The finest walk in the world – Milford Track Day 1

The Milford Track is a widely known tramping (hiking) route in New Zealand – located amidst mountains and temperate rain forest in Fiordland National Park in the southwest of the South Island.

The 53.5 km hike starts at Glade Wharf at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes in Milford Sound at Sandfly Point, traversing rainforests, wetlands, and an alpine pass.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation classifies this track as a Great Walk and maintains three huts along the track: Clinton Hut, Mintaro Hut and Dumpling Hut. There are also three private lodges and four day shelters available.

There were 16 of us doing the walk and we had booked through Ultimate Hikes in Queenstown which meant we would be staying in the private lodges.  The group consisted of Steve & I, Sheree & Matthew, Matthew’s Dad Gary (Gazza) and his mate Barry (Bazza), Karen & Danny, Donna & Philip, Jen & Phil, Linda and John and Chris and Mary.  The last eight are all from Taranaki (the Naki) with all but Jen & Phil being dairy farmers.  We all arrived into Queenstown on the Sunday afternoon and some of us converged on a pub to watch the Warriors first game of the season.  There was a briefing at Ultimate Hikes at 4.45pm which the girls, Gazza and Bazza and all the team from the Naki duly went to.  Steve, Matthew and Danny stayed to watch the Warriors.

The briefing was good and I really got a good feel for what it was going to be like out on the track.  We had to complete a consent form each and note down our preferred name that would go on our name tags.  Karen, Sheree and I thought we would get revenge on the slackers by putting Steve’s preferred name as Precious, Matthew’s as Normy (his middle name is Norman) and Danny’s as The Lone Ranger (he tends to go off alone).

A quiet night followed for me but Steve, Sheree and Matthew went off drinking with some friends of Sheree & Matthews.  I did try and warn Sheree that she’s never too flash the next day after a few drinks!

We had to be back at the Ultimate Hikes headquarters at 8.30am the next morning to meet our guides, and do any last minute admin.  We went to collect our name tags and discovered that they had reverted to our normal names (I was supposed to SUNGRL) – I was not happy.  They thought that we were only joking – we had been deadly serious.  Funnily enough they picked up on Steve’s nickname of Precious and did use it frequently over the next few days – I wonder why : ). We were to have four guides on the trip – Hannah, Charlotte, Mark and Kelly.  Kelly was to meet us later in the day – he was just finishing his second back to back Milford Track with another group.  All four guides have walked the track a number of times so they were well versed in the routine.

We set off in the bus at 9am – our driver Jimmy gave us a great running commentary about the area as we drove along.  

Jimmy told us about Lake Wakatipu which is the longest lake in New Zealand at 80km long.  It covers an area of 291 square kilometres and is also very deep, its floor being below sea level, with a maximum depth of 380 metres. It is at an altitude of 310 metres, towards the southern end of the Southern Alps.

He also explained that Lake Wakatipu has a regular seiche – a word I had never heard of before.  A seiche is a standing wave in an enclosed or partially enclosed body of water. Seiches and seiche-related phenomena have been observed on lakes, reservoirs, swimming pools, bays, harbours and seas. The key requirement for formation of a seiche is that the body of water be at least partially bounded, allowing the formation of the standing wave.

The term was promoted by the Swiss hydrologist François-Alphonse Forel in 1890, who was the first to make scientific observations of the effect in Lake Geneva, Switzerland.  The word originates in a Swiss French dialect word that means “to sway back and forth”, which had apparently long been used in the region to describe oscillations in alpine lakes.  Lake Wakatipu’s seiche is well known – it varies its surface height at Queenstown by 20 centimetres in a 27-minute cycle.

Jimmy also shared the Maori legend of lake Wakatipu – here is the full version from http://www.southernadventures.co.nz 

Long ago, before the promise of gold brought Pakeha to Otago, the Maori roamed the land, hunting for moa and greenstone and eels. Manata and Matakauri, two star-crossed lovers, lived in a village in the area. The couple were not allowed to marry as Manata was the daughter of the chief, and Matakauri was a commoner.

One night, a giant taniwha named Matau stole into the village, and kidnapped Manata. He carried her away to his lair in the hills, and tied her to him with a magical cord.

Manata’s father was distraught. He asked the young men of the village to go and save Manata, offering her in marriage to whoever brought her home safely. The young men were afraid, but Matakauri, who loved Manata with all his heart, followed the nor-west wind to the still-young mountains where the giant lived. He found Matau asleep, with Manata lashed next to him.  When Matakauri was unable to cut the enchanted cords, Manata begged him to go, fearing that the giant would wake up and kill him. Matakauri refused to leave her; but as Manata began to cry, the love in her tears dissolved her bonds and they escaped.

Matakauri brought Manata back to the village, and the couple were allowed to be married. Later, fearing that Matau would return to cause more trouble, Matakauri went back to the mountains where the monster lived. He found the giant sleeping, lulled by the warm wind, and he set a great fire around him. The hot wind caused the flames to roar violently; the taniwha’s body burned so long and so hot that a trough hundreds of metres deep and 75 kilometres long was created.

After Matakauri left, the rains came and filled the newly formed valley with water, which is now known as Wakatipu, the trough of the giant. Although the giant has been dead for many long years, his heartbeat can still be seen in the steady rise and fall of the beautiful lake that is his resting place.

According to the legend, Lake Wakatipu rests in the trough formed by Matau’s burning body, Glenorchy at his head, Kingston at his feet and Queenstown resting on his knee. His ever-beating heart – the only part of him remaining – is under Pigeon Island and causes the seiche which makes the level of the lake rise and fall regularly and rhythmically.

After leaving the shores of Lake Wakatipu we stopped in Mossburn for a toilet stop before carrying on to Te Anau where we had lunch and I took a walk down to the lake.  It was overcast and a little chilly.

The moose of Mossburn
The goose (times two) of Mossburn
The Takahe.  Extinct?  Not quite, but the only place in the world you will find wild takahe is in Fiordland.  Across the lake, high up in the alpine tussock of the Murchison Mountains, takahe were rediscovered in 1948 by Dr Geoffrey Orbell from Invercargill.  Their survival is supported by a local Department of Conservation captive breeding programmme as well as work controlling introduced predators and deer in their mountain home.

