Tuesday October 26th
Picked up by Mikey, a friendly Green Cab taxi driver (www.greencabs.com), also a rock and roll dancer, with a Zephyr 6 modified to a convertible.
Cost won the argument in my choice of airline. It was Jetstar. I arrived 80 minutes before departure and just as well, Jetstar has a Stalinist booking system which demands you check in on-line and print your boarding pass out. My boarding pass would not scan. In fear I approached the check-in desk where Marie, a smiling, genuinely friendly clerk, checked in my baggage – thankfully I was well under weight. Marie offered me a lounge pass for $15.00, which was probably good value – I declined. I spent $11.50 on a coffee and croissant at the café. Auckland Airport has free broadband computers available and they were being thrashed by appreciative travelers.
My Jetstar flight was comfortable and the route was below the clouds. Jetstar is one of the newcomers to aviation with a growing operation and new routes.
My rental car from Ace Cars (www.acerentals.co.nz) was a Subaru Legacy with 6 change C-D player ideal for this trip. I don’t need an international company and prefer to support local business and Ace rentals are great value. We do need to save forex.
I dined at a French Café the Solera. Me, the ‘lone kiwi’, the other customers from around the globe. Larry and Jean hailed from Missouri. We enjoyed Ray Charles playing on the sound system, good food and wine. For me, a salmon salad and Peregrine Chardonnay. We talked of Jessie and Frank Jones, mythical bank robbers. Also Senator Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern's choice as his running mate in the 1972 American Presidential election. It transpired that Larry and Jean were personal friends of the Eagleton's.
It was damp and misty as I drove out of Queenstown, past Lake Hayes and onto the Crown Range. I played the Rolling Stone's CD, 'Exile on Main Street'. The shambolic album of 1972 having been re-mastered and one which brings back pleasant memories of my youth. Secret Virginia, perhaps the CD’s finest track played as I climbed toward the peak. Snowflakes were dropping lightly, and with thoughts of romance in my head, I rang partner Sally and invited her to join me. She declined. I arrived in Wanaka around 5pm to a warm welcome from my in- laws Mike and Gill. Like a true Southern man, Mike placed a bottle of Speight’s in my hand before my suitcase hit the floor
I awoke after seven hours, an eternity to me in recent years, and felt rested.
I drove to Alexandra to meet Peter, Sally’s father. Having just enjoyed his 97th birthday, he was in fine form. We talked about the amazing mine rescue in Chile. Peter funded his way through university as a miner. He was a member of a Wobbly West Coast Miners Union at Waiuta. He graduated as a mining engineer, and in the Second World War rose to the rank of Major, serving with distinction in the North African campaign.
We also talked of Syria, a place Sally might visit next year. His memories of Damascus are not only biblical but of a fine sophisticated Middle Eastern city. He recalled the inland intelligence trip where he surveyed every bridge in an internal valley from the Turkish border to the sea. One of the bridges was rusting away as a contractor had mixed the cement with seawater. If the bridge was blown up they would have been doing him a favour, as there would be hell to pay. As Rommel did not choose this wrath, the bridges were saved and all except a very rusted one is in use today. No points for guessing which one we enjoyed KFC for lunch. He chose mashed potatoes and gravy; I had French fries to accompany colonel Sanders fourteen secret Herb& Spices
I drove the old Earnscleugh road, past orchards and vineyards onto Clyde, a very attractive, 19th century mining town. It was 3pm and talkative children in uniforms cycled through the historic streets, mingling with others, of all ages, from around the globe, enjoying the Otago Rail Trail. Arguably one of the world’s most picturesque rides.
I was surprised at the buzz in this town. Construction humming, but quite obviously a plan to retain the village charm. The reproduction street lights blended well with the original 19th century streets. I chose the Old Bank Cafe over the well recommended Old Post Office Café. The Old Bank had a number of cycles outside, the riders tucking into tasty looking home baked pies and salads. I chose a fruit loaf, generously filled. I was not disappointed.
Out of Clyde, I stopped at a couple of look-outs and the 15 minute gut-buster to the old reservoir was a worthy trek. The reward, a wonderful panorama of Cromwell, old mining areas, and cherry blossoms painting the valley spring.
I drove towards on Tarras, a small town on the other side of the lake, which is also the southern entry to the Lindis Pass As Merino sheep clung to the hillsides, signs informed that this was the home of Ice Breaker (Ice breaker is a local company which has developed an international market for its fine Merino products). The large and well established, 1910, Bendigo Station runs beef cattle and sheep, and among its attraction is the Pelagrine vineyard that dominates the area for miles. On the CD, Al Green’s, Take Me to the River, played as I made my way back to Wanaka
Mike, Gill, Finn and I wandered up the Clutha River walkway to Albert town. It was a cool clear morning. As well as the half dozen or so walkers, we are passed by two silver-haired mountain bikers whose blond partners could be their daughters. They live in Waipu Cove, just south of Whangarei, in Northland, and take spring and autumn holidays in the South Island every year. Attracted by colors and lack of crowds, they have campervans and know the back roads well.
Gill wandered back to get the car while Mike and I continued for another hour, on tracks which skirted emerging sub-divisions, past Mt Iron, one of Wanaka’s more gut busting walks, continuing out to the main road.
