If ever I am called to go to another town or city for pleasure of for business I try to get out for an early morning walk. For me, it’s the best time of the day. It’s the time before most people begin to move, and the time when the light is clear, the sun is still low, and the air is fresh.
It was on such a morning that I took my morning walk along the coastal walkway at New Plymouth in the Taranaki region of New Zealand. Taranaki occupies that area of the large western cape of the North Island of New Zealand. Its central feature is Mt Taranaki, a Fuji look-alike that dominates the landscape throughout the region. The coastal walkway stretches 11 km from the Port Taranaki, past the New Plymouth CBD, then on around the cliffs and beaches in a northerly direction. It’s popular with walkers, runners and cyclists.
On this particular morning there was a lovely piebald sky that added to the enjoyment of the walk.
Just south of Rarawa Beach is the small settlement of Houhora. When I first visited Houhora in my youth I was able to visit the Wagener Museum, which housed an eclectic collection of artifacts relating to the early settlement of the district in an old stables building. Sadly the museum burned down In the 1980s and some of the collection was lost. The remainder of the museum closed in 2003, but a down-sized version has since reopened. The old museum was a great place to visit and was known to many Kiwis of my age (that’s telling you a bit!).
Not far from the old museum, and next to the Houhora Pub, are several old buildings that have fallen into disrepair but have a strong local historical interest.
One of them is the old hall which was owned by “King Bill”. “King Bill” Evans was a trader, publican, land owner and general entrepreneur in the 1890s. The local hall was a centre of activity in those days and was variously used for meetings, dances, weddings and church services. Today it is slowly rusting away in the field near the pub.
These images were taken in the late afternoon as the sun was sinking towards the horizon in the west. Click on images for a larger view.
It is hard to envisage in 2013 that the Westland town of Hokitika was once one of the most important towns in New Zealand. Today its economy relies on the surrounding dairy farms that feed the Westland Cooperative Dairy Factory, and tourism-based ventures. In 1866 however, Hokitika was the second biggest town in New Zealand after Auckland. Gold had been discovered on the West Coast in 1864 and the town grew rapidly as people flooded into the area to seek their fortunes. On one day in 1867 it was reported that 41 vessels were tied up at the Hokitika wharf, with more waiting off shore. How times have changed.
Ever since my first visit to the town way back in the 1960s I have been fascinated by the connection of the town with Andrew Carnegie. How could this rich American philanthropist have become aware of and have an interest in this far-flung isolated town in a distant corner of the southern Pacific Ocean? On a corner, one block away from the main street of Hokitika, is a grand building with “Free Public Library” emblazoned across the frieze above the columns at the entrance. It’s in that sign that the connection is made.
Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in the iron and steel business. While still a boy working in his father’s cotton milling business, he and other boys working in the mill were granted free access the library of a local businessman. Carnegie became an avid reader devoured most of the 400 books in the collection. After he sold his steel milling business to banker J P Morgan in 1901 for $200 million, he set out on his philanthropic endeavors. In recognition of the help received from free access to books in his youth, Carnegie established a grant system to assist towns and cities in the English-speaking world to build library buildings on condition that access to and lending of books was free. Eighteen such libraries were built in New Zealand, including the one in Hokitika which was opened in 1908.
The building ceased to be a library in April 1975. It was later restored and reopened in May 1998 as home to the West Coast Historical Museum. So that’s how Andrew Carnegie came to be connected to the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
In researching for this post I discovered another interesting fact about Hokitika. It has a digital 3D cinema, in a town with a population of just 3,078 (2006 census), plus another 828 people in the surrounding district. The Art-Deco Regent Cinema was built in 1936 and has served the town ever since. When in 1975 it was threatened with demolition due to its state of repair and lack of patronage, a group of concerned citizens lobbied for its retention and formed a trust for its preservation. Funds were raised to refurbish the building back to its Art-Deco heritage style and it has been turned into a successfully functioning cinema again – a digital 3D cinema to boot.
So there you have it, a boom town of the 19th century is booming again in the 21st century (albeit in a much different way).
