New Zealand seems to be packed with tourists, indeed most of the people we meet on the road are overseas tourists and it would be nice occasionally to meet a local kiwi! In order to encourage tourism, New Zealand has developed a very pro-tourist approach to internal travel with “i-sites” nearly everywhere where you can go to get numerous brochures, usually helpful information and to book trips, tours etc.
The official New Zealand website “newzealand.com” is extraordinarily well put together and we found it useful in the early stages of planning our visit. We also found that almost all of the regional tourist offices will post brochures by airmail to overseas addresses at no charge – this level of helpfulness is not the case with many other countries.
Of course we read other travellers blogs to find out what they liked and disliked, the routes they took and also to look for answers to all of those small seemingly insignificant questions which the guide books do not seem to answer.
We have with us three guide books, Rough Guide (which we have found to be the best and most comprehensive), Dorling Kindersley which is very good on big cities and a general overview of other places, and Lonely Planet which we have found least useful since it does not seem to have as much “what there is to see” information as Rough Guide. All are inaccurate when it comes to prices.
If you are going to stay in campsites then the main groups (Top10, Kiwi Holiday Parks and Holidayparks of New Zealand) have their own directories which you can find online. Top 10 seem to be consistently the best (and most expensive and most packaged). DOC directories are available on-line and we have seen take-away copies in i-site offices.
Boulders and the Gold Trail
We found the road north from Dunedin quite boring. Designated SH1 (State Highway 1), it is long, busy, plain and quite hilly (the hills are all long straight gradients up then down).
On the way north at Shag Bay are a number of large seal colonies and Shags! We counted over 100 seals, sea lions
and pups before we stopped counting. When the pups cry out they sound a little like a young child in distress.
The seals were doing what they seem to like doing most, sleep in the sun and play in the water. There are also supposed to be Yellow Eyed Penguins but having seen them before, we did not stay till dusk to see if any returned from fishing.
Moeraki (some 80kms up from Dunedin) is famous for near spherical boulders on its beach which can easily be seen at low tide. The guide books say that they were geologically created almost the same way as a pearl is within an oyster. In summary they were originally formed when a central core of carbonate of lime crystals attracted further minerals from the surroundings – clear?
There are about 30 boulders scattered across a fairly small area of the sea shore directly beneath a cafe which charges you for access or 300m along the beach from a free access point.
The boulders are all much of the same size, some are cracking open
(for some reason, the inside is infested with flies), others
have cracked open and the inside looks a bit like toffee! We found them interesting but not quite up to the publicity.
Following the Gold Trail inland is a good excuse to get away from SH1. The word “trail” also usually means that there is a special leaflet available which details all of the interesting things to see along the trail. We do not get many chances to visit an open cast gold mine so we called in on one at Macraes and went on a guided tour. Gold is currently selling for $1700 NZ an ounce and the mining company are currently making $1000 an ounce profit but it did not stop them charging us $30 each for the tour!
One major problem with our tour was the Fog – we were told that fog was unheard of in the summer but today there was so much fog they had stopped working because they could not safely see. It certainly was thick as this photograph of a water carrier shows (taken from about 50m away)
The fog however eased during the tour enabling us to see
the hole where the ore comes from (very large). Its depth is nearly twice the height of the Sky Tower in Auckalnd, i.e. around 700 metres.
Dumper trucks move 151 tonnes of excavated
ore per load (very large). The dumper is filled in 2.5 minutes by a large digger, we were told it would take a man 10 weeks to fill the dumper with a shovel.
Dumper truck tyres cost a $40,000 tyre and are also very large.
The ore crushing and smelting plant (from a distance) is large. In general, it seems to be a large operation as currently are the profits.
Nearby are the original ore workings used by miners since the 1860s. This shed houses “stamping works” which were
used by miners in the area up to the1950s when they gave up mining in their small way. In the middle left of the above picture is the “stamping machine” which crushed the ore essentially by hitting it with one of five hammers.
Under the trees are the hovels within which they lived (again up to 1950).
