The Hendersons Week 3 of our 2004 Morgan tour of New Zealand
Moggie's Big Adventure - Morgans to New Zealand
February 1st – Sunday – Kaikoura to Christchurch
It has been a bit rainy off and on, so we debated about putting up the top, but decided not since visibility is so poor. We hung around the hotel until 11:00 when the whale watchers came back, very excited because they had seen four whales.
Rather than driving straight from Kaikoura to Christchurch, the local Morgan folks recommended that we drive through the mountains to Hamner Springs, then down to Christchurch. We set off, not in caravan, but eventually there were five of us together. The road was quite good, but typically windy and hilly.
We met up in Hamner Springs and had lunch, eight or more to a table. We were joined by at least three other Morgan owners, we sort of lost count because people and cars kept coming and going. The town is a ski resort town and quite pretty, by New Zealand standards.
I hadn’t driven yet on the trip as I wasn’t too keen on some of the more heavily traveled roads on the North Island, but took over driving duties most of the way to Christchurch. The only problem is that with the luggage on the back, and me being so short, the rear view mirror was useless. Tom really had to try to keep a look out behind us. It had been many months since I had driven Moggie, so I had a few mis-shifts, but other than that, it went well.
It was pretty wet by the time we got to Christchurch. Thanks to an excellent map, we drove right to the hotel, a Crowne Plaza, and the nicest we’ve had so far. The concierge is really good, although he didn’t want his staff to park our cars, which is understandable. We got Moggie settled in, had a glass of wine in the bar, then Tom and I went to Hay’s, just a block away from the hotel, on the concierge’s recommendation. It was wonderful! We had a demitasse of crayfish bisque, then I had a lamb shank and Tom had a grilled lamb dish. The owners of the restaurant own their own lamb farm, and the presentation, preparation and flavors were excellent.
Tomorrow is a really Big Adventure – the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth.
February 2nd – Monday - Christchurch
The long anticipated TranzAlpine train today. Everyone except the Pells (Maggie and Gerry) and Welches (Richard and Vivienne) went – they had done the trip previously. We took a shuttle to the rail station, then, after some confusion (it sort of reminded me of films of train stations in India – people bustling about, standing and waiting – I really expected to see some climbing up to the roof of the train.)
The first several miles of the journey were through the suburbs, then countryside. Once you get just a few miles outside of Christchurch, there are mostly farms – some raising sheep, others cattle, others deer (for venison) and one stud ranch. You start to climb the mountains and the population becomes very sparse, with sheep and cattle ranches and a few little outposts that must be very dreary. The mountains are quite dramatic, although at this time of year there isn’t much snow. The rivers are an amazing aqua color. Taking photos was a bit problematic – either the viewing car, which had no windows, was full, or taking them from our car was unsuccessful because of the glare from the glass.
Eventually we crossed the equivalent of the Continental Divide, at Arthur’s Pass – the clouds started to thin out and we actually got some sunshine. We disembarked at Arthur’s Pass for a few minutes to stretch our legs (typically, people didn’t listen to the warnings and crossed the tracks, which are still in use by freight trains), then re-boarded. We entered a long tunnel – an engineering marvel given the altitude and remoteness of the place.
We pulled into Greymouth – it was larger than I had expected. Tom, Fiona and I hustled to the Jade Boulder Café, which is about two blocks from the rail station. We had lunch and looked around the workshop and sales shop a bit. The jade comes from enormous boulders – I had no idea how big they were. They had some beautiful pieces of jewelry on sale, but we had to get back to the train and will be going through Greymouth on the way up the West Coast later in the trip.
On the way back to Christchurch, some of us took a turn at composing a tour song – we used the tune ‘Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover” although most of us couldn’t remember the second part of the tune. Oh well.
The train was very late back to town – they had to keep the speed down because the extreme heat of the past few months has caused some tracks to buckle.
Tom and I had dinner at a really nice Indian restaurant across the street from the hotel. The food on the South Island has been much better than that on the North Island.
February 3rd – Tuesday - Christchurch
Christchurch is a beautiful town and very easy to get around since, for a change, it isn’t hilly. Tom and I joined the rest of the group for a group photo at Christ’s College, a boys’ school in the old English manner, with lads in uniform and a large grass square in the center. It is a truly lovely campus. The boys were really interested in the cars, and one lad managed to talk himself into sitting in the driver’s seat in several of the cars, then go for a trip around the block with Ray Ellis. I think he is going to be a politician or a salesman.
