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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 7

Sunday 21 February

Our original plan was to move on immediately from Greymouth to Hokitika, which is a much more intersting town in the centre of old gold mining areas but our favourite camp site has closed up - it is rumoured he has sold the site to the huge dairy works opposite and they have raised it to the ground prior to an expansion. So in the morning we decided to stay for a second day and drive along the coast as far as Ross and back to Hokitika and do some of the many Goldfield walks in those areas. One special feature of the drive south is the close relationship between the road and the railway. There are three unusual features. The first is the one lane and shared road/rail bridge where it is clearly marked that trains have priority. Further south there is a roundabout and a viewing parking and finally, at Kumara Junction at the junction with the road to Arthur's Pass, the railway line goes straight through the middle of the roundabout while the road traffic continues around it.

Ross: Ross was always known as Goldtown. There is a 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 lakewas partially filled. In 2012 it appeared 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

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 we 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 public 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.

Hokitika: We then drove back to 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.

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 Waiuta, 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 Waiuta until his death. The museum has some of his plates and negatives. Unfortunately they we were told they were not on display at the present and we would have to use the Research Section archives, perhaps that was where we saw them. We have been into them in the past and they 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'.

Bonz n' Stonz: We went into Bonz 'n Stonz which has now moved back opposite to the Museum. Bonz n' Stonz 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 four 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. As we have travelled round and spoken to other carvers we have found that everyone knows seems to know Steve and he and his work is held in high regard.

There is a good lookout at Sunset Point, otherwise known as Sandfly Point - one gets mobbed to the extent that one can not hold a camera steady until anointed with repellant but on a clear day the views of the mountains covered in snow are ultimately worth the pain. The lookout also has excellent views over the bar and back to the port and we try 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.

We then took the road to the Kanieri Lake which takes one past past some of the streams where gold was found and we passed the end of the Water Race track where one could see some of the fluming beside the road. We stopped at The Landing and did a little of the Water Race Walk, the full walk is 3.5 - 4 hours one way but we got a good sample in an hour and a half return. We passed lots of areas where the race was boarded and often given support by overhead cross pieces. There were short aquaducts and deep cuttings and even a short tunnel. Even after 30 minutes the stream itself was so far below it cound not be seen and only occassionally heard. The Water race was originally constructed to provide power for gold mining operations and is still in use for an electric generating plant. Pete's estimates of the speed of the water and the channel cross section indicated about 4 cubic metres a second flow rate.

It looks as if it has recently been done up and now forms part of one of the cycleways and is a good flat amble but needs a car at either end if one is going to do the whole length - perhaps next time we will start at the Hokitika end.

Lake Kaniere is described as one of the most beautiful in New Zealand - that is perhaps an exaggeration compared to the great lakes to the South but it is certainly very attractive and the diversion was worthwhile. We went part way round the lake to Dorothy Falls which turned out to be only a short walk from the road to a very deep and pretty waterfall into what looked a perfect swimming hole on a hot day. On the way back we stopped at an attractive picnic area and there is also a DOC camp site beside the lake.

There is a gravel backroad across which enables one to continued with a drive round the Blue Spur loop where there are a lot of new subdivisions but also some evidence that mining is once more taking place. Pete did the the one hour 'Blue Spur Bushwalk' two years ago 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 reasonable fitness and we agree, the ground was very rough and some scrambling over slippery rocks but well worth it.

Our final walk this year however was a new one to us, the Woods Creek Walk. It is supposed to be in a goldmining area with the chance to look at relics. The approach road started by driving past Shantytown and to Dunganville where it continued on gravel. It was reasonable signed by DOC but there were warning of goldmining activity and we saw a number of large vehicles parked. Thankfully we were travelling at a weekend. The road which was drawn on the map did not coincide with our track on our GPS but the road was wide, because it also was used by the large vehicles. Having finally rejoined the old road we were confronted by a dip then a climb, which was easier than it looked. The carpark at the top, not surprisingly, was empty. The walk was delightful and we would recommend it, but the drive to the carpark was memorable. Hopefully it will be easier once all the work has ended.

