Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Back to Central Otago

The Kingston Flyer put on a bit of a show for us as we were packing up and getting ready to leave.  There is a big charity weekend taking place, with funds being raised for the Stroke Foundation.  The engines, there are two, were puffing away and billowing steam in the cool morning air, and one was backed up to the carriages ready for the first excursion. 

 DSCF0332 Steams up!

And as bit of fun, there will be plenty of mayhem happening on the train rides today.  I caught a glimpse of the “great train robber” as he was getting his Appaloosa horse ready for when he stops the train.  All in the name of charity, you understand.

DSCF0335 Hand over your valuables

We have been having problems  with our caravan batteries lately and spent a good part of the morning in Queenstown trying to find an auto-electrician who works on a Saturday.  No such luck, it seems that they make plenty of money working Monday to Friday so don’t need to work on Saturday morning as well.  While we were here we took the opportunity to stock up on some essentials.  How’s this for a view from the supermarket car-park?

DSCF0338 “The Remarkables” viewed from the car park

With no luck getting our problem sorted in Queenstown, we went to “Plan B” and headed off for Cromwell, travelling through the Gibbston Valley.  There are many vineyards planted in this area, all covered in netting to keep the birds off the fruit. 

DSCF0342 Rows of grape vines covered in bird netting

Travelling through the Kawarau Gorge we stopped at the “Roaring Meg”, a turbulent stream which drives two quite small hydro electric stations.  Originally known as Kirtle Burn, legends suggest that it was named after Maggie Brennan, a turbulent and voluble red headed barmaid from the local hotel.  Roaring Meg is certainly a good description of the waterway when it is in flood.  Another story of the origin of the name involved a party of diggers who were accompanying two ladies from a dancing saloon.   The diggers, being gentlemen, carried the ladies across.  One of them made so much fuss that they named the stream Roaring Meg after her.

Roaring meg & Kawerau River Roaring Meg Power Station

There are no guesses where we are here.  It must be Cromwell, an important fruit growing area of Otago.

DSCF0351 We made it to Cromwell

Another 20km up the road and we reached out stop for the night.  We are staying at a POP in Lochar Burn, a rural property with lovely views of the surrounding hills.  It certainly should be peaceful here tonight.

P3311820 We are in the country tonight

Friday, 30 March 2012

Riding the Rails on the Kingston Flyer

This must qualify as a “double whammy” for vintage train lovers.  Not only do we get to ride the rails on the famous Kingston Flyer, but we can park up overnight right outside the historic Kingston Station.  For our group of train lovers, it can’t get much better than that.

DSCF0307Camping outside Kingston Station

The settlement of Kingston is at the south end of Lake Wakitipu on glacial moraine, so we have a most wonderful outlook over the lake.

DSCF0309 Lake Wapitipu

Gold was discovered here in 1860, causing the town to grow considerably, and the need for faster transport and communication brought about the construction of the Great Northern Railway from Invercargill to Kingston, opened in 1878.  The first passenger trains between Gore and Kingston travelled at a very speedy 60km per hour, and the train became known as the Kingston Flyer.  With the improvement of roading conditions this rail line, like many others, went into decline.  The Kingston Flyer now has new private owners and the tourist train runs from Kingston to Fairlight.

P3301792  All aboard

Clutching our tickets in our hot little hands, we climbed aboard and decided which carriage we would sit in.  The train was pulled by an AB778  Class Pacific locomotive, built in Addington Railway Workshops in 1925.  It weighs 86 tons, burns 760kg of coal and uses 3600 litres of water each return journey.  The carriages are restored to represent 1920s travel, and are constructed of teak, red pine and kauri, and have curved roofs of embossed plate. 

P3301795Our trip started in this carriage

You don’t often get upgraded on a train trip, but it was our lucky day.   The conductor announced that as there were not many passengers on this trip, she would unlock the doors to carriage A595, the last surviving example of  “Birdcage”carriages, built in 1898.  With five separate private compartments refurbished in black leather and an open walkway, it is the way the upper class colonials would have travelled in the 1890s.  However, we don’t look terribly upper class as we sit there clutching our Crunchy Bars in the first class compartment - we were reminiscing about the Crunchy Bar TV advertisement from years gone by which was filmed aboard the Kingston Flyer.