Wanaka is a summer and winter playground originally for the Otago/Canterbury wealthy, now catering to visitors from throughout the world. As well as skiing and fishing, mountaineering in Mt Aspiring National Park also a number of local walks. On previous visits I have walked up to the Rob Roy Glacier – a very attractive and demanding walk. This visit I intended to undertake some less demanding walks -perhaps a ‘ramble’ is a better description.
It turned into a warm sparkling day. New Zealand enjoys a reputation as a pretty, green, sustainable place. Every community has its local tip, where each week dads' would take their rubbish. They are now called Recycling Centres, and Wanaka’s is a real goldmine. It also employs a number of people. Skiers dump their gear and at times you can get a real bargain. A pair of Swiss [insert name] skis for $10.00, a real find! Yes they were. Mike checked out that if they were in good shape.
That evening we dined at Relish, perhaps Wanaka’s top restaurant. It was a lovely warm, wooden building. Our waitresses Amy and Sarah were knowable about the food on offer and great fun. I had an entrée of hare pate, really good. Goat for the main course, served rare, on a salad with roast potatoes, delicious.
Mike and I checked out the Wanaka Toy Museum, amazing. However, boys and girls of all ages would need a day there, so much to see. Also a microbrewery – Wanaka Beer Works. The tastings were finished for the day so we bought a mixed six-pack.
We continued onto Luggate, 10km from Wanaka, for a pint. The pub caters for skiers during the season and on that warm spring afternoon; a group of self-opinionated farmers were expounding their thoughts on a number of issues. Surprisingly, they were drinking Coronas rather than the quality local brew ‘Speight’s’. Our barmaid was a highland Scot who hooked up with a local lad a half dozen years back. The skiing was her first attraction. She poured a good pint. Her long jet-black hair with its red tips, kept well away from the taps.
We ambled along the Glendu Bay walkway. The poplars, which grow prolifically along the shoreline, are rotting and have been culled for safety. A beautiful tree, but for a woodsman, a waste of space. They burn fast and produce little heat. Wanaka winters need better wood than that. There were only a couple of other walkers - a well dressed athletic woman with her pointer and a slow moving old fellow with the physique of a rugby prop. Perhaps his slow movement was the result of too many tough games.
We stopped at the Edgewater Resort for coffee. Our waitress, a vivacious blonde with great sense of humour, told us things were quieter than she wished. A rangy Dutch woman sipped her coffee and shared the wonderful time she had walking around Wanaka. Next day she would travel to Dunedin to see a rugby game. The local team, ‘The Highlanders’ were at the bottom of the national league. Most likely to be a dull game, I felt, but I didn’t say, that if she wished to have local culture she would be better off watching the game in a local pub.
Saying goodbye to Gill, Mike, and Finn (their Jack Russell), I headed back over the Crown Range. The snow had melted and I stopped to enjoy the vista. Sealed in 2000 it is now the main route between Wanaka and Queenstown. It is also our highest road at almost 1100 meters. From the summit there are great views, only surpassed by the ski fields and the top of Aspiring National Park.
I decided to walk the one hour Mt Pisa walk. It is a gut buster and I was definitely not as fit as I was a year ago. However, my efforts were rewarded with amazing views.
I lunched in Arrowtown, finding a fresh fish shop with a special of whitebait fritters. That’s a no-brainer. $13.50 had me 60 grams of whitebait. I added 100 grams of pan-fried bluenose and chips. The local bottle shop sold me a Wanaka Brewski Lager, it partnered well. I shared my table with a retired couple from Timaru, who had been tramping at Glenorchy. They enjoy this paradise; it gets them away from the problems at their local polytechnic which has had a funding cut. They will not be voting for Mr. Key. The other couple were young English lawyers enjoying a gap year. We all enjoyed the spring sun and chatted easily.
I visited the St Patrick’s Catholic Church and pay my respects to Australia first Saint – Sister Mary MacKillop. They have the signs up outside her cottage. She was a resident here for a while, establishing the order known as the Brown Joes. It is already a tourist attraction. A couple from Melbourne have made the connection and travelled over from Queenstown on the strength of this. Not bad since she has only been a saint for a week. (Don't get this?) She was canonized the week before.
I checked into Queenstown Apartment Motel (www.queenstownapartmentmotel). Vanessa gave me a warm and helpful welcome, and lots of advice. She wrote on a map about restaurants, bars, and the venues for the Jazz Fest. I had not intended to stay in Queenstown; however Jazz and Blues do touch my soul. The great thing about a road trip is freedom – that is why I’m here.
Queenstown from a media perspective is well served with print media. The local weekly Mountain Scene is supplemented by the Queenstown News and also served by two provincial dailies ‘The Southland Times’ and ‘Otago Daily Times’, and from Auckland, ‘The New Zealand Herald’. I bought and read the Southland Times. The Friday editorial, lamenting the state of the venerable old steam train the Kingston Flyer, which has falling into disrepair through the financial situation of its owners. It lamented how it is now out of action for the second tourist season and described it not only as a financial and venerable asset to the south, but as a cultural one too. I agree it is. Southland has already lost the Fluety Paua shell house a couple of years ago, stolen in the middle of the night like the Elgin marbles. Now the Fluety house is an award winner at the Canterbury Museum. A double dose if you like, of Rough Justice!
I found the Halo Café situated beside St Peters Anglican Church, an excellent spot for breakfast and the Sural Café and Bar in Rees Street another excellent place for an aperitif and a meal.