Our next stop was Te Anau Downs where we met our our fourth guide for the trip, Kelly, and got on the boat to cross Lake Te Anau to the start of the Milford Track.

The boat ride was good but unfortunately the low cloud didn’t portray the lake and it’s surrounds in the best light.  As we came ashore at the other end of the lake the sandflies gave us a warm welcome – it was time to cover up and get the insect repellant out!  We had a 1.6km walk to Glade House, our Lodge for night one.

Me and the crew from the Naki

The reason for the name Glade House is because it is set in a glade which we came across pretty quickly.  The Clinton River runs just out in front – what a picturesque spot.  We had time to settle into our rooms and then we all met for a group photo before setting off in groups on a Nature Walk.

Hannah was our group’s guide on the nature walk and she pointed out all sorts of native trees and birds.  The South Island Robin and Tomtit can be seen quite regularly in the area as are Fantails or Piwakawka.  You can also see the Rifleman but they are a little less common.

The South Island Robin

After the nature walk it was time to get ready for dinner – our first three course meal of the trip and it didn’t dissapoint.  Despite all the walking we will be doing I don’t think we will be losing any weight on this trip!

After dinner we had a slide show about the historic figures involved in bringing the Milford Track to life and a bit about the terrain, nature and birds we would see along the way.

We then had to get up by country of origin and introduce ourselves to the rest of the group – there were 50 people in total in our group.  There were a group of girls from Sydney as well as a few other Aussies. A couple from the US and one lady from the Netherlands.  Kelly said that this was the largest contingent of Kiwis that he had ever had in a group.  The Kiwis were the last group to introduce themselves with Steve being the last person – his introduction went like this “Hi I’m Steve and I have FOMO (fear of missing out) so if I didn’t come along I would be left at home alone. I’m not really here for the walk but the socialising at night.”

One of the American’s, Stephen, had actually endeavoured to do the walk the year before but they had so much rain that the track got flooded and they ended up being helicoptered out after two days walking.  Stephen alluded to this in his introduction speech and said that was why he was doing the walk again so he could complete it and was hoping not to see a helicopter on this trip.  Steve Thomas finished his introduction speech with ” I really hope I see a helicopter and I get to go on it!

It was a reasonably early night in anticipation of the 16km that lay ahead the next day.

History of the Milford Track

The native Māori people used the Milford Track for gathering and transporting valuable greenstone. There are many Māori legends about the track and the native species found in it.

Coming in from the Milford end, Donald Sutherland and John Mackay were the first European explorers to see what are now known as Mackay Falls and Sutherland Falls, in 1880.  At the Lake Te Anau end, Quintin McKinnon was employed to try to find an overland tourist route into Milford Sound, and in 1888 discovered what is now named Mackinnon Pass; with his route becoming known as the Milford Track. He was the first guide to take walkers from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. McKinnon began by guiding tours himself and expanded with a marketing campaign from there. Many parts of the Milford Track are named for McKinnon, including Mackinnon Pass, the highest point of the track (although the spelling is slightly different). He also impressed with his “ability at cooking pompolonas, a type of scone from which one of the guided trip huts takes its name.”

In 1901, the government via the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, and later the Tourist Hotel Corporation assumed administrative control of the track and guided tours until it was sold to a private enterprise in 1990. The track was very famous with women from early on. Some parties consisted of three-quarters females even in the first half of the 20th century.

For a great length of its history, only commercial guided tours had the right to be on the track, but in 1965 a “freedom walk” by 46 members of the Otago Tramping Club led to the opening up to the current system of dual system in 1966 with additional huts and facilities for independent walkers created allowing individual, non-guided tours on the route. Today, a quota system allows approximately half the capacity of the track to be used by guided tours, while the other half is undertaken by people walking on their own or in informal groups. The two types of walker use separate systems of huts.

Due to its popularity and the limited facilities available for overnighting (camping is not permitted), the track remains heavily regulated.

Access 

Unlike most of the other Great Walks the Milford Track has no direct carpark access, and hence trampers require boat transport to the start of the track from Te Anau Downs to Glade House (the southern start of the track). There is also foot access to the start via the Dore Pass Route (10.5 km one way) although this is an advanced track and not recommended for most walkers.  At the northern end of the track at Sandfly Point another boat is required to take trampers back to Milford Sound. The north to south option still involves both boats but can only be done during the winter season.

Summer peak season

During the summer peak season of late October to late April, access to the trail is highly regulated. Walkers must complete the track in four days, travelling only in the northward direction. Camping is prohibited on the trail. Walkers can tramp the track independently, or as part of a more expensive guided walk with a guide company. A maximum of 90 walkers can start the trail per day (40 Independent, and 50 Guided). Usually these 90 places are booked out for many months in advance, despite the high cost of the guided walks.

Due to the one-way ticket system and limited hut capacities, trampers need to keep moving even during bad weather. During periods of especially heavy flooding, the DOC regularly calls in helicopters which fly trampers over flooded sections of the track at no further charge.

Independent tramping 

If hiking independently, each night must be spent in a hut owned and maintained by the Department of Conservation. The huts for independent walkers have basic facilities, which include bunk areas, restrooms, and cooking facilities; walkers have to carry their own equipment and food.

Guided tramp 

On a guided walk, walkers stay in lodges owned and operated by Ultimate Hikes (see below for more information about Ultimate Hikes). These lodges have facilities such as hot showers, catered meals, beds, lounge areas, electric lights, and drying rooms. Guided trampers need only carry clothing, toiletries, their sheets, and lunch while on the trail. Guides walk with trampers, providing as little or as much assistance as required.

Off Season 

During the off season from May to mid-October, the track is essentially unregulated, and can be tramped in either direction, over any number of days. It is however much more difficult and dangerous tramping in this season, as facilities at huts are removed, some bridges (up to 10) are removed to prevent avalanche damage. Advice to those contemplating using the track during the winter includes:

“…there are 57 avalanche paths in the area, some of which may cross the track and bring avalanche debris to the valley floor…. you must be competent at crossing large, swift, icy rivers…Mackinnon Pass is not marked and is often covered in deep snow…”

History of Glade House

In 1895, John and Louisa Garvey landed at the head of Lake Te Anau and walked up the east bank of the Clinton River where they came to a beautiful clearing in the bush.  It was such an idyllic spot, with grass growing right down to the river’s edge, the crystal clear Clinton gliding gently by, and a magnificent backdrop of rugged bush clad mountains.

