Monday 29 June 2020

An Eventful Afternoon in Waimate

Catch-up (mid Nov 2019)- Gordon Bennett! Is it that long ago, just feels like yesterday. Here's the last blog from our stay at Glenavy before we headed up to Lake Benmore for Christmas & New Year.

I wanted to check out the murals on the sides of the Waimate Silos so I took myself on an afternoon tiki-tour. I thought I'd drive to Waimate 23kms away, then head up the Waitaki Valley, cross the river to Kurow and come back down the other side. 

The last time we stopped in the area was way back in 2013 on our very first trip to the South Island, we stayed at the recently opened Waimate NZMCA Park and explored some of the area, including driving nearby Meyers Pass where I was very excited to see for the first time, a few spindly lupins in flower & another first, a dead wallaby! 

The silos were a blank canvas back then, they have only recently been painted, in May 2018.

I stopped on the roadside on the way into Waimate to take some photos of a large wheat field. You can't see it in the photos but I love the rippling movement and the rustling of the wheat as the wind swishes the ripening stalks back & forth. I also spotted a flock of green finches having a feast in the middle of the field. They were very skittish, chattering as they tried to settle, then lifting off every few seconds as the wind spooked them. 

And then when I looked around I could see why, I thought I'd better get my skates on, a massive dirty great black cloud was settling right over Waimate township.

Although by the time I got to town the dark brooding cloud had moved over to the hills behind.

Great I thought, I had time to walk the silo loop, a pedestrian loop that circles the outside of Transport Waimate's business premises and where you can view the murals, read all about them and not get in the way of the comings and goings of the businesses' stock trucks and other vehicles. Although I had to wait it out several times to capture a clean shot with no vehicles in the view. 

The silo project was the idea of  Transport Waimate's boss who commissioned Waimate artist, Bill Scott, to paint a number of local heroes on the silos. Click on the photo to read the history behind the silos & the people depicted in the murals.

I had just set off along the back of the loop when that big black cloud came back and dumped a solid sheet of rain on the town. Luckily I managed to scramble back to the ute and get inside just before it bucketed down. 

I sat the rain out for 10 minutes or so and after it had passed returned to finish the pedestrian loop.

The next local hero was 'Big Norm', Norman Kirk, a former New Zealand Prime Minister (who is walking hand-in-hand with Moana Priest). 

I wonder how many of you can recall where you were when you heard that Norman Kirk had died? I can. For some reason it has stuck in my head for over 45 years.  I had just gained my drivers license and was allowed to take the family car, a Holden HQ stationwagon, from the farm down to our local shops to collect the Sunday paper (and Dad's Park Drive tobacco).  Splashed across the paper's front page was the news of  Norman Kirks sudden death. I remember being shocked and when I got home, running up the path and calling the news out to the others before I'd even got into the house. 

And the last two figures are a tribute to two well respected local men that led by example; Michael Studholme & Chief Te Huruhuru.

There is another mural on the back wall of the silo buildings, one of another Waimate hero (heroine), Stella Chamberlain (a stellar lady?).  

This was one incredible lady, click on the photo to read her story. Stella certainly deserves a medal not only for her 35 year dedication to the Waimate Rugby Club but for having 13 children of her own to look after too!   

There are several more murals on the walls around town and I stopped to look at a few of them on my way to the next photo subject.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I pulled out back onto the main street, that big black cloud was heading our way again.

I'd taken photos of some of Waimate's historic buildings on my last visit but there was one I had overlooked, Quinns Arcade. I shot around the back of town and stopped to shoot the arcade as the cloud rumbled closer.

Quinns Arcade was built in 1906 from Makikihi bricks that were fired at William Quinn's brickworks, north of Waimate. The Arcadia included two dozen shops, twelve each side of a wide passage that led through to High Street. In 1920 Quinns Arcade became a picture theatre but it also didn't last very long.

I've photographed the magnificent St Patrick's Basilica before but thought I'd grab another shot before I headed back through town.

And that was when all hell broke loose. The cloud had moved right over the top of the town and started dumping massive great big hail stones on the main street. I pulled over as soon as I could as the noise on the ute was horrific and the wipers couldn't keep up.

The noise was ten times worse on top of the shop verandas, the road was covered and the gutters overflowing with melt water, solid lumps of ice and huge hail stones.

People came out from the shops and buildings to take photos & stare in wonder (or was it shock) at such a ferocious hail storm. I worried that the stones were going to smash the windscreen or dent the bonnet. The force was incredible & when I did move out from under cover to take a few photos, I ended up getting stung by hundreds of hail stones pinging me on the face, head & hands. 

And then just like that, it was gone...