The Saturday editorial in the Times was about the Hobbit movie, calling the actor’s antics to get a deal clumsy and silly, but it noted the cost of the claims would not be a significant impact on the budget. I find it incredible that the movie shoot would be moved to Ireland or England where costs would be much higher. The editorial concluded it will be the $$$ of government subsidy required and noted that Sir Peter Jackson in his own submission about the film industry calls for more subsidy. This has been the most reasoned statement on a dispute in what is a very important industry to New Zealand.
Sadly the debate has been more emotional and the language inflammatory. Perhaps this is the way in an industry which all the players are passionate about and love. The only way through this mess would be the government to call an industry conference to discuss and work out a plan. The government is a major funder through the NZ Film Commission and as a generous provider of subsidy has a legitimate interest. It would be in their interests to facilitate the industry to sort this out. It is called leadership.
I walked down the hill back to Halo for breakfast. St Peters Anglican Church was having a jazz service and attracted quite a flock.
On the way to Arrowtown; the road a mixture of cyclists in bright coloured latex outfits, campervans and an occasional jogger. There is still the odd paddock with sheep. Lake Hayes reserve was a mini gymkhana and the young girls on their beautiful mounts would have made a wonderful calendar shot.
I arrived with plenty of time at the Buckingham Green to soak up the Prescott Calder Quartet from Dunedin. Veteran players who injected a little humor in their performance which worked well with the late brunching crowd
Buckingham Green is in the centre of the village. The stage was above the green and music drifted down to fill the park, which had filled to a hundred or so people. Families picnicked and tourists, without the benefit of a blanket or fold- out chairs, sat at the cafes. I took a walk around the old Chinese settlement, which tells the stories including discrimination, hardship, and opium.
Back to Deep South ice cream parlor for another serve of their tasty product and I made my way to the information centre to use their computer facilities. $5.00 got me an hour of broadband in comfortable surroundings.
On my way to the ’Tap Room” to catch Jeff Brady and the Delta Swing again, I caught up with Kate and her daughter Ruby. Kate had worked in the Tourism NZ Media Group, taken a job with Tourism South Island and ended up married to a farmer. She was in fine form and we had a decent yarn
Jeff Bradley and the Delta Swing took well in the mid-afternoon sun. The band comprised Roger White on Piano, Mike Cain on bass, and drummer Bob Bair. In spite of a few sound issues we were treated to a warm and tight performance. A really solid set for jazz purist’s including, 'St James Infirmary', 'The Basic Street Blues', Aker Bilk's, 'Stranger on the Shore', 'Petit Fleur', 'Sunset', Benny Goodman, 'If I had you' and 'My baby just cares for me'. This band would be at home on a good night at Ronnie Scott.
They were my personal highlights. I watched many bands over the weekend; all of them had a real love for their music. Jeff and his band lifted the quality of most and equaled the other big bands. Yes they too would be at home at Ronnie Scotts – A truly world class band!
I headed down to Willows Bar to catch blues band King Leo. I was sprung again. Willow's is owned by former B&B owner, Sis Walker, a natural host. The food was generously proportioned and well presented. It tasted fine too. The beer was cold and a warm-hearted banter went on between Sis, her crew and the guests.
Queenstown is no cultural desert at least around Labour weekend. The diversity of its population is its savior in many ways, including a weekly mass in Portuguese at St Patrick’s in Arrowtown. The congregation can look like they have come in from Rio's Coco Cabana beach.
Back to Halo for another great breakfast. Surprise surprise! Musicians and singers Nigel Gaven and Catlin Smith appeared, then Ponsonby Road Grand Central bar owner Jeremy. We talked about the festival. Jeremy referred to Queenstown as the dark side but he had a good time too. He lives in Wanaka for much of the year.
I visited at their Arthur's Point home, Andy and CJ, regular guests of ours, who have just had a baby Angerana-Eve. The Arthur Point pub, a landmark built in 1862, looked derelict and trashed. Andy said there are possibilities of it being moved to the other side of the road, on the riverside. I hope so. I have such fond memories of a few sessions there a time or so back
On to Te Anau, stopping at Kingston. The train no longer runs, the engine rusts and the carriages gather cobwebs. Yes, another victim of a finance company’s collapse. The café on the corner of the main road is run by a short rotund Southern man (he rolls his ‘r’s’) and his Vietnamese wife. The coffee was insipid, and the toasted sandwich overpriced. The Australian ice cream was good.
On through Garston, Athol and Five Rivers all with more promising eating and drinking options.
The sun was high, all was beautiful. Traffic cops swarmed like bees. Te Anau was blessed by sun, the lake reflecting the green of the forest. Just minutes before I had been in the sweep of red tussock land.
At Te Anau Lodge (www.teaunaulodge.com), this brick, former convent looked impressive, like a baronial mansion. Sitting on 6 acres of land, mainly lawn, with a water feature. A small wooden church from Clydedvale a Southland village and also the original homestead from nearby Mararoa Station is now situated on the property. Both these heritage buildings will be renovated into quality accommodation. Yes, every room in every building at Te Anau Lodge can tell a story. The interior with hard wood floors, stained glass, and high ceilings, contains 8 rooms of varying sizes. All are comfortable and well decorated. Welcomed by Margaret and George and before I can get a request out of my mouth I am offered a choice of refreshments or a tour. George took me for an extensive viewing of the house and grounds. Te Anau Lodge has more than a few stories to tell. Built as a residence for the teaching nuns at St Josephs Convent in the Southland mining town of Nightcaps, in 1936, and shifted in 2000 to Te Anau it is really something special. George and Margaret are not only generous hosts but knowledgeable guides.
