"" Writer's Wanderings: December 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Raglan, Bridal Falls, Auckland Botanical Garden

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Sadly it is raining when we get up and go to breakfast. This B&B only has a continental breakfast so except for coffee, there is nothing warm on what looks like a dismal start to the day. I’m a little down. I want to go home but I’m sad to see this come to an end as well.
Bob pulls the car up into the driveway long enough for us to load our stuff and leave. Wipers sloshing rain, we say goodbye to Waitomo and check our map to see our choices of routes to Auckland. We have until six p.m. to get to the car rental place and our flight to LAX doesn’t leave until 10:45. The slower route would take us near the Tasman Sea one last time so we opt for that and bypass Hamilton.
Not far from Waitomo, as we head north, the sun comes out. I smile and give thanks. A little sun always lifts the spirit.
The sun still shining, we end up in a little town called Raglan. It sits on a harbor that looks out to the Tasman. We walk around a bit and find a nice little place at a cafe where we can sit and enjoy some coffee and tea outdoors.
Around the corner is an Information Center and we enquire about tracks and things to see. She shows us a short track and then tells us about the surfer beaches and a waterfall not far away. Another waterfall? Why not?
We drive in the direction of the surfer beach and stand above it to see if anyone is surfing. One lone soul is trying to paddle out against the waves and making slow if any progress. I wonder how many times he will actually get to ride a wave back in at this rate. We give up on him and go back to the car. As we do, we see a few others donning wet suits for a go at the surf. Their day is just getting started I guess.
Bridal Falls was the other suggested attraction and it is a 13 km drive out of our way but we have all day and plenty of time and nothing else planned. It can’t possibly be any nicer than the waterfall we saw yesterday but who knows. We arrive and park the car. It’s about a ten minute walk all the way down to the falls. Down means up again, I think, and my knees groan at the thought.
Bridal Falls view from the top.
Bridal Falls is spectacular but I decide I liked the Marakopa Falls the best of all. We take our time going back up to the car. I’m glad we separately packed clothes to change into before we get on the plane. I’m feeling a little dusty and dirty already.
We stay on the back roads until Bob decides we may have to pump a little gas to get us to Auckland. He’s trying to leave as little in the tank as possible since we had to pay for a tank of gas at the outset. While we stop for gas, we spy a McDonald’s and decide it will be a quick and easy lunch. Besides, Bob has seen something advertised called The Legend and he wants to try it.
Unfortunately this McDonald’s doesn’t have The Legend but an hour or so later, we stop for coffee again in Drury and find a McD’s that does. It’s really a disappointment. It’s a minced beef pie that tastes more like just thick gravy inside a pastry shell. A couple of weeks ago though we did enjoy what was called Son of Mac. It was a smaller version of the Big Mac—king of like Whopper Jr. is to the Whopper.
We walk around Drury a bit but don’t find anything interesting to do. It’s way too early to go to the rental car place. A cinema might be a possibility but we really don’t want to be cooped up inside. We’ll be inside for the next whole day. I study the map some more and see the Auckland Botanical Garden is not far from the airport and on our way and, it’s free!
We couldn’t have chosen more wisely. There are over 64 acres of gardens here. We wander through those that seem to be blooming the most and those that are just peacefully landscaped. Before long we are walking through a huge area that is nothing but rose bushes all in bloom. There is every kind of color and shade imaginable. One area of the rose garden is dedicated to new hybrids they are testing. Park benches allow us to sit and soak up the sun, the flower scents, and the peacefulness. All too soon it seems we have to be on our way. It’s time.

Lady Garmon gets us to the rental car return and we check in. In the restroom, we change into our clean travel jeans and shirts. This will be a marathon to get home. At the airport, we check bags and go through security and then make our way to the premium lounge. We get special treatment since we won the auction to upgrade our seats.

The premium lounge has a small buffet in it with some salads and a few hot snacks. I sample a little but save my appetite for our plane trip. Since we are flying all night, eating late will help to simulate getting closer in time to what it is back home. Of course spending nine hours in LAX will mess things up. My poor body is not going to know what time it is or what day for that matter until maybe next week. Ah, the joys of travel. But our 26 hours or so of travel will give me plenty of time to reflect on what a wonderful time we had in New Zealand.

