25 March 2017

Wild Flowers

Each time we visit a new place we collect some wild flowers. It's amazing the gorgeous colours that are out there and mostly they're just regarded as being weeds.

To keep a record of them, I've decided to take a photo of each bunch we pick.


Takaka, Golden Bay

North Beach, Westport


Yesterday the post counter on my 'Paws Awhile' blog rolled past 20,000 views. To celebrate, I'll post a photo of a sunset, because I love watching and photographing them.

This one was on TV1 Weather last night and was taken at the Tip head, North Beach, Westport.

24 March 2017

Riches of The Buller Gorge

The Buller Gorge is one of New Zealand’s scenic wonders that should be added to your ‘Must See’ list. A remarkable landmark located in the Lower Buller Gorge is Hawks Crag. It’s a narrow piece of road carved out of an overhanging rock face. With the mighty Buller River thundering below it.

The cliff at Hawks Crag is almost vertical, which certainly created a challenge when constructing a road through it in 1869. The solution was to cut a narrow slot across the cliff face. It was a painstaking task. In the late 19th century, the road was only just wide enough to take carriages and carts. The road around the cliff face has since been widened so buses and trucks can fit through. A protective railing has been built to provide a barrier to the unstoppable Buller River below.

The rock that makes up this area is called Hawks Crag Breccia (pronounced ‘bretcha’). This rock forms the vertical cliff that has been cut into and is now known as Hawks Crag. In 1955, two prospectors, Frederick Cassin and Charles Jacobsen, discovered uranium rich rocks near the cliff face. It seemed a strange place to find uranium and therefore hadn’t been searched by previous prospectors.

Uranium is a naturally radioactive element. It generates the heat in nuclear power reactors, and produces the fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Prospectors began arriving in the Hawks Crag area after hearing about the discovery of uranium. However samples found were too low in uranium concentrations to enable underground mining to be cost-effective. This meant prospectors left to search other regions of the Buller Gorge, hopeful of making their fortune.

In 1846, 25 year old surveyor, Thomas Brunner along with two Ngati Tumatakokiri guides (Piki and Kehu) and their wives, began a 550 day journey to explore the wild and uninhabited West Coast gorge. They set off from Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes district and followed the river to the sea.

Brunner described the trek as the worst country he had ever explored. The weather was horrendous, with torrential rain and barley enough food to survive. Their diet consisted of fern roots, rats and eels. They had been trailing the raging Buller River for two months and were near starvation. Sadly, to survive, they had to eat their skeleton-like dog. Thirteen days later they reached the coast. The perilous Buller River had almost made their journey unachievable.

Another name for the Buller River is Kawatiri (meaning deep and swift). It flows for 169km and finishes at the Tasman Sea near Westport. Much of the Buller River’s catchment area is mountainous and thickly covered in native bush. For most of its length the river flows in steep-sided gorges with many rapids.

Perhaps you're wondering where the name ‘Buller’ came from? It was named after Charles Buller. Buller was a Member of Parliament and director of the New Zealand Company (The New Zealand Company was a 19th-century English company that played a key role in the colonisation of New Zealand).

In 1862 two Māori prospectors found a large nugget of gold close to the Buller River in an area now known as Lyell. This find started some of the richest discoveries in New Zealand's mining history. A new township formed and was named Lyell after Sir Charles Lyell (a British geologist).

By 1873 a bustling town existed, there were six hotels, three stores, one drapery, three butchers, one baker, a blacksmith, a school and an ironmongery store.

Several factors contributed to Lyell's dwindling population after it's successful prospecting days. One factor was the absence of a doctor, so illness often resulted in death. Another component was a disastrous fire in 1896 and then in 1929 the Murchison earthquake struck! Roads leading into Lyell had many landslips and until they were cleared the townspeople had to walk out to get supplies. After the earthquake more people left Lyell. It was too isolated and when sickness struck, health care was too far away. 

Nowadays, Lyell is a historical reserve maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC). Although no original buildings remain, there's a large grassy camping area with walking and biking tracks nearby.

