Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Taranaki Trip (part 4)

Last month, we had a holiday in Taranaki, from 12 to 19 November. After three days in New Plymouth where we did quite a lot of biking, we had a couple of days in Eltham, where we did bike a little but did mostly other activities. Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Day 6 – Lake Rotokare

Today we drove to Lake Rotokare, where there was a track right around the lake, that we thought we might be able to bike.

John initially thought that we could bike there, but I read that it was 12 km from Eltham, so we decided to check it out by car first. Which turned out to be a good decision, as some of the road was quite up-and-down, and some bits were quite steep.

Lake Rotokare is a small landslide-dammed lake. The land around it is a scenic reserve, surrounded by a predator-proof fence. We had to drive the car thorough two gates – having to wait for the first gate to close, before we opened the second one (button operated). Though we had at first thought we could bike around the lake (the leaflet had said “marginal” for bikes), we decided to start walking. Again, a good decision, as apart from the first 600 metres, which were up to “wheelchair standard” (according to the website), it was not bikeable at all. Well, a crack mountain biker might have thought it OK, but we didn’t.

The first 600 m of the track were “wheelchair standard” (photo by John)

These first 600 m offered good views on the lake, and led to a floating platform, from which one could have a good view over the water.

Nice views of the lake (photo by John)

A floating platform on the edge of the lake

It was a 4.5 km perimeter walk around the lake. A very pretty lake, surrounded by bush. The bush was beautiful, lots of tree ferns, kahikatea, nikau palms, supplejack and lots of varieties of small and medium-size ferns. And lots of bird song. The track was narrow and soft underfoot, boggy in places, and on boardwalks in others.

A narrow track through the bush (photo by John)

Ancient roots

There was a lot of this plant, but I can’t find out what it is called (photo by John)

Moss-covered roots

Lots of tree ferns …

… and epiphytic ferns

In some places boardwalks helped to avoid boggy spots (photo by John)

More epiphytic ferns (photo by John)

It was rather a longer walk than we had anticipated. It took us about two hours. We found out later that the lake was T-shaped, and much bigger than we thought.

After our long walk, we felt ready for lunch, so we headed back to Eltham – to its one and only café. We had a bit of a walk around the Eltham main shopping street, before heading back to our cottage.

The Coronation Hotel has a cheerful colour scheme (photo by John)

Three mosaic murals – The one on the left is of Chew Chong, who established the
Jubilee butter factory in Eltham in 1887, the first such factory in Taranaki 

A mural on the police station

We went back to the cottage to leave the car, and unload the bikes for a ride around the delights of Eltham. It really is quite a nice little town.

Our cottage in Bath Street, Eltham (photo by John)

At the end of Bath Street, where it met King Edward Street, there was yet another mural, occupying two sides of a windowless building, which made it look as if the street continued into the distance. Very clever.

The mural at the end of Bath Street (photo by John)

Just around the block, we found the Fonterra cheese factory which seems to be the raison d’être for Eltham. When I mentioned to a friend that we were going to spend a couple of days in Eltham I was told “Make sure you visit the cheese shop, they have some great factory specials”.

The Fonterra cheese factory (photo by John)

The Cheese Bar. While I went inside to check out the bargains, John got a passer-by
to pose by the sign (photo by John)

We cruised around the back streets. It was very pleasant, quite warm and sunny, and nice quiet streets. An interesting town hall, lots of “character” houses and cottages, but also many 60s and 70s nondescript houses.

“Eltham, Proud of our heritage” (photo by John)

The Town Hall (photo by John)

A pretty character cottage (photo by John)

We rode about 10 kms, and on the way back, we stopped at the Cheese Bar, to get some cheese for our dinner’s cheese toasties, and a little tub of ice cream each. Then we hurried back to the cottage, before they could melt. In our hurry I nearly got myself collected by a car, as I was turning into our street! How stupid – in a place where the traffic density is about two cars per hour!

A brief stop at the Cheese Bar (photo by John)

After having our ice creams, we went into Stratford for a look around. Stratford is named for Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and many of the streets are named after characters from Shakespeare’s plays.

There is a glockenspiel clock tower in the main street, where life-size figures re-enact the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet three times a day, with the words coming from loudspeakers. Quite “cheesy” actually.

The Stratford clock tower, with “Juliet’s balcony” (photo by John)

In the early evening, we had a great view onto Mt Taranaki from our cottage (photo by John)

Day 7 – Tawhiti Mueum in Hawera

On our last day we visited the Tawhiti Museum in Hawera.

We drove into the town centre for a walk around. John said that though he lived in New Plymouth for many years, he had actually never been into the Hawera town centre. Being Saturday, many places were closed. Banks, op shops, bakery cafés, dollar shops and the odd empty shop, was the impression I got.

Some nice old buildings … (photo by John)

… and a stylish modern one. The façade looks like a tukutuku pattern (photo by John)

We took a look at the water tower – quite an interesting construction, with little balconies on several levels. There was a sign on the door, saying people could go to the top, but it was 215 steps to the top, a 10-minute climb, and a warning not to do it if one had health issues. Tickets could be bought from the i-site nearby. 

