Sunday, 30 November 2014

South Island Idyll - Wellington to St. Arnaud

The sky was grey and the wind was blowing up a gale as Kaitaki, the Interislander ferry, glided out of Wellington bound for Picton on the South Island.  Most passengers huddled up cosily in the café for the 3 hour journey but there was no way I could stay inside.  For the majority of the crossing I could be found out in the fresh air on the Observation Deck right at the top of the ship.  You could say I looked a bit like the Michelin Man of days gone by!

As we entered the Marlborough Sounds the weather improved dramatically and by the time we docked at Picton the sun was shining brightly.  There was enough time for a quick look around the pretty harbour and craft market before heading off up into the mountains.   

Picton Harbour

The loos were easy to spot with their bold yellow symbols on black wooden fencing.  If you glance to the lower edge of the photo you will notice that there are a couple of ladies already in the queue!  Being a collector of dolls I would dearly loved to have purchased one of these but, alas, my tightly packed suitcase would not accommodate anything so delicate.

These loos were of the electronic variety but came with the added feature of automatic flushing once the hand basin was used i.e. wave your hands about in the sink to generate a flow of water and that in turn triggered the loo to flush. If a patron did not wash their hands then the loo would flush automatically once the door opened. Great except automatic gadgets such as this never, ever seem to recognise me as a human being.  I waved my hands under the water spout – nothing.  I clapped my hands under the water spout – nothing.  For 3 or 4 minutes I stood there trying to get water to spray onto my hands – nothing.  I knew there was going to be a queue outside – was I going to have to open the door to get the loo to flush and let them all know that I was a person who did not wash my hands?  Oh the disgrace of that!  Suddenly, for no reason whatsoever the water spouted into the hand basin, the loo flushed and I was saved from disgrace.  The only looks I got from those in the queue were ones of “Why had I taken so long”!!

The 80 mile drive from Picton to St. Arnaud was on Route 63 which runs alongside the Wairau River and through the Marlborough vineyards.   A long straight road with views of mountain peaks in the distance. 

Marlborough Vineyards

Several settlements are marked on the map as being on this road but for most of them not even one house could be seen from the highway. Imagine my surprise when, in the middle of nowhere, I spotted the familiar Public Convenience sign – STOP screeched the navigator (me).  Fortunately, there had not been a sign of another car on the road for the last half hour so this somewhat unexpected pit stop caused no danger to anyone.

The sign pointed across the road to a little church – The Wairau Valley Anglican Church.  This came complete with large carpark to the front and small rural cemetery to the rear.  The toilet was situated in a small room to the back of the building and to the utter disbelief of my companion came equipped with large clean fluffy towel with which to dry ones hands. Well done to the Wairau Valley residents for keeping this loo in such an immaculate condition. 

Wairau Valley Anglican Church
Readers of this blog will know how much I enjoy walking around old cemeteries so I spent a pleasant half hour browsing the headstones before making use of “the facilities”. The only sound which could be heard was the birds singing in the tree tops – we could have been a hundred miles from the nearest civilisation.  There was no need to hurry so I took my time.  Imagine my surprise when I unlocked the door to find a queue of Japanese tourists waiting to get in!!!! 

And so onward to St. Arnaud – an alpine village situated on the edge of Lake Rotoiti.  The village boasts a café/shop/petrol station all rolled into one together with several chalets and motels offering accommodation.  

By this time the clouds had descended and it was raining quite heavily.  A short stop was made for a hot cup of tea in the café before heading off in search of our accommodation at St. Arnaud House.

The alpine chalet which is St. Arnaud House is set in the midst of the forest with the Tui Room having views out over the treetops to the mountain peaks. It is just a short walk down to Lake Rotoiti.  

The hosts, Russell and Margery Chilton, ensure the comfort of their guests by providing a roaring fire and interesting conversation.  Anyone staying here would be well advised to pay a little extra and take Margery up on her offer of dinner – an absolutely delicious meal will be provided.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of the Tui singing in the trees – and the sight of snow on the peaks.  