“I would like to build a house in this glade” said Louisa to her husband.  And so they did.

Funding from friends allowed the Garvey’s to erect the first accommodation at the head of Lake Te Anau.

After the first Glade House opened in 1895 – 1896, the existing Clinton Hut fell into disuse and the start of the Milford Track was re-routed along the Glade House side of the river.  From Glade House walkers were ferried across the Clinton River to link up with Mackinnon’s original track in the vicinity of Mackinnon’s hut where they would meet Donald Ross, ‘the popular government guide’.  He and his brother Jack succeeded MacKinnon as guides on the Milford Track.

Built with the framework outside to keep the rats out, Glade House had a long verandah which Louisa adorned with climbing roses.  She planted Mt Cook Lilies and an orchard.  In the evenings, she engaged guests with good humour, musical interludes and fine home cooking.  She also found time to raise eleven children.  Six of the eldest Garvey sons served as guides and trackmen on the Milford Track and their second youngest boy, Charley, walked the entire track at the tender age of eight!  The family soon established a reputation of homely hospitality with evening entertainment.

With Government interest increasing, the Tourist Department purchased Glade House in 1903 as part of its general take over of the Milford Track.  The Garvey’s were retained as managers and stayed on right up to 1908.  During this time, extensions to Glade House were undertaken and Robert Murrell of Manapouri was appointed as chief guide.  Walkers were issued with track tickets costing the princely sum of three shillings and six pence (about 35 cents).

The Glade House fire started just after midday on New Years Day 1929.  It began in the boiler room, but quickly raced through the whole wooden building with flames leaping out of the windows and through the roof.  A large party from the Otago Tramping Club that had just arrived back from Milford scrambled to organise a ‘bucket brigade’.  But the task was a hopeless one and the trampers turned their attention to saving as much as they could from inside.

The whole building was engulfed in flames and Glade House was razed to the ground.  Occurring at the height of the tourist season the timing couldn’t have been worse.  Walkers stayed in temporary marquees and tents until a new Glade House was built in 1930.

I beleive Glade House burnt down again later in the 20th century and had to be rebuilt but I cannot recall when.

Pigeon Post

Glade House was linked to Milford by telephone, but communications with the foot of the lake was maintained by carrier pigeon, which kept the Garvey’s informed as to how many tourists to expect.  The telephone line was fine when it was working but it was highly susceptible to damage by windfalls and avalanches and was in a constant state of disrepair.  Pigeon lofts were built at the huts along the track and the surest means of communication proved to be Pigeon Post!

Landscapes

Origins in Gondwana

  • 600 million years ago, some of New Zealand’s oldest rocks are formed.  These rocks form much of current Fiordland.
  • 250 million years ago, with Gondwana intact, river sediment and volcanic ash settle on sea floor, creating some of the rocks of New Zealand.
  • 100 million years ago, ancestral New Zealand was a large mountainous area along the eastern margin of Gondwana.
  • By 85 million years ago, the New Zealand landmass had split from Gondwana due to a spreading ridge.
  • 55 million years ago, this seafloor spreading ceased.
  • By 35 million years ago, much of the New Zealand landmass has sunk beneath the ocean.  This deposits a sedimentary ‘blanket’ over much of the drowned area.
  • By 5 million years ago, a new period of uplift due to the collision of the Pacific and Australian techtonic plates raises much of the New Zealand landmass above water.
  • Over the last 5 million years there has been about 20km of uplift around the Alpine Fault, but erosion has kept the mountains to their current height.

Te Waka o Aoraki

Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand (Aotearoa), first arrived in waka unua (double hulled voyaging canoes) from Hawaiki more than 600 years ago.

Ecology

A land without mammals 

When the first human settlers arrived in New Zealand from Polynesia in the 13th century, they found a terrestrial flora and fauna unique in the world.  Some species had developed from ancestors that evolved in the original Gondwana, and others had arrived over millions of years.  The Polynesians found a land that was 85% covered with forest and large shrubs, with 80% of the plants endemic to New Zealand.

The terrestrial fauna was even more remarkably endemic, with very limited variety.  The only land dwelling representatives of reptiles, mammals and amphibians were four small frogs, several lizards, the tuatara and three bats.

The first humans found an abundance of birds, many of large size, but restricted in the variety of species.  The bird fauna had evolved for millions of years in a non-mammalian predator free environment, which was reflected by a large number of species that were flightless or were poor fliers.  Ratites proliferated in particular, with the largest Moa developing unopposed into the tallest bird the world has ever known.

Introduced species

Certain introduced animals have done immense damage to the native New Zealand bush.  Some, like rats, were stowaways on canoes or ships.  But some were introduced on purpose – possums and stoats are among those which were brought over to solve one problem, but created another.

Possums

Possums were introduced from Australia in the mid 1800s to be used for fur.  Millions of them now live in forest throughout New Zealand.  They kills trees by stripping them of leaves, fruit and seeds.

Rats and mice

Pacific rats (also known as kiore) came with the first Polynesian settlers, about 1250 – 1300 AD.  Ship rats and Norway rats arrived with the first Europeans and quickly spread.  Rats have killed all sorts of birds and bats.

Stoats and cats

Stoats were brought from Britain in the 1870s to control rabbits.  They spread to the bush, where they took eggs from nests and killed young native birds.  Cats were carried on ships to control the rats on board.  They first came to New Zealand on Captain James Cook’s ship, and later with whalers and sealers.  Wild cats prey on birds, lizards and insects, and are hard to control.

Ultimate Hikes

The Routeburn and Greenstone Tracks had their beginnings in the 1860s when a route through the Southern Alps to the West Coast was proposed for shipping gold to Australia, though this never eventuated. The Routeburn track was finally completed in the 1920s. A private guided walking operation was founded in 1967 and the concession to operate private walks was awarded to Ultimate Hikes in 1989.