We all dined at a local pub/restaurant, ‘The Ranch”. For me a venison steak, washed down with an Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir.
Breakfast was a great cold buffet with a choice of freshly cooked options to choose from.
Next, Doubtful Sound. Laurence, the Real Journey bus driver arrived on time at 8:45 to pick me up. A retired couple from Tokoroa were already on board. We stop to pick up a couple of Spanish honeymooners from the City Inn and also a retired English couple from around the town.
Laurence has lived around Te Anau for a generation, and like all the other Real Journey drivers, is a Southlander with a warm matter of fact way to tell stories of the region and its development.
Peter Wadd, our bus driver and nature guide, also added the historical dimension of the Manapouri Power Station. This history is colorful. The cost of the road over the Wilmont Pass was embargoed for thirty years and has only recently been disclosed. Yes, a 21-kilometre road, which in 1964 cost over $2,000,000 making it one of the most expensive roads anywhere.
The Wanganella, a Trans-Tasman liner of the Huddart Parker line was decommissioned and became the accommodation house for several hundred single men. Peter Duncan, my partner Sally's ex, had the soft job – the only soft job in the whole project as the projectionist on the ships cinema. Peter helped consume some of the 1,000,000 beer cans that slipped under the Wanganella and now sit in the depths of Doubtful Sound.
The initial laborers on the project were Italians and Yugoslav tunnellers who pushed through the mountain. The water that has produced the power Comalco Te Wai Point aluminum smelters and contributes 15% of the Hydro electric power in New Zealand. Also among the workers is one of New Zealand’s most colorful sons – Tim Shadbolt. In the 1990’s when Southland Capital and New Zealand’s most southern city wished to shake off its conservative image, a few of Tim’s old work mates persuaded him to run for mayor. He has just been re-elected mayor for the 6th consecutive term. Tim’s 1972 biography ‘Bullshit and Jellybeans is highly collective. I own a battered copy
Captain Cook, on his second voyage, in 1773, named the Sound, Doubtful. The Fiordland coast is rugged and many a small boat has been lost.
In the 1970’s I had a job on the Wairua – the then Bluff to Stewart Island ferryboat. Part of the ship's work was to provide services and tending to the lighthouses. At the southern end of the Fiordland, World Heritage Park is Puysegur Point. On the 24-hour trip from Bluff, it was the only case of seasickness I have had in my life. When I returned to Bluff and felt terra firma I was still shaking three days later.
Lake Manapouri is one of the world’s most beautiful areas. This was my third trip here in over 40 years. Those trips have been some of the highlights of my life. On this trip I was disappointed, well only slightly, because the sun was shining and Doubtful Sound is at its finest when wet. On those days waterfalls magically appear. Previously I have experienced dolphins playing in the mist and birds flying low under the clouds. The area receives 7 metres of rain a year. Today the sun is shining and the vista is wild beauty. A little cumulus but the sky was mostly electric blue.
I travelled on Real Journey’s Patea Express. It is a purpose built vessel. Our crew Peter, Eugenice (Portuguese, I never found out how she got here) and Russell the Skipper were all professional and obliging. Based on my experience today, these folk comfortably qualify as amateur naturalists, botanists, and historians. Their knowledge is the difference of why you should travel with Real Journeys. The wildness and beauty speaks for itself. The birdsong is a tribute to DOC’s efforts but it is the knowledge and warmth of this crew that made the trip, for the 79 passengers, a great experience.
We were unlucky the dolphins and penguins chose to take a break, but the Southern Fur seals in the inlets were a first rate consolation prize. Young seal pups play and slid down the rocks. Oh la la, great to see kids having fun. Then there was the green attraction of sphagnum moss which among its benefits also helps the bush and the trees.
The proposal to raise the level of Lake Manapouri which would have killed much of this became a battleground for the green movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. When Norman Kirk and Labour won the 1972 election, Kirk committed not to raise the level of the lake. 250,000 New Zealanders signed petitions and Kirk’s landslide victory gave him the mandate to honour his words and credit New Zealand with the greatest environmental victory on our planet.
Fiordland National Park has been rich in resources. Hard men slaughtered thousands of seals in the 19th century. Fishermen today hunt Crayfish (lobster) – some at times risk their life for Blue Cod.
In the 1960’s deer stalkers, who received a bounty from the crown for each deer they shot, discovered another El Dorado using helicopters. Unfortunately many lives were lost and the only area to lose more life in these tragic figures, Russell our guide told us, was in Vietnam.
Today tourism sustains the local economy, creating real jobs, many with career prospects and returning tens of millions of dollars to New Zealand.
Real Journeys’ take the environment seriously and promote sustainable practices throughout the operation. The Patea Express was a great way to explore Doubtful Sound.
Say a prayer for Wilmont Pass, without it we could not visit.
There would be a few deerstalkers, fishermen, a cruise boat watched by kiwi, kaka and a few other birds and from time to time a visiting cruise boat. Perhaps in time we will get another man with a broken heart like Richard Henry (the ruins remain of his house) who battled from 1904 to 1908 to save endangered native birds from introduced stoats and rats.
Raise a glass for the Wilmot Pass and say another prayer and enjoy another glass
Within minutes of arriving in Manapouri, the penny drops that you are somewhere special. No, not Disneyland – but the Fiordland National Park. It is New Zealand’s first World Heritage site. The Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area comprises Fiordland National Park, Mt Aspiring National Park, some of South Westland, and Arokai, Mt Cook.
