Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The Strawberry Trail

Berry Sundae

Waimate historic building

Benmore Peninsula

Islands on Lake Benmore

Lake Benmore

Lake Ohau near the Alpine Village

Ohau Ski Lodge and ski field

Looking over Lake Ohau

Free camping

Mt Cook from the free camp

North entrance to Lake benmore

Scotland wins gold at rowing at Lake Ruataniwha

Inside the club house

The road to Mt Cook

Camp site at Mt Cook

The walk to Mt Cook Village

The partial eclipse

A drink in the Hermitage Bar

Sylvia's Comments.

This morning we woke to a nice sunny day with a few clouds in the sky. We cannot complain as the country is experiencing a drought and badly needs rain. We have just had the announcement from the weather men that January was the hottest one ever recorded in NZ South Island. We seem to keep hitting these records as when in Queensland, Australia, we experienced the coldest, wettest June ever recorded.

We also had a van full of wet washing to sort out and this was kindly dried by the manager from the site, who informed us, that this was the first time the drier had broken down in seven years, there we go again, the Brewers involved in another record. With our washing dried we were travelling south on SH1 and came across St Andrews where we stopped for coffee by the sea at. With all the Scottish names around in the area I just presumed it was named after our St Andrews, even though it looks nothing like it, but I was wrong. It was named after Andrew Turnball, the first manager of the NZ Australia Land Estate, who had a reputation amongst his fellow workers has having a repertoire of colourful language and was nicknamed Saint.

There are a number of tourist trails in the area that travellers can follow, one appealed to me, head and shoulders above the rest. So soon we were driving along the strawberry trail passing places of interest and more importantly strawberry stalls along the road side. We stopped at The Berry Barn and purchased a punnet of strawberries, chocolate dipping sauce, strawberry jam and a punnet of raspberries. These were quite small in comparison to those that grow across the road from our house ( and not as tasty). A sign at the back of the shop invited us to try one of their famous fruit sundaes made from fresh fruit and Deep South ice cream. Well it would be rude not to try one so we indulged ourselves once more.

A short distance down the road we turned onto SH82 and headed into Waimate, a small town nestled at the foot of the rolling Hunter Hills. The town was settled by European's in the 1850's because of the fertile lands surrounding it. The Waimate Bush was considered to be one of the finest in NZ for milling purposes and was worth at least half a million pounds at that stage. By the end of the 1870's five saw mills were operating in the area, and they provided the main employment. In the spring of 1878, after a very dry period, the wind reignited fires lit to burn off tussock grass on the hills behind the bush. These, alongside the continual fires at the saw mills, created a fierce blaze that spread through the bush destroying everything in its path. The fire burned for eight days and smoke could be seen for months afterwards. All the saw mills and 70 homes were lost but miraculously no lives were lost. The small town of Waimate was saved but as most of the bush was gone along with the prospects of a prosperous town. Today Waimate is a nice little town with wide streets and some nice Edwardian Buildings. An old arcade building has recently been bought by a local conservation group and it is hoped to restore it to its former glory.

Another claim to fame for the town is that it is one of the few places where the traveller might see wallabies; they were introduced here from Australia and have flourished. Although there are supposed to be 30,000 we did not see one. We also visited the local knitwear factory shop to purchase some nice thick woollen jumpers. Having been invited to a wedding in California on 4th October and have been told that dress is casual but we will require warm jumpers. The bride is Kelly, a young woman who spent her final school year with us as an exchange student.

We left the town and continued on our journey through the Waimate Gorge and passing some large outcrops of limestone at Bluecliffs before reaching the road we had first driven along on 13 January, along the Waimate River to Kurow. About 25 miles short of the town we came upon a stranded couple who had had two punctures within the space of 5 minutes. We gave the gentleman a lift to the nearest garage where he would get the puncture mended and a lift back to his car and wife. As it was getting late afternoon we decided to drive around Lake Aviemore and look for a campsite. Having driven around the lake, we returned to the site we had camped on the last time we passed this way.

