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

Monday, 30 April 2012

Murchison - Shake, Rattle and Roll

Mention the name “Murchison” to a Kiwi and they are sure to recall the terrifying earthquake of 1929.  Even those of us who were not yet a “twinkle in our father’s eye” would have heard of this disaster.  We sat down in the Murchison Museum and watched a video showing slides of the aftermath of that fateful day.  The earthquake caused the town clock to stop at the exact time and it hasn’t gone since.

DSCF1288 Murchison Museum and the town clock

Seventeen people lost their lives when the 7.8 earthquake struck.  It caused massive mud slides, hill sides to collapse and rock faces to shatter.  An up thrust lifted some land in the area an amazing 14ft 9in.

DSCF1286 Devastation showing a two storey house half buried

Almost 40 years later the small town of Inangahua close by suffered a 7.0 earthquake with the loss of one life.  Yesterday we drove past the site of the mountainside which collapsed into the Buller River and the scars are still highly visible with little regrowth.  The highway was obliterated and the rail track was left hanging.

DSCF1287 Result of the Inangahua earthquake of 1968

This area of New Zealand is situated close to the Alpine Fault, where two sections of the earth’s crust grind slowly past each other until they generate enough pressure to generate an earthquake.  No wonder New Zealand is sometimes called the Shaky Isles.   The memorial to the victims of the Murchison Earthquake has plaques attached to rocks from all the areas where people lost their lives, we were told. 

DSCF1274Murchison Earthquake Memorial

DSCF1289Cart outside the museum

DSCF12901925 McCormick Deering Tractor 

The museum was full of all sorts of interesting memorabilia to check out and there were many items out the back of the building, such as farming and mining equipment.  There was certainly plenty to keep the blokes interested.  These little museums do a wonderful job of preserving local history and usually run on a shoe string with volunteer helpers.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A misty kind of day

We woke to find the Reefton  Racecourse enveloped in mist, mist as far as we  see – what a strange eerie sight it was and so different from yesterday’s bright sunshine.

DSCF1258 In the mist at Reefton

Following the Buller River along the Upper Buller Gorge, the mist hung low amongst the trees.  The huge scar on the side of the hill reminded us of the massive Inangahua earthquake which shook this region 40 years or so ago.  It is amazing that after all this time the slip is still highly visible and the regrowth has not yet grown over it.  Further along, a sign stated “High Vehicles, check height”.  Newton Bridge was coming up fast and any trucks over the allowable height would have to turn around, and drive all the way back to Westport.  At 4.45 metres, it would have to be a very high truck indeed which would be affected. 

DSCF1263 Height restriction on Newton Bridge

Crossing over the Matakitaki Bridge we rolled into Murchison, our stop for the next couple of nights.  The “Welcome”  sign shows that Murchison is  hunting, fishing, boating type of place.

DSCF1273 Welcome to Murchison

It didn’t take too long for the three of us to settle in to our camp site, the NZMCA POP just a stone throw from the main shopping street.  This area has recently been extended, and offers hard standing sites, water and a dump station.  The sun had come out and it looked like we were in for a nice afternoon.

DSCF1265 All settled in at Murchison

When we arrive at a new town, we like to check out the Info Centre to see what attractions there are on offer.  Outside the centre is a large piece of “Ringstone”, a rare form of granite formed 230 million years ago.  This interesting rock is composed of orbicular granite, and the rings are formed by uneven cooling of the molten granite.

DSCF1268 Orbicular Granite or Ringstone

Seems there is plenty of rafting and jet boating on offer, but this is a bit too adventurous for us.  Perhaps a walk uptown to check out the old buildings.  How about this lovely old Commercial Stables building?  We could just imagine the stage coaches pulling  out of those large gates, ready to carry a full load of passengers and freight along the narrow windy Buller Gorge.

DSCF1266  Commercial Stables

Another interesting old building in town with a story to tell was the old pub with bullet holes in the door jamb.  In the 1930s Jack McKeaney was taking his loaded gun out of his car, and the gun went off.  Unfortunately  a local lawyer Mr Marshall was entering the pub and was struck by several pellets, causing minor damage.  after the furore had died down, the holes in the door jamb became part of Murchison folklore.  Poor Mr Marshall however, had to endure a lifetime of pain and discomfort from the pellets in his body.