Quintin McKinnon discovered the pass which allowed land access to Milford Sound in 1888, and he was the first guide to take walkers from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound, on what is now famously known as the Milford Track. In 1901, the government established the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts and assumed administrative control of the track. The guided walk operation was retained in government control until it was sold to a private enterprise in 1990. Ultimate Hikes acquired the concession to operate on the Milford Track in 1992. The company remains the only one permitted to operate multiday guided walks on the Milford, the Routeburn and the Greenstone Tracks (which, combined with the Routeburn Track makes up the Grand Traverse). Ultimate Hikes has put extensive time, effort and investment into upgrading the facilities on the tracks, and they constantly strive to provide a safe and professional guided walk experience with an international reputation, attracting walkers from New Zealand and all over the world.

Operating in National Parks, where in excess of 9 metres of rain can fall per year, is a challenge; unpredictable weather conditions and relative inaccessibility of the lodges are major considerations in the daily operation of the guided walks. Accommodation for walkers is provided in purpose-built lodges, privately owned and operated by Ultimate Hikes.

Over 120 people are employed each walking season to ensure that the service provided exceeds our walker’s expectations.
Safety is paramount and we have strong communication systems connecting the guides, lodges and Queenstown base at all times.

Considerable effort goes into maintaining the tracks and Ultimate Hikes works closely with the Department of Conservation, on track maintenance and pest control.

Ultimate Hikes also operates guided day walks on the Milford, and Routeburn Tracks. These day walks are specifically designed for those who can’t fit the full walks into their holiday.

Sister companies of Ultimate Hikes include other iconic New Zealand visitor attractions; the historic Hermitage Hotel, Glacier Explorers, Tasman Valley 4WD and Argo Tours, and the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre (all located at Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Village), NZSki Ltd operators of New Zealand’s premier ski areas: Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt, and AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand.

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Mountains to the Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Whanganui River & The Flying Fox

We awoke on day three to a mist shrouded river although it didn’t take long for the cloud to burn off.  The plan today was to canoe for a couple of hours down the Whanganui River and then cycle approximately 33km also down the river to the Flying Fox Lodge.

We got transported across the river on the jet boat to where our double canoes awaited us.  I had suggested putting everyone’s names in a hat and drawing out canoeing companions in order to avoid potential domestics between husbands and wives or partners.  This didn’t get any traction so we all canoed with our beloveds and yes there was varying degrees of domestic unrest : 0

We had two local canoe guides – Charles and Waiwai. They gave us some paddling instruction and warned us that at least one boat would capsize in the larger rapid that we were going to go over later in the morning.  Steve, not being a water sports fan was freaking out and so I took control and said I would go in the back – the person in the back effectively steers and controls the boat.  This was going against the logic of the heaviest person being in the back but I thought we’d be fine.  It didn’t quite turn out that way and I just couldn’t get the jist of the steering – I’m going to blame the fact that there was too much weight in the front : ). The guides suggested we swap and it was a good decision – the weight imbalance was fixed and Steve was pretty good at this steering lark.

We went over a couple of smaller rapids and all was fine.  We stopped off in one of the arms of the river and Charles and Waiwai shared their knowledge of the history of the river as well as some personal stories given they had grown up on the river.

With a length of 290 kilometres (180 mi), the Whanganui is the country’s third-longest river. Much of the land to either side of the river’s upper reaches is part of the Whanganui National Park, though the river itself is not part of the park.

The river rises on the northern slopes of Mount Tongariro, one of the three active volcanoes of the central plateau, close to Lake Rotoaira. It flows to the north-west before turning south-west at Taumarunui. From here it runs through the rough, bush-clad hill country of the King Country before turning south-east and flowing past the small settlements of Pipiriki and Jerusalem, before reaching the coast at Whanganui. It is the country’s longest navigable river.

Maori legend explains the formation of the river in the Mount Taranaki legend. When Mount Taranaki left the central plateau for the coast, the land was split open, and the river filled the rift. According to Māori tradition, the river was first explored by Tamatea, one of the leaders of the original migration to the new land, who travelled up the river and on to Lake Taupo. Many places along the river are named in his honour.

The Whanganui River has always been an important communication route to the central North Island, both for Māori and for settlers. It is, however, also a difficult river, with many stretches of white water and over 200 rapids. Despite this for many years it was the principal route to the interior.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area around the Whanganui was one of the most densely inhabited in the land. Unsurprisingly, with the arrival of the colonial settlers, the area near the river’s mouth became a major trading post.

Although it was already a significant route to the interior, the major development of the river as a trade route was by Alexander Hatrick, who started the first regular steam-boat service in 1892. The service eventually ran to Taumarunui where rail and coach services connected with points north. One of Hatrick’s original boats, paddle-steamer PS Waimarie, has been restored and runs scheduled sailings in Whanganui. Another of the Hatrick boats, MV Wairua has also been restored and can be seen on the river.

During the early 20th century, the Wanganui River, as it was then called, was one of the country’s top tourist attractions, its rugged beauty and the Māori kainga (villages) which dotted the banks attracting thousands of tourists per year.

With the completion of the North Island Main Trunk railway, the need for the steamboat route to the north greatly diminished, and the main economic activity of the river area became forestry. During the 1930s, attempts were made to open the river valley up as farmland, but they were not successful. One legacy of that time is the Bridge to Nowhere, built to provide access to settlements long since abandoned.

In 1912–13 the French filmmaker Gaston Méliès shot a (now lost) documentary film The River Wanganui about the river, calling it the Rhine of New Zealand.

The settlement of Jerusalem is of particular note – see below for more information. Jerusalem was home to two famous New Zealanders, Mother Mary Joseph Aubert (Suzanne Aubert), whose Catholic mission is still located at Jerusalem, and New Zealand poet James K. Baxter, who established a commune at the settlement in 1970.

Other settlements are Tieke Kāinga, Pipiriki, Rānana, Matahiwi, and Koriniti.

The river is of special and spiritual importance for Māori, who also refer to it as Te awa tupua—it was the home for a large proportion of Māori villages in pre-European times. As such, it is regarded as taonga, a special treasure. In recent times, efforts have been made to safeguard the river and give it the respect it deserves.

