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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 9

Saturday 27 February

Mount Somers: The last part left us leaving Christchurch for Mount Somers. Mount Somers is only 124kms west of Christchurch but seems in a different world. It is a favourite place of ours and is where the road to Erewhon starts. We usually stay at the Mount Somers Holiday Park and it comes high on our list of places to stay; if it is full then the Domain next door also has camping spaces with power. 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. Mt Somers Domain was full because it was the final destination of a cycle race and we had arrived as the last cycles finished the race. Fortunately few of the racers were staying overnight in the area and the results were announced as we checked in and the riders all set off back home.

Buxton Lime Kilns: That afternoon we took a short drive up the Road to Erewon to look at a couple of interesting places. The first was the Lime Kilns. It has car parking outside and signage for the track into the site but it was clear that not many people actually visit. The track was OK but would be easier in trousers because of the encroaching bushes. There is also a track from the lime kilns up to the old rock crusher and a lookout. The track needs care because there are large holes, from the lime kilns below, which are partly hidden by the intruding grass and bushes.

The Burnett Limestone Quarry was our next stop. It is down a short side track about 4 km further along the Road to Erewon. 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.

The Blackburn Coal Mine and Jig Walk We then continued to the side track to look at the coal mines and the Jig that served them, which we had visited in the past and had read about at the local pub on a previous visit. There is a turn off about 8.5 kms from 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. The Jig was an 'inclined plane' 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 164 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 at the shelter which is at the entry to the mine. 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 involve a little rock hopping and we did not have the walking boots for crossing streams. 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 mountaineering 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 still covered with information boards on the history of the area and walks through it and the boards matched those we had seen earlier on our walks. 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 information about the 'inclined plane', the jig, which we had seen. 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”.

Sunday 28 February

The Road to Erewhon: The next morning 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 the places we visted yesterday, the old limestone kiln, the old limestone working and the road down to the mines and jig. The road has superb views and eventually goes to Erewhon Station which was featured in the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler, one of the classic New Zealand books we bought and read long ago, we have more recently obtained his follow-up, Erwon Revisited. 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!

Hakatere Conservation Park: We stopped first 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.


The road changes to gravel as one continues. 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.

Click for larger image

There is now a large car park at the start of the walk to Mount Sunday. There are also organised trips to the peak and as we wondered whether to do the 45 minute climb a large six-wheeled tour vehicle arrived, opened the gate, and proceeded to drive along the rough track. We are accustomed to 4WD or AWD but this was our visit sighting of a 6WD! This time we turned back at the viewpoint below Mount Sunday but one can continue 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 since we last came 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. 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.

On the way back we looked across 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. We have stopped at both in the past but today we wanted to try some different side visits.

We took two side trips - first to Lake Emma (our first time there). It was a very rough road and a bit of a disappointment when we got there. The second was to Lake Heron which is much bigger and is famous for the fishing. It was however very windy by then and there was no way we could set up our chairs and admire it. We met a large number of big 4x4 and off road vehicles and when we stopped at Maori Lake, a small lake en route to Lake Heron, we were told that one of the private backroads had been opened for a big off-road rally so we were travelling aginst the flow of over 100 big vehicles and the dust cloud stretched into the far distance.

Monday 29 February

We left Mount Somers the next morning and our first stop was at Geraldine

Geraldine: Geraldine is a good centre for a number of the DOC camp sites up in the foothills such as Orari Gorge and Waihi Gorge but is a bit touristy – the coaches all have comfort stops there and it is the home of the biggest jumper in the world as well as an impressive tapestry. It is a centre for the local area and has a number of useful shops and is also the home of the excellent home style preserves and pickles firm Barkers of Geraldine.

The Geraldine Historical Society Museum: Geraldine has two museums both of which are worth a visit if the have time -the first is an excellent 'local' museum, the Geraldine Historical Society Museum which is free and is right in the centre next to where all the buses park, but of course none of them go in. We must have spent over nearly an hour and had to move the car as we were only on 60 minute parking. Pauline admired an old American organ, the sort which has 2 foot pedals which are pumped to make the air pressure for the pipes, and eventually found a few simple hymn tunes in their music book which she managed to play sightreading.