The water tower

Needless to say, we didn't want to go up, but we did have a browse around the i-site and picked up lots of leaflets and info. The attendant was very helpful and gave us a map and some ideas about where we might bike. But it was very windy, so we didn't bike anyway.

Guess who? A poke-your-head-through board at the i-site
(photo by John)

So on towards the Tawhiti Mueum. I had been wanting to visit this museum for several years, but it is only open Friday to Monday, and every time we’d gone past it had been the wrong day. It is a fascinating place – the history of Taranaki depicted in dioramas and full scale models, and lots of historical artifacts – and all the work of one man, Nigel Ogle.

The Tawhiti Museum (photo by John)

The beautiful dioramas illustrating Taranaki history are supported by painstaking research
 (photo by John)

Nigel Ogle created the life-size models, based on real people (photo by John)

Smaller dioramas illustrate early Taranaki farm life (photo by John)

After about an hour looking at the displays, we went to have a coffee in the attached café, called Mr Badger’s Café, after the "Wind in the Willows" story.

Small dioramas showed scenes from "Wind in the Willows" (photo by John)

We went back and spent another hour or so looking around the displays. We decided not to take in the “Traders and Whalers” experience as that was another $15 apiece, and John was getting tired.

A re-created village (photo by John)

The Weaving Studio was open, but there was no weaving going on that day (photo by John)

Day 8 – Going home

The only thing worth mentioning about our drive home, was our stop at Foxton.

There has been a full size replica Dutch windmill – De Molen – in Foxton since 2003, but the Ngāti Raukawa iwi and Foxton's Dutch community have joined to build a multi-cultural centre, Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom. This centre, combining a library, a resource centre, a museum of Ngāti Raukawa, and the Oranjehof Dutch Connection Centre, was officially opened just the day before we stopped there.

We had lunch in the attached café, The Dutch Oven, which has yummy Dutch food on the menu. I was delighted to be able to have “kroketten” – a couple of croquettes filled with veal ragout, served with mustard on slices of white bread. So yum!

We were there too late to take a ride in the horse-drawn tram, as they were about to take the horses back to their stables, but its presence evoked memories of my childhood. I remember the “paardetram” (horse tram) waiting outside our school for the children whose homes were on the farms outside of the village where we lived. It was not strictly speaking a tram, as it did not ride on the tram rails, but had ordinary tyres. I used to feel quite envious of those kids – I just had a bike to get to and from school …

Taking the horses back to the stables (photo by John)

The horse-drawn tram (now without horses) and the windmill (photo by John)

We visited the Oranjehof  – the Dutch part of the complex, and I had a lovely browse, telling John about some of the items on display. Like the Dutch kitchen and living room, which looked just like the one my grandmother had, with a rug on the dining table, and a coffee grinder with a handle that my Oma would allow us kids to turn. And a cabinet with pipes, even with a packet of tobacco, just like my Opa used to smoke. A great trip down memory lane.

After that, it was an uneventful drive home. It had been a pretty good holiday.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Taranaki Trip (Part 3)

Last month, we had a holiday in Taranaki, from 12 to 19 November. We spent three days in New Plymouth where we did quite a lot of biking, and three days in Eltham, where we did bike a little but did mostly other activities. This is the third instalment about this trip. Part 1 and 2 can be found here and here

Day 5 – The Forgotten World

We had a very early start, as I had booked us on a “Forgotten World Adventure” which departed from Douglas (18 km east of Stratford) at 8:30 am. It was a very smooth one-hour drive, and we got there by 7:45.

Forgotten World Adventures is a tourist enterprise that makes use of the decommissioned 142 km railway line between Stratford and Okahukura. Self-drive, converted golf carts run on the rails and travel though amazing countryside. The company has a large selection of tours – half-day, one-day and two-day adventures.

It was something I had been wanting to do for some time, as it looked interesting and fun. They also offer the option of railbikes, which are propelled by one’s own pedal power, but we decided on the “easy” option. Because it is reasonably pricey, we opted for a half-day tour, and since our holiday was in Taranaki, we wanted to leave from the southern end, which was Douglas. We did the Douglas to Te Wera tour – 36 km in four hours. 

The day we had booked for was a Thursday, and when we arrived at the Douglas start, we found we were the only people taking the tour that day. A little disappointing, in a way, but it did mean we had the guide, Dave Digby, all to ourselves.

Douglas Station – restored from a state of serious disrepair (photo by John)

Dave showed us the railcart we were to ride in ­– a four-person one. It had a simple diesel engine and just one foot control – on or off – and you don't need to steer, since it runs on a track. It did have a steering wheel however, as guiding it helped to counteract the wobbling and rattling. John drove – of course. Dave rode in a separate cart ahead of us, and stopped every so often to tell us about the history of the places.