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

These last few days seem to have flown by. While it will be nice to go home after being away so long, I’m going to miss this beautiful country, its people, and especially the time Bob and I have had together here. I soak up all that I can while we drive to our first stop this morning, a walk that is called the White Cliffs.

We have a little trouble finding the walk but finally see a sign that looks promising. A lady is standing near it and asks us about the White Cliffs walk. She has a book in her hand that explains several walks in the area the shortest being four hours long.  She returns to her car to get her gear but not before telling us she has packed food and water. She’s obviously going it alone.

Four hours is way too long but we decide that we can at least go part way and turn around. The climb to the top of the hill where the walk starts is steep and graveled. It is really a road leading to a small community but it doesn’t allow public access except by foot. When we see at the top that the track ahead is really just road and open, rather than in a wooded area, we turn around and head back down. We’ve seen the white cliffs, taken a picture, and that’s enough.

At the sign next to where we’ve parked, we stop one more time and notice it says that if you are hiking alone you should be sure someone knows your itinerary. The lady walks past us to start up the road and Bob asks her name. Marion, she says. Bob points to the sign and says we just wanted to know in case we hear there’s a Marion missing we can tell someone we saw her. She laughs and starts up the hill—with a lot more gusto than we had.

 Waitomo is our destination for the day. Originally we planned to take the Waitomo Caves glow worm tour but after having seen them in Paihia at the Kawiti Caves and then again on a nighttime hike in Franz Josef, we decided that we would pass up the tour. The tour is basically a boat ride through a cave where there are hundreds of glow worms in the ceiling. You don’t get very close to them as they are quite a ways above your head. The advantage to the tour however is that you can go any time during the day since it is in a cave and dark so they are glowing.

On our arrival in Waitomo, we pass by our B&B and go directly to the track that we plan to hike when it gets dark to see glow worms. There is no charge for this. The track also has a huge cave and when we find it we find several glow worms glowing there in the darker recesses. I wonder if we will have to hike to the cave after dark? If so I’m backing out. I’ve already been lightheaded and had to stretch out on one of the resting benches on the way. We must be at a higher altitude and the stress of climbing steps and steep inclines is getting to me.

When we reach the bottom of the track where we began, we look more closely at the information on the sign posted there and find that the night time suggestion for glow worms involves an area that is not far up the track and there’s no climbing. Yay! I can do that.

We have plenty of afternoon left and decide to try to find the natural bridge walk and the  Marokopa waterfall that is on the local map. The road we take is the wrong one and we don’t realize our mistake until we have circled around the area for an hour without seeing any signs for either site. We end up back on the highway south of Waitopo and turn off once again to pass our B&B. Determined, this time we go back and see the correct road and find our way to the Magapohue Natural Bridge.

The walk to the bridge is an easy fifteen minutes and we enjoy being outdoors and getting some exercise. The natural bridge arches above us, formed when the roof of a cave collapsed many years ago. Our guide book says it is especially dazzling at night as there are hundreds of glow worms that light up. Thanks, but no thanks.

About to give up on finding the Marakopa Falls, we turn around when Lady Garmon’s map doesn’t look promising and doesn’t match the local map in my hands. We turn around and start back the way we came. As we pass a small parking area we see the problem. A camper van is blocking the sign from the other direction.

Another fifteen minute walk rewards us with the best waterfall we have seen the whole trip. Nothing like saving the best for last but who knew it would be this good? The waterfall almost looks like a tiered wedding cake. As I take some pictures, I hear Bob strike up a conversation with a lady who is waving to her husband below us. They are from the camper blocking the sign. Bob teases her a bit about it and we learn that they are Australian and come to New Zealand every year for the summer. Kind of like snobirds in reverse.

It is time to check into the Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge. It sits on a hill and there’s a climb up a driveway from the guest parking. I’m really glad now that I put everything we need in one suitcase. We do carry up the food cooler since I need to get rid of our leftovers. I give a box of unopened cereal and some cheese to our host and pack the leftover Tim Tams—can’t part with those.

