Thursday, 23 May 2019

Clutha Gold Trail and other adventures – Part 4


Here is Part 4 of our recent trip to the South Island. This covers the last few days of the trip, travelling from Lawrence to Dunedin, Ashburton and home.

We were away for 13 days all up, so I have written up this story in four parts. Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.



Friday 26 April – Lawrence to Dunedin


We had planned to stay in Dunedin for two nights so that we could do some biking around Dunedin. We like Dunedin, having walked around most of it twelve years ago, when we spent time there for John to get radiation treatment. We had arrived without a car as we were expecting to be there for only two weeks, but we ended up being there for seven. We got to know Dunedin quite well.

It’s only about an hour and a half to drive from Lawrence to Dunedin, and we were there by about 11 am, even taking the scenic coastal route. We couldn’t get into our accommodation until 2pm, so we stopped at The Customhouse, a very nice café/restaurant near the port, right next to where the Monarch ship is moored. We had coffee and scones, and looked out to the harbour. Very pleasant.

The Customhouse (photo by John)


We decided we would cycle the Port Chalmers side of the harbour. We knew there was a new cycle track along there but weren’t sure where it started. We were told it might be somewhere near the new stadium. So we found our way to a quiet street near the University. The University was on holiday also (like the schools) so it was easy to find a park.


A quiet street near the Stadium and University (photo by John)

We unloaded the bikes, and pedalled off towards the roundabout on the way to Port Chalmers. At first the cycle track seemed very good, nice and wide. After several crossings to get to the other side of the roundabout, we headed off towards Port Chalmers, but then the cycle track disappeared, there was just a narrow footpath, which we rode on, but didn’t like it much. Then at a gap in the shrubbery I noticed that the track we should have been on ran well below the road we were on, alongside the water’s edge. So we turned around, and eventually found the place where the track proper started.


The start of the Harbour Cycleway (photo by John)

The Harbour Cycleway had been opened almost exactly a year ago, and was wide and sealed, running between the water and a railway line, for some distance, then later on the other side of the railway tracks. There were parklike areas with gym-style fitness machines in several places. We went under a ramp of the Ravensburg Factory (fertiliser, we think) which had a long jetty into the harbour.

A strong easterly wind was blowing, and though the track went as far as St Leonards, the headwind was getting so fierce as we came around the point about a kilometre short of there, that we decided to turn around and go back. This was where you could see the end of the harbour, out to sea, hence the strong wind.

Back at the beginning of the Harbour Cycleway, we continued on another track towards the central city, through the University. We ended up riding up George Street and turning into Union Street, and back through the University grounds, back to the car. We did 14.5 km.

The motel I had booked was in Musselburgh, on the Otago Peninsula side of the harbour, as we thought we could ride the cycle track skirting that side. It was a bit of a disappointment all round, because the motel was a dump. They put us into a unit behind the office, in the shade, through a carport with a hazardous surface and filled with building materials! If I hadn’t already paid for two nights, we would have left the next day, as the weather turned to rain, and we weren’t able to bike anyway.

Access to our abysmal motel unit (photo by John)


Saturday 27 April – Dunedin


It was raining quite hard when we got up, so no biking today. Instead we went to the Otago Museum. An excellent place to spend a few hours.

The rain abated a bit in the afternoon, so instead of biking around the Otago Peninsula, we drove out to Taiaroa Head, where the Royal Albatross Centre is. It is a beautiful area, but it was a bit bleak on this rainy day.

On the way there, we noticed that the cycle track is intermittent, with some sections looking really good, others still being constructed (lots of roadworks) and some sections where there is no shoulder, let alone a cycle track. So it was perhaps just as well we didn’t try cycling there. Maybe in a year or two, when the track is completed.


The lighthouse at Taiaroa Head (photo by John)


Pilot’s Beach is home to some Little Blue Penguins (kororā), but we didn’t go down there (photo by John) 

Speaking of pilots (Pilot's Beach, above) − John’s grandfather was a pilot (the seafaring kind) at Taiaroa in the early 1900s. His mother recalls that when she was a child, the local school had to close, when the lighthouse keeper was transferred. He had eleven children and without them, the school was no longer viable …


Sunday 28 April – Dunedin to Ashburton


The only interesting thing that happened on our way from Dunedin to Ashburton, was our stop in Oamaru. Because it was Sunday, all the little shops in the historic precinct were open, and we explored the bookshops and other shops.

