

The Cosy Cottages Holiday Park has a swimming pool, two hot pools, and a 'hangi' steam cooking area. Rotorua is famous for its Maori concerts and Hangi for tourists but it is the first time we have had access to hangi ovens. The staff let us borrow two metal dishes, the sort which I have at home in a stack for steaming food. Cooking in the hangi involves no oil or water. The all-in-one cooking method suggested starts with meat at the bottom, then kumara, potatoes and vegetables. Our pots were too small so the kumara were placed, whole, in a second pot. The Pak-N-Save supermarket provided the lamb – only $7.99 per kilo but it needed to be de-boned and trimmed before steaming for 3.5 hours. Kumara cooks more quickly so goes in later, it had two hours but would probably be OK after 1.5 and then the sweet corn only took 40 minutes and was last to start.

With food safely in the fridge a second trip into Rotorua enabled us to spend time in the Warehouse and in the Kathmandu clothes and camping shop. There are clearance sales at this time of year and they have good quality hiking boots, tents and clothes all at reduced prices. Unfortunately nothing was suitable, and although we were tempted by a little folding camping table we cannot really justify the purchase of another one yet.

While our food was cooking in the hangi steam ovens there was time to explore the site. The footpath down to the lakeside, also private property of the holiday park, led to a small sandy beach which was better than Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel. Here the lake height does not change and there is always hot water when a hole is dug in the sand. We decided to stay for an extra night.

A digression - The Air New Zealand Wine Awards

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards is arguably the premier wine competition in New Zealand recognising excellence in winemaking. The competition is owned and organised by New Zealand Winegrowers, the national organisation for the country's 1,700 grape growers and winemakers. The competition has been running for over 40 years and 2015 marks the 29th year that Air New Zealand has been the major sponsor and the 40th year that New Zealand Winegrowers has managed the Awards. It is unusual, almost unique, in that the tastings are blind. Each wine entered is tasted ‘blind’, that is, it is recognizable to judges only by a unique code it has been given rather than by name or label. Wines are tasted in classes and sub-classes so that judges taste similar wines at the same time.

The 2015 competition saw 1,407 wines entered into the 16 different categories and judging took place in Auckland in November. The judging panel was led by Michael Brajkovich MW, alongside other international judges Ronny Lau from China and Mark Protheroe from Australia. The wines are tasted and judged by senior judges and associates. The wine is then discussed at the end of the scoring and in some cases re-assessed by the panel leader and/or the Chair of Judges. The wine is given a score and this is entered into the system under its unique code. Associates’ scores are not counted in the final judging but their comments are welcomed in discussion. The whole process is very open with the names of the judges being published and the chairman's reportmakes interesting reading.

The Awards process is divided into two stages. First the wines are judged and awarded medals based on a score from the judging panes for each of the 16 areas. At a later stage there is a taste-off comparing all the Gold medal wines to decide the ultimate category winner in each variety and award the Trophies for the top wine in each variety. In addition Trophies are awarded for Champion Wine of the Show, Reserve Wine of Show, Best Open White Wine, Best Open Red Wine, Best Exhibition White or Sparkling Wine and Best Exhibition Red Wine.

In the initial stage the Awards are only determined by the scores they receive from the judging panels. Each wine is marked out of twenty based on the following system:

And the resulting awards are:

The standards are demanding and typically only about 5% of the entries will receive a Gold or Elite Gold Award (6% in 2015) and growers are proud to display and mention such awards. However few Wine Growers will put on Bronze stickers or mention them. In 2015 61% of all entries received awards. One should also note that some of the best winemakers do not compete in such competitions, for example Cloudy Bay, and others rule themselves out as they provide members of the extensive judging panels.

Entries in the Open, Limited and Exhibition Classes are eligible for Medals and the Reserve Wine of the Show trophy. Wines entered in the Open and Limited categories are eligible for the varietal/style trophies and the Champion Wine of the Show. Wines entered in the Exhibition Category are eligible for the Exhibition trophies. To be considered for the Open category, a wine must have more than 2,500 cases available for sale when the awards are announced in November of the judging year. The Limited category is for wines with a minimum of 250 cases. The Exhibition category is for wines with a minimum of 50 cases available. Wineries are asked to supply a recommended retail price for all wines entered into the awards. This helps avoid huge price increases if a wine does unexpectedly well.