DSCF1270 Pub shooting

The sunshine was short lived and we  had to scurry back to camp from our wander around town as the rain came down once again.  Not surprising really, as the weather forecast has promised bad weather for the next few days.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Reefton’s Bearded Miners

There’s a replica 1860’s miners hut on the main street of Reefton.  This is where several local men spend their days dressed as miners, chatting to visitors passing by, telling tales of the old days, and drinking billy tea.  The story goes that these blokes decided that it was more fun to spend their days here than sitting at home, and have added their own touches to the hut.


Who can resist an old bearded miner?  Not me, I was keen to go and visit, have a look around, and see what life was like back in the 1800s.  “You’re world famous”, I told them, but they already knew that, and told me they are listed in several overseas guide books.

DSCF1228 That’s me with a couple of the bearded miners

There are all sorts of bits of equipment scattered about, old stoves, pots and pans, and a collection of lanterns hanging from hooks.  The fire was burning brightly inside the hut giving it rather a homely look.  An old canvas stretcher filled a corner of the hut, and old sacks were nailed across the windows.  With all those chinks between the wall boards, I don’t know how weather-tight the hut would be.  It was fun to chat with them, but it would be too much like “roughing it” for me.  And no, they didn’t offer us a cup of billy tea.


DSCF1239 The bearded miners hut

After lunch of yet more whitebait fritters for Geoff and Pauline, and wild pork pies for us, we went to explore the town.  Tucked away in a back street was the last remaining example of a Fairlie R28 engine in the world.  Designed by Scottish engineer Robert Fairlie to cope with the tight curves of New Zealand’s 3ft6in railway gauge, the engine was kept busy hauling timber, coal and gold.

DSCF1214 Fairlie R28 engine

DSCF1248The Courthouse  was built in 1872

The band rotunda sports a new paint job and is beautifully decorated with trailing roses to mark the Inangahua Centennial.

DSCF1247 Band Rotunda

Following the “Lookout” sign we drove up, up, the hill, wondering if we would ever reach the top.  Once there we looked down over Reefton, the river, and the racecourse where we staying.

P4287269 View from the Lookout

It was the first day of the season for the local rugby club and players, cars, and supporters all arrived at the racecourse.  As we were parked very close to the changing rooms with so much traffic and players trying to get past, we decided to move our caravans to a more secluded area.  With the senior players staying on for evening entertainment, and no doubt a few drinks, we felt it more prudent to move.

DSCF1254 In more peaceful surroundings

Our stay in Reefton is coming to an end – we are moving on tomorrow and heading off to Murchison.  Wonder what we will find there? Hair cut or two maybe!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Quartzopolis - Reefton

After a night of torrential rain a rainbow appeared in the sky as we farewelled Seddonville.  The mist came down and the rain set in.  The locals had told us that they hadn’t seen a drop of rain for weeks which was most unusual for this part of New Zealand, and now it seems that the wet West Coast weather was back with a vengeance.  Tendrils of mist hung low over the hills as we drove through the Buller Gorge. 

DSCF1201 The Buller Gorge

We felt like we should be ducking our heads as we drove under the rocky outcrops known as Hawke’s Crag.  This part of the gorge was carved out of a stony bluff and the crag hangs high over vehicles as they drive around the tight corner.  It must be high enough for most traffic, we reckon, as plenty of trucks and buses drive through the gorge daily, but we still felt like we should be ducking low underneath, just to be sure. 


DSCF1198 Driving under Hawke’s Crag

A second rainbow filled the sky and seemed to welcome us as we drove into Reefton, our stop for the next couple of nights.


Reefton was nicknamed “Quartzopolis” because of the rich gold bearing quartz reefs found in the hills, and the town burst into life in the 1860s-1870s.  It was the first town in New Zealand to gain electric street lighting, just a few years behind New York.  As the most of the gold was extracted, the boom times were over, but miners continued to take small quantities of gold for many more years.  There is also Oceana Gold who rail ore bearing quartz from Reefton to Palmerston on the other coast.  Those who are following our blog will remember our trip to Oceana Gold at McCrae's Flat in Central Otago.  Reefton Raceway is our stop over and the three of us soon lined up all in a row.  Other caravans and motor homes drifted in as the afternoon wore on.