The Te Anau, Manapouri region offers much. Ideally you should allow a minimum of three days, and at least one of those days should be with an activity such as visiting Milford or Doubtful Sound.
There are also a variety of walks from an hour or two days, the choice is dependent on your wishes. It can be easy or more challenging. I chose a middle way. Yes, today you could call me Mr. In-between.
Beware of sand flies, although I fortunately didn’t meet any this time. They are a painful nuisance – get lotion, and lots of it!
The Doubtful Sound trip involves a launch ride over Lake Manapouri. The wow factor is automatic. A coach trip over the Wilmont Pass and then three hours on Doubtful Sound itself, more wow and wow. A visit to Manapouri Power Station at West Arm, and then back across the Lake. The sun was high, the green of the forest making the lake verdant. The snow had receded to the mountaintops and heaven is here on Lake Manapouri.
I didn't have time to consider walking the Milford Track, but had some choices for a few hours. There are a number of walks 2 to 3 hours drive from Te Anau on the Milford road.
The three I list here I have walked on previous visits.
• The Lake Gunn nature walk is 3km - allow 45 minutes easy walking. The mosquitoes resembled the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on a previous visit.
• The Divide to Key Summit is a 400 metre climb about 5 km return and offers fantastic views - allow 2 to 3 hours.
• Lake Marian is also about 5km and around two and a half hour return. Perhaps this is my favorite short walk anywhere. It offers great views walking up to a wonderful alpine lake - it is also a 400-metre climb.
All these walks are around 75 to 85 kms on the Milford road from Te Anau.
I made my way to a waterfront watering hole ‘The Moose’. I was in luck, a happy hour. My pint a bargain and slipped down easily. I dined at the Toscana restaurant, choosing a fungi and prosciutto pizza and salad. – A good choice.
Wednesday October 3rd
George suggested a three-hour walk from the base of the Kepler to the dam. It is a great walk and suitable for all. No gut busting hills. Within minutes you enter a thickening and the birdsong replaces the sound of the Upper Clutha river flow. Little fantails created a din chasing moths. They would not co-operate with my photography. I have stacks of photos to develop. The walking track is well formed and the sound of the river is almost constant. The greenery, the moss, ferns, and trees make a wonderful walk. There are small clearings where you can throw a rug down and pull out the thermos.
At 3pm I said my farewell to Margaret and George and head off on the Southern Scenic route. My destination Riverton/ Aparima. I had intended to walk a little of the Humpback Track and explore Tuatapere. Unfortunately time was short so I just passed through. I stopped at Clifden Bridge for a photo. Entering Riverton from the north, the late spring sun cast a warm shadow and with the remnants of the once great fishing fleet, it appears a very picturesque village. This area should be protected. It currently fits wharf sheds quay and period housing. Should some shortsighted development happen, Riverton would lose most of its appeal to the visitor.
For a bed I only had one choice, ‘The Globe Hotel’. $30.00 got me a nice room with a queen bed and washstand. The bathroom, a long walk in the middle of the night. It's not ' The Great Ponsonby ' but it was clean and friendly. My host, Tia, recommended that I go to the other pub the Aparima and have the Blue Cod. The bar had a half dozen regulars talking Chevy engines and Kim the barmaid was a good sort. She works in a number of pubs and confides that she has occasionally forgotten where she is.
Tia and her husband Leon joined me. They had been there a year and previously lived in Melbourne for many years, returning to have a family was their intention. He is a photographer and works in Invercargill. Conversation was about the late spring snow that wiped out 90,000 Southland lambs. It will take some years for Southland to recover. Also many farmers are selling to other farmers who are doing dairy conversions. There is a possibility of another freezing works closure as well as shortened season in the works. All this definitely impacts economically on this region
I slept well and rose to a damp day. I kicked myself for not taking photos the day before and headed off to photograph some buildings. Riverton has a number of attractive buildings along Palmerston Street and also a very impressive giant Paua shell which has also featured on a New Zealand Post stamp. This is the high street and other streets are named after Indian places like Lucknow and Delhi. In Bath Street I went to the Fiordland Souvenirs factory shop where Nicola, a cheery sales woman, sold me a number of Paua shells. This is a busy workshop and gallery. The selection included good quality jewellery. At Mrs. Clarke Café, est. 1891, I feasted on smoked salmon and poached eggs. My orange juice freshly squeezed. Made with premium Havana coffee, from Wellington, my flat white is the best I have enjoyed in the South. The café is quite chic and busy – truck drivers, policemen, retired folk and firm bodied young mothers. Some of the conversation is about whether the dairying will work out when Fonterra establishes its huge farms in South America and China.
The previous night Leon had said there was nothing to hold young people and you could think he is correct looking at Mrs. Clarke’s punters. However the front page of the Southland Times yesterday was about the Riverton swimming pool and how the community raised $3,000,000 to resurface it. They also have a skateboarding park. There is also continuous fundraising for the Riverton sound shell.
In the 1960’s Riverton was Southland's Riviera. No Bridget Bardot, but Southland talent and the sound shell ran everything from talent quests to concerts with national stars performing to thousands of people. Colac Bay and its surf is still the talk of legend and young men still dream of joining them
Mrs. Clarke has a great menu and is open for breakfast, and morning and afternoon teas. Run by Patrick and Cazna Gilder who bake lots of the goodies and also make cheese rolls, (South Island sushi). This café is a must and is at 108 Palmerston Street. The local council has developed a Main Street plan, work is ongoing and Mrs. Clark is fortunate in having a bricked footpath and also lamps.
