Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Quartz Reef & Bendigo Historic Goldfields- Part 1


Finally I've found some time to concentrate on doing a few blogs, you'd think after two weeks in lockdown I'd have had all the time in the world but, to be honest I can't believe how fast the time has flown and how little I have managed to catch-up on. Hopefully the next two weeks will fly by just as fast and, fingers crossed, we can move out of Level 4 and return to some sense of normality in Level 3. Ever the optimist....

Back to catching up on past adventures, I'm continuing on from October last year and we're still in Cromwell.

There's an unexpected surprise hidden in the hills high above Lake Dunstan and not too far from Cromwell town. 

From a carpark beside John Bull Creek on the Tarras-Cromwell highway there's a short sharp 1km walk up the lower slopes of Northburn.

A sign, a rabbit proof fence and a stile await your arrival at the top of the 4WD farm track.

The Quartz Reef Point gold mine tailings aren't your usual pile of rocks & boulders left behind after the miners have moved on; this is a very special place with a unique feature that is the best example of its kind in New Zealand and most probably in the world. 

David on the viewing platform
The remnants of the 1865 Quartz Reef gold mine, also known as the Northburn Tailings, form seventeen very distinctive herringbone patterns.

Looking towards Cromwell
As miners worked their way up the hill they symmetrically stacked the rocks in walls to ensure the channels & working areas stayed clear. The gravel 'wash' was directed down the side & main channels before running through the sluice channel & riffle boxes to extract the gold. 

Herringbone tailing disappearing into the distance along the ridge
The tailings are virtually unmodified and in a pristine condition since the area was abandoned in the early 20th century. This is likely because the tailings were on privately owned farmland for many years and the owner restricted access. A few years ago the landowner gifted the land to the Department of Conservation (DOC) who now manage the site as one of New Zealand’s most important historic reserves. 

There were at least fifty miners here during the height of the gold rush through the 1860s but little is known of their success or otherwise.  

Looking south from the top of the workings, viewing platform on the right
It's also thought that the neatly stacked rocks could be the work of Chinese miners who followed along after the European miners left. Chinese miners stacked rocks much more neatly and precisely than the European miners who were usually first on the scene and in a hurry to get the best of the gold before moving quickly on to the next gold rush. 

David captivated not only by the amazing patterns formed
 by the miners but the sheer scale of the workings
Chinese miners tended to work together in large groups and would work systematically, they were also more thorough by nature and also had to be thorough to find whatever gold had been missed. Chinese also had the time and inclination to neatly hand stack rocks in walls in the calmer post rush era.

Looking north to the rear of two herringbone channels
The gold mine reserve is a huge area, the herringbone patterns below are just a small portion on one side of the workings. 

'An irreplaceable piece of artwork' - former miner Budd Hyndman

From the air the herringbone patterns look like fern fronds, they can also be seen from space. Photo courtesy of Te Ara New Zealand

The viewing platform is on the largest far left branch
Eventually we headed back down to the car park at a fast pace, past the flowering wild thyme buzzing with bees...

...and after a cold winter, the fresh looking vegetable sheep. This is the alpine plant Raoulia, commonly known as 'vegetable sheep'. The plants are 60-70cm (1-2 feet) high sometimes and they form densely compacted hard cushions, hence their name as they look like sheep from a distance. although these ones are rather flat 'sheep'. I'm not sure if the green growth is another plant of part of the 'sheep's' new growth.

The view out over Lake Dunstan is spectacular and I can see the NZMCA Lowburn Park is just about opposite the tailings.

That's where we are parked, behind the willows (centre right) just before the dark green of the pine plantation next door.

To be continued....

Monday, 30 March 2020

Cruising into a Crisis; Part 2


Continuing on from Part 1 

We left Marfells Beach on Friday morning, March 20th, headed for the NZMCA Old Beach Road Park in Kaikoura. Once again there was a steady stream of RVs heading north on State Highway One, we would have passed at least another 130-150 vans over the 100km trip. This time they were in large groups having been caught up at the many stop/go road works along the coast road.