Monday 22 February

Arthur's Pass : This is a delightful trip in fine weather either by car or on the Transalpine train between Christchurch to Greymouth, a trip we did a few years ago. The road from Kumara Junction along the coastal plains then joins the railway for part of its journey, and is alongside from Jacksons through the Otira gorge until it disappears into a tunnel at Arthurs Pass as the road clings to the hillside, crosses new viaducts, and is protected from avalanches by the Avalanche Creek Shelter.

The train was already standing at Arthurs Pass station when we arrived and was timetabled to depart shortly. The platform was crowded and it seems that every passenger had decided to get off to admire the train and to have their photo taken at Arthurs Pass station. Some were catching long distance buses and these were waiting quietly. Then there was the sound of a whistle, the signal that the train would shortly be departing. The train drivers climbed on board. The passengers went back to their seats, and eventually the long train slowly moved forward. There were two engines at the front and three engines at the rear - we presume this was to deal with the gradient descending.

Now the train had departed we walked across to 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. Previously we had been greeted by the Keas, a native parrot which will eat anything it finds, especially the rubber round windscreens and wipers - tyres on cars are too generally 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. There are several delightful DOC camping sites along the road but our trip coincided with a series of road works and their equipment was using some of the view points. It was not until we reached the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve that we discussed whether to stop. 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 and only the venerable Maglite, a present from Christine 15 years ago is truely waterproof.

The railway line rejoined us at Springfield where we stopped at the cafe, for guess what (hint - starts with ice), then crossed the Waimakariri River to Oxford and onwards to our overnight stop at Ashley Gorge. Since we stayed there previously there are new owners and the camping slot outside the kitchen where we were almost flooded out is not available. It is occupied by a caravan. The rest of the site was exactly as we remembered and because the weather was going to be fine we decided to camp and use our new tent again.

Tuesday 23 February

The road from Ashley Gorge to SH1 at Amberley passes the Karikaas Dutch Cheese factory. We often buy their Dutch-style cheeses in preference to the original imported dutch cheese. The number of dutch deli/cheese shops is reducing but our favourite in Kaiwaka is still there and they recommended we visit a similar outlet in Mercer. The advantages of visiting the manufacturers of local products are that there is more choice compared with shops and supermarkets, there are often bargains, and the staff are glad to chat with enthusiasts and offer tastings. We bought two different ages of Vintage Gouda. Amberley is only 10kms south of Waipara and we were looking forward to having lunch at the Pegasus winery. It is one of our favourites because their food is excellent, although expensive by NZ standards, and they have a good reputation for their wines, especially the riesling and sweeter white wines. Unfortunately the restaurant is now closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but we were offered a wine tasting and bought the Riesling and Aria, having also tasted the Encore.

With just 40kms to drive to Christchurch and an early departure from Pegasus we started to think about accommodation. We usually stay in Worcester Street and there are two motels there which are both good. Unfotunately neither had vacancies because there was a serious cricket match between NZ and Australia and all the motels in town were full. Eventually we found a cabin at Duvauchelle in the Banks Peninsula where we have stayed in previous years. The revised travel plan is to visit Christchurch later, after the cricket. On our way to the Banks Peninsula we stopped at the Port of Christchurch at Lyttleton. There were several freighters in the port but cruise ships still go to Akaroa instead.

Lyttelton Town: Lyttelton itself was badly damaged in the 22 February 2011 earthquake and was at the epicentre. Fortunately the tunnel remained intact although the buildings at the portal were damaged. Lyttelton itself suffered and many houses on the hillside are insecure or falling and buildings in the centre are damaged or demolished. The stone built Holy Trinity Church, the oldest known church in Canterbury, was damaged and the tower fell so we were pleased to see a replacement church (an old wooden one) had been moved to the site. It is the church of Saint Saviours and incorporates the porch and two pews from Holy Trinity, and has been turned around so that the altar is at the opposite side to its previous desigh and also includes some of the original stained glass from Holy Trinity. The top of the bell tower sits as a sculpture in the garden adjacent. The vicarage is still standing next door and seemed to be in use. There are still temporary commercial buildings housed in containers but it is all very much better than when we came in 2012 and 2014. There is a great spirit in the town and little parks have sprung up.