Lyell wasn’t only known for its gold prospecting days. It’s also the region where the legendary gold miner, Bridget Goodwin went prospecting. Bridget Goodwin was also known as 'Little Biddy', 'Biddy of the Buller', and 'Biddy the Fossicker'.

Bridget Goodwin was born in Ireland, possibly in Dublin, sometime between 1802 and 1827. She had little or no education and was unable to read or write. Biddy mined first at Bendigo and Ballarat in Australia and then sailed for New Zealand, with her two male goldmining companions, arriving at Nelson in the mid 1860s. First, she mined in the Collingwood area and then, after a long overland trek to the West Coast, in the Buller River region.

‘Biddy of the Buller’ lived and worked with her two male friends (she wasn’t married to either). Female goldminers were an unusual occurrence in nineteenth century. So Biddy made an impact, plus she was a small woman, about four feet in height and of slight build. Nevertheless she was capable of hard physical work. Gold prospecting involved scooping up, cradling and panning sands from river and stream beds. She often worked standing in the water for hours on end and also supervised the work of her two companions (who happily agreed on her leadership).

The threesome never earned a fortune from gold prospecting and after necessities were bought anything left over was spent on drinking sprees lasting several days. Biddy was a keen pipe-smoker, and enjoyed a drink. In those times, her morals were rather controversial. However her reputation for hard work under conditions of enormous hardship, her hospitality and loyalty to her companions won her much admiration and respect.

In the 1880s and 1890s Biddy and her two mates lived and mined near the Lyell township. It was during this period that both companions passed away (at separate times) in Reefton hospital. Understandably, Biddy was heartbroken and decided to settle in Reefton, which is where she spent the remainder of her life.

Reefton is where Biddy became known as 'Old Biddy' or 'Old Biddy of the Buller'. She was an Anglican and received many visits from fellow parishioners, whom she entertained with stories of her early life.

On the 19 October 1899 Biddy of the Buller passed away. Her age at death is uncertain but is given as 72, 86 and 96 years. Bridget Goodwin’s grave can be seen in the Reefton cemetery today.

Now, when you travel through the Buller Gorge, cast your mind back to the much admired, four-foot high, stoic gold-miner ‘Biddy of the Buller’. Also imagine the optimistic uranium prospectors as you pass through Hawks Crag. And while you take in the sights of the rapidly, flowing Buller River, remember this beautiful scenic slice of New Zealand holds a fascinating history.

21 March 2017

A Weekend in Westport

We got the truck back from the garage with it's reconditioned motor and decided to go away for a weekend. Bernie chose Westport. It was far enough away to give the truck a work out but close enough to allow us to travel there in a couple of hours (well, a bit more than that - close to three hours).
It would also be the first time Bernie and I have traveled together towing the rig. Usually I follow behind in the light vehicle with the dogs. This time we left the dogs at home with our neighbour Sarah looking after them.

The night before we packed up and secured the bikes in the truck's shed. They were to be our mode of transport. Bernie finished work at lunchtime on Thursday and we took less than an hour to hitch up the rig and leave Nelson.

We were expecting the road from Kawatiri Junction through to the Buller turnoff to be busy. We weren't wrong. It was similar to a motorway! The traffic has increased dramatically since the Kaikoura earthquake cut off the East Coast's route.

Lots of stops for road works, repairing roads due to the increase of traffic.

It was a relief to turn off the highway, towards Buller GorgeAs usual the lush, abundant native bush stood out throughout the drive. Ferns everywhere and some roads winding under a tunnel of overhanging native trees. Simply stunning.

When we reached Hawks Crag I got Bernie to drop me off so I could photograph the truck going underneath the rock. I was interested to see how much clearance we had. Evidently quite a bit.

Other special features of the Buller Gorge were the iron bridges and traffic lights placed on narrow, rural roads.

Westport greeted us with warm, dry weather. We drove through town to North Beach and unhitched the rig.

Dinner that night was 'Tony's Fish n Chips' and we weren't disappointed. I still rank these as the best I've tasted!

That night we were treated to a spectacular sunset. Drifting off to the sound of waves crashing onto shore was the perfect end to the day.