Marfells Beach, Marlborough
We reached Kaikoura early afternoon and while there were a few vans parked up it didn't seem overly busy. We found a good spot between a tape fence and a pile of dirt to 'self-isolate', a new term that had been working its way into the vocabulary over the previous few days. It was nothing so dramatic though, we actually needed to run our generator and this is the area to park for those with gennies.

Things had changed by early evening though, RVs of all shapes and sizes had been piling into the park through the afternoon, the gloomy day seemed to match the general atmosphere around camp too. 

Over the previous few days NZMCA members had received several emails from the President, Bruce Stanger, advising us of the rapidly changing situation regarding Coronavirus. The NZMCA Parks would stay open for now but there was to be no social gatherings in the buildings and any rallies were to be cancelled. Several POPs & CAPs had advised that they were closing and many of the manned DOC camps had been closed without warning.

It was Friday evening and there were few people to be seen, and those that were out walking were keeping to themselves. The odd person was talking rather loudly to their neighbour while keeping the required two metre social-distancing space between themselves (another new term).

The next afternoon, Saturday 21st, the Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, had an urgent message for all New Zealanders. 'Stay calm & stay at home' she said. Over 70 year olds (a large proportion of NZMCA membership) and those with compromised immune systems should stay at home as much as possible and everyone should limit their travel within the country. 

The Government also introduced an alert system; we were currently at Alert Level 2 which meant that the risk of community transmission was growing.

With so many parks & freedom camping sites closing around the country, many full-timers started to worry about where they could go. Another email from head office informed members that NZMCA Parks couldn't be used to self-isolate and the length of stay conditions would not be extended under any circumstances (I sensed that this was the precursor to the parks being closed outright).

We decided we'd stay until Monday morning and then head towards Twizel, 460km away, giving Christchurch a miss this time but stopping for a night somewhere along the way to break up the journey. We had already arranged to stay at the Ohau C Camp at Lake Benmore until we took over our property in mid-April. Lake Benmore was where we'd stayed for seven weeks over December & January, it's one of our 'happy places'.  David could get the boat out & go fishing & I could photograph the autumn colours. We had it sorted. Or did we?

We did a few errands Sunday afternoon, topping up with diesel, gas and buying a few groceries. And while we'd heard of the panic buying going on at supermarkets it wasn't because of this that I shopped, it was my last chance to buy at a larger supermarket, there are only two smaller 4Square Stores in Twizel. Sunday evening we decided we'd head all the way through to Lake Benmore in the morning, we'd hunker down there away from the masses for the duration of whatever was to come.

We set off mid-morning Monday and it became apparent before we'd even left town that the steady stream of RVs we'd seen on previous days had now become a tidal wave; campervans, caravans, motorhomes, buses, house trucks, fifth-wheelers and rental motorhomes of all sizes & shapes; hundreds and hundreds of them, all making their way north. Some lines of traffic had over two dozen RVs in them with just one lonely car or truck. My waving arm got very tired and we once again passed friends & acquaintances driving in the opposite direction.

Angry storm clouds hid the Southern Alps as we exited Burkes Pass
We stopped at a rest area in Oxford (which will now live on in infamy) for a late lunch and that was where we were when the Prime Minister dropped a bombshell. The country had moved to Alert Level 3, effective immediately (2pm) and within 48 hours the alert would move to Level 4. This would mean the closure of all non essential businesses and the restriction of movement for everyone except for essential workers for the next four weeks. 

To say it was a shock is an under-statement, it's been the only time during all this upheaval that I had a moment of despair and a few tears. It was more to do with the sadness that I felt for fellow New Zealanders and the worry about how some of them were going to survive this turmoil. Personally though, we felt it was the only option available if the country was to get on top of this hideous virus. Although at that moment we were oblivious to how far reaching the ramifications were going to be. 

Lake Pukaki with Aoraki/Mt Cook hidden beneath the storm clouds
We headed off again, now a little shell-shocked and starting to worry about our own plans. I kept refreshing my email and within an hour or so there was another email from NZMCA informing us that all parks would be closed within 48 hours (5pm Wednesday, March 25th). Knowing how many RVs we'd passed on our journey south, I knew there was no way on earth that they'd all be able to get across Cook Strait by lockdown at midnight Wednesday. 