At one of the bookshops, Adventure Books, there was a large collection of books on Antarctica, which was of interest to John. He has been to “the ice” on four occasions, on scientific research programmes, and like many people who have been there, fell in love with the place. He has a reasonable collection of books about Antarctica and its early explorers. 

While we were there browsing, the owner of the shop came and introduced himself − Bill Nye − and asked if John was an “OAE”. A what? An “Old Antarctic Explorer”. We had quite a long conversation – American, he had been an engineer on the ANDRILL drilling  project (to do with geology). He asked John what his connection to Antarctica was, and  asked if he knew so and so, or such and such. John knew some of them. 

In the shop was a full-scale replica of the James Caird. The original James Caird was a 23-foot lifeboat in which explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, his captain Frank Worsley of Akaroa, and four other men made a voyage of 800 nautical miles in tempestuous open seas to summon help for the rescue of 22 men left behind on Elephant Island off the coast of Antarctica after their ship was crushed by pack ice on the Endurance expedition. The replica was used in the filming of the TV movie “Shackleton’s Captain

A full-scale replica of the James Caird

John had picked out a book of beautiful photos by Elliott Porter. When we went to the counter to pay, Bill showed us his “book of explorers”, a visitors’ book, and insisted that John should sign, and say something about his project or favourite thing about Antarctica. [PS - when we got home, John found that he already had a copy of that book!]

After that visit, we drove through to Ashburton, where we arrived in the mid-afternoon. The plan had been to bike the Lake Hood Trail – 9 km each way, beside the Ashburton River to Lake Hood. However, it was pretty windy, and we were tired, so we didn’t bike in the end.


Monday 29 April – Going home


The trip home stands out for two reasons: visiting the Milltons of Waipapa in the Clarence Valley, and a dreadful ferry crossing.

From the Kaikoura Coast road, John wanted to have a “quick look” at the Clarence Valley, to see if we could find the people who owned the farm where, in the 1950s, his Uncle Charlie worked and had a pack-cow called Hesperus


Hesperus, the pack-cow (photo by Charlie Patterson)

There is quite a back-story to this. When John was a boy, his shy and solitary Uncle Charlie used to send photos of his life on the farm on the Clarence River, and of his holidays at the back of the farm taking his pack-cow, Hesperus. John and his sister had always been fascinated by this story.

When the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake struck, there was a news item about some cows that got marooned on an “island“ of grass that had slid down the hill, while all the rest of the paddock had disappeared from around them. 

Subsequently, Jane Millton, on whose farm this had happened, wrote a children’s story about this – “Moo and Moo and the Little Calf too”. John’s sister Diane (resident in Germany), who had been researching Uncle Charlie, suspected that this was the same area where Charlie had worked, and got in touch with Jane, who confirmed that this was indeed the same farm.

John was keen to meet these people. So we turned off SH1 just before the Clarence Bridge, and drove down the valley road. We met a man in a ute, whom John asked about where to find the Milltons. He told us to follow him, and then pointed out their homestead.

When we drove onto the property, Jane was picking up walnuts and Derrick was blowing autumn leaves in the courtyard. John introduced himself - “I’m John Patterson, the nephew of Charlie Patterson, who worked on this farm in the 50s”. Yes, they immediately knew what it was about, and even said that John looked like Charlie. John said he would like to show them some photos of Charlie. They invited us in, made tea/coffee, cheese toasties for lunch, and we were there for about two hours!

John showed them his website, which they were very interested in. Jane had known Charlie when she was a girl, and pointed to a corner of the house “we still call that Charlie’s room”. She showed us the letter she had received from Diane, and the photos she had sent – some of which John had never seen – and she had a photo of Charlie and her father. John took photos of the photos, and Jane gave us photo-copies of Diane’s letter and her German translation of “Moo, Moo and the little Calf too” – it’s a very nice translation, I think.