P3301800 Crunchy Bars at the ready

P3301813Our very posh compartment

The train chugged along the 14km stretch of rail to Fairlight, and we sat back and enjoyed the scenery, stopping at Fairlight Station, the end of the line for our trip.


DSCF0316 Fairlight Station

The engine was uncoupled and run around a three pronged siding set in a “Y” arrangement effectively turning the engine to face the other way. The engine is then reattached and we were ready for the return trip.

P3301805 Ready for the Return Trip

On board once again, we sat back in our first class apartment for the return to Kingston.  A sign on the wall reminded us to behave while travelling on the train.

DSCF0322 Sign on our compartment wall

DSCF0324Remember when postage prices were reasonable?

We had a great afternoon, and this train trip has long been anticipated by us all. 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Three Boat Rides, Two Coaches and a Power Station

The big day had arrived, we were all up early, packed lunches ready, and set to enjoy our “Wilderness Cruise”. The only thing was we had all made hot drinks in thermos flasks, to be told free tea and coffee was available on board the vessels we were to travel on.   Our outing today was to cross Lake Manapouri on the Titiroa, board a coach travel over the “Wilmot Pass” pick up another boat and cruise through Doubtful Sound, and on the way back travel down 180 mt via a 2km circular tunnel to the machine hall of the “Manapouri Power Station”.

DSCF0239 Titiroa, our first cruise of the day

This mist hung low as we glided along, with a good running commentary keeping us informed of the surrounding sights.  White scars on the steep mountainsides show where “tree avalanches” have occurred.  As there is very little top soil on these mountains. the tree roots tend to be intertwined in a mass.  As the trees grow they become too heavy to be supported and tumble down into the water, and the whole cycle starts to repeat itself.  

P3291706 Mist hanging low

DSCF0261It’s a great day for cruising

P3291713 One of the many waterfalls in the area

Stage two of the trip was boarding the large comfortable bus for our trip over Wilmot Pass.  The 22km road is one of New Zealand's remotest roads.  The road was built in the 1960s to provide access for the heavy equipment needed to construct the power station.  Our driver John was very informative and also kept us entertained with his dry sense of humour.  

P3291715 Our big blue bus

Stopping at the top of the pass for a photo stop we caught our first glimpse of Doubtful Sound – so named by Captain Cook in 1770 on his first circumnavigation of New Zealand.  He sailed past the entrance to Doubtful Sound as he was unsure if there would be sufficient wind to manoeuvre his vessel in the narrow reaches.  Joseph Banks and the others on board were desperate to make landfall and collect specimens, but were overruled by Captain Cook. 

DSCF0249 Doubtful Sound from the top of Wilmot Pass

A pretty little black, white and yellow male tomtit was fluttering around the bus, and our driver remarked that the bird visits every day.  The male birds in particular are very inquisitive and this one obviously likes to keep an eye on all the visitors. 

DSCF0252 Male tomtit came calling

Once over the pass we arrived at Deep Cove and  boarded the Patea Explorer for a three hour cruise of Doubtful Sound, which is the geographical heart of Fiordland – one of the world’s wettest regions.  Fiordland lies next to a dramatic fracture between two of the earth’s plates, the Pacific and the Indo-Australian plates, with the Alpine Fault marking the place where they meet, forming the Southern Alps.  In the Ice Age, glaciers ground their way down the valleys towards the sea, sculpting the landscape and deepening valleys.  All this slow activity formed the dramatic beauty of the area as it is today.

DSCF0260 Guiding the boat

  .   DSCF0276 Doubtful Sound

The large picture windows gave us glorious views, with several calls from the staff to look out for wildlife.  Everyone rushed to the side of the boat hoping to capture a photo of the porpoises, penguins, and even a low gliding albatross.  As we progressed towards the open sea, the boat ride became rather more vigorous as the open sea mixed withy the waters of the sounds.  There in front of us on a rocky island a group of New Zealand Fur Seals came into view.  These animals were once nearly hunted to extinction for their fur, but now a protected species, their numbers are starting to build up again. 