After the photo shoot, we drove out to Willowbank, where there is a “Maori Experience”, restaurant and game park. We had reservations for 15 for the Maori ceremony followed by dinner and wanted to be sure that we knew the route.
We had leftovers from the Indian restaurant for lunch, then walked into the center of town, where we viewed the beautiful cathedral (oh, so very English!).
Afterwards, we went through the Arts Center, where they had all sorts of things – painters, wood carvers, bone carver, jade carver, a woolen goods shop and a toy maker. I bought a reasonable facsimile of a Morgan made in wood, which I thought was a suitable souvenir. Then we strolled through the wonderful botanical gardens – the roses weren’t quite so done in as in Wellington, and they also had a fabulous begonia collection.
While there we met up with Maggie and Jerry Pell and Alison and Tim Ingham. They had gone punting on the River Avon and were quite enthralled with the experience, so we decided to follow suit. It was quite charming.
At 6:00 the group going to the Maori Experience met in the hotel lobby, then took a shuttle to Willowbank. There was some concern about driving the cars after dinner, particularly if we had any alcohol to drink.
The Maori Experience was really interesting. The guide, Joseph, explained the welcoming ceremony, then we were escorted to a stage area where there were two Maori girls, three Maori men and a fellow who obviously had been recruited at the last minute – he didn’t look Maori at all and had a sunburn. Also, he didn’t really know what he was doing. He explained to us later that he was the chef but had been recruited for the ceremony because they had a lot of people coming through that night.
After the welcoming ceremony, we were led to a small ‘Maori village’ – the girls demonstrated a dance to the women, then we had to try to follow them, using little poi balls, which in this case were made of a plastic bag stuffed with something, but traditionally were made of flax. The men were shown how the little houses were constructed (they are small, low to the ground, and dug into the ground with small doors so that heat would stay in the house).
The cloaks that the men wore were an indication of status – the ones made from dog fur the highest status, those woven from feathers were less ‘status’ and the lowest status was a cloak made of flax. Also, the facial tattoos had significant importance – the family told the young men when they could get the tattoo and it was typically later in life. The face was divided into eight parts – one for the mother’s genealogy, one for the father’s, other parts for significant events in the person’s life, and the tattoos on the nose were for the person’s name.
The Maori cooked their food in a hangi – basically they dig a hole in the ground and create a cross-hatched structure of logs about four feet long above it. They pile large round stones on the logs and light the logs off. As the logs burn the hot stones drop into the hole. They scrape the excess ash off and place the food on the hot stones wrapped in leaves. They add plenty of water to create steam and stop the food from burning, and cover the whole works with more leaves.
After the Maori ceremony we walked through the nature preserve. There were many types of birds, including a very cheeky parrot called kea – I thought he was going to land on my shoulder at one point. They also had a pig that had been brought to NZ by the Maoris when they immigrated. Basically, they fattened up the pig before the voyage, then set sail with the pig on-board, but they didn’t feed it at all on the way. When they got to NZ, it was pretty hungry, so they just turned it lose in the forest to make its way.
The preserve also had a Kiwi house, so we were able to see the funny little birds snuffling about, looking for worms and bugs.
Dinner was a mixed bag of roasted meats, vegetables, samosas, fish paella, and hangi. Although not world-class cuisine, it was decent enough and we had a good time.
February 4th – Wednesday – Christchurch to Lake Tekapo
Our plan today was to drive to the Banks Peninsula and see a little town called Akaroa, which had been originally settled by the French, then take a leisurely drive to Lake Tekapo.
The drive to Akaroa was fine, but when we entered the town, we noticed a funny ‘clunking’ noise whenever we went over a bump (‘sleeping policeman’). After some investigation, Tom figured out that the mounting bracket for the left front shock absorber had broken, so the shock absorber was useless. Oh, bother!
Well, luck was with us. Bob Stinson had visited an auto restorer in Christchurch, so we drove back there. Fortunately, the mechanic was able to fabricate a new mounting bracket for each side, as the right was in danger of breaking as well. It took 1˝ hours and cost NZ$93, but that was cheap compared to what could have happened had we been traveling at high speed. I’m very grateful it was as easy to remedy as it was.