DSCF1226 Gypsy Rover, Romany Rambler and Le Petit Chateau at Reefton

Once settled, we dodged the showers and made our way to the Information Centre in town, always a good place to start.  There is a huge winding engine on display, which was used to lower the miners deep underground, then raise the gold bearing rock in cages up and down the mineshaft.  There is also a replica Quartzoplolis Mine at the centre, just like being underground with it’s dirt floor and timber props holding the roof of the mine up.

DSCF1205 Winding engine at the Info Centre

There is sure to be lots more to see around town, and we plan to explore the delights of Reefton in greater detail tomorrow.  With any luck more whitebait is on the menu for tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to meet up with the Reefton Bearded Miners, that sounds like a whole lot of fun.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Unimog Trip that Wasn’t

Waiting at the pick-up point in anticipation, our Unimog pulled to a stop to collect us.  On went the high visibility vests, and the hard hats, and we were all set for our “OutWest Tour”  around Stockton Opencast Mine. 

DSCF1159 All aboard the Unimog

Rosetta was taking the tour today, and told us that she had lived up on the Dennison Plateau for the first five years of her life, and herself, her hubby and both sons all work at the Stockton Mine.  Coal dust is in her blood, she exclaimed.  The compulsory heath and safety briefing took place, including how to summon help by the radio if something untoward happed to Rosetta.

Whose this we have here? Sitting in the Unimog

Arriving at Ngakawau, where the coal is ferried down from the mine high above in the hills, it was obvious that all was not right with the Unimog.  The mechanic confirmed that one of the wheel callipers was faulty, so our tour was cancelled.  Oh dear.  But all was not lost, and Rosetta talked about the mine while hurried phone calls behind the scenes tried to rustle up some alternative transport to enable us to see a small part of the operations. 

P4262233 All dressed up in “High Viz”

Stockton Mine started life as an underground mine, then changed to open cast mining in 1980.  The aerial ropeway was opened in 1953 and the wagons glide effortlessly down, depositing the coal before continuing on their journey back up the hill.

P4262230 The aerial ropeway

A whole lot of coal is produced  here – five coal trains a day pulling 30-35 wagons transport the “black gold” over Arthur’s Pass to Lyttleton.  The bulk of the coal is then sent by sea to India, South Africa, and China.

DSCF1161 The coal is loaded from here into the train wagons

Our alternative transport arrived and our driver Tony took four of us in his Ute up to Station 6 to have a close look at the aerial ropeway.  Each wagon carries 1.5 tonnes each, he told us.  The ropeway works continuously, with planned maintenance taking place on Tuesdays and Friday mornings. 


P4262239Pressure Frame carrying wagons over the ridge

After this shortened version it was time to go back to the works.  Tony invited all the tour group into his area of expertise, the weighbridge and rail loading operations, showing us the TV screens he monitors with live camera feed from all over the mine workings.  “Big Brother is everywhere”, he said wryly, but no doubt the cameras are a necessary part of monitoring a high risk industry and to find the first signs of any impending problem.

DSCF1175 Tony watching for problems

The Stockton Mine Tour is heavily subsided by Solid Energy, and the company donates the $15 fee charged to the Solid Energy Rescue Helicopter.  Although we were offered our money back after the full tour did no go ahead, we decided to leave it with Rosetta as our donation to this good cause.  It was still early so we took a ride up to see what remained of the Stockton township.   Nothing much, as it turned out, and we could not get past the security gates, which told us “Blasting Today”.  So how about Millerton up the road, another early mining settlement, we’ll drive up there.  One of the old cottages had been made into an Info Centre with many old photos inside.  There were a couple of houses dotted around, but Millerton is practically a ghost town these days.