The next morning we climbed on our bikes and cycled the new bike/walking track that Westport's community have developed. It starts at North beach and winds in amongst bush and trees parallel to the beach. Then crosses over the road to the tip head and veers towards the township via Shingle Beach and The Lost Lagoon.

Once in town we visited the 'coal museum'. Bernie bought a book on 'Denniston' which he says is fantastic. 

We grabbed Chinese for lunch and because the day was hot and sunny we sat at a picnic table under some trees beside the Main Street.

Then we biked to visit Fran & Ron (Bernie's sister and brother 'n' law). Ron is creative and able to put his hand to anything - here's a giant Indian he made from tyres and other recycled materials. I should have asked Bernie to stand beside it, to appreciate its size!

The great thing about the location of Westport is it's flat, which makes biking a breeze. 
Later that evening, the clouds rolled in, so there wasn't a sunset to capture. It was still nice to walk along the beach, past groups of people cooking sausages over beach fires. Someone had the perfect view from their kombi.

The NZMCA park where we stayed must have had 16 -20 campers, caravans, and buses each night while we were there. Some left in the morning to explore and returned later that evening. Others stayed overnight and left early the next day to continue their travels.

The cost was $3 per person per night. The visitors book was handily kept in a fridge under cover in an iron shed. The freezer part of the fridge had a range of books to read.

Saturday morning we woke to clouds smothering the sky. I got up just after 7 to capture the sunrise.
"Red in the morning, shepherds warning"

The colours changed so quickly. By the time I walked the short distance to the beach the colours had intensified! The colours were beautiful - I couldn't stop clicking (these are just a few of what I actually took).

Although it was threatening to rain, it was good to relax at the rig. We got a few visitors which was lovely. Don (Bernie's brother), Chris (my friend from South School), Fran & Ron, other campers wanting to check out the rig and our friends Julie & Trev (and their daughter Emma).

Sunday, we threw the bikes in the truck's shed and drove 25 minutes south to Charleston. I was keen to photograph 'Constant Bay' and bike along Beach Road which runs along the Nile River.

We walked up Flagstaff Hill which gives a good view over the mouth of the bay. It got its name back in the gold rush days when boats had to navigate their way through the narrow and treacherous entrance.
A red flag indicated that boats could enter.
A blue flag meant the water was low and for the captain to wait for the tide to turn.
Seeing a white flag hoisted meant the entrance was dangerous and the surf too heavy for boats to enter. 

We left Constant Bay and had lunch at a local cafe. An old decrepit bach sat neglected across the road.

Once our tummies were full we set off to the Nile River which is only a few metres from Charleston heading north. We parked the truck and rode our bikes along the gravel road following the tannin stained river.

Some creative person wove a fish from flax and hung it from driftwood.
 Back at the rig we got chatting to our neighbours, Marilyn & Murray from the Kapiti Coast. They have rented out their house and are traveling around NZ in their campervan. They live on a lifestyle block and grow olive trees, which they use to make their own olive oil. We were thrilled when they gave us a bottle.

If the dogs had of been with us they would have gone nuts with the wood hens wandering around the camp. Obviously they've been fed because they're super tame and tried many times to join us in the rig. A caravan across from us had left their cat tied to their van while they were out. When I went over to see the cat, a wood hen joined me. It walked straight up to the cat and grabbed the poor thing's tail. The cat got a heck of a fright and shot off under the van!

There was no sunrise the following morning, just cloud. The beach was deserted except for a cycling tourist snuggled up in a sleeping bag on a picnic bench. I'm sure it can't have been a very comfortable night's rest.

Time to leave....We had an awesome few days away. We both weren't ready to leave but we were looking forward to seeing the dogs. We packed up, hitched up and headed to the dump station with Fran, Marilyn & Murray waving us goodbye.

The new dump station is well placed for bigger rigs. We went in the truck to check how easy it would be to get in there. Lots of room.

Driving out of Westport you can't help but admire the handy work of some creative wood stacker. Each season he creates something new with his firewood. Last time it was a kiwi - this time a fish.

One of the little traditions we like to do when we stay at a new place is to collect some wild flowers to display in the rig. Here's a selection gathered from North Beach.