I visited the information centre and museum, Te Hikoi, The Southern Journey. My guide was a retired school teacher who provided me with an informative tour.
The museum is a tribute to all the races who have settled in the area and the industries and some of the folk lore that accompanies this history. It is a substantial investment in Western Southland which will provide another anchor for visitors and more importantly build on the already strong regional pride of these people.
On the highway outside of Riverton there is an overbridge of a long dead railway line. At Otautau I connected with a railway line that goes through to Mataura, the industrial town of Southland, with a freezing works and until a few years ago a paper mill. It was the only blue collar community of any size in this rich farming region.
Driving up through the middle of Western Southland, into the small hamlets, there is even a building owned by a pipe band club. Yes, from the Highlands of Scotland there is influence. Pipe bands and Scottish dancing clubs still flourish, along with the inflections of their language.
Southlanders roll their ‘r’s’ and speak in terms of wee, lass, lassie. (oh rubbish!) Their holiday homes are called cribs and solid brick Presbyterian Churches and yellow gorse are testament to their heritage. The Scottish highland town of Plocton where the TV series ‘Hamish McBeth’ was shot is a connection to Southland. The poor crofters were cleared off their land three times and on every occasion some emigrated to Southland.
These hardy people built settlements in some of the hardest land anywhere. I refer to the Catlin coast, which I write about later.
The trip took me to the isolated mining towns of Nightcaps and Ohai, then back through the farming towns of Winton and Dipton. They will never appear on a tourist map. Invercargill bound with Greg Johnson drifting in and out of my head
Nightcaps is alive and well with the open cast mine owned by Eastern of Australia and has a couple of schools, grocers, and a pub. The Nightcaps rugby team is still a force in Southland rugby. The town of Ohai has an open cast mine run by the State's Solid Energy. It appeared very dead. There are no shops, the pub is a house, and even the police station appeared unmanned. There were tidy brick units where retired miners live. Some of the larger houses are still occupied, but many are on the market.
Driving into the Solid Energy mine, all was quiet. A red ute drove by, stopping to enquire, as I took photos. He questioned me closely and after a few minutes Gary accepted it was for personal reasons. He rang the Eastern mine and spoke with the manager who seemed to be shocked that there would be a tourist up there but he welcomed me. I did. The manager, Mark, was also inquisitive about my reasons but opened up. He offered to take me around and asked if I knew anyone else who might be interested. Unfortunately it was raining heavily and I did not have the opportunity.
Mark's office was not grand. It was pre-fabricated unit and you would be forgiven for thinking this was a permanent feature. Mark is absolutely confident about the future of mining in Southland. The most interesting thing in his office was two picks which he believed may be close to 100 years old, and a map of all the underground shafts.
I then made my way to the Railway Hotel, which is absolutely flourishing. The Takatimu mine employs a number of contractors from out of town and the pub is where a lot of them reside. The public bar was warm, a fire is blazing, with a bucket of coal beside the wood burner – I think more for appearance than use. I buy a pint and chat with the publican. Brian is 40 something and has had pubs on the West Coast as well as Southland. He is affable and believes that Ohai may come alive soon as natural gas has been discovered. I told him that I am surprised that unlike the West Coast there are no monuments to miners, their history or culture, or even to record the lives lost in the dangerous underground industry. He is really unconcerned and told me there are some private museums. I expressed surprise, as I thought tourism would be helpful for his pub and for the community of Nightcaps.
Within weeks the nation is shocked by the loss of 29 miners at the Pyke River mine on the West Coast. There is something about mining, with its inherent dangers, and a respect for the people who work in this industry which touches the psyche of people everywhere. I bought a BBQ pork roll, before heading off into the rich farming district of Southland.
I wonder if that future generation will know of the hardships and the national Labour’ disputes that these Southland miners were involved in and how with their backs and some with their lives help build our nation. Once they had a strong identity and sense of community. They would have needed all that and some special qualities to have survived in such an isolated community.
Through Dipton, I think of Caza’s comments that at least around Nightcaps I would see some real farms. She was referring to sheep farms. She is not happy about dairy farms, the smell and the way they affect the waterways. She spoke of an uncle who had suffered significant losses of lambs and that he might have to take an offer from someone who wishes to convert to a dairy farm.
Sheep certainly are still the most prevalent animals around here. The land is lush and open. I reached Dipton to find there is little there. An engineering workshop, a dairy, a gift and fashion shop, and a Memorial Hall. There was no gas station or pub. Dipton is so dull it makes Bill English look interesting.
Winton, the Matamata of the south. It is rich and has some substantial buildings, however it was damp and I wanted to visit a few things in Invercargill. The Invercargill Information Centre is at the Southern Museum, which is set in the beautiful Queens Gardens. The museum has wonderful exhibits on nature and human settlement, with a current exhibition on Nga Tahu, the original settlers, now a powerful force in the South Island economy.
I made my way to the famous “Gerrards Hotel’, now back to its original name ‘The Victorian Railway Hotel”. It is owned and operated by Trudy and Eoin Read. They took it over in 2006 and closed it down to renovate and restore. They have done an amazing job and have won an award from the Invercargill City Council for this. It is also listed by the Historic Places Trust.