On learning that the theme of one of my Blogs is “Toilets” Russell directed me to an unoccupied batch (holiday home) opposite the end of their driveway.  Before we left I crept over to take a look.

Now this really is a typical rural Long Drop
(and I assure you it is NOT the toilet you will be expected to use when staying at St. Arnaud House!)

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Kiwi Rural Retreats - Pongaroa to Akitio

My journey today continues northwards to Akitio via the small rural community of Pongaroa formed in 1895. 

The town initially supported a timber mill but later, once the bush was cleared, the land became sheep and beef cattle country.  Pongaroa was the birth place of Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins (1916-2004) who won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for his contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA. (    At one time it was thought that the Masterton-Napier Railway would run through the town, however, eventually it was decided that the line should run through Pahiatua, west of Pongaroa. 

In the centre of the community stands the Pongaroa Hotel, formerly the BNZ Bank building built in 1911.   Pop inside and sample country hospitality at its best.

And – in the Ladies – read about “What not to say to your boyfriend”

A little further along the street The Pongaroa Post & Telegraph building can be seen forlorn and disintegrating.  Back in December 1922 it was reported that the Pongaroa Post Office, including the telephone bureau, had been destroyed by fire.  The fire started next door in Gamby’s butchery shop and that was destroyed along with Kerr’s bakery.  The Bank of New Zealand building had a very narrow escape.  There was a heavy gale blowing at the time but a bucket brigade was formed and this helped to save the day.  The postmaster, Mr. R.E. Williams who was living on the premises with his family lost most of his possessions and over 130 telephone subscribers were disconnected for some hours.

Other buildings in the main road are decorated with colourful murals

and yes, there is a public convenience!

"Pongaroa the way to go"

Akitio is a one hour’s drive from Pongaroa - much of it along the banks of the Waione River.  A traveller arriving in 1936 describes the scene:

Seen in the failing light the scene was one of desolate grandeur.  Red clouds were massed above the hill and brooded over the sea; a cold wind was combing the land.  To the norward, at the bottom of the descent, lay the cottages of Akitio straggled along the beach.  The township – if you could call it such, for it does not boast a single store – stretched from the wool sheds and the landing stage on the point below the road to the pine-planted hill.   ……………… The high white shape of Cape Turnagain completely dominated the landscape.

Akitio with Cape Turnagain in the distance
As we drove down the hill we though we had never seen a beach so thickly strewn with driftwood.  All the flotsam of the Pacific, bleached white as bones, seemed to have drifted to rest here.  Huge, fat, sullen logs were piled like crates of furniture along the sides of the road.

Surprisingly, some 78 years later, this is practically the same scene which I saw as we approached the coast.  

Akitio is beautiful but it is a mournful beauty.  The place broods as it were upon “old forgotten far-off things” and wears an air of essential tragedy.  Such sombre and melancholy beauty is not to everyone’s taste but if you do like it the place exercises a strange fascination over you and you will want to return, and when you are there will be content to do nothing except be there.

I was certainly more than content with just being there.  All I did was to record the scene with my camera.  I wanted to remember this.

If you ever have the good fortune to see this “mournful beauty” for yourself then rest assured that Rest Rooms are available.  They are in front of the Fire Station, right on the edge of the beach and are decorated in a tasteful, minimalist marine style.  

Inside you will find more marine motifs - together with ample room to change.

Our traveller goes on to tell us:

Wool bales from as far inland as Branscombe were piled up in the sheds at the Akitio Landing and on New Year’s Day everything was ready and everyone in a state of expectation, awaiting the steamer that was to round Cape Turnagain to take the bales to England.  The wool is loaded from the bullock teams – which go up to their necks in the surf – to surfboats and from them to the little steamer.

These days all that is left of that landing stage is two posts jutting up from the sea.