DSCF1179 Millerton Info Centre

DSCF1183The mining town of Millerton in 1900s

We were surprised to drive through the “Grand Canyon” on this road.  Not quite up to USA standards perhaps, but still very interesting.


DSCF1185 Millerton’s Grand Canyon

This road up the hill had one more surprise for us – we spotted a waterfall in the distance and went to investigate.  And very pretty it was too.  Locals have told us that the normally wet West Coast hasn’t received any rain for many weeks, so perhaps the waterfall would run with a lot more force. 

P4262254 Waterfall on Millerton Road

So all in all, another busy day here on the West Coast - this is certainly a very interesting part on New Zealand.  But it’s time to move on tomorrow, and our next stop will be Reefton. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Anzac Dawn Parade in Seddonville

In the dim pre-dawn morning stillness in rural Seddonville, the small crowd of young and old gathered at the corner of the street.  Stars were shining brightly in the dark sky and we could hear the sounds of the Morepork calling in the forest.  After a  few notes to tune their instruments, the pipers and drummer played  a medley starting with “Scotland the Brave”, leading the way up a hilly gravel road to the Memorial Gates, with the crowd following respectfully behind.  The Anzac Day Dawn Service was conducted by Ken Hill, who thanked everyone for attending.  The country sounds of roosters and cattle in the distance intermingled with the reading of the service and the Ode to the Anzacs.  A wreath was laid, people placed their red poppies on the ground, and the New Zealand flag was raised on the flagpole as the Reveille was played.

DSCF1144 Anzac Day banner

The skies were lightening as we walked back down the hill, and river mist was creeping over the paddocks towards us.

DSCF1143 Mist from the river

It is an Anzac Day tradition in these parts for the crowd to meet back at  the Seddonville Hotel for breakfast.  To warm us up after the chilly morning service, a couple of bottles of home brewed Drambuie is provided by one of the locals.  As everyone sipped their drinks as they mingled in the bar, I went and chatted to the band members.  They are part of the Westport RSA Highland Pipe Band, they told me, and were driving on to Reefton to take part in the 11.00am service, before returning home to Westport.  That’s a big day with many miles of driving for these dedicated band members.  Did I know why the drummer wears a red dress jacket?, one of the pipers asked me.  Then he took great delight in relating that in the old days the drummers used to mete out the punishment to the troops, and by wearing a red jacket the blood stains would not show. 

DSCF1145   Members of the Westport RSA Highland Pipe Band

Behind the scenes the kitchen staff were busy cooking breakfasts.  Out they came, plates full of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and hash browns, with lashings of toast and tea or coffee.  That certainly kept everyone quiet as they tucked into their breakfasts.

DSCF1146 Our Anzac morning breakfasts

Derek had worn his NZ Defence medal to the service, and also proudly wore his Dad’s WW11 Service medals. 

DSCF1149 Derek with his medals

The sound of the solitary bugle filled the bar, and there was Ken Hill playing a few tunes.  He looked surprised when I asked if I could take his photo, and quietly continued playing on. 

DSCF1148 The bugler in the bar

The Memorial Gates looked quite different in the bright sunshine when we returned later in the morning to take photos.  (We felt it wasn’t appropriate to snap photos in the dark with our flash during such a solemn occasion).  The gates front the old Domain which previously held tennis courts, and the entranceway is lined by an avenue of trees. 

DSCF1150 Memorial Gates at Seddonville Domain

In the domain grounds we came across the biggest pine tree we had ever seen, the huge trunk was enormous.

Jenny with Large Pine @ Seddonvale Memorial Gates Huge tree in the Domain

We took a quick car trip down to the mouth of the Mokihinui River.  Oyster Catchers were busy on the river bank as they looked for marine worms, molluscs, mussels and limpets to feed on.  They are rather striking birds with their jet black plumage and bright orange long beaks and legs.

Variable Oyster Catcher-South Island Plumage Oyster Catcher on the banks of the Mokihinui River

Mokihinui River MouthMokihinui River Mouth

We had a very interesting Anzac Day here in Seddonville - this is the first Anzac Day Dawn Service we had attended and found it very moving.   We can all relate to family members who fought for our freedom in the wars.

 “We Will Remember Them”.