Trudy and Eoin are warm hosts who go out of their way to welcome you. It is a guest and host experience similar to what The Great Ponsonby offers. This is not a faceless hotel with plastic smiles, it is not a brand. It is quirky, interesting, and friendly. They offer a restaurant and have a bar for guests; however I wandered the streets to get a feel for our most southern city. I considered dining at Louis Café and Tapas bar but it was a cold evening and I needed the warmth of comfort food.
I found a bar/ restaurant, ‘The Kiln”. It was welcomingly warm and had a good crowd. I sat at the bar enjoying a pint, and dined on crumbed sweetbreads, a delicacy I had not eaten in 20 years, and oven baked blue cod. Both were exceptional. After dinner I wandered around, taking some photographs. Thankfully Invercargill has not done much 'development' damage and a number of fine buildings remain. I photographed a few, including the recently restored Opera House and of course the Victoria Railway House.
Returning to the hotel I met some guests including two couples, one English, the other Australian, in the house bar. We talked of Nightcaps and Trudy piped up that when she qualified as a teacher she headed off to Nightcaps in her old Morris 1100. She told of a wonderful community and how when the mines were corporatized, shops closed, and the heart was ripped out of these communities. All of us were interested in her story and surprised there was no monument to the miners and their industry in these coalfields.
I headed to Hayes Hardware shop to see the motorcycle collection which included Burt Munro's motorcycles. Another good reason to spend a couple of days in Invercargill. A credit to the city, are the public gardens. The populace also takes pride in their home gardens. Whether it be a doctor’s residence or worker’s cottage the gardens are well maintained and add to civic pride.
Next, a lunch date at Julie and Chris' farm near Clinton, a three-horse town on highway 93. Townie that I am, I shot past their gate and had to ring. Julie suggested she cycle down to meet me at the mailbox. Italy can even reach Clinton as she waits in style on her Italian Abici pushbike. It appears they're not all plebs in the south. It's a comfortable home with garden to match.
Julie's Mediterranean salad with roasted pepper, asparagus, and their own Limousine fillet beef cooked rare and beautifully marbled. It is a real treat. They run 4,500 sheep and smaller beef operation. Marketed by Hereford Prime, if you have the pleasure of eating this beef, you will most likely be dining at one of our top-end restaurants. Steve, Chris’s brother who farms nearby had unfortunately had an accident. Helicoptered from his farm to Dunedin Hospital in less than one and a half hours. Remarkable. Cell phones, helicopters, and ACC have certainly made farm life less isolated, comfortable, and safer.
Chris left to attend to Steve's farm. Meanwhile Julie produced a banana box of her grandfather's personal papers. Born in Armagh, County Down, Northern Ireland and a plumber by trade before arriving in NZ where he worked for the, once great, but no longer, firm called A & T Burt. He worked for the Union Steamship Co and during the war, from 1916 to 1917, served on the SS Maheno. Poignant letters and historic postcards record this experience and reveal a tender hearted man with a deep love for his family. This is interesting stuff and Julie has a few projects to work on. The stuff may well fit into Te Ari, the on-line encyclopedia of New Zealand.
Next, down the Owaka Valley. The sun was out, not a cloud and the land shines. Sheep graze and beef cattle look supreme. This was my first ever visit to the Catlins and I was in luck for three days. Yes, the Catlins are renowned for wind and rain, but the Sun Gods worked overtime for me.
Owaka is a small town with too many empty shops, a pub, restaurant, hairdresser, general store, grocer, a church or two. A great museum, I spent time there, but not enough. There were a number of books on the Catlins and of the shipwrecks on this wild coast. I took a double sided Catlins map, a heritage guide, and bought a book of highlights of the Catlins, as well a tea towel showing the ships that were lost. I also picked up a heritage trail brochure, which I used as my guide. The museum staff advised me that there are limited food and accommodation options in the Catlins.
I bought an ice cream at the grocer and mulled over whether I should buy some provisions too. I decided to chance it and drove to Fortrose, the southernmost point of the Catlins.
It was a wonderful drive and I went to all the viewpoints and beaches including Curio Bay. I didn’t find any sea lions, seals, porpoises, or penguins, but I did see a lot of kelp.
At Waipapa Point I visited the lighthouse built after the loss of the SS Tararua in 1881. This is our second major maritime tragedy in human terms. 131 of the passengers and crew lost their lives, including the captain, who was found accountable by a court of enquiry for navigational errors and not posting a proper lookout.
The lighthouse was manned with a lighthouse keeper and his family for 100 years. With the automation of the lighthouse in 1980, the cottages and other buildings were sold off. Tourism was not a major industry then and the cottages would have made a fine Catlins maritime museum. There has been over 650 years of maritime adventure on this coast. Maori certainly paddled their wakas and fished here.
As I drove to Tokanui, I waved to the backpackers eating dinner beside their vans, envious of their situation. On to Waikawa. Not much happening there but at Niagara Falls Cafe the gate was open. This was a great find. The restaurant busy. The maitre d and husband of the chef welcomed me with enthusiasm. I was surprised by the menu and with aromas wafting down from the galley, Johnny Cash playing in the background; I felt I had hit gold. These two are applying for New Zealand residency. I hope for them and the Catlin’s that they get it. Food of this quality and the warmth of the hosts are relatively few and far in this part of the world. It is in our national interest for them to stay.