...leaving the street covered in a thick layer of icy ball bearings. It was amazing how many people still chose to drive through while the storm was raging. Really, you could not see more than a few feet in front of you, my wipers on full speed could not keep up, and the road was as slippery as.....well, ice. 

Safe in the knowledge that the big black cloud was moving in the opposite direction I headed off up the Waitaki Valley, stopping for a brief look at the Waimate NZMCA Park on my way out of town...

...which looked one heck of a lot different to our stay there 6 years previous.

The Waimate Gorse...I mean Gorge, was an sea of yellow on both sides and right the way through. Once the land gets like this and the gorse takes over there's not much luck in returning it to native bush or grazing land. And seed from this lot would produce hundred of thousands more plants every season; what's that old adage, one year's seeds, 7 years weeds.

Uh-oh! Half way up the valley big fat icy blotches started pummeling the windscreen again.

And for the second time that day I had to pull over and sit out another terrific hail storm which had just as much intensity and power as the last one. It looked like the cloud had done another circuit. Afterwards I took some photos of a nearby ploughed paddock covered in ice and vehicle tracks in the ice. I was not far from a historic cob cottage (bottom left) which was built in 1880 from Penticotico clay & tussock. The hail stones lay on the grass path and around the cottage like snow.

As it turned out this was one day before a huge hail storm devastated Timaru (just 45kms north) leaving behind a $83 million insurance bill. Amongst the wide spread damage, car yards and vehicle dealerships had every vehicle on their yards dented and damaged. All I could think of was the local strawberry fields (which Waimate is well know for) with their ripening fruit.

I drove over the new Waitaki River bridge into Kurow and stopped for a cup of tea at a nearby rest area. The last time we crossed the river here the bridge was a rickety old one way bridge that looked to be about to collapse. If you check the link out at the beginning of this blog you'll see a photo of it. 

From Kurow I headed down the valley on the other side of the river, stopping at the Takiroa rock art site, a historic Maori site where there are several drawings on the wall under an overhang of rock.

We've seen several Maori art sites in the district, including one on a private farm where we were staying. It was hard to make these ones out as they had been damaged before the protection fences had gone up.

There was one more place I wanted to check out before heading home. At Black Point I turned down a  narrow pot holed farm track towards the river. I'm heading to Bortons Ponds, part of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Scheme, where water is drawn from the river, held in the ponds and then distributed via canals to the Waitaki Plains.  During peak season 1.4 million m3 of water passes through the scheme daily. 

I'd heard about this place a very long time ago and if Mary is reading this now she'll kill me next time we cross paths. She spoke of it in very hushed tones and rather vaguely when I pressed her for more information. I don't miss much and I stored the name in the back of my memory box for next time we were in the area. 

Mary and her friends (and other people in the know) freedom camp here around the ponds, there are several areas where you could camp (I can find no reference that you're not allowed but don't blame me if you get moved on) It's a very peaceful place and I'd imagine the locals come to picnic and swim here in the summer. 

The scheme also supplies Oamaru with water so don't go peeing in it! 

And that was that, it was time to move on. My beloved lupins were about to flower! Mackenzie Country was calling, Lake Tekapo here we come.

Saturday 13 June 2020

Stepping Back in Time- Oamaru

I've managed to come up for some air with a little free time to write a blog after spending the last few weeks buried in boxes, bags, bubble wrap & way too much gear that I was sure I thoroughly sorted out eight years ago! It is amazing how your priorities change after living full-time on the road, where life is much simpler and where you only have so much space to keep 'stuff'. It was a little over-whelming as I unpacked box after box, reacquainting myself with furniture & furnishings, trinkets & treasures from another life. Now to sort it all again; you wouldn't think I'd already halved the haul twice way back then.

And now to catching up on the blog. Again. November 2019 (seems a lifetime ago)

We were still staying at Glenavys Waitaki River Motor Camp and after ticking Riverstone Castle off our 'must visit' list we took some time out to visit Oamaru, 20kms south of Glenavy and check out several historic buildings that had been on my radar to visit but had always been closed when we passed by. 

The first was Totara Estate, a historic farm that had a significant role in making New Zealand what it is today. As an added bonus the volunteers on duty in the shop were in period costume (the reason will become obvious further down the page). 

Before I could explore the grounds I was directed to a small room at the end of the entrance building to watch a 10 minute introduction video on Totara Estate. I was itching to get out there and explore but I dutifully sat and saw it through to the end. If there had of been more people, I would have sneaked out before the volunteers spotted me. 

Farming began at Totara (south of Oamaru) in the 1850s. By the time the estate was purchased by the New Zealand & Australian Land Company in 1866 it covered almost 15,000 acres and farmed over 17,500 sheep, 200 cattle, and was purported to have the best wheat, potato and mangold (fodder beet) growing land in the country.