Jane Millton checks out John’s photos of Charlie and Hesperus (photo by John)


Derrick and Jane (photo by John)

While Jane was making copies of the letters, Derrick told us about the earthquake − how scary it had been, and the damage that had been done to the farm. He was actually in Blenheim when the quake struck, on a business trip, and when he heard that the epicentre of the quake was 41 km north of Kaikoura, he knew that was their place, so he returned in a hurry, over damaged roads, and had to walk the last few kilometres because of a slip on the way. He said that before the quake one could see the top of the roof of a building above the trees, but when he got back “there was something wrong, I could see the whole roof. The land had risen by 10 metres!”, and other bits had dropped. Some paddocks had been split apart, and plastic drainage pipes had been stretched to a very small diameter. Some of his neighbours whose land had risen said that it had felt like going up in a lift! The farm land sustained a lot of damage, which after months of work is now almost back to usable land.

The farm seen from the homestead, extends into these hills. The white hillsides are limestone (photo by John)

Jane and Derrick were absolutely lovely people, so welcoming, and so interested in Charlie. They showed us Charlie’s room ­– the outside is the same, the inside now different, of course – and around their garden, pointed out various features of the landscape, and the hills where Charlie had worked, and taken his “holidays” with Hesperus the pack-cow. Jane thought that he must have trained Hesperus from a calf, that had possibly been “mis-mothered”. She was a Hereford cow, and still had horns. Horns were later bred out of the Hereford breed.

After a good two hours, we had to leave as we had a ferry to catch. Jane gave me a large box full of walnuts to take away. It had been a lovely visit. Since we came home, John has updated the Hesperus story on his website

Back on the road, and we arrived in Picton with enough time to have a coffee and muffin at a café, before lining up for the Bluebridge.

I had figured that driving all day, we would be tired, and since it was an option on this particular ferry, I had booked a cabin for the trip, even though it was supposed to be only three and a half hours long. I thought it would be nice to have our own private space to be able to stretch out and perhaps sleep. At $40 for a two-berth cabin with ensuite, clean linen and towels, this was very good value.

And, boy, was I glad we had booked that. It turned out to be a very rough crossing.

As we pulled up to boarding queue, I looked for my sea-sick pills (I'm a very poor sailor), but couldn’t find them. It was a flat calm in Picton, and it had generally been a calm day, no wind, so I didn’t worry too much about not having them. BIG MISTAKE! Because we hadn’t seen or heard the weather forecast

We were among the early cars to board. Our little car was dwarfed by the huge double-decker trailer trucks full of cattle, in front and on either side of us. We immediately went to our cabin. It was lovely – small, but with two (low) bunks with crisp clean sheets and duvets, a small drop-down table between them, a window, and an ensuite with a toilet, basin and shower. White robes on a hook, and clean towels on the beds. Perfect.

Our cabin on the Bluebridge ferry (photo by John)

We didn’t wait for the ship to leave, but immediately lay down and I tried to sleep, but sleep didn’t come. I think we left later than scheduled. The journey started out quite nice and smooth – while we were in the Sounds – but as soon as we hit Cook Strait, it started to pitch and roll. I managed to stave off seasickness for perhaps an hour, but then it got so bad that I had to rush to the toilet to throw up. Yuck! Feeling terrible, I went back to lie down, but not for long … I was sick several times during the trip. Thank goodness I was able to be sick in the privacy of our own bathroom! It must have been mayhem up in the public areas ...

Even when we were in Wellington Harbour, it stayed rough. The trip took much longer than it should have. We were supposed to arrive in Wellington at 10:30, but it was after midnight before the ferry had docked. It seemed to take an inordinately long time to dock. We had been called to return cabin keys, but it was another hour before we could go down to the car to disembark.

When we were told we could go down to the cars, the announcer said “We hope that at least some of you have enjoyed your journey with us” … Yeah, right!

We finally got home at 1am. Aaah, my own bed – bliss! It had been a great holiday, but what a finale!


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