Rather than take the leisurely drive to Lake Tekapo, we went the direct route – the traffic on the South Island was supposed to be a lot less than on the North, but we found it rather heavy, especially with trucks. Once we got off the main road heading toward the Lake, though, the traffic cleared a lot and we had a beautiful drive.
Lake Tekapo is an amazing azure color – I can’t describe it. Behind it are hills with clouds dipping between them – it is a stunning setting. From some vantage points you can see the Southern Alps.
Dinner was a little strange – Mary Oliver and Pat Miles arranged with a local take away place to put together some take away meals and salad, so we ordered then ate our meals at tables set up on the lawn. It wasn’t gourmet cuisine by any means, but it filled an empty spot.
The village of Lake Tekapo is really small – the supermarket is in the Shell station, and there are about 6 restaurants, a couple of motels/hotels and that’s about it. If it weren’t for the stunning lake, no one would bother!
Our motel was OK, nothing special, the Godley Resort Hotel. The thing that was a little strange was that there was a balcony on the second floor that ran the length of the building, so if someone opened the sliding glass door on the balcony, anyone could walk in. However, the view of the lake and the little Church of the Good Shepherd was absolutely beautiful.
February 5th – Thursday – Lake Tekapo
What an incredible day! A local Morgan owner, Lindsay, spent last night at our hotel and took us across some private roads that are built alongside canals that are part of a system of canals and dams that produce a large part of NZ’s electricity. The roads are straight and flat and the canals are the incredible turquoise color of Lake Taupo.
We stopped at a viewpoint at the bottom of Lake Pukaki, then headed up the west side of the lake to Mount Cook, also known as Aoraki. The scenery was beautiful, but what made it particularly rewarding was that while we were having a cup of coffee at the little information center at the base of the mountain, the cloud cover began to clear and the day became glorious. As we drove back down to Twizel, we stopped multiple times to take photos.
We had a light lunch in Twizel, then drove more of the back canal roads, getting lost a bit on the way. The receptionist at the hotel told us about a road that goes along the shores of Lake Taupo to another lake, Alexandria. We followed it until it became a gravel path. Took some more photos and turned around.
Several in our group took airplane flights up to Mt. Cook and told us it was fantastic. We found the price tag a little dear, so gave it a pass.
We wanted to see the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd, but the parking lot was jammed with tour buses. Later I walked back and got some pictures of the exterior of the chapel and the little statue of the collie dog that had been put up as a memorial to the dogs that are so useful in raising sheep. The church was closed, but I think I got some good photos. The church is non-denominational and is used for weddings – it would certainly be a picturesque site for a wedding.
I did a bit of laundry and used the hotel gym for some stretching as our room is too small. Tom cleaned up Moggie, something he has to do every day.
We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was rather interesting – since Tom isn’t fond of Chinese, we were told that we could order from the European restaurant next door and they would bring the meals over to the Chinese restaurant. This allowed us to participate in the group dinner. Fiona was able to give the flasher to Vern Dale-Johnson, who promptly turned it over to Rod, his brother, who is Vern’s navigator and should have figured out that Vern had driven 20 miles with the turn indicator flashing.
As we were working on downloading pictures and getting packed up for the next day, we looked out of our room to the most exquisite rise of the moon I’ve ever seen – it was absolutely magical. Tom took a couple of pictures with the SLR camera, so he was able to slow the shutter speed. I hope they turn out.
February 6th – Friday – Lake Tekapo to Dunedin
At 9:00 we all met at the Church of the Good Shepherd – Ray and Sara had met a woman who wanted to be a professional photographer and they had arranged that she would take some photos to try to get into the local paper – and we would get professional photos in the bargain.
After the photo shoot, we drove some canal roads to the Mt. Cook lookout where we had met yesterday. There was a really strange cloud formation hanging over the lake, which we photographed. Then we took some more canal roads, getting lost once again. Our first destination was Omarama, where Lindsey and his wife Beverly have a café and tourist goods shop. We had a cuppa and I bought a T shirt and NZ pattern sox. The previous evening we had been joined by Austin, who lives near Dunedin. He wanted to take us on some drives that were a bit off the beaten path. Tom and I followed one road up over the top of Benmore Dam – the largest earthen dam in the southern hemisphere. We drove along lake Aviemore, which was busy with skiers and campers, this being Waitangi day, the national day of NZ and a three-day weekend.