There are not a lot of choices for dinner but across the street is a promising place and we try it out. As we think over our five week adventure, we conclude that we really haven’t had a bad meal anywhere. Tonight is no exception.

Back in our room, I make coffee one last time in the plunger coffee pot before cleaning it out and packing it carefully in the middle of the suitcase. I think it will make it home all right. (Add coffee plunger to the list of odd souvenirs I’ve collected.) When it is twilight, we grab our flashlight and camera and drive to the entrance to the Ruakuri Cave walk. By the time we get there and walk to where the rock cliffs are, it should be getting pretty dark.

On the track, we take the side path that leads over a little bridge. Already we can see some glow worms lighting up in the further recesses. We try desperately to get some photos but it is nearly impossible. Every time I hold the camera to my eye, the display screen blinds me and I can’t see to focus. When I cover the screen with a piece of paper, it’s a little better but I’m still working in the dark. I wish I could get a good picture of their string of sticky beads like we saw at Kawiti but alas, there is just no way.

As we turn to go back, a group of young adults is coming at us on the track. A couple of them have those headband flashlights on and they nearly blind us with them. They ask where the glow worms are. With their bright lights they aren’t seeing them. We suggest they tone down the light, let their eyes adjust and look around. As we walk away, we can hear their surprise as they begin to see the blue dots of light.

 It’s another rainy night and as we settle into bed, I hope for a brighter day tomorrow. It’s our last day here in New Zealand and I would love for it to be good weather.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Durie Tower and Elevator, Tram Museum, Dawson Falls

Monday, November 4, 2013

Our goal last night was to get all of our clean clothes in one suitcase for the rest of the trip and everything we don’t need into the other. There are a couple more bed and breakfast stops and it’s always hard to know if we will have to lug a suitcase up stairs. If we do, now it will only be one. Hopefully I have organized them well and we will be fine for the next couple of nights.

The Durie Hill Elevator and Tower are our first stops for the morning. Actually we take the elevator to the top of the hill where the tower is. There is a long tunnel, about 600 feet, that leads to the elevator and over the entrance it says 1916. Is that the age of the tunnel?

At the end of the tunnel is a metal door and a doorbell to call the elevator. Bob pushes it and we hear the mechanics of the lift. The metal door opens and a lady steps out and smiles at us. Bob asks if we can get a ride up and hands her $4 NZD for the two of us for our ride. She invites us to enter what seems like just a big metal box and she pulls the metal door shut. I am grateful I’m not claustrophobic.

The elevator gets a good head of steam on it going up and it doesn’t take long to reach the top. Meanwhile Bob has asked enough questions to find out that the elevator is 94 years old and the lady’s mother operated it before she did. Her aunt and her daughter also help out so we guess it’s a family business.

At the top, we climb the rest of the hill to the Tower. It is a memorial to those from the city who died in World War I. There are 175 steps to the top. We haven’t had our climb yet for the morning so we start up. No sooner have we circled around the center three or four times and a jogger comes running down. We flatten against the wall. He mumbles a g’day and we start up again.

Now I may not be too claustrophobic but I do get a bit dizzy and winded on circular stairs. I stop for a breather and to set my equilibrium straight again and suddenly the jogger who went down runs up the stairs past us. I look at Bob and we both shake our heads. This guy is no spring chicken either.

We continue up. He passes us on the way down again. We make it to the top and just as I snap a picture, he appears again, walks around the top and starts for the door to go down. Bob asks how many times he does this. Sixteen is the answer.

The view from the top of the tower is nice but not really significant for us. Perhaps if we’d had more time to spend in the area we would recognize more things. The only thing we find familiar is the steamboat side paddler we saw last night.

On the way down, we are passed several more times by the jogger and then he disappears. While we wouldn’t climb up the hill from below we decide that going down wouldn’t be too bad and pass up the elevator ride down. We are quickly at the bottom, despite not jogging, and cross the river again to go to the Tram Museum.