For the same reason, the river has been one of the most fiercely contested regions of the country in claims before the Waitangi Tribunal for the return of tribal lands. In fact the Whanganui River claim is heralded as the longest-running legal case in New Zealand history with petitions and court action in the 1930s, Waitangi Tribunal hearings in the 1990s and land occupations such as the ongoing Tieke Marae occupation since 1993 and the highly publicised Moutoa Gardens occupation in 1995.

On 30 August 2012, an agreement was reached that entitled the Whanganui River to a legal identity, a first in the world. According to the New Zealand Herald, the river “will be recognized as a person when it comes to the law—in the same way that a company is, which will give it rights and interests”.

For many years it was known in some records as the Wanganui River, however the river’s name officially reverted to Whanganui in 1991, according with the wishes of local iwi. Part of the reason was also to avoid confusion with the Wanganui River in the South Island. The city at the river’s mouth was called Wanganui until December 2009, when the government decided that while either spelling was acceptable, Crown agencies would use the Whanganui spelling.

After successfully navigating a couple of small rapids, Charles and Waiwai primed us up for the last and largest rapid of the day.  They kept reiterating that at least one of us would capsize.  The rapid didn’t look too bad but we tried to do everything they told us as we approached and entered it – we got past the white water OK and were then heading for the bank.  I kept telling Steve to turn the canoe so that we would continue pointing forward – to no avail – we were going down backwards : 0

Meanwhile we had heard a “yee haa” as Rachel D and Jim’s boat capsized.  All I could see was Jim hanging onto the upturned canoe floating down the river – Rachel D was nowhere in sight.  In the midst of yelling at Steve to turn the canoe around I was also saying “where’s Rachel D, she must be trapped under the canoe, we need to help her.”  Steve was saying “we can’t help her, we just need to get down this rapid.”  What I didn’t realise was that he had seen that she was safely on an island in the middle of the river.  Jim, however, was continuing to float down the river attached to the upturned canoe.

We eventually turned the canoe around and enjoyed the last bit of the rapid looking forward.  This was to be the end of our canoeing so we made our way to the river bank.  The jet boat that was there to take us down to Pipiriki went and rescued Jim and the canoe.  Hilary and Graham had picked Rachel D up in their canoe – they were the most competent in the canoe so it was fortunate they had decided to traverse the rapid last.

Once we were all safely on the river bank we took a team photo before getting on the jet boat to be reunited with Ted and our bikes at Pipiriki.  We had spent about three hours canoeing and it was a good introduction and I think enough in the scheme of things.

We were then taken by jet boat down to Pipiriki where Ted met us with the bikes in tow.  This was our lunch stop – the weather had really heated up so we were in for a hot afternoon on the bike.  We had 33km to bike to get to our accomodation for the night.  The first 8km was uphill so 9 of the team decided to take the van option that Ted offered.  Five hardy soles including myself decided to grind the 8km  out.  To be honest I quite enjoyed to, it was a slow steady climb and in the lowest gear you just had to sit there are turn the pedals.  The view up the river at the top was awesome.

Along River Rd you pass through a series of Kainga, the unfortified settlements along the coast that replaced the original series of fighting Pa on the hilltops known as the necklace of fire. The Kainga settlements at the riverside were the results of the missionaries influence and in many cases the Maori asked the Rev Taylor for suggests for their names and what remains is the Maori pronunciations of his suggestions. You pass through Atene (Athens), Koriniti (Corinth), Ranana (London) and Hiruharama (Jerusalem).

The downhill into Hiruharama or Jerusalem was fun.  We stopped off to explore the Church and accomodation.  The buildings were in great condition.  We met a young guy in the accomodation building who invited us upstairs – Di and I thought it was or lucky day : 0. Upstairs was a a big room full of beds that you can stay in for $25 per person per night.  The young guy and his mates had been hunting – he told us that the local gang run the hunting area and you pay them to be able to hunt – $250 for the first animal and $100 for each animal thereafter.  This guy hadn’t actually shot anything himself but his mates had so he was in a dilemma as to whether he should still pay – he was asking our advice – he didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the gang : )

See below for more information about Hiruharama.

After leaving Hiruharama we came across the Kawana Flour Mill.  The Kawana Flour Mill was one of several mills built last century and operated for 50 years. It has been completely rebuilt and is all in perfect condition, with its water heel. The millers colonial style cottage has also been restored and moved up above the potential flood level. The mill is unattended and open all the time to walk round.

Many Māori embraced the new opportunities offered by the international economy. They crewed whale ships, worked at whaling stations, grew crops, exported to Australia and also supplied much of early Auckland and Wellington’s meat and building materials. As well as paying 60% of the North Island’s customs duties by 1856, they also invested in major capital items such as trading schooners and flourmills.

But some of the flourmills, which also had a political function as symbols of mana, were more successful, at least around Whanganui. This mill was originally named Kawana Kerei (Governor Grey) in honour of the governor, who donated millstones. Millwright Peter McWilliam built it in 1854 at Matahiwi for Ngā Poutama iwi to take advantage of salvageable totara logs lying in the riverbed. The provident Whanganui also provided transport for Grey’s millstones and the English cast-iron machinery and brass bearings, as well as power once the waterwheel started turning inside the timber-framed weatherboarded three-storey mill house. The government appointed Richard Pestall miller, and expected him to train Māori as part of his duties.

Pestall was succeeded by his son and the mill ground away spasmodically until 1913 when it was abandoned. Members of the Wanganui Tramping Club kept the site clear of weeds but restoration only began in the mid 1970s when the threat of outsiders removing the waterwheel prompted local people and the former Historic Places Trust to act. The wheel and millstones are authentic, as is the (relocated) miller’s cottage. The mill building is not, because the top storey had been dismantled in the 1930s for the iron and most of the original weatherboard structure had rotted away. Architect Chris Cochran designed this replica. Trust and tramping club volunteers supervised work on the mill, which another ‘kawana’, Governor-General Sir Keith Holyoake, opened in October 1980.

We then came across the Matahiwi Cafe and Gallery which is in a converted schoolhouse.  Outside the cafe is the boat used in the movie River Queen.  

River Queen is a 2005 New Zealand-British war drama film directed by Vincent Ward and starring Samantha Morton, Kiefer Sutherland, Cliff Curtis and Temuera Morrison. The film opened to mixed reviews but performed well at the box office in New Zealand.