Then the fog rolled in again across the fields
filling the opencast mine in a few minutes. We also got to hold a sample of the mined gold – but no free samples were available for us to take home.
The town has a few of its old buildings left, here one of the original five pubs,
and here the original boot maker and leather worker’s premises built in the 1850s. The town (really a village) reminded us very much of some of the hill towns in Cumbria England where we had a house for some while. This impression was strengthened as we drove away from the town into the Central Otago Goldfields region.
To our surprise, having negotiated the usual hills but this time with extensive signs of old mine workings (just like Alston in Cumbria), we entered a very large flat valley area,
the largest we have seen in New Zealand known as the Maniototo. We did not know that NZ had areas where the
landscape was like this. It also seems that few tourists know of the area because there are not many camper vans on the road in this region, they must be sticking to the coast and the well known routes and do not come here.
Here, a lot of the infrastructure is original and is showing its age - this is the first time we have driven over a bridge which has significant sections made from wood – at the ends of the metal trellis section in the middle, is a large totally wooden beams section. The surface of the bridge looked rather rickety but there was no choice but to proceed.
This area is full of towns that time has forgot and which
have not yet totally found a reason to stay alive. Ranfurly is a town that started dying when the railway closed but has some fine Art Deco (yet again) buildings
(and an Art Deco festival at the end of February) and is also close to the Otago Central Rail Trail which is popular with cyclists. The Centennial Milk Bar (now a museum) is one of the finest Art Deco buildings we have seen in New Zealand.
Others are so obvious in their style that you could believe
you were back in the 1930s.
Town names and landmarks are often reminders of the homes of the early settlers and we can offer you Hyde, Naseby, Middlemarch and Wedderburn. There is also a large forest planted in the 1890s called “The Black Forest”.
Up a cul-de-sac near to Ranfurly is a marvellous town called Naseby, marvellous in that it is an example of a town
where time has moved by leaving a lot of the old in an
unspoilt way. The post office is atypical in that it is a two storey building. There are a number buildings dating back
to the first settlers in the area. The original lending library
still operates as a library although its opening hours are very restricted. If you are desperate for a read, you can borrow a book from the shed on the front of the library and return it when the library is properly open.
The Royal Hotel is still a hotel and the Masonic Hotel
functions as the community hall. It is a very peaceful town in the middle of a forest.
Another town with an even more preserved history is Saint Bathans which lies out in the wilds at the end of an unpaved loop road off the state highway. Saint Bathans was a town which was created when alluvial gold (this means free gold that can be washed out of gravel and soil) was discovered in the area in great quantities.
This lake was a mountain (as high as others in the picture) before gold was discovered. Having determined that gold was in the gravel / sand / soil which made up the mountain, miners decided that the easiest way to get it out was to wash it out thus destroying the mountain. In its most productive years, 16,000 ounces of gold a year was mined.
Some of the pipes used to carry the washing water still exist near to the surface. The local Blacksmith worked in
this building making the pipes by riveting together sheets of metal into tubes and then riveting tubes together to create long pipes.
The old Billiard Hall is an example of a building made from
Adobe Brick (essentially puddled mud and local grasses). This material is very hard when dry and was used because there was not a lot of wood in the area and no bricks. It was of course very cheap to make.
The local hotel still feels from the period both inside and out.
The original Post Office is still the post office.
At its height, this town of 2000 people had three banks (and thirteen hotels). This is one of the banks, the internal counters are still there.
The Anglican Church was shipped out in pre-fabricated form from England in sections in 1885 after the previous two local attempts blew down in strong gales.
The original Bible is still in the church and having been restored, is used whenever there is a service.
Oppressed school teachers may wish they could follow the example of the school head here during the Gold Rush. A Government Education Inspector came and when he did not like the actions of the inspector, he took him out into the playground, challenged him to a fist fight and then proceeded to beat him up! (good on him is what I say !) [sorry OfSTED !]
Naseby and Saint Bathans are great examples of old town New Zealand and seem to be off the main tourist trails. We are pleased we made the effort to visit them.