Lyttelton Timeball Station: A major loss has been the Timeball one of the properties owned by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that we joined many years ago - it has reciprocal rights with the UK National Trust which we find useful in the UK. Accurate timekeeping is an essential part of navigation and finding the Longitude was not solved fully until the invention of the chronometer in the latter half of the 18th century. The accuracy of the chronometers was essential to navigation (1 second error corresponds to about 460m at the equator) so they had to be checked whenever possible and visual signals became an important feature of many ports. The visual signal was often a large spherical ball, the Timeball, which was dropped at a known time. The first Timeball station was built at Greenwich in 1833 and gradually others were built around the world. The Lyttelton Timeball, built in 1876, was the third in New Zealand and the only survivor. It was one of only a small number still operational in the world. The Lyttelton Timeball Station is unusual in that it has a dedicated castle like building built of Oamaru limestone and local Scoria (volcanic stone) sited so it was visible from all of the port and most of the town. From 1876 to 1934 a ball dropped from the mast at 1300 (sometimes 1530). The mechanism was from the German firm Siemens Bros. and the astronomical clock was from Edward Dent and Co of London. The operational use was discontinued in 1934 when it was replaced by radio although the use of flags form the same site used for notifying the arrival of ships continued till later. The tower itself was severely damaged and much fell to the ground - the remainder is being dismantled stone by stone. The mechanism is apparently relatively unscathed although the building was damaged. The road up to the area was closed, so we do not know how much demolition work has taken place, but there was no evidence of anything on the corner on the hill. An additional problem is that there was another small earthquake in February 2016 which caused part of the cliff at Sumner to collapse and so the road to Sumner which passes the site of the Timeball is closed. The Information Office told us that there is a proposal to rebuild just the tower of the Timeball Station, but we will have to wait until our next trip in 2018 to see what will happen.

Lyttelton and the Steam Tug Lyttelton: We first went to Lyttelton many years ago because we hoped to see or get a trip on the Steam Tug Lyttelton. It survived the earthquakes and there was optimism when we last visited in 2014. Now it is not in service for technical reasons, there needs to be expensive work on the steam boiler, although it is still able to be used for static events for example weddings, business functions etc. She can carry over one hundred passengers as well as a minimum crew of 12 needed to operate her safely - four in the engine room, two on the bridge as well as crew for handling mooring etc. She probably has one of the best qualified crews almost regardless of size in the world and when we went on her she often had four with full skippers tickets as well as the now increasingly rare engineering staff with steam tickets. It does not need to be said that they are all volunteers operating and maintaining this lovely old ship.

The Tug Lyttelton was built by Ferguson Bros. of Glasgow and was sailed out under her own steam in 1907 taking 69 days - the 6 stops for bunkering took 15 of those days. She remained in service for over 60 years and shortly afterwards the preservation society was formed. A year of work was required to recommission her and to add the extra equipment needed for her to obtain a Marine Department Passenger Survey Certificate. She is 124' long and 25' beam and is powered by two twin compound steam engines each of which is rated at 500 HP although they did significantly better on her commissioning trials.  A luxurious saloon for passengerson the LyttletonThey each drive one of her twin screws and are supplied a single four boiler with 4 fireboxes. The boiler is identical to those used on the Mauritania also built in 1907 - the difference is that she had 27 of them. Her bunkers hold 32 tons of coal and she consumes half a ton per hour at full power. She was designed to be capable of salvage use and is fitted out to a standard we found surprising with very well appointed accommodation for the officers which now provides a luxurious saloon for passengers (max 150). There is a small on-board museum with a number of interesting marine artifacts, most unfortunately not from her operational life.

Some years ago we had an excellent trip out to the Heads and back with a couple of slow-ups to give passengers a chance to look at rare Hectors' dolphins which are found in the Lyttelton harbour. Pete spent a long time down in the engine room. At that time the engines had not even needed a re bore yet and bearings were inspected and adjusted every 5 years. We were told then that the boilers had new tubes 9 years ago, a major but routine operation. It seems that more work is needed again now. We remember our sailings on superb afternoons on a gloriously and beautifully maintained classic ship - may thanks to those who spent so much time talking to us. Hopefully funding and effort for the necessary technical work will be foundand she will again be seen sailing. She is too beautiful and historic to spend the rest of her years moored in the harbour.

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Content revised: 18th July, 2020