Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Queen's Birthday w/e

This is taken fairly seriously over here with a Bank Holiday every year, not just for the Jubilee. We decide to mark the occasion with a trip to Tauranga and a stop-over on the Friday evening in Paeroa. Mike finishes work early but we get stuck in all the traffic making its way out of Auckland, arriving in Paeroa in the dark after 7. We’re in a ‘luxury homestay' and are welcomed by Betty and Mark to our self-contained unit. The bathroom is luxury indeed with a sauna, a large spa bath and a shower. We’re soon on our way out to eat at the recommended Thai restaurant .

Paeroa is famous for two things: antique shops and L&P (‘world famous in New Zealand’). It’s quite a pleasant fizzy drink and the town has not one but two giant replicas of it. Unfortunately for us it’s not famous for its restaurants; they all look empty and sad and the food in the Thai place is only average and I really shouldn’t have looked at the state of the floor.

Looking along the Ohinemuri River towards the first suspension bridge

Just coming out of the 1km long tunnel

It’s a beautiful morning and we’re off early to walk the Karangahake Gorge, with the early morning mist burning off. The antique shops of Paeroa will have to wait. We plan to do the longer ‘historic’ walkway beginning with a 1k walk through an old railway tunnel. It’s lit, so no need for the torches just yet. We cross the Ohinemuri  river and begin a long walk alongside it, so dead level. There are loads of people cycling in the opposite direction, must be a bike hire place at the far end. It’s certainly a beautiful rocky river gorge but unfortunately there’s a main road on the far side of it and we can’t escape the traffic noise so decide to stop at the Owharoa Falls, turn back, and investigate the mining tunnels. The falls are pretty spectacular and we meet a man there who recommends the Windows Walk.

The Owharoa Falls where we decide to turn back and investigate the old mining ruins

Mining began on the Karangahake Mountain back in 1875, and it was pretty intensive for decades, with 3 batteries built in the area to crush rock from which gold and silver ore was extracted. So there are loads of old industrial remains to be seen, and as we leave the gorge and turn up the Waitawheta River we pass 2 battery ruins, huge bits of rusty iron, and a number of old railway tracks. The Windows Walk is so called because it is a tunnel which runs parallel to the rock face through which windows have been cut to allow daylight through. From this tunnel others go off at right angles into the heart of the mountain and excavated waste rock was thrown out through these windows. It’s pitch black away from the windows though, so the torches are very useful and I, for one, wouldn’t be doing this without them. Mike goes off into one of the side tunnels to explore while I remain standing beside a windows, through which I can see the river down below and the suspension bridges used to cross to other tunnels. We later pass a couple struggling along blindly: their 2 kids having run off ahead with the torches leaving them in complete darkness!

Looking out from one of the 'windows' down towards another suspension bridge; we return on the far side
Crossing a rather wobbly bridge

Back out in the sunshine, we cross a very wobbly suspension bridge and return on a track the other side of the Waitawheta River. We pass a small cave and the man coming out with his daughter is talking about cave wetas. Naturally we ask him to show us too, and there they are: about 20 of them just above our heads in a cluster. Their bodies are much smaller than the wetas we’ve seen in the back yard but their legs and antennae are much longer and spidery. I really don’t want one landing on my head so Mike stays inside to take photos while I get back out into the sunshine.

Cave Wetas, probably about life size

It makes for a really interesting and varied walk and made even more so when we later learn that our landlord was contracted by DOC to create the extension to the Windows Walk tunnel taking it down to the suspension bridge to make it a circular walk.

Last section of the walk taking us back to the car

We have lunch in the nearby Ohinemuri Winery which is good but takes forever to arrive so we’re setting off for Tauranga later than we imagined and have to put off the Paeroa antique shops again.

We arrive just as it’s getting dark and go off to check out the restaurants (rather disappointing ) ending up in a Japanese place drinking saki. We’ve planned to meet up with Peta and Jeremy probably for dinner tomorrow as they’re staying in the same hotel for the w/e coincidentally.

The next morning we go to Mount Maunganui for breakfast with Peta and Jem and climb the volcano. Parking is a bit of an issue because a running event had been scheduled for that morning and the place is crammed with runners and supporters and some of the roads are closed, but eventually we’re all parked and breakfasted and ready for the ascent. A pleasant climb circling round the mount with great views improving as we got to the top. It really helps to understand the geography of a place viewing it from a height like this and we see how the long low island of Matakana clearly shelters the bay here creating the lovely long safe beaches.

Mike, Peta, and Jem virtually at the top of Mount Maunganui

From the top. We later walked over to the tip of the little island as the tide was going out

At the top of the Mount we’re virtually mobbed by a flock of fantails fluttering around like butterflies, such pretty vivacious little birds. By the time we’re back down again the awards are being presented and the races are over. We separate, with Mike and I walking over the beach to an island just off the coast as its low tide, and then having lunch outside one of the cafes on the coastal strip on this lovely sunny afternoon. After lunch we return to the hotel and wander into Tauranga, going to the Art Gallery where there’s a good exhibition of photos by Brian Brake (one of NZ’s most famous photographers).

We go to P&J’s room for a drink before dinner. Not too much choice here in Tauranga, in fact Mt Maunganui seems better in that respect, and we end up in a large Turkish place, service and food not great, but good to have company.

The poppet head frame in the morning mists at Waihi
Looking down into the open pit of Martha's Mine

We’re off quite early on another beautiful sunny morning but as we make our way north we hit dense fog. Stopping at Waihi we breakfast then visit the i-site where a helpful Scots woman tells us what’s worth a look. Waihi has existed as a mining town since gold was discovered in 1878. Martha mine is now an enormous open pit and the walk around its rim takes us about an hour. Initially the massive hole was filled with fog but this gradually clears until we can just about see the bottom of it if we crane over from the viewing platform. These days massive trucks transport rock to be processed a few kms away. We learn that from 1 ton of rock, 3 gms of gold is extracted. Hardly seems worth all that effort!

We move on back to Paeroa to look at the antique shops at long last, and they really are rather good. The best we’ve seen yet in NZ and the prices aren’t too bad either. Buy a couple of bits, go for lunch in the cafe by the giant L&P bottle, and then make our way back home through the bank holiday traffic.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you had a great Jubilee weekend and very different to what was happening here! Though expect you saw or heard of some of the stuff going on over here over the long weekend.

    As always love reading through your life down under and looking at the photos and seeing how picturesque and different it is. Some great memories gonna have from it all. :o)