The museum is actually just a large structure that houses a restored tram. Between 1909 and 1912, twelve trams came into service in Wangarui. Of those, only three survive. The restored tram on display is the Number 12. The tram system was closed in 1950 but the Number 12 had not been run since 1940. It was purchased and stored and then purchased again before coming back to Wangarui and becoming the project of an incorporated society dedicated to the restoration of the tram for historical preservation.

While the tram is a work of love involving a worldwide parts search and is detailed in its restoration, we find the most interesting part of the museum is the fellow who is there taking care of it all. He’s originally from the UK and is quite a talker. Story after story comes out about the restoration and the struggle to get the city to allow him and the others who work on it to get it running again. If they succeed, there is going to be a wonderful addition to their city that will attract visitors.

After Bob gets several earfuls of answers to his questions about some of the electrical gadgets and operational machinery, we decide to get on our way. New Plymouth is our next destination and we have several more places to stop along the way.

Our first stop is at the Hawera Water Tower. Why? I ask. Perhaps just because it’s there? The sign says 115 steps. I say no but after looking at the tower and snapping a picture, I am tempted to say, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” On to our next stop.

All the way up a wonderfully winding road, we find the car park for the Dawson Falls and Power Plant walks. The power plant turns out to be a small building that services the park and generates power from the stream that runs through it. While it is a small building, it has a big history. The little power station generator was originally used by the NZ Defence forces to defend the Wellington Harbour and help run the Wellington cable car before it came to the park. It is said to be the oldest continuously operating generator in the world. It has been servicing the park with a little help from the national grid since 1934.

Below the power plant and down the road a bit is the walk to Dawson Falls. It takes a little while and a few—make that lots of steps to get there and once again we have a picture of a waterfall. It will be interesting to count them all when I get home. Kind of reminds me of all the iguana pictures we took in Galapagos.

When we return to the car park, we notice that the café in the lodge is open and we opt to have lunch there. To our delight we are served the best bowl of vegetable soup we’ve had in NZ. The little café reminds me of something out of a fairy tale. The chairs and tables look like they are handmade and each chair is hand painted. It is rustic and lovely and any moment I expect Geppetto to come out of the back room with Pinocchio by his side.

Next it is down the mountain and on to New Plymouth.

In New Plymouth we find the Information Center and gather some. . .information, of course. There is a nice boardwalk along the shore of the Tasman Sea here and we stretch our legs a bit. A turn up and away from the shore and we explore the town center. After the delightful town center at Wanganui, we are a bit disappointed. The buildings here are just city buildings and nothing as quaint or interesting as Wanganui.

There is no disappointment however in the Arlie House, our B and B for the night. We have a “wing,” so to speak, of the house with a bedroom and a private bath that is huge. It has a clawed bathtub as well as a shower and Gabrielle, our host, has even provided a French vanilla candle should I want a bath by candlelight. Outside our window is a lovely spring garden blooming with purples and pinks and yellows. It all feels so comfortable that we decide to forego any more exploration of New Plymouth and just relax before dinner.

It’s always an adventure to find a place to eat—especially at a reasonable price. We settle on an Irish pub that seems pretty authentic. And yes, they serve Guinness. What Irish pub wouldn’t? I have a huge plate of lamb shank that I can barely finish and Bob polishes off his dinner so fast I’m not sure what it was.

After dinner we go down to the coastal walkway again and find a park bench to watch the fading rays of the sun. Families with kids on scooters and teens on skateboards pass us by as well as the occasional four-legged friends that want to check us out on the way by. It’s a nice relaxing evening and a time to just be together—as if we weren’t together the last four and a half weeks. Hah!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New Zealand - Ferry to the North Island, Wanganui

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Just down the road from our B and B is a Baptist church about the size of our church back home. We decide to pay a visit since we have the morning free before it’s time to line up our car for the ferry to Wellington on the North Island. After saying goodbye to our hosts, we find a little marina just around the corner from the church and wait there for a bit until it’s time for church. The morning couldn’t be more perfect, blue skies, white puffy clouds and calm winds.