The sign on the shed said Information, but none was to be found. So, instead of taking information, I took this photograph. The shed was on a jetty at the edge of the lagoon at Okarito, a small coastal settlement on the South Westland coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Okarito Lagoon is a coastal lagoon that covers an area of about 12 square kilometers, the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand. The lagoon is home of many species of wading birds, notably the extremely rare (in New Zealand) Kotuku (Eastern Great Egret). Okarito is the Kotuku’s only New Zealand breeding place. Wikipedia
The jetty is at the southern end of the lagoon. Okarito was originally a gold mining township of over 1,500 people – it is now permanent home to only about 30 residents. Apart from housing the locals, the settlement also has a small number of holiday cottages.
On the day we visited, the settlement was pretty deserted. Only a small number of kayakers were evident, getting ready to paddle up the lagoon in the hope of sighting some Kotuku – possibly in vain as kayaks are not allowed into the nesting reserve established by the Department of Conservation to protect the Kotuku’s habitat. There is a possibility of sighting birds outside the reserve however, but the numbers are small and resident only between September and march.Visits to the reserve are possible only by an officially sanctioned tour.
This view rather appealed to me, The jetty had that old weather-beating look that photographers crave for. Sure, it looks like its been renovated recently (for safety reasons no doubt), but the essence of the original is still very evident. (Click on the image for a larger view).
Crossing the Danseys Pass between the Waitaki Valley in North Otago and the Maniatoto Basin in Central Otago has been on our list of things to do again since we last made the crossing in the early 1980s. That time we crossed from west to east. It was memorable for several reasons, one being the nature of the road, and the other being the accommodation we used (more about that later).
Our east-west journey over Danseys Pass in February began at the small village of Duntroon in the Waitaki Valley. For the first 12 km the road was sealed, but from that point onwards it turned to gravel for the rest of the journey over the Kakanui Mountains all the way to Naseby some 30 km further on.
At about 6 km into the journey, on a side road, are the Elephant Rocks.
Over 24 million years ago this whole area was under the sea. Whales and other marine life sunk into the soft sand which then rose to the surface during the last few million years. The result is an area of fossils and dramatic limestone outcrops which have been weathered into unusual shapes. This area is favored by climbers and is taken as a side-visit by people touring in the area.
On the day we journeyed over the Danseys Pass road it was raining. In order to get the above image I had to crouch behind a small umbrella to prevent the driving rain from soaking my camera. The rain persisted until we reached the summit and began our descent.
Danseys Pass Road narrows to almost a single lane not long after leaving the seal. For a while it follows the valley before rising on a twisting road through steep tussock covered hills.
Close to the summit at 935 metres the rain became heavier …
… and so too did our encounters with free-roaming sheep that often blocked our way.
The summit is reached at the 23 km mark and the road then descends steeply through Upper Kyeburn to the Maniatoto Basin.
Not far from Upper Kyeburn and the Danseys Pass Coaching Inn, still surrounded by steep hills is a lavender farm and gift shop. It was a surprising find in the middle of a high country sheep farming area, well off the normal tourist route.
Our destination for the day was the old coaching inn at Upper Kyburn. We had last stayed at the Danseys Pass Coaching Inn some 30 years ago. On that occasion it was also cold and raining. At that time one could fairly describe the inn as eclectic and in need of some TLC (tender loving care). One of the more unusual features then was that the road took a sharpish turn right at the corner of the inn. If one had a bedroom on that corner (as two of our sons did), it was rather disconcerting at night as felt as if cars approaching from up the hill would crash into the room before passing the front of the hotel to continue down the hill. Fortunately that feature has now been corrected.
Danseys Pass Inn has had a major makeover since we last stayed and it now operates as a boutique get-away hotel and a place to hold small conferences and functions. One of the nice things is that it has all been done in keeping with old character of the place and it makes for a pleasant overnight experience. A feature of the large lounge is a big open fireplace. This was very welcome as it was cold and wet outside, with the temperature dropping to 4 degrees C overnight (in the middle of summer!). The lawn you see in the foreground is where the road used to be.