Our carriage (i.e. railcart) awaits … (photo by John)

A convoy of just two – with guide Dave Digby all to ourselves (photo by John)

The information on the website warned participants to bring/wear “warm thermal/merino clothing, including hat, scarf and gloves, and a warm windproof jacket with hood, even in fine weather”. On the day, it was not fine. In fact it was cold, overcast and there were a few spits of rain occasionally. I wore extra layers and my biking jacket, which is pretty windproof, and I was so glad I had packed my beanie. It was definitely necessary. Geez, it was cold!

We were supposed to leave at 8:30, but I think we actually left a bit before that, since we were the only ones. We rumbled away at a slightly faster speed than walking pace. The landscape changes dramatically along the way – from flats to steep hills, from paddocks to chopped-up flood-ravaged swathes, from forest plantations to patches of native bush.

Off we go!

First stop: Te Huiroa Station – or what's left of it

Dave told us that much of this plain was flooded a few years ago. Only the railway track
stood above the water (photo by John)

There was once a siding here to allow livestock to be loaded onto train wagons (photo by John)

Bleak, but beautiful (photo by John)

In places, the track all but disappears under the weeds

This is the first of the 24 tunnels between Stratford and Taumarunui

Into a pine plantation

We crossed Douglas road several times. The track felt very shuddery when crossing the road

After nearly an hour and a half, we arrived near Te Wera, where there is a crossing loop. We were to go to the left, to the “station”, so Dave had to change the points.

Dave changes the points before Te Wera (photo by John)

A spot of oil to keep them working smoothly

Double tracks to the Te Wera “station”

Te Wera was as far as this trip was going to go, and we were stopping at the “station” for some morning tea, which consisted of tea (Dave had forgotten to bring the coffee), crackers, cheese and tomatoes. Dave was very chatty and informative, and seemed to be a very versatile character having had a huge number of different kinds of jobs.

The railway station was replaced with a shelter where we had morning tea

After about 20 minutes of crackers and chat, Dave turned our railcarts around for the return trip. He rolled the cart onto an neat contraption – a kind of turn-table – which he was then able to turn around with a big pole. Very clever.

John’s cart is manoeuvred onto the turn-table …

… and swiveled around

After morning tea we resumed the journey. But first we backed up a short distance to look at a house with a couple of enormous rhododendrons which are so old and large that they are now protected as “significant” trees. Unfortunately they had already finished flowering.

These two enormous rhododendrons were planted in 1935 (photo by John)

Now we were at the front, with Dave following us, so we were able to go at our own pace, and stop where we wanted to.

One of the 91 bridges on the Stratford to Okahukura Line

A lovely curve

A wonderful hillside of tree ferns
The area was not completely deserted, as shown by this well-maintained woolshed (photo by John)

This young escapee was a bit panicked about our cart rattling by

And soon we were back at Douglas. We watched as Dave turned our cart around again, ready for the next group to take the tour, on Saturday.

Dave turns the cart around, ready for the next trip (photo by John)

Then he told us a bit about the history of Douglas, and pointed at the brickworks, across the road.

There wasn’t much left of Douglas, which was once a thriving community with a school (closed in 2000), a store (closed in 1972), a dairy factory (closed in 1958), a butcher, stables, bakery, boarding house, billiard rooms, transport firm, brickworks, church and manse, saddler, railway goods shed, stockyards and aerial topdressing strip. The old brickworks kiln and boarding house have Historic Places Trust Heritage NZ ratings. The kiln used to have a tall chimney, but when it became unstable and unsafe, it was taken down. Nowadays, the village apparently still has a hall, tennis courts, a sports domain and an automatic telephone exchange, though we couldn’t see much evidence of these.

The grand metropolis of Douglas – the historic boarding house is the grey building on the left,
behind the other building (photo by John)

We went to have a look at the historic brickworks kiln, sitting within an low enclosure, in a farm paddock. We drove down the farm track, and when we stopped by a shed, we were immediately besieged by a flock of chickens, obviously hoping for some tidbits.

John and the chooks

The historic brickworks kiln

Inside the kiln (photo by John)

After this we drove to Whangamomona, the small settlement about midway on the Forgotten Highway, or SH43. It is quite a winding road, but the country is beautiful. We stopped at the Strathmore Saddle to look at the view.

We stopped at the Strathmore Saddle ...

... to admire the view (photo by John)

Whangamomona is famous as a quirky place, which its residents declared to be “The Republic of Whangamomona” in 1989. Initially it was a protest against a change in regional council boundaries, but the annual Republic Day is celebrated with events such as competitions in whip cracking, eel catching, or possum skinning, and attracts visitors from far and wide. 

We had lunch at the Wangamomona Hotel, then had a little wander around the main street. It was cold in the hotel – all the windows were open, as if it was a warm sunny day! And it started to rain a bit, so we didn’t hang around for too long.

The Whangamomona Hotel (photo by John)

The main street (photo by John)

The lichen on the gate attests to the near-permanent dampness of the area

The railcarts cross this railway bridge on the way to Taumarunui

By mid afternoon we were on our way to Eltham, south of Stratford, where we had booked a cottage for the next few nights. We arrived in the pouring rain, and having never warmed up properly all day, I was not too happy to find that there was no firewood for the woodburner in the cottage, and the electric heater didn’t work!