The film takes place in New Zealand in 1868 during Titokowaru’s War between the Māori and New Zealand colonial forces. Sarah O’Brien (Samantha Morton) has grown up among soldiers in a frontier garrison on Te Awa Nui, the Great River. Pregnant at 16 by a young Maori boy, she gives birth to a son. When, 7 years later, her son, Boy, is kidnapped by his Maori grandfather, Sarah is distraught. Abandoned by her soldier father, Sarah’s life becomes a search for her son. Her only friend, Doyle (Kiefer Sutherland) is a broken-down soldier without the means to help her. Lured to the ill rebel chief Te Kai Po’s village by the chance to see her child, Sarah finds herself falling in love with Boy’s uncle, Wiremu (Cliff Curtis) and increasingly drawn to the village way of life. Using medical skills she learned from her father, Sarah heals Te Kai Po (Temuera Morrison) and begins to reconcile with her son (Rawiri Pene). But her idyllic time at the village is shattered when she realises that she has healed the chief only to hear him declare war on the Colonials, men she feels are her friends, her only family. Her desperation deepens when she realises that Boy intends to prove himself in war, refusing to go back down river with her. As the conflict escalates Sarah finds herself at the centre of the storm, torn by the love she feels for Boy and Wiremu, anguished over the attachments she still has to the white man’s world, and sickened by the brutality she witnesses on either side. And when the moment comes, Sarah must choose where she belongs; will she be forced back into the white man’s way of life, or will she have the courage to follow the instincts that are telling her where she truly belongs?

It was really hot so we thought a cool drink was in order. After leaving the cafe Steve Impey attracted one of the locals : 0

Next stop was our accomodation at the Flying Fox Lodge and you guessed it, the only way to access the place was by flying fox.  After locking our bikes up at the end of the steep driveway which we didn’t ride, we called up Kelly on the other side of the river.  Once we were all aboard Kelly started the flying fox and we traversed the river.  It was so cool.  What awaited us on the other side of the river was even cooler.  There are a collection of cottages and a permanent glamping tent set amongst the prettiest gardens.  All the cottages are built and function according to their environmentally friendly principles while offering well equipped kitchens, bathrooms and comfortable beds.

What a great spot.  We all milled around, had showers and got ourselves a refreshing beverage to enjoy in the various comfy locations around the property.  Jane and her german woofer prepared us a lovely three course meal.  After a few after dinner laughs we retired to our little pieces of paradise for a well deserved rest.

History of Hiruharama / Jerusaleum

Hiruharama is nestled beside the flowing waters of the Whanganui River. The houses in this settlement are clustered around the Patiarero Marae.

In earlier days, Hiruharama was one of the largest settlements on the Whanganui River. It was known as a meeting place for korero (discussion).

Suzanne Aubert came in 1883 at the invitation of the local hapu of the Whanganui iwi of Te ATI Haunui-a-Paparangi. The Sisters of Compassion came into being here, and were formally recognised by the Catholic Church in 1892. There has been a continuous presence of Sisters in this community ever since. The Sisters are privileged to have the status of tangata whenua (native to the area).

Hiruharama has featured in prose and poetry, been photographed and painted, admired by pre World War 1 riverboat tourists, sought out as a haven by young 1970s social refugees, and now visited by people from all over around the world. It’s isolation and its spiritual history make it a place of pilgrimage and retreat.

Patiarero is the original name for the settlement commonly called Hiruharama, a translation of Jerusalem.

The name is a legacy of the influence along the lower river of Rev. Richard Taylor who wrote out the final parchment copy of the Treaty of Waitangi. He was a Church Missionary Society minister who came south to the Whanganui region and established his mission station in 1843 at Putiki near the river mouth. In the first flush of Christian enthusiasm in the late 1840s , many rangatira (chiefs) along the Whanganui River consulted Richard Taylor and adopted for their kainga (homes) Maori forms of Blibical or European names. Atene (Athens), Koriniti (Corinth), Ranana (London) and Hiruharama (Jerusalem).

The home grown Catholic congregation – Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion – began on the Whanganui River.

In 1883 Father Soulas, Suzanne as interpreter and Maori cultural adviser, and Sisters Aloysius and Teresa of St Joseph of Nazareth from Whanganui – who were to teach in the school – came to live in Hiruharama to revive the Catholic Mission.

The Sisters straight away began learning Maori language and customs, and many children and adults came to the school and became converts. The two young Sisters of St Jospeph returned to Whanganui after a year. Suzanne was now appointed to set up and lead a branch of the Marist Third Order Regular of Mary. She recruited more teachers. Anne O’Rourke, Bridget Brownlie and Carmel Gallagher joined her in 1884 and became Sisters shortly after.

In 1885, the Sisters helped dig the foundations of a new church and Father Soulas set the first pile in place. The local people joined a Whanganui building firm in the construction work and the Sisters cross-stitched a carpet for the new church from patterns and wool ordered from France.

On Christmas Day 1885 Bishop Redwood blessed St Jospeh’s Church. Less than three years later, the building was burned down and Suzanne and Sister Magdalen set off on a year long collecting tour to raise money not only to replace the church, but to erect a convent as well. They returned with 1,000 pounds and the two buildings were built in 1893.

The Sisters, in addition to the customs of religious life, taught and nursed, farmed newly cleared bush, tended an orchard, made and marketed medicines, sold fruit to tourists and raised homeless children. The community grew and thrived in both Hiruharama and Ranana.

The Society of Mary in France, however, was not happy with the direction the Sisters were taking. Archbishop Redwood intervened and on 14 October 1892 appointed Suzanne as Mother Superior of the newly established Daughters of Our Lady of Compassion.

“Never forget that we were first instituted for the Maori, that we began in the bush, that by our vows we are consecrated to their service.” Suzanne wrote later “They have the first claim on our love, on our care, never abandon them.”

By 1904, both the original missioners Soulas and Aubert were no longer living at Hiruharama and by 1907 the orphanage children and the novices had also gone to the new Home of Compassion in Wellington. Hiruharama settled back to purely ‘the Maori Mission’ in the eyes of the archdiocese and most of the Society of Mary.

When Suzanne Aubert ran away from home to join a mission to the other side of the world she began a New Zealand adventure that would last 66 years.

