A Round Trip Around

A jaunt. A sojourn. A breakaway. A roadie. Call it what you will, we set off for one at the tail end of a drawn out grey and extremely windy start to Summer in Aotearoa. After visiting Robert’s Mum and taking her out for a Sunday Drive around the environs of Gore (largely following the Mataura River, with a short scamper out to my old stomping ground of Otama Valley – following the long-gone tyre marks on the (also long gone) gravel roads of my old High School bus route. (Ah! The memories. Bittersweet at best. But I’ll leave all that for my second novel.)

Brown trout – Gore’s most popular Instagram pic
Gore from east of the Mataura River

As is often the case when travelling south, we kept either crossing rivers, or locating river mouths. On our way to Gore, before even leaving Otago and entering Southland, we took a detour to Kaitangata, the mouth of the Clutha / Mata-au. A town founded – as the town Welcome To sign says – on Black Gold (coal). When that industry largely became redundant in the early ’70’s, Kaitangata seemingly turned into a place that time forgot.

Due to some creative online advertising, there was a flurry of interest about four or five years ago – international interest – in land and house building. But a number of limiting factors stymied these bold plans and any initial buzz has failed to produce anything substantial. A shame because Kai (as the locals call it) looks to have the potential to be a very pretty coastal retreat. Not quite hitting that mark yet, but worth a visit for its atmosphere of a past history and simmering charm.

Kaitangata – Clutha River delta looking west
River Clutha delta at Kaitangata, looking east
Grey heron in Heritage Park, Gore where we had a picnic lunch
Heritage Park, Gore
Old farm implements bringing back memories for me of a farming childhood. Robert also has memories of spending time on his grandparent’s farm in Kingston. Gore’s Heritage Park is one of Gore’s best kept secrets. So charming with its park-like surroundings, peaceful water features, bird life and quaint historic buildings transported there holus bolus from surrounding country.

New Zealand European settlers were notoriously unimaginative when naming places in this country (often, carelessly re-naming them from the more rightful, picturesque and meaningful Maori place names – a point that is slowly being redressed these days). Southland / Murihiku is divided up into districts – Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern and Central. As I said, so imaginative! (Funny, but in Otago and Canterbury, they leave off the ‘en’. In those provinces, the districts are simply East, West, South etc.)

We were headed for Western Southland, after having touched down in both Eastern Southland (Gore) and Northern Southland (Otama Valley – well, at least when I lived there in the sixties, it was on the border of Eastern and Northern, and we chose to believe we lived in Northern Southland. I trust it is still the same today.)

Taramea Bay, Riverton

Riverton was our first stopover. A short stay, but time enough to take in once more what that lovely town has to offer. Sea-shine and wind, hills and trees … Above anything else, it is the light in Riverton that I appreciate. It shimmers off the sea, the harbour and river, reflecting both sky and water on to the land.

Wakapatu Beach

The next day is when the poetry really happened. We were heading for Manapouri, travelling over the Hunter Mountain range from Tuatapere. On the way, we stopped off at Wakapatu. I remember my late Aunty Lorna directing my sister and I there a few years ago, informing us that some of our ancestors were buried there.

When we arrived at the beach, a plucky skylark overhead was singing for all it was worth, despite a breezy wind and a grey sky threatening rain. Skylarks have a tendency to turn up at significant moments for me. Like little blessings. Or good luck charms. I felt sure this bird would point us in the right direction. A strong wind seemed determined to pull the bird east, just as hard as it was endeavouring to head west. I took the hint and decided that we too would head west.

And the bird was right. A bit of a walk and we found the graveyard. Information I have subsequently looked up, confirms that it is indeed where some of my ancestors, tīpuna, lie.

Wakapatu. Western Southland cabbage trees, Tī Kōuka.

***

This trip we didn’t stop off at my hometown of Orepuki – although we did make a quick trip to Monkey Island beach. But it’s not the same when there are lots of people there – as was the case this visit. In my head I could hear the voices of my mother and Aunty Lorna moaning about it! We got out of there double quick. (See you next time, ‘Puki.)

A stop off at another river mouth, this time the Waiau river, just before it enters Foveaux Strait / Te Ara a Kiwa
After a having cuppa and buying honey in Tuatapere (my birthplace) we headed for the Hunter Mountain road, over to Manapouri and Te Anau
Looking towards Te Anau from the golf course where Robert played a round of golf before we had dinner in town
Lake Te Anau
Lake Te Anau

The weather was kind to us in Te Anau. Robert played golf and I read (finishing Lee Child’s latest thriller, Blue Moon) and generally relaxed by the lake’s edge, remembering other happy times in this spot – especially the two times when I’ve been here with my friend Chrissie from England. She too has a real soft spot for Te Anau.

The next morning we spent a bit more time in Te Anau before putting the rubber to the bitumen and traveling west towards Kingston where we’d spend our third night.

Lake Te Anau looking west
Te Anau
Te Anau

***

On our way to Kingston, we stopped off at a Department of Conservation wilderness protection site. A fascinating place. Read more about it HERE

Looking from the wilderness reserve towards my maunga – the Tākitimu mountains

So lovely to look out at my mountains.

From the info plaque: Takitimu mountains have been special to Ngai Tahu since the great Takitimu waka (canoe) was wrecked in Te Waewae Bay. Some say the maunga (mountains) represent the upturned hull of the waka that was hurled inland by giant waves. The Takitimu Mountains were named by Tamatea, the captain of the waka Takitimu, who likened their proud peaks to the brave struggles of his crew.

Example of plants that existed directly after the ice age, 8-10,000 years ago
Looking south-west, towards the Hunter mountains and the road we’d travelled the previous day
Feathers (mare’s tail clouds) in the sky above the Takitimu Mountains

And of course we just had to stop (at a designated Photo Stop) to get a shot of these splendid tussocks.

Red tussock reserve near Mossburn
Red Tussock close up

On our third night we stayed in Kingston, Robert’s mother’s hometown as a child. We went for a couple of walks along the lake and could look over to the hills and see the farmland where she spent her childhood.

Lake Wakatipu at Kingston. Looking towards Queenstown.
Robert’s grandparents’ farm to the right in the photo, the sun conveniently highlighting the land

On our final day we went through to Queenstown (Robert’s birthplace and childhood hometown) via a road that winds alongside the stunning Lake Wakatipu. The road has a portion named the Devil’s Staircase – these days not as hazardous as it once was. However, with tourists who are unfamiliar with the road, it can still be treacherous and up to those more familiar with NZ roads, to be wary of sudden mistakes made by such drivers. Can be stressful!

Our stop in Queenstown was brief – a weird feeling after many decades of staying at Robert’s parents’ place there. We visited the cemetery to check on Robert’s father’s grave (in the cemetery where these Californian poppies were blazing) and then headed out of town again. Fast. Again. Same as it was in my old hometown – too many people!

We decided to stop off in Arrowtown for a picnic lunch under willows down by the Arrow river (a river Maori called Haihainui, which means Big Scratches).

Have thermos, chilly bin, picnic basket and rug, will lunch wherever looks nice

And so our charmed journey over ancestral land and old stomping grounds, had come to an end. It was time to head back home to Dunedin, our other home.

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