At a few minutes before ten, we arrive at the Picton Baptist Church and immediately feel at home as people greet us and take us in. We talk at length to a family that has just returned from a mission trip to Kenya and discover after the service begins that they are actually the pastor and his family. It is a wonderful service filled with great stories and challenges of faith told to us by each member of the family including the young daughters who remind us of our own pastor’s daughters. We leave light hearted and ready to face the day ahead, a day that is still weather-perfect.

The line to ferry is out to the street as the attendants process the tickets and get the vehicles into orderly fashion for loading. There is quite a large company of soldiers and army vehicles going with us. Somehow we all fit on board and our crossing begins.

Bob and I catch a quick lunch of a shared sandwich, chips (salt and vinegar again) and a diet Coke. Then we head for the outdoors to catch the views of the sound that we couldn’t see on our trip over in the rain a couple of weeks ago. We find a spot at the back of the boat that is protected from the wind and I start snapping away. It is so hard to stop taking pictures as each new twist and turn of the ferry reveals another spectacular view.

Along the way we pass a couple of places that look like mussel farms. I feel sad that I won't have another chance at those wonderful mussels from the Mussel Pot.

It takes almost two hours to get out of the sound and begin to cross the channel. We go back inside and find a spot to have some coffee. I catch up with some of my diary and Bob nods off once or twice. We have a bit of a drive ahead of us once we get off the ferry. I hope he gets a good catnap.

As we near Wellington I see the dark clouds have gathered again. I take a shot of the city from the ferry but it’s still looking a bit dismal.

In the car waiting for the signal to drive off, I enter our destination for Lady Garmon to find. She’s a bit ornery because inside the ferry, she can’t get the satellite signal. I turn her off until we exit. It only takes a moment once we are free of the ferry and she’s giving directions.

There is a two and a half hour drive to Wanganui and our motel for the night. We stop for a quick bite to eat and hurry on not wanting to arrive so late that we can’t get our bearings in the city. Wanganui turns out to be a delight. The town is something out of the early 1900s. A little art deco like Napier but somehow warmer looking and more inviting. A little Victorian is mixed in. Perhaps that is why.

Our host at the motel tells us to take a walk by the river to see an old steam paddleboat. It’s not running yet. The season won’t start until November (remember that they are just entering spring/summer here). High on the hill across the river we see the Durie Hill Tower that we will visit tomorrow. As we walk back to our car, Bob notices the Tram Museum that is also on our list for the morning.

We use the last of the evening light to take a few pictures of the main street. I wish we were staying here longer. I’d love to explore this place more.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Picton

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The cyclists staying at the Alpine Lodge in St. Arnaud are scrambling to ready their bikes for their race this morning as we go to breakfast. They will be assembling soon in the park area by the lake and heading south on their race. We on the other hand are headed north to Picton.

The host of the B and B in Picton had asked us to arrive early if we could because of an event they  plan to attend. It is less than a two hour drive on mostly straight roads to Picton and we are enjoying the ride in sunshine. As we near Blenheim where we will make a turn to Picton, we are amazed at the acres and acres of grape vineyards. At one point they stretch as far as the eye can see. I wonder who harvests all of those grapes? Could they all be picked by hand? I make a note to check to see if there is such a thing as a grape harvesting machine.
Sorry, the muffin's all gone.

Just a little after ten, we arrive at the Echo Lodge in Picton and check in with our host. The room is not ready but we get our key so that we can return after our day of activities. Right now a cup of coffee sounds good. We find a parking spot near the aquarium and Information Center that is good for four hours. Our tickets for the ferry for tomorrow are good for the 1:05 but we check in with the ticket office to see if we can get them changed to an earlier ferry to Wellilngton and get a better start to the day.

No such luck. It turns out that one of the ferries will be out of commission for maintenance so the morning ferry is canceled. On our way back to the Information Center, we discover a sign that tells us entrance to the Edwin Fox ship exhibit and museum is free for the day. We check on the hours and promise to return later.

At the IC we enquire about what easy tracks there are around. We’d like a walk but not a climb. The lady points out one she thinks will fit our needs and we go off to find a coffee and muffin. The day couldn’t be more perfect for enjoying it outside with a view of the harbor and a close encounter with the wildlife on the street--ducks.