P3291742 Fur seals lying on the rocks

Back on the bus once more it was time to travel down the 2km spiral tunnel hewn from solid granite into the bowels of the Manapouri Underground Power Station.  Our driver John then had to carefully manoeuvre the large coach doing a three point turn to make sure it was facing the right way for our return.  Whew – that was certainly a very clever bit of driving, and the whole bus load of passengers clapped at his achievement.

P3291779 Driving down the spiral tunnel

Years ago the New Zealand Government of the day did a deal with the Comalco aluminium smelting  company for them to build a smelter at Bluff 191kms away in exchange for cheap power, and so the “Manapouri Power Station” was conceived.   Work began in 1963 and brought together drillers, tunnellers and engineers from 22 countries, with about 1800 men working on the project.  Water drawn from Lake Manapouri flows through the intake structure then down through vertical penstocks, with the force of the water powering the seven turbines.

P3291787  Model of the Power station

P3291781 From the viewing platform

It took eight years of drilling and blasting to build all the access and service tunnels, the underground machine hall and the 10km tailrace tunnel between the station and Deep Cove.  Conditions were harsh and dangerous and men worked long shifts underground.  They bored holes in the rock with massive pneumatic drills, then placed explosives in the holes in total darkness, as the lighting had to be switched off for safety, before retreating from the blasts.  Sixteen men died over the course of this building project.  Most of the workers were accommodated at Deep Cove aboard the liner Wanganella, which had been converted into a floating hostel, and after the long working days underground, the centre of the social life aboard was the bar.  According to legend, Christmas Day was a “free for all beer day”.   

DSCF0294Here we are, 2km underground

Back onboard the bus and we slowly climbed up the tunnel towards the top and into daylight again.

DSCF0297Through the gates and into light

Then it was time to re-board the Titiroa for our third cruise of the day, back across Lake Manapouri to return to Pearl Harbour, enjoying yet another cup of the free coffee provided for the passengers.  It had been a long day, and was quite an expensive trip, but worth every penny, considering we had three boat rides in top of the range craft, plus an excellent coach.  The trip was very professionally run, with friendly informative staff.  We all arrived back at camp a little weary, but so pleased we had finally done this particular trip – another one to mark off our “must see” list.    

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Pearl Harbour, Manapouri and Te Anau

First it was Niagara, then today we came across New Zealand’s version of Pearl Harbour, right here in Manapouri.


DSCF0211 Pearl Harbour, Manapouri

We were staying in Manapouri for one reason only, to book for our long anticipated tour of the Doubtful Sound and the Manapouri Underground Power Station visit, and we bought our tickets at Pearl Harbour.  This will be an all day trip, and with handing over a king’s ransom in money, the tickets were in our hot little hands for our tour tomorrow.  With a cruise across Lake Manapouri, a catamaran cruise through Doubtful Sound, then down, down down to the underground power station, it should be a wonderful trip.   Let’s hope for a nice calm day.

Lake Manapouri was part of the “Save Manapouri” campaign which took place over from 1959 to 1972, and is described as “New Zealand’s Greatest Environmental Battle”.  Thousands of Kiwis battled to stop the level of this lake plus Lake Te Anau being raised for hydro-electric use.  Save Manapouri was a catch cry of a generation, it echoes still.  This monument marks the approximate water level of the raised lake as originally proposed.

DSCF0217 Lake Manapouri

 DSCF0213 Save Manapouri monument

Just a short drive up the road is Te Anau.  Te Anau has a pretty lake, with many rides and attractions on the lakeside all ready to take tourists exploring by air or water.

DSCF0221  Lake Te Anau – helicopter at the ready

A sculpture of Quinton Mackinnon, surveyor, explorer and guide, stands in a nearby park.  MacKinnon, together with  Ernest Mitchell, were the first Europeans to travel overland from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound.  Their route became the world famous Milford Track.  (Our last visit to Te Anau was about 20 years ago when we hiked the Milford Track.  We were younger and fitter then, with not a single grey hair in our heads!) 

DSCF0222Quinton MacKinnon, surveyor

What’s this – a wedding chapel – shades of Las Vegas here in Te Anau.  It was very pretty though, all in white, and attached to a posh hotel.  The view from large glass windows look right out over the lake.