Small in stature but large in heart and spirit, she devoted her life to helping others. Her work took her from France to Auckland then to Hawke’s Bay, to the Whanganui River and finally to Wellington. Along the way, she founded a new Catholic congregation, cared for children and the sick, by skilfully combining Maori medicine and Pakeha science, and wrote books in Maori, English and French adding significantly to our cultural understanding and literary heritage.

Throughout her life, she stood firm believing that everyone deserved equal respect and was undeterred by obstacles. When challenged by authority in New Zealand, she travelled to Rome where she gained permission to continue working for those who most needed her help – children and the sick.

Determined and charismatic, Suzanne Aubert had the knack of making things happen, and remained steadfast in her belief in herself, the people she served and her God. Today, her mission continues through the dedicated work of the Sisters of Compassion .

The spirit of Suzanne Aubert lives on in the work of the Sisters of Compassion. The Sisters of Compassion continue to work actively towards the relief of human suffering. Their work extends throughout New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Tonga. They are engaged in social work, pastoral care, prison and hospital chaplaincies, education, working with refugee and disadvantaged migrant communities, residential and home care of the sick and the elderly. The leadership team of the Home of Compassion is located at Island Bay, Wellington.

 The Community of Hiruharama Today

At present there are three sisters in the community at Hiruharama: Sisters Anna Marie Shortfall, Sue Cosgrove and Margaret Mary Murphy.

The sisters offer hospitality to those who come to visit and stay, and are actively involved with the local communities of the river. They have a particular commitment to the Ngati Hau people at Jerusalem and Ngati Ruaka people of Ranana.

The Sisters of Hiruharama strive to live in a sustainable way. Seasonal fruit, from very old trees on the site is made into jams, jellies, chutney and relish and sold locally as well as at the River TRaders Market in Whanganui. The Sisters live in a house built in 1990, near the church.

The land on which the St Joseph’s Church and the Old Convent sits, belongs to local Maori families. The historic buildings belong to the Catholic Diocese of Palmerston North. Both buildings are classified with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Some believe that St Joseph’s Church, with the interesting mix of Maori and European influence, is the most photographed church in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

The original school building was situated in what is now a paddock on the other side of the driveway.

Under the facilities of a combined school and teacher’s accomodation, the Sisters set up their community. The schoolhouse served as a school and Covent for eight years and was also used as a church over part of this time.

The convent building was never purely a convent for Sisters. From the very beginning it took in the school and the first of the children came to live in the growing family there. To accomodate both school and orphanage the building was almost doubled in size in 1897. This crammed building and hum of life continued until 1907 when the Pakeha children went to live in Wellington.

Only in the 1950’s when boarders came was it again used almost to this full extent. From that time the convent building did not change much. IN 1969 the school at Hiruharama was closed and the one at Ranana was taken over by the Education Department.

Today Hiruharama remains a centre for support for the local communities. Sisters still live at Hiruharama and are kaitiaki, or guardians of the pilgrimage site where guests frequently stay in the old convent built by Suzanne Aubert.

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Mountains to the Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Mangapurua Track & the Bridge to Nowhere

Another beautiful morning greeted us.  Ted came to pick us up at 8am to shuttle us to the start of the Mangaparua Track which is about an hour from Ohakune.  If we had been doing the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail proper we would have started from Turoa, ridden the Old Coach Road from Ohakune to Horopito (we did it the other way round) and then carried on towards the Mangapurua Track.  However, we are a social bunch and we just picked the best bits : )

We had chosen to have guides with us for the Mangapurua Track so Ted and his mate Trevor were riding with us sharing their insight into the area as we went.

The track climbs gently from the gate at the road end through private farmland, regenerating scrub and pockets of native bush.  It wasn’t too bad and everyone coped well – the views over the Tongariro National Park where well worth it at the top.  There is another track that goes down the Kaiwhakauka Valley and at the junction of the two tracks is a carved totara pou.  This pou symbolises the ngahere (forest) and provides spiritual and cultural safety for visitors.

Not long after the track junction we got to the Trig which did require a little climb up to the top – again the views were worth it as we could see the Tongariro National Park to the east and Mt Taranaki to the west.  There are some information boards here that have pictures of the World War I returned servicemen who farmed this area between 1916 and 1942.

During World War 1, the government offered land in the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka valleys to returned servicemen as part of a soldier settlement scheme. In 1917 the first pioneer settlers started taking up the available holdings.

Life was difficult from the start. The land was remote, hilly and untamed. Road access was limited and the settlers had to clear their holdings of dense forest and transform them into farm land. Despite the obstacles, the returned servicemen were enthusiastic and determined. At the peak of settlement there were 30 farms in Mangapurua and 16 in Kaiwhakauka. The shared experiences – through war and these new challenges – created a strong bond, and for a number of years the community thrived.

A wooden swing bridge was constructed across the Mangapurua Stream in 1919. This connected the isolated valley with the riverboats that brought goods along the Whanganui River. However the settlers had always expected that roading access would be improved – a more solid bridge would be built and that it would form part of a road between Raetihi and Taranaki.

Planning for the new bridge started when the timber bridge began to rot. In 1936 the new steel-reinforced concrete bridge was finally opened. It was an impressive sight at nearly 40 metres above the river within the steep ravine walls. Later in the day we saw the remains of the old swing bridge from the concrete bridge that replaced it.

By the time construction was finished, many of the Mangapurua settlers had abandoned their holdings. The physical labour and economic hardship had taken their toll on the returned servicemen and their families. Serious erosion (caused by the clearing of bush), flooding and poor road access were other obstacles that the settlers could no longer overcome.

By 1942 only three of the farmers remained in the valley. They were eventually forced to leave when the government decided that road access would no longer be maintained. By 1944, everyone had gone.  Not only that, they left virtually penniless.

The concrete bridge – now known as the Bridge to Nowhere – is the symbol of that ill-fated settlement in an area known as the “valley of abandoned dreams”.

From the Trig the track heads steadily downhill, passing the only uncut section of forest in the Mangapurua Valley. The first swing bridge in the valley crosses Slippery Creek and a further 1.5 km along you reach Johnson’s.