Main street in Picton is full of neat little shops and cafes. We wander a bit and find a gift for someone for Christmas then find our way to the track that is to lead to Bob’s Bay. The walk is not as easy as we anticipated. There are some good climbs up but they are interspersed with some level spaces which help us recover and of course the decline to Bob’s Bay and the beach.

The beach is just stones and shells—shells and more shells. There is no place to sit. I was hoping for a bench or picnic table. The edge of the grass where it meets the beach is raised a bit and we settle there. Except for the incessant whine of a chain saw from some men cleaning up a big piece of drift wood from the beach further down, it is quiet. In a little while a young man appears on the beach and leaves his gear, strips his shirt and wades out into the water. He doesn’t make it out to his where his knees are wet before hopping back to shore. The sun may be out but the water is still cold.

As he passes us, Bob asks about the water and from his response, I deduce he is likely German or Austrian. I’m probably wrong but I doubt he’s a lifelong Kiwi. He heads to the end of the beach where an outcropping of rocks allows for a more dramatic entrance to the water and plunges in but not for long. He passes by us again with a big grin as if to say, yes, I did it, and then pops on his earphones sits on the beach and has his lunch.

We would like to see the ferry leave and pass by us but we wait almost fifteen minutes past departure time and there doesn’t appear to be any movement in our direction. Three dogs run past us and into the water, turn and expectantly wait for their master. Sure enough he has a stick and they are rewarded with a swim out to fetch. Amazingly the littlest dog gets the stick first. I turn to Bob and suggest we leave before we get a doggy shower.

A couple of minutes up the track and we see the ferry coming out of Picton Harbor. I snap a few pictures and we continue on our way remarking that we hope tomorrow’s ride to Wellington and the North Island will be a good one. Certainly the ride to the South Island wasn’t with the bad weather.

By the time we reach town again, I’m thirsty and hungry. We’d forgotten to bring our water bottle with us but it’s time for lunch anyway. We find something we like at the same café where we had our coffee earlier and sit outside to enjoy the sandwich and drinks.

We would still like to see the Edwin Fox ship before we quit exploring for the day but when we stop by the car, Bob pulls out the bag of salt and vinegar chips we have there (his grandson has gotten him hooked on those) and we sit near the kids’ park and watch the families as we eat them. A little blue eyed boy walks up to Bob, the kid magnet, and flashes sad eyes at him. Bob holds out the bag of chips. The boy takes one (not a handful) pops it in his mouth and runs around the other side of the bush without saying a word. I hear Mom say where’d you get that? He steps back, points to us and she looks. I guess we looked safe enough. She says loudly, I hope you said thank you and he nods. We chuckle.

The Edwin Fox is celebrating a birthday of sorts and the society that has formed for its preservation is having a party and a free day at the museum. We pop into the area where the ship is. The Edwin Fox was built in 1853 in India as a trading ship. In her illustrious career she has been used as a cargo ship, a troop ship, a ship to carry convicts to Australia and immigrants to New Zealand from England.  When the sheep industry blossomed in NZ, she became a freezer ship. She was towed to Picton in 1897 where she was still used as a freezer and then a coal hulk and later to become a tourist attraction.

It is amazing how well preserved the ship is considering the years it sat out in the weather. The top deck is missing and only a small part of the other deck is restored to show what it might have looked like back in its day. Below in the hull where all the goods were held there is a small area restored to show what it looked like for passengers. Its size surprises me. And the fact that we can walk on the actual wood of the ship does too since they are trying to preserve it.

The museum is interesting but we don’t linger. It’s too nice outside to spend time in a building smelling of artifacts. Outside again, we head for the car. It’s time to go to the place we want to revisit for dinner, The Mussel Pot. It is a forty-five minute ride and some of the twistiest road we have traveled. The last time we were this way, it was raining. This time we get to see the beautiful views we missed in the haze and rain.

Havelock is not a big town but it has a lovely harbor and marina that leads out to the Sound. We arrive to find that the restaurant will not be open for dinner until 5:30. We have an hour to wait. The main street is deserted. None of the shops are open except for the small grocery. We stand and read some information in the town center about several famous people from the area one of whom helped with America’s space program.