Geraldine Local Food: We then re-parked outside the Talbot Forest Cheese outlet. We are not sure if their cheese was made on the premises but Talbot Forest Scenic Reserve is just a short distance north of the town and we were able to buy a whole 1 kg Brie which unfotunately had a slight blue mold on the outside for $10 and a a big offcut piece of their Mt Somers Blue which is incredibly tasty (and had probably been what got to the brie) for $20 a kilo instead of the usual $60/kg. Having set ourselves up with the savoury side we went in the Barkers Outlet next door to get a replacement for the Blackcurrent and Cranberry Cordial we had been give by Chris and also came away with all sorts of other bargains in jams and chutneys which had set too hard or too little or were not quite the correct colour. These included the award-winning Limes with Elderflower fruit syrup and a large bottle of Monsoon Mango, Lime and Chilli sauce.

The Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum: The next Museum was just on the edge of Geraldine and was far from free - we thought long and hard about $15 each but the The Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum had a huge collection of tractors, farm machinery and cars and motor bikes and took well over an hour for a quick look round. Some highlights were: John Britten (of motor cyle fame) 's Campervan, a Harley Davidson Hearse and a very rare original Spartan Bi-Plane.

Fairlie and Fairlie Museum: We then stopped in Fairlie at the Holiday park which we found had now left the Top10 Group but now offered better value than ever. Once we were settled into our cabin we walked to the Fairlie Heritage Museum which has a large collection of largely farm based items. 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.

They have moved the tractors to a huge new building the other side of the road which one collects a key for from the cafe/shop. On our last visit it had a number of old cars which included a Standard 8 only one year different from Pete’s first car and a converted Standard Vanguard which looked as if it had been a pick-up then a shooting brake. Pete also had an Ensign which came from his father which was a close sibling of the Vanguard. There were lots of interesting old tractors and tracked vehicles all of which seemed to be runners. We took too long on the main part and found the cafe had closed but by then Pauline was fairly saturated, excuse the pun. We have added some pictures from an earlier visit to make the write up complete.

Tuesday 1 March

We left Fairlie early and worked our way 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’s Pass itself is relatively low at about 750m.

Lake Tekapo: 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 good, not perhaps the best we have seen but still very impressive. 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.

The Church of the Good Shepard: We again 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 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie country. It 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. It was very clear down the lake to the central mountains almost 70 kms away. It must be one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand, as well as the nearby the bronze statue of a sheepdog.

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. Dave said he has now bought a house outside of Tekapo so he is already down to a couple of days a week and we suspect it may be the last time we see him. There seems to be a lot of new building in the area and a new bridge and we understand that the plan is to make the car parks the other side of the bridge and turn the existing car park into a different form of park.

The Hydroelectric Canals: 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 last time and this time we found almost all these private roads were closed and we could not even reach the Mt Cook salmon farm. We understand there are fears of tourists driving into the canals in high winds but strangely they are still open for cyclists who must be at far greater risk.

Lake Pukaki: 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. There is a second salmon farm alongside the main road near Lake Ruataniwha but we were already stocked up. We stopped in Omarama, boought an ice cream, and wondered where to go next. Omarama is famous for gliding and as we looked towards the airfield there was a glider on aerotow.

Lake Benmore camping: We decided to see if we could find a camp site on Lake Benmore or Lake Aviemore and get the tent out as the winds seem to have dropped and it would be nice to have a change. Lake Benmore is one of a series of lakes each with a Hydroelectric dam and feeding into the next lower lake. A few years ago we had a look round the Benmore Power Station. They are all artificial lakes, a result of the hydroelectric schemes constructed in the 1960s. A number of camping grounds were built at the end of the project, as part of creating a recreational use for the new lakes.

The power station was completed in 1965. The overall scheme generates about 2 Gigawatts of clean power, 550 from Benmore itself which is also the point where the North and South Island connection is made. The power interchange between Islands can be up to 1200 Megawatts and is done with a DC link involving conversion at either end, the logic being that it uses less cables and saves power but the scientific basis is not obvious to Pete yet!

We could not find anything suitable on the South Side of the Lake, we have previously been on the other side, so we went into a commercial site. The Lake Benmore Holiday Park is quite unique in that every pitch had not only power and water but also a . This is because there is no communal toilet block so everyone who camps there has to have their own personal facilities. They only had a dozen or so sites so we were lucky not only to find one but to have a choice. We would camp there again.

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