So many people would be stuck in the wrong island, how were they going to go into lockdown, where were they going to stay. Thankfully the Government extended the Cook Strait crossings for another 48 hours, through until Friday night and the NZMCA allowed members in transit to stay at Plimmerton & Kaikoura on their way home.

This allowed many more members to get home although there are still plenty that have chosen to stay behind or in fact didn't manage to get a booking. Offers came in from far & wide from many generous people offering  places to stay; spare paddocks, front sections, driveways and motor camps.

It wasn't long before I realised that there would be no mid-April settlement on the property now, how could there be? With lockdown, the vendor couldn't shift out and we couldn't shift in, we'd have to defer settlement.  And within 24 hours our lawyer had been in touch to confirm that this was the case. We were now in limbo for the next 4 weeks or for however long this will last.

Our last camp site under the tree on the right didn't look quite the same
Lake Benmore didn't look quite so inviting by the time we arrived just on dark, it was very cold and the wind was blowing hard. David backed the 5th-wheeler in beside the lake, unhitched and we quickly set up. We'd sort the finer details out in the morning, we were both tired and a little emotional after the day's events. 

Within 5 minutes of setting up and with the heater now warming us up inside, a massive squall came ripping around the point, straight across the lake and hit us square on the rear. We rocked & rolled for a few minutes as it got stronger, we looked at each other and quickly made the decision to re-hitch and shift into the willows to shelter behind the unoccupied caravans.

Early the next morning (Tuesday) we made the decision to move to a commercial campground for lockdown. Originally Ohau C Camp was going to be closing after Easter, which suited us fine as we were taking over the property not long afterwards. But with the new government directive, the family who own the camp had to close it within the next couple of days. 

It only took me a moment to decide where we'd go, I sent off a message and our 'knight-in-shining-armour' responded within minutes. 'Come on over, she said, we have room for you'. Relieved to have a solution and a base, we once again pulled out of camp and headed off to the highway. Our new backyard, Lake Ruataniwha & the Ohau Range, will have to wait for our return. 

We headed south on SH8 towards Omarama. This time the traffic was mostly rental campervans and independent travellers in their small sleeper vans, about 50 in the space of 30kms. It was like they'd only just got the message that the country was closing down in 36 hours and they were making a mad dash to God knows where. I felt very sad for them all.

We turned off at Omarama and headed down a deserted Waitaki Valley following the lakes and river all the way to the coast, 140km away. A smattering of snow on the surrounding hills warned us that winter was on it's way.

It was a great sense of relief for both of us when we finally arrived at Glenavy's Waitaki River Holiday Park and were met by our lovely hosts Anne & Joe. 

November 2019
It felt like we were coming home, it was even better when Anne gave us our old site to park on. We stayed here last November when we toured Riverstone Castle, which is just down the road. Who knew we'd be back so soon.

We're sharing the camp space with approximately two dozen other motorhomers, we're in our own 'bubbles' and there are protocols in place for using the laundry, with toilets & showers out-of-bounds to most of us. And just like other neighbourhoods we practice 'social distancing' when we meet each other in the grounds.

Anne & Joe check in with us daily and we had daily newsletters for the first few days as things fell into place. And even though we are usually self-sufficient, it's such a relief to know that we have power, fresh water, a dump station and access to a laundry during our lockdown.

We even have some 'We're not scared' Teddy Bears waiting to be spotted.

Just out the gate is State Highway One; left & right (how's that for a deserted main highway) and just a few hundred metres away in 'my own backyard' is the mighty Waitaki River and the very long (and narrow) road bridge and equally long rail bridge. We have a fuel station and a dairy just up the road; nice and close for the essentials. The supermarket is 25km away in either direction; Waimate to the north & Oamaru to the south.

I checked the bridge out early looking for a good position to capture the sunsets but so far the clouds haven't played ball.

We've taken to walking the 2km loop track that leaves from the rest area beside the bridge, it passes through a pine plantation...

...alongside a lovely clear stream and exits at the back of the village, with just a short walk along the road back to camp. I think we may get bored with it quite quickly though so I'll have to mix it up with walking a few of the village roads. Although there aren't many of those either. 

I know how you feel mate. 