The marina draws us and we see a sign that advertises a café there. To our good fortune, the café is open and has a wonderful outdoor deck that overlooks the marina. We sip coffee and tea and relax while we speculate where people have taken their boats for the day and what we might have done if we still had our sailboat. We decide selling the boat was good as we much prefer to travel further than our sailboat would have taken us.

A little while more on a park bench savoring the warm sun and we are on our way back to The Mussel Pot. Our green lipped mussels are every bit as good the second time around and I am so glad we came back.

On our drive back to Picton we stop several times for pictures. I wonder how many pictures I really need of these scenes but they are too spectacular to pass up. I have a lot of work ahead of me when we get home to weed them all out.

We drop our things in our room at the Echo Lodge and then take a short walk to stretch our legs. When we return we join a couple from Canada in the guest lounge for a cup of coffee and a tasty treat of fruit bread that our host has baked and left for us to enjoy. We swap travel stories for a bit and then excuse ourselves to our room. Since we couldn’t change our ferry tickets for an earlier departure we need to find a church service in the area. Lucky for us, we find the perfect answer.

Friday, December 20, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Denniston Mines, Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, Pancake Rocks

Friday, November 1, 2013

There is nothing like opening your door to go out and find the motel manager standing right there. He has his laptop in hand checking out the signal of the WiFi. He asks Bob if he’s getting any signal and explains that something has gone haywire with the repeater. He apologizes profusely. He even offered to let Bob use his personal account. Bob graciously declined. We sit in the car by the office for a minute to check email and discover that we have won the auction for an upgrade on our return New Zealand Air tickets! Whoohoo! High fives as we are on our way out of Greymouth.

We get a little rain at the start but soon the sun is shining brightly and we are excited as we arrive at our first site, the Punakari Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. I had watched a video on the TV in our room of the rocks and blowhole and couldn’t understand where they’d earned their pancake name until we got there. The rocks look like giant stacks of stone pancakes!

It is high tide and when we near the blowhole called the Chimney Pot, we can hear the boom as the water rushes through from the surf. It’s picture time. The sun is at the right angle to create rainbows every time the blowhole spouts salty spray. By the time we are ready to move on, we can taste the salty sea water on our lips.

We check out several other places where the surf dramatically meets the rocks but as I take a close up picture of the rocks, I notice the dark cloud in the background. I tell Bob we’d better pick it up and finish. Not long after, the rain starts in earnest. We are farther away from the car than I thought and we are huffing and puffing by the time we get there. My sweater is wet but the camera tucked under it seems to have survived all right.

By the time we have removed our wet outer layers, the sun has poked through again. It looks to be one of those days. We move on to Cape Foulwind. I’m not fond of the name especially after getting drenched once already. But the sun is with us all the way for the hour long trip. Just as we arrive however, the rain begins to spit. It’s not bad but we don our all weather coats and Bob grabs an umbrella.

About 50 feet up the walk, we meet a Weka (woodhen). We saw them at Shantytown just a day ago. It isn’t afraid of us at all and in fact appears to be begging for a handout. The rain starts in a little harder and we would put up the umbrella but it is awfully windy. As we round the bend to the big lookout area to see the seal colony that is there, it pours. Not only does it pour it hails—little pebbles of ice. Bob puts up the umbrella and we hope for the best as we start back to the car.

It isn’t more than five minutes later that the rain stops and the sun promises to peek out again. I look at Bob and tell him we need to turn around. We’ve come this far, let’s go back and take our pictures. It’s hard to pick out the seals from the wet rocks but I get a couple of shots and we decide to chance walking a little further on the track for a glimpse of the lighthouse.

We meet several more Wekas along the way. When they decide they are not getting a handout, they run from us. They resemble chickens when they run.

On a rise, we can see just the tip of the lighthouse that is on the other side of another outcropping of rock and too far away for us to want to walk any farther. We turn back, greet the Wekas again and go back to the car park where Bob feeds the Weka there by hand. A couple of gulls enjoy catching some bread pieces in the air.