I asked them to find me a bed. They did. I enjoyed seafood chowder made from local kai moana, and a main of blue cod. To drink, pale ale from an Invercargill brewery. Grace was; ‘thank the heavens that I found such a place.’
I made my way back to Waikawa towards the penguins. If I had waited to see penguins I could have driven back to Curio Bay to see them, but decide to see what my bed at the backpacker is like instead.
In the backpacker kitchen, two young couples (one French, one English) shared a meal. I paid the $50 after checking out my bed. Later we shared a bottle of red and I learnt they were staying a week to attend a surf school. They must have been hardier than they looked!
My bedroom was the cottage's main bedroom and had a queen bed. Fine for my basic needs. No doubt many romantic backpacking couples had been there before me, and were perfectly happy. My purpose, sleep. I managed to get some but in a bed that didn’t seem primarily designed for it.
I took photos around Waikawa, including the Sea View accommodation, which would be my first choice. However with only two rooms, I could see it was full.
I visited the local cemetery overlooking the sea and was surprised by the infant mortality. If you could survive six months, you make it to your eighties. A harsh land and hard people.
Back at the Niagara Falls Café I enjoyed French toast, banana and bacon for breakfast. I met some of the other guests who also had dined there the night before. ‘The Catlin’s are a dream. ‘Everyone in Germany knows of the Catlins, Dirk, a banker from Colene told me. He said 97% of New Zealand has cell phone capacity, the Catlins doesn’t and he was having three days away from the phone. 'This is paradise’ he informed me.
Heading north, the road is tar sealed but remains beautiful. My first stop, McClean Falls. It is an easy walk and as soon as you start you hear the sound of water. The morning sun filtered by the bush provided a soft diffused light. At 22m tall, they are arresting the track was built by DOC, parents and students of Kings High School in Dunedin, and the New Zealand Employment Service. Kings High school is well established and perhaps more than 130 years old. Its zone is the wealthy St Clair and working class South Dunedin. I know two of its pupils, and they reflect much of the quality of this school, the suburbs they grew up in, and their families too.
One is Chris Laidlaw who currently hosts National Radio's Sunday morning radio show. Chris is a former parliamentarian, diplomat, and All Black. The other is Gary Parsloe, a seafarer unionist, who holds national office in the maritime union, and the international labour movement. He was also a good rugby halfback. Both men are respected and made considerable contributions nationally and internationally. One might accept a knighthood, one would not. One is republican, the other not, but both in a way are representative of Kings High School, this track, and how it could happen.
As you turn off to this walk, there is a good quality café and accommodation option. I enjoyed coffee and giant scones with fresh cream and homemade jam at The Whistling Frog www.whistlingfrogcafe.com, owned and operated by a Kiwi and San Francisco couple. Paul and Lynn are obliging and provide useful information to get the most from your time in the Catlin’s. They thoughtfully have built a complex that doesn’t detract from its situation and has many accommodation options.
Cathedral Caves is another natural wonder. However, to visit them depends on the tide. The tide was in and my luck was out.
Forestry and sawmilling were major activities in the Catlins to the 1950’s. The Lenz reserve 550 ha contains some walks in the forest and also a display quite close to the road of a bush railway and machinery. It is worth a look, and the quality of the walks available would need at least a day or so.
My next stop was Lake Wilkie, an easy walk with a boardwalk only a short distance from the road. It is surrounded by regenerating forest.
I stopped again to walk for an hour up the estuary, at Papatowai. A score of Oystercatcher calls accompanied my walk.
I took the back road to the Purakannui falls. A short walk in and the discovery of a Salvation Army couple exchanging marriage vows. Bridesmaids in high heels teetering on the uneven pathway, while hymns sung out to an accompaniment of roaring water- fall. A dramatic event.
Time running out. I missed Jack's Bay and Blow Hole, and headed onto the Lumberjack Café in Owaka. A group of middle-aged motorcyclists were tucking into steak. For lunch, I chose battered blue cod and chips, washed down with a pint of Speights.
At the Nugget's, and Kaka Point, the sea was crashing. A fleet of campervans were on the metal road to Nugget Point. Climbing the narrow track to the lighthouse I could feel the force as the sea broke through the rocks. Kaka Point was larger than I thought. For a decade or more, it was the home of one of our greatest poets, Hone Tuwhare. Part of the mystery was why did this sociable man with a thousand friends choose to spend his last years at Kaka Point, where nature is far from kind?
Balclutha with its beautiful bridge. A most attractive architectural feature.
They seem bent on destroying any building of merit in this town. It is possibly the Bogan capital of Aotearoa. Yes ACDC rules here.
Up the river to the former mining town of Kaitangata on its banks. This is where the mighty Clutha River meets the sea. The aroma of the Finegand Freezing Works, that greets you as you enter Balclutha.
Kaitangata, the home of black gold, has a pub and it's clean and tidy. Up on a hill its residents enjoy good sun and have bountiful gardens. The town may not be rich but the household gardens have a value which is great to see - the homes are simple but their gardens provide a natural beauty.
There is no visible tribute to the industry that built the town, only a small coal wagon. One of our recent All Blacks, Tony Brown, hails from here.
Another ice cream at the dairy/takeaway bar, as boys sipped cokes and watched the girls opposite walk by. I drove slowly as I headed north, contemplating the trip and how I would write it all up
Dunedin and to the Brothers Boutique Hotel. Rod, the owner greeted me like a long lost friend. My travel of the Southern Scenic Trail all wound up.