Wednesday morning we woke to another nice day. Today is Waitangi Day, a public holiday in NZ to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. We will learn more about this when we visit the area in the North Island. Last night, when up at the dam viewing area we had noticed there was a walk around the Benmore Peninsula with some good views of the islands in the lake. The sign said it would take 90 minutes to complete the loop but nothing about it being uphill. However when we cleared the tree line we got our first view of Mt Cook and the surrounding peaks with their snow caps. So we stopped moaning and just took in the wonderful views we were seeing. Our walk continued on the ridge and then down through a pine forest back to the dam. Close to where we had camped was a hive of activity with lots of people out on the water enjoying the days holiday.

Our journey continued on to Omarama ( we still have difficulty pronouceing it) and then on to the turn off for Lake Ohau and the Alpine Village. This is a popular area in the summer as there are six forests offering many longer walks with camping huts for staying in. In the winter it is a popular skiing area, although we found it hard to see where the ski fields were as the hills all looked very steep. After a stop for coffee and a short bush walk we headed back to the canal area and drove down to Ohau C power station close by the northern end of Lake Benmore. We camped with fellow motorhome club members with great views of the lake on one side and Mt Cook on the other. What more could we ask for and it was all for free.

We are now in the Mackenzie Country, an area of vast skies, dramatic landscapes, stunning glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains. It was named after the legendary Scottish shepherd James Mackenzie. James 'Jock' Mackenzie left his native Scotland for a new life in NZ. He worked as a shepherd throughout Otago and South Canterbury, and discovered plains and a pass unknown to Europeans but known to local Maori. In 1855 a mob of 1,000 sheep went missing from a South Canterbury Station. The overseer tracked them down to the Mackenzie Country and arrested Mackenzie. He escaped but was recaptured at Lyttelton, tried and convicted. A few months later Mackenzie appealed and the judge found the original trial was seriously flawed and Mackenzie was freed. It seems that Mackenzie is the NZ version of Rob Roy McGregor.

On Thursday morning we drove along the canal road to Lake Ruataniwha, a purpose built lake for rowing and other water sports. We had a walk around the grounds and met up with a gentleman who was busy getting the site ready for the Southern Rowing Championships to be held this weekend. He took us for a tour of the club house and showed us photo's of the development of the site and local news paper coverage of regattas held there. He told us that the regatta this weekend required lots of volunteers to assist in the running of it. Jeff asked if they had sufficient volunteers and I guessed he was angling to get invited to be one. When he was told the tasks that he might be required to do, his enthusiasm waned hearing that toilet cleaners were needed. So we said goodbye quickly and headed back to the van.

Continuing on down the canal roads we passed another location site from the Lord of the Rings where, over 1500 actors and crew filmed the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Back on to the main road we set off up SH80 to Mt Cook Village. This was another magnificent drive up alongside the stunning blue Lake Pukaki with the snow capped mountains in front of us. Driving into Mt Cook village we could not find anywhere to park so we turned around and drove to the DOC campsite a little further up the road and nestled into the hills. Parking the van and walked the 2 mile path to the village to have a look around. We were in the retail shop when one of the staff grabbed us and said "you two need to be upon the deck to see the partial eclipse of the sun", with that he whipped us up the stairs and pointed out where we should go.

On the decking of the Hermitage Hotel, an astronomer was handing out solar eclipse viewing cards and had also set up the telescope to reflect the eclipse on to the white wall, so it could be seen and photographed. In talking with him he told us that last year he and his wife had camped in a campervan in the site we were in. After a bad dust storm she refused to spend another night in the area unless in the hotel. When he came to book a room he discovered they were looking for an astronomer, he applied and got the job. So once again we see the power of us wives, if she had not moaned he would not have got the job.

We went for a drink in the hotel bar and just sat looking at the stunning view through the window. Looking around I noticed other guests reading papers and totally ignoring this wonderful view, how could they? Later we walked back to our home and cooked tea and debated on which walk we would do tomorrow.

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