I found a tiny pedestrian refuse platform hanging off the bridge about a third of the way along, it will make the perfect spot to catch the sunrise in the other direction. One day. I guess I'll have plenty of those.

One bonus of living on the road is that we always have a regular supply of disposable gloves and hand sanitiser for dump station duties so there was no need for us to rush off and purchase any before lockdown.  And other than milk, bread, fresh fruit & veges we are pretty well set up for the duration; I have long life milk but its one of my pet hates (I LOVE fresh cold milk) and it will only be used in an emergency. I guess that emergency might arrive sometime soon.

There was no need to panic buy groceries in the Evans household. I've always been known for having an extra full pantry long before we hit the road, and much to David's consternation sometimes, (extra weight to carry), nothing changed afterwards. The photo, bottom left, is just one storage area, there are several others in the van including a stash of treats which I was surprised to find, I'd hidden them so well. Now that the rainy day has arrived it's time to make a large dent in my 'will use them one day' supply.

And regarding panic buying, each time the PM and other officials asked us to please stop panic buying, I wanted to shout at the TV or radio. 'They're not panic buying because they might miss out' I'd say, 'they're buying because they don't want to leave the house after lockdown!'

I've always been a 'cup-half-full' type of person and just a couple of days into lockdown I thought to myself, other than the cliche or serious stuff, what have I got to be thankful for during this trying time. So here's my list;

I'm thankful...
that's it's not the height of summer with 35c+ heat
that I live in a RV with a slide-out
that I went au naturel over Christmas and don't need a hairdresser
that I had a haircut just before I left Napier
that I can stay in my PJs all day
that no one will knock on my door while I'm in my PJs
that I can wear the same clothes 3 days running & nobody will know
that I can catch up on my blogs and photos
that I'm a hoarder of supplies including toiletries
for our diesel heaters
for two folders full of recipes that were sorted for 'van living' and that I've never had the time to try out
for the bathroom scales to keep me in check, just in case I eat too much

(I'm not thankful that I'll miss the autumn colours though)

Stay safe & well my friends. And stay home. We've got this.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Cruising into a Crisis; Part 1


It's very hard to comprehend how much the world, our world, has changed since this photo was taken just one month ago. As we usually do on our way to and from Napier, we called into one of favourite campsites for a couple of nights before continuing on to say cheerio to Mum & Dad in Napier.

Night Sky- Glenfalls
Glenfalls DOC camp is beside the Mohaka River and not too far off the Napier-Taupo Road. We'd wanted to stop for one last camp at Glenfalls before we returned to the South Island. It could be 18 months or so before we'll be back in the North Island. We'd also been having some exceptionally hot days (35c+) and the thought of cooling off in the river was very enticing.

We'd spent the previous few weeks in Tauranga after making a dash up the country in mid January from Lake Benmore in the Mackenzie District where we'd be having a lovely time waiting for the summer heat to kick in. We needed to sort our gear out which we'd had in storage for the last 8 years, we'd gone unconditional on a property we bought in Twizel, with settlement in mid-April.

We were going to whittle down our gear and only take essential items & furniture to Twizel. As it turned out we decided to ship it all to Twizel and sort it there; finding somewhere to sort it in Tauranga, the triple handling, disposing of furniture we didn't want and even the extremely hot days, all worked against us. Crown Furniture Removals came and filled two containers; yes, we did have a lot of gear! The containers were then shipped off to Christchurch where they will be held until we take over the property.

Sunrise- Matata Lagoon
Happy to have that all sorted we spent the rest of the time catching up with family & friends, staying at the Mount Holiday Park and the Matata DOC Camp to escape the sweltering heat and visiting friends in Kawerau before heading off to Napier.

Grandchildren, Maddie & Joel enjoying a Sunday paddle at Sulphur Point, Tauranga
Towards the end of our first week in Napier, I started to feel a little anxious about getting back to the South Island. New Zealand's first case of Covid-19 virus was about two weeks old and new cases were still in single figures. All of them had been traced back to overseas travel and there were no cases of community transmission. Yet.

I just had a niggling feeling of wanting to be across the Strait and in the South Island should anything happen. What? I had no idea. Like most people, never in my wildest dreams (David's favourite saying) did I think a lockdown would happen. Heck, I don't even think we knew what a lockdown was or what it would entail a week ago.