On our way again, we are looking for the Information Center in Westport to try to find out what is about 20 minutes north of there that our host at the motel said we needed to see. We can’t read his writing on the map and neither of us can remember exactly what it was. At the IC we spot a brochure for The Denniston Mine Experience and realize that is it.

Lady Garmon has no idea of where we want to go but I finally get her to lead us to the little town on the map where we would need to turn to get to Denniston. It turns out Denniston was a town way on top of a small mountain that was established when they began mining coal from the mountain. Only two houses still exist in the town that used to have a population of 1500.

From here it's all down hill!
Before we explore though, we find a picnic table and enjoy a couple of sandwiches I made from my leftover pork dinner last night. I added a little cheese and sliced tomato on some buns we had left from another meal. We have a beautiful view of the Tasman Ocean and valley below us as we eat.

It is an amazing story of how they did all of the mining. The mine was at the top of a mountain plateau more than 1500 feet up from where the coal needed to go to be shipped. The men rigged a railway called the Incline. With cables, counterweights, huge hydraulic brakes, etc., they were able to raise and lower rail cars full of coal from the Rochfort Plateau to the Conns Creek Yards below. From there it could be transported by locomotive to the shipping harbor. The Incline operated from 1879 to 1967. There are great pictures at the Denniston Experience website that show the Incline.

We have to backtrack a bit to get on the route that will take us to New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. I’m not so keen on doing this one but I’ll try it. It takes us a while to find the signs to point the way but they begin to appear as we near the area. When we pull in, we realize it is going to cost us to cross over. Not bad though. Only $5 NZD for a thrilling walk across a 300 foot long bridge that is see-through and hangs over the Buller Gorge. Am I really going through with this?

I take a picture at the start then put the camera around my neck so I can hold the sides as I walk across. Below my feet I can see the Buller River swollen with all the rain that we’ve had here lately rushing by. I am surprised that this bridge is actually easier to walk that some of the smaller ones we have done. I think it’s because it’s not so wide. Maybe that makes it a little more stable. It’s a bit of a rush but I’m glad to be across.

There is a 20 minute loop walk that takes us past some places that are marked as the fault line for the earthquake that happened there in the early 1900s. Then we pass some signs on a tree that show how high the water got in a couple of floods of years past, the most recent being 2012. We pass by the zip line return option (for an extra cost) and follow the bridge signs to go back across the river. I prefer the bridge to the zip line.

It was a neat experience but I’m ready to get to our motel and rest a bit. We are about forty-five minutes away when we find a little town with a couple of tearooms and cafes none of which have any coffee for us to purchase. We think they might be closing up for the day since it is after four. Many places in New Zealand close early.

I promise to make coffee when we arrive in St. Arnaud and we travel on. There is a little spot of rain here and there but mostly sun that actually makes for steamy roads where the rain has fallen. The road takes us through a beautiful river valley and finally up a little to a small mountainside village. There are only a couple of motels, some chalets, and what look to be some summer or maybe winter ski homes. There are two ski areas close by.

The Alpine Lodge is busy when we arrive. This is the starting point for a bike marathon that we saw advertised a while back as we started out this morning. We had wondered if we would run into any of it as we drove. Apparently it doesn’t start until tomorrow and they will be going the opposite direction we are so we won’t have to dodge cyclists around curves and bends in the road.

The dining room at the Lodge has a special menu tonight, a BBQ, because of so many marathoners staying here. The lady at the desk goes over the menu which sounds okay but she also tells us of a café/restaurant around the corner a bit. We check it out and decide that after a walk down to the lake here, we’ll opt for their menu.

The lake is an easy walk from the Lodge. Birds are singing and the wind has stopped blowing so hard making it a bit warmer. I am learning that 9°C can be a bit chilly when there’s a cool wind blowing. While Bob walks around checking out all the signage from the park, I sit and just absorb the calm water, the sleeping ducks, the surrounding mountains, and listen to the birds sing. It is so peaceful. I just want to soak up the peace. Wish I could bottle it but it will have to reside somewhere in my memory where I can pull it out when needed.

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