The Trophy Wines for 2015 were

Tuesday 9 February

It was time to book our ferry ticket to the South Island now that we have better ideas of our timing. The Top10 holiday parks offer 10% discount on the Interislander and Kiwi and Family Parks offer 10% discount on the competitor, Bluebridge. The advantage of the Interislander is that they have 3 ships and had space on their lunchtime departure from Wellington on Saturday. However our Top10 card was just expired so we needed to purchase a new one. Fortunately the computer booking system was not integrated with that at Top10 and our old card number was still recognised so we could book the crossing at the reduced rate. We then drove to the Top10 Holiday Park and paid for a new renewal card. Prices are interesting. A new card on the Internet was $49, a new card at Top10 Rotorua was $44 special offer and our renewal was $40. They also booked our standard cabin at the Top10 in Wellington for us. We mentioned that we used to stay when the owner had a car registration number HAPNZ and had noticed that the car was now registration TOP10. One of the people there said that it was his father who had the previous car and we chatted about the past and his family. The father is now retired and his son runs the business.

On the way backto the Camp Site we had a look in Kuirau Park at the area with the lake as we could see it steaming as we passed. It is an area which is forever changing and it was strange to see steam hanging as a layer just above the pools

One reason to stay the extra day in Rotorua was because the shops had been mainly closed on Sunday and also for Waitangi Day on Monday and we like to look at shops in the town. When the weather is fine it is better to enjoy the scenery and we repeated a drive to see the redwood forests. We began with the Hamurana Springs Reserve which we had learnt about in 2014 from the owner of the Manhattan motel. Hamurana is at the Northern end of Lake Rotorua and there is a car park which also serves the Golf Club. It is now being controlled by the Ngata Rangiwewehi whose association with the area goes back to the 1300s. The ownership of the springs and other nearby sites of cultural significance was returned to the Ngati Rangiwewehi iwi under the Ngati Rangiwewehi Claims Settlement Bill 2014. They are out to exploit all the work put in by DOC and a number of volunteer groups and have started to charge $10 per person for tour groups so it is seldom visited any more but individual visitors are not yet charged. It is a very beautiful area with a 650 metre walk to the area of large springs through a Redwood grove. The Hamurana Redwoods are coastal Redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) from the Pacific Coast of America and are the tallest plants on earth today reaching 100 meters. The Hamurana redwoods have already reached 55m having been planted in 1919.

The head spring is the largest in the North Island and is 15 meters deep and has a steady flow of 4,500,000 litres an hour at a constant temperature of 10 degrees C. There is a viewing platform built by DOC right above it so one can look down into it through crystal clear water. The spring water travels down from the Mamaku Plateau through underground aquifers, taking 70 years to reach Hamurana. Perhaps the most interesting spring in the reserve is the Dancing Sands spring, named because of the effect of the emerging water on the sand on the bottom of the spring. We could see many rainbow trout who prefer the cool temperature of the spring water in the summer including one which was cruising in the head spring.

On the way back to Rotorua we went into the Whakarewarewa Redwoods Forest which covers a much larger area, some 5600 Hectares total with 150 km of walking tracks and mountain biking trails. This is free and much more popular - there were hundreds of cars in the car park and we had a pleasant 2.5 km walk on one of the easy loop tracks through the forest. Since last year they have opened an aerial walkway with entry cost of $25 dollars and most of the old entries to tracks seemed to have no entry signs and one was directed past the shop and Aerial Walkway before reaching the signposted entries to the walks. It is pleasant if you like forests but it did not compare to the scenery and overall interest of the Hamurana Springs Reserve - we noted on our last visit to the area that we found we had only taken three pictures of the Redwood Forest and one was of the map at the entry with only one worthy of printing whilst we had 26 of the Springs and 11 marked for printing and this year was similar.

In the evening we had another Hangi, this time with Pork and whilst it was cooking we walked round the site to take some pictures and then down past the little thermal area to the 'beach' beside the lake. The sand is hot and if you dig a pool you can bathe in hot water.

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Content revised: 18th July, 2020