Danseys Pass – the settlement – is located approximately halfway between the pass and Duntroon on the eastern side. Confusingly, however, the historic Danseys Pass Coaching Inn is located on the western side, at the locality known as Upper Kyeburn.
The next day we traveled on to Naseby, and then Wanaka.
Harbour Street in Oamau, after years of decline, has become a magnet for tourists and locals because of its transformation in recent times. To provide some context, a bit of history about Oamaru and its old port area might be useful.
In European historical terms New Zealand is a very young country, being settled well after North America, Southern Africa and Australia. New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, some 50 years after the first European settlent in Australa. The first European to settle in the Oamaru district arrived some time in the late 1840s. In 1859 the town of Oamaru was first surveyed, and the Otago Provincial government declared “hundreds” there on 30 November 1860. The town grew as a regional service-centre for the agricultural/pastoral hinterland and rapidly became a major port. As pastoral farming developed, so too did the frozen meat industry which had its historical origins in this part of New Zealand. Oamaru flourished during this period and many of the significant buildings in the town were built using the locally plentiful limestone (Oamaru stone), which lent itself to carving. As a result Oamaru has a distinctive and “solid” feel to it which reflects it importance in the historical development of the surrounding Waitaki District . According to Wikipedia, By the time of the depression of the 1880s Oamaru had become the “best built and most mortgaged town in Australasia”.
When the New Zealand economy stalled in the 1970s the port was closed and Oamaru found itself hard hit. In response it started to re-invent itself to become one of the first New Zealand towns to realise that its built heritage was an asset. in 1987 the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust was formed, and work began restoring the historic precinct beside the port to become one of the most atmospheric urban areas in New Zealand.
On the weekends the old harbour area of the town comes alive as tourists and local visitors fill the area and explore the old warehouse buildings that now house craft workshops, cafes, small museums, curio shops, and the “Slightly Foxed Bookshop” dealing in quality secondhand books on exploration and other topics near the Harbour Street Market and Birdlands Wine Company. During our visit in February we spent time exploring the nooks and crannies along the street.
When New Zealand’s famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made the first successful ascent of Mt Everest on 29 May 1953, and thus unlocked the gateway for hundreds of others since, Hillary could attribute a large part of his success to many days climbing the peaks of the Southern Alps that form the backbone of the South Island. A bronze statue of Hillary gazing towards a distant Mt Cook, to commemorate his many achievements, is found at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre attached to the Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook Village.
Alpinists of the 1950s were in some ways a different breed from their modern counterparts. Their clothing and equipment were very basic when compared with that in use today. Under garments were made of either wool or silk, outer garments, socks, hats and gloves also of wool, rain and windproof jackets, over-trousers and outer mittens of oiled Japara cotton. Climbing packs were not of the highly technical designs seen today, but were made of canvas with steel or wooden frames, leather straps with metal buckles and corded cotton adjustment cords. Keeping the contents dry was a major problem. Climbing boots often had leather soles with hob-nails and metal cleats, and canvas gaiters or cotton-knit “puttees” kept the stones or snow from getting inside. Finally, climbing ropes were made of hemp and tents of light cotton canvas with wooden poles. The statue of Sir Edmund Hillary shows him holding a wooden-shafted ice axe. It was with clothing such as this that I first ventured into the mountains in the 1960s as a high school student. What a change there has been in the intervening fifty years.
On the way to the summit of Mt Cook Hillary would have over-nighted in huts similar to the old Empress Hut that is displayed in the precinct of the Department of Conservation Information Centre in the Mt Cook Village. These corrugated iron shelters were often placed in the mountains by volunteers from mountain clubs and provided basic bedspace, cooking space and, maybe, an emergency radio for picking up weather information or reporting emergencies.
Thus it was that successive generations of New Zealand mountaineers ventured into the mountains of the Southern Alps to learn their craft and prepare for other cold remote areas such as the Himalayas or the South Pole.