We were headed to Oamaru, which has a penguin colony, but decided to take a back road and we are glad we did – we saw really interesting rock formations along the way – the rock looks like sandstone – very light in color – and is not unlike the Burren in Ireland, except between the rocks there is some soil and pasture, unlike the Burren, which is nothing but miles of rock with only a clump of grass here and there. It was a beautiful drive.
Oamaru is a pretty town – at one time it must have been quite prosperous. The main street is a broad boulevard, two lanes each way, with a strip in the middle with trees and parking. The penguin place was a disappointment – you don’t see penguins until ˝ hour before dusk and we didn’t have that much time. We had lunch, then, because the clouds were gathering, drove to Dunedin. The road into the town is a very steep downhill – I wouldn’t want to be a trucker and have to make that descent.
Dunedin is hopping because of the holiday and this is the bi-annual Masters’ Games where people from all over NZ come to participate in amateur sports. They are arranged into classes according to age group and the sports seem to cover everything from sailing to equestrian events.
We stayed at a place called Cargill’s Hotel – again, it wasn’t much, but only for a couple of days, so it all worked out.
I went off in search of a restaurant that was recommended in the guidebook while Tom cleaned up Moggie. It was a much longer walk to the center of town than I had expected and I didn’t find the restaurant after all that.
Poor Fiona is having more trouble with her car – the check engine light has come on, as well as the battery charge light. I feel really badly for her – hers is the newest car on the tour and has caused her nothing but trouble. Fortunately, Morgan owners love to tinker, so she’s been able to get by. However, tomorrow she is taking the car in to a mechanic for what we all hope will end up fixing it for good.
Tom and I had planned to have dinner at The Reef, a seafood restaurant, but we couldn’t get in, so we had dinner at the Huntsman. A peculiarity of restaurants in NZ is that some of them will allow you to bring in your own wine, which they will uncork for a small fee. That turns out being a lot cheaper than buying from the wine list. I had a cod for dinner and Tom had venison. Because deer are raised commercially, just like cattle and sheep, venison is a frequent menu item.
Generally speaking, I am not that impressed with Dunedin – it has some very interesting buildings, and the original street layout is nice (the town center is in the shape of an octagon, but the rest of the town is a mixture of various architectural styles and no particular pattern.) Also, it is on the noisy side. I suppose that the weather is a detractor also, as it has been rather gray with a few sprinkles here and there.
February 7th – Saturday - Dunedin
It is still overcast, but after breakfast we drive to the peninsula to the west of Dunedin. We stop at Larnach Castle, billed as the only castle in NZ. In England it would be a stately home, albeit on the small scale. The history of the family who built the castle is the most interesting part – the original Larnach was an entrepreneur who had a number of children, made and lost a great deal of money, first wife died, married her sister, sister died, married a much younger woman who had an affair with his son, then ultimately committed suicide in Parliament. Wow, what a film that would make. The current owners purchased the house in the 1960s and apparently it was quite a ruin. They have been restoring it ever since and are trying to furnish it and get the garden in shape.
Afterwards we drove to the Albatross Center at the end of the peninsula. This is a nesting ground for Royal Albatross. We didn’t take the tour as it was scheduled for 1˝ hours later, but went through the display center. They are quite amazing birds, flying at speeds of up to 100 km per hour.
We came back to Dunedin, went through the Cadbury factory – it was an OK tour, although getting to taste raw chocolate was quite interesting. Then we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral – apparently when they were building it, they ran out of money and didn’t finish the front of the church until some years later – the stone and architecture are just a bit different from the rest of the church.
Tom was tired by this time and walked back to the hotel. I walked over to the Railway station, which is a very impressive pile of stone of Victorian vintage. Then I went inside Knox Church.
The exterior architecture is in keeping with the Cathedral and the Railway station. The inside is very austere. I looked through a hymnal (no music, just words – I’ve never been able to understand how a congregation can sing without having the music) and they have several old favorites – Jerusalem, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Once in Royal David’s City.