A downturn in wool prices combined with a nationwide over-supply of sheep meat saw the general manager of the Land Company, William Davidson, follow an ambition to be the first in New Zealand to use new steam-powered freezing technology to send meat to the other side of the world. 

And so it was, then, that the first ever shipment of frozen mutton made a three-month journey from New Zealand to England in 1882, launching an industry that brought success to Totara Estate and well beyond. By the end of the 1890s, New Zealand’s frozen meat industry was a powerful force – economically, politically and socially – and still earns billions in foreign earnings each year. 

I had a grim fascination with the description of the piggery beside the killing shed (having been brought up on a pig farm). Click the photo to read the gory details.

Our next stop was just down the road at the historic Clarks Flour Mill, built in 1866 and originally part of Totara Estate. Clarks Mill was one of 13 flour mills in North Otago District and the last one running, outliving all the others by 50 years by the time it ceased operation in 1976.

Since it's closure, the machinery inside, including a rare collection of roller milling machinery installed in 1893, has been fully restored to operating condition by a team of volunteers. The mill grinds into action on the last Sunday of each month, offering visitors the opportunity to see, hear and feel what it would have been like to work in the mill.

The imposing four-storey mill building was constructed in local limestone and is of a Scottish design.  Other highlights include the original water race, and the railway line built in 1877 to connect the mill to the main trunk line.  

The miller's house and a cottage are both also constructed from local stone. The small cottage is known as Smokey Joe’s and remains largely unaltered since it was built in 1860s. During the prohibition years the Clark family turned the cottage into a private hall for the locals to gather for a beer or two. 

Our next stop is back in Oamaru town at this lovely little cottage tucked away in a quiet back street. I wonder if you can guess who once lived here? (Before you scroll down the page). 

This modest house was once the home of internationally renowned New Zealand author, Janet Frame. Janet lived here with her parents from 1931 to 1943 (age 7 to 19).

I arrived during the afternoon opening hours which was more by luck than judgement. I paid the small entrance fee and stepped back in time wandering through the various rooms furnished with authentic furniture and objects from the time the Frames lived in the house. There are also several items referenced to Janet's work including her old typewriter.

It was a lovely surprise to hear the house fill with music which I traced it back to the lounge where the afternoon's volunteer was happily playing the piano.

Thanks to the period dressed volunteers at Totara Estate we were made aware of the annual Victorian Fete taking place in town at Oamaru's Victorian Precinct.  We missed the Grand Parade, but thoroughly enjoyed walking a couple of laps of the Precinct roads.

After several days of  Victorian Heritage Celebrations, the fete is an eagerly anticipated event with many people getting right into the spirit.....

......dressing up in Victorian costume, playing games and entering competitions and selling all manner of Victorian antiques, knick-knacks and clothing from the shops housed in the historic buildings & from the decorated stalls lining the Precinct streets.

I'll let the photos do the talking while I do the walking (I wonder what that guy behind is thinking?)....

I saw this group of children several times during the afternoon, on the last occasion the bonnet on the baby in the cart had slipped right over her face as she was being trundled down the cobbles at a fast rate of knots by one of the older children. I was worried she was going to topple out but she was holding on to the sides very tightly even though she couldn't see where she was going.

This crowd of people were being entertained by...

...a very colourful lady, who was judging 'The Victorian Beard & Moustache Competition'.

There were some amazing costumes although I'm sure a few people suffered under their heavy layers in the early summer sunshine.

Several unique antique vehicles were on display (and a lady on stilts). I was sure the three wheel vehicle was going to tip over. There was a fake cow with a rubber udder where you could try your hand at milking. And amongst the food stalls, a Southern classic- cheese rolls- were being sold from a pop-top VW Kombi.

Entertainers and stall holders included a puppeteer with Mr Bones...

...Morris Dancers, a shoe shine boy (who also wanted payment if you took a photo), a facepainter & balloon modeler, period costume family photos, Christchurch's Wizard (how did he get in on the act?) and a burlesque show.

Oamaru's more famous Steampunk genre was taking a backseat during the Victorian festivities although I did see several people dressed in a combination of both.

Steam Locomotive B10 operated by Oamaru Steam & Rail was running short trips from Harbourside Station around the harbour to the Blue Penguin Colony attraction and back again. 

I waited several times to catch it as it passed, finally deciding that you'd hardly notice that it is actually going in reverse here!

So all in all, we made up for lost time and managed to cram quite a bit of historic Oamaru into just one day.

If you notice a slight change in the layout of the blog (not a major one I hope), it's because Blogger have done an upgrade to the programme and this is the new format which is also meant to be mobile friendly. Please let me if there's anything unusual.