Ferry Landing Reserve, Ballance Bridge & the Manawatu River- Woodville
When WHO (World Health Organisation) declared an official pandemic on Wednesday, March 11th, I felt it was time for us to make a plan. I booked our crossing with Bluebridge for Thursday, March 19th and this time, for the very first time, I also booked a cabin. I have no idea why, it wasn't because of the virus, that didn't seem such a threat then. I just felt it would give us a place to rest after an early start. And as it turned out, it was very fortuitous. 

From March 14th, many large gatherings and events were cancelled and all people entering New Zealand had to self-isolate for 14 days. But there are still only 8 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country. 

Titahi Bay Boatsheds, Wellington- South Side
We still weren't in any rush though, we said our goodbyes to Mum & Dad and headed out of Napier on Monday 16th. We stopped overnight in the freedom camping area at Ferry Landing Reserve near Woodville and then travelled onto the Plimmerton NZMCA Park for the next two nights. We'd leave for the ferry from there. I even had time to photograph the Titahi Bay Boat Sheds, something I'd been wanting to do everytime we passed through Wellington but had never had the chance.

Titahi Bay Boatsheds, Wellington- North Side
Thursday, March 19th. There were now twenty eight Covid-19 cases confirmed and over 7000 people self-isolating (or meant to be, with reports coming in of people arriving in the country and still sightseeing). That cabin earnt it's weight in gold as we self-isolated away from other passengers.

Canada Geese & Onepoto Road Boat Sheds, Porirua Harbour
I was still a little anxious about the crossing and whether I'd chosen a good day to sail. I don't usually book until 2-3 days out just in case there's a major weather event or a southerly blowing. Luckily we had a very smooth crossing and I felt a great sense of relief when we pulled into Picton, not only because of the good weather but we'd also made it back to the otherside. 

Rumours were swirling around on various motorhoming social media pages that the Cook Strait might close, many people had started to worry that the ferries would stop running and they'd not get home. Others also said that the Government would never close Cook Strait. Hmmm....I wasn't so sure.

Lake Grassmere Salt Ponds
Obviously others thought the same as me, there were many motorhomers lined up at the Picton ferry terminals and parked up in town waiting to cross back to the North Island.

February & March are the height of the holiday season for many retired motorhomers; the Christmas and New Year rush is over, children are back at school and families have returned to their home bases, the weather is usually much more settled and the South Island is a premium destination to visit at this time of the year.

Harvesting salt at Lake Grassmere Salt Works
Adding to the usual influx of motorhomers to the South Island, the NZMCA National Rally & AGM was held in Oamaru in early March, with the occupants of a several hundred extra motorhomes attending the rally and then continuing on to Warbirds Over Wanaka, the Bluff Oyster Festival and Arrowtown Autumn Festival just to mention a few.  All of these events had been cancelled in the previous few days due to restrictions around the gatherings of large crowds.

Marfells Beach DOC Camp, Marlborough
We called into the Blenheim Racecourse as we had a couple of errands to do in town and thought we'd stay the night there but when we saw how full the park was we decided to carry on south and stay at the DOC camp at Marfells Beach. We'd do the errands when we reached Christchurch.

We had a late lunch parked on the side of the racecourse drive, all the while motorhomes just kept on arriving. And we sensed a quiet urgency in the orderly stream of 40-50 RVs heading north on State Highway 1 during our 32km trip south to the Marfells Beach turnoff. We waved as they streamed past, waving extra hard as we spotted friends & on-the-road acquaintances heading in the opposite direction.

I started to relax a little once we were parked up on our usual site at the end of the Marfell's camp. We then heard that the government had closed our borders to all but New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, things were starting to ramp up. But still we had no idea what was to come.

Wild spinach would have provided campers with plenty of greens
 if the camp had been open during lock-down.
We thought we'll be fine now that we're in the South Island, we even decided to spend a couple of days at Marfells; it was lovely, warm and sunny and there was no hurry to get to Twizel. Settlement was still three weeks away.

But nature decided otherwise and we woke to a howling gale and the rig being sandblasted so we made the decision to pull out and head to Kaikoura.

To be continued....Part 2