P3281702Te Anau Wedding Chapel

All of us are really looking forward to our trip tomorrow.  Camera batteries are being charged up, and we will be up bright and early to pack a picnic lunch and be on our way.  Oh – mustn’t forget to take the insect repellent, the sand flies are huge down here, or so we are told.

Monkeys, Sausages and a big fat Pig

We spent a dark and stormy night at Monkey Island.  The strong wind was buffeting the caravans, the waves were roaring on the beach just a stone’s throw away, and I went to bed worrying about the caravan roof been blown off, a tsunami roaring in to engulf us, or maybe just a king tide to wash us all away.  Luckily we survived the night (and the perceived threats to our safety) and woke to a pretty sunrise just peeping over the eastern hills.

DSCF0195Sun rise at Monkey Island

Monkey Island is assessable at low tide, so we did an early morning trek over the sandy beach, clambered up a few rocks, climbed the dozen or so steps conveniently cut into the rising ground and reached the top.  Our caravans looked a long way away in the distance. 

P3281685 Our camp site from Monkey Island

We can categorically say that there are no monkeys on Monkey Island, unless you count this group posing for a photo shoot.

 P3281688 On top of Monkey Island

We were soon hitched up and ready for the drive to Manapouri.  The rest area at McCraken’s Rest along the coast road had  wonderful views over Te Waewae Bay.  It also has a plaque which states that this spot is the extreme south-western point of the New Zealand Highway system.

 DSCF0200 McCracken’s Rest

We drove through the little town of Tuatapere, once known as “the hole in the bush” when it was a sawmilling centre for the many bushmen cutting their way through the lowland forests.  A large sawmilling business is still in operation, but the town’s main claim to fame is calling themselves the “Sausage Capital” of New Zealand.  Tracking down the local butcher we purchased some of the famous Tuatapere sausages to try.

DSCF0202  Get your Tuatapere Sausages here

We had read about the historic Clifden suspension bridge so that was our next stop en route.  But what’s this we see – it’s a Kune Kune pig, snuffling and snorting and looking for breakfast.  Only a mother could love a face like that!

DSCF0203 The welcoming committee

The old Clifden suspension on the Waiau River bridge dates back to 1899.  At 115m in length this was the longest span of any bridge in New Zealand, and replaced a punt ferrying people and goods across the river.  The bridge remained in use till 1978, when foot traffic was allowed, but is now firmly closed off to pedestrians.


 P3281699 The old Clifden suspension bridge

Sight-seeing over, it was back in the 4WD to drive on to our stop for the next couple of nights,  at the Manapouri Motor Home and Caravan Park.  This park is brand spanking new, with wonderful facilities, and well set out sites surrounded by trees.  With friendly welcoming hosts, we are sure to enjoy our time here.

DSCF0235 Manapouri Camp in the sunshine

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Monkey Island via Riverton

A quick call in to the Winton Bakery to purchase a couple of their delicious meat pies for lunch, and we were on our way.  The pretty town of Riverton was our next stop, originally known as Jacob’s River, and settlers started to arrive in the late 1830s.  As the land was cleared flax milling, sawmilling, gold mining and boat building, together with farming and fishing  all flourished.  We stopped and ate our pies at “The Rocks”, a reserve along the coast from the Riverton township.

P3271664 The Rocks Reserve, Riverton

We watched the waves as they rolled into the beach, and a large flock of shags gathered on a nearby rock.

DSCF0176 Shags sunning on the rocks

Our stop for the night was 30km further along to coast to the quaintly named “Monkey Island”, a free camping area, with toilets available.

DSCF0187 Follow that sign

Everybody knows that there are no monkeys in New Zealand, so how did it get it’s name?  In the late 1860s this area had numerous homes, stores, a hotel and a butcher’s shop.  Before the  road from Riverton was formed, a slipway was built at the island so that the cargo from boats could be unloaded.   A “Monkey Winch” was used to haul boats ashore and this is presumably the reason it is called Monkey Island.

DSCF0180 Monkey Island

P3271684A view up the beach

There are only two of us staying at Monkey Island tonight.  Dot and Derek are over-nighting in Invercargill and will rejoin us in a couple of days.

P3271680 Only two of us here tonight