As you move down the valley, you cross the grassy clearings that were created by the early settlers. Many of the papa bluffs are named after settlers that farmed the surrounding land. The names of these settlers also live on in the wooden signs installed along the track marking the location of the original house sites. Common features in the valley are the rows of exotic trees that mark the road and the house sites.

We stopped at Johnson’s Flat for lunch.  The original farmer Edward Johnson collected the mail twice a week from the Mangapurua Landing and distributed it through the valley.

We met a descendant of one of the returning soliders at our lunch stop.  He sets up camp every summer and just returns to his house in Raetihi every few weeks to mow his lawns.  He had the billy on and offered us a cuppa tea.  He loved to chat and we enjoyed listening to some of his stories before getting back on the bikes.

The last 13km provided some challenges with the track becoming narrow as it skirted the bluffs.  There were a number of parts where we had to dismount and walk the bikes.  There are also seven swing bridges to cross which involve tipping your bike up on it’s back wheel and pushing it over the bridges like that.  We all became quite expert at doing this by the end of the day.

Finally we made it the Bridge to Nowhere – the bridge gets more use now than it did when it was first built. It is the unofficial flagship of Whanganui National Park and a major visitor attraction on the Whanganui Journey – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

We still had 3km to go to reach the river where our jet boat awaited us.  We were being transported to the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge for the night.  It was a beautiful day so the ride down the river was great.  The refreshments at the Lodge were even better and after showers we enjoyed sitting on the large balcony enjoying the views up and down the river.

We enjoyed a lovely meal at the Lodge and we all slept like babies apart from the minor earthquake that happened during the night – not everyone felt it but I did.

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Mountains to the Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Mellonsfolly Ranch

We were really reluctant to leave the Flying Fox Lodge after our enjoyable evening and lovely breakfast but further adventure awaited us. We had to have our bags out a bit earlier so they could go across in the Flying Fox – the Flying Fox only takes 4 people at a time so it takes a wee while to get everyone and their bags across the river.

We waved goodbye to Kelly and Jane, traversed the river, collected our bikes and began the hard slog up the driveway pushing bikes and balancing bags.  

Ted was waiting at the top of the hill for us so we loaded our bags in and our bikes on and set off in the direction of Mellonsfolly Ranch.  We drove back up River Road where we had biked the day before and turned off towards Raetihi – again we had some great views of the mountains.

We stopped in Raetihi to get coffee and a snack.  We also did a bit of secret squirrel work obtaining a slice of cake and some candles so we could celebrate Steve Impey’s birthday that evening.

We stopped at the Ruatiti Domain to have a picnic lunch before the final few kilometres into Mellonsfolly Ranch.  The anticipation was building….

Mellonsfolly Ranch is home to the Old West Town, an authentic western town. Deliberately remote, Mellonsfolly Ranch is truly at the end of the road. Located on one thousand acres of unspoiled native bush in one of New Zealand’s hidden valleys. Step back in time and experience where the charm of the Old West mingles gracefully with the luxury of the Victorian Era. 

What started out as an idea to build a simple family lodge “away from it all” by Auckland couple John and Kenda Bedogni, soon snowballed into Old West Town, a thousand acre bush-clad development and home to Mellonsfolly Ranch, a Wyoming-styled western town of the late 1800s.

Mellonsfolly takes its name from the Auckland beach suburb of Mellons Bay, where John and Kenda live and developed their “labour of love”.

A passion for all things ‘western’ saw the couple scour the US for buildings and inspiration, and their attention to detail is found in every part of the retreat. Unlike a movie set constructed simply of facades, Old West Town has complete buildings, including a saloon, bathhouse, courthouse and western-style Victorian accommodation.

We were greeted by Pancho and Rosita who were decked out in there western gear.  We were taken to our rooms, given scones with jam and cream before embarking on a tour of the town.  It is WOW – the attention to detail is second to none.  Our rooms were all so luxurious and the beds so big and soft.

The have a costume room so everyone spent a bit of time in there getting appropriately attired.  You also get issued with your own gun and gun leather.  The guns are powered by gas cylinders so they make a real noise.  There were a number of shootouts in the Main Street.  The cracking of the whip also kept us entertained.

We enjoyed a lovely meal before Pancho lit the fire so we could sit around it and toast marshmallows.  Some of us then retired to the courthouse which doubled as the cinema to watch an old western.

The next morning we were treated to a cowboys breakfast – it was huge and very few of us could manage the whole lot.  Pancho then took us to do a bit of archery with mixed results : )

It was then 10am and Ted re appeared to take us back to Ohakune where we would all go our separate ways again.  It had been another fabulous trip and we were all the richer for the experience and time spent with good friends.

NZ Herald – July 2007

Way out West

By David Fisher

It’s a real head-scratcher. Why would a businessman with a legacy of conventional decisions spend $8 million to build his own town? And why build it in the style of ethe Old West? In the middle of nowhere, 40 kilometres down a metal road in a bit of country so remote it doesn’t even have a name beyond the one invented for it?

Good question, they say – ask John. But John Bedogni, one of the wealthy founders of Metropolitan Glass, can’t explain why he sank a fortune into building Mellonsfolly Ranch near Raetihi – although he will say it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Actually, there’s nobody with an answer that makes any sense.

Those at Raetihi, 40km away, can’t help, as accustomed as they are to those from the Mellonsfolly Ranch dropping into town wearing cowboy hats with six-shooters strapped to the sides of their legs.

No answers from the local police officer, who has flagged down would-be Indian chiefs with wild looks in their eyes, speeding hell-for-leather across the Central Plateau, intent on reaching the ranch.

And no answers from the staff who maintain the 14-building town, which now allows paying guests to enjoy the courthouse, saloon, general store and whorehouse. (No whores though, bemoans one Raetihi local.)

Mellonsfolly Ranch is, quite simply, one of the weirdest, quirkiest monuments to wealth to be found anywhere in New Zealand.

In the courthouse, the Bible lies open at Psalm VII, 15: “He made a pit and he digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.” Almost two years after completion, Bedogni is still in the ditch, pouring money into Mellonsfolly Ranch without yet knowing why he built it. It’s now up for sale, for about $8 million. It never did turn a profit – but then, Bedogni never expected it to.

We blew into town jest gone High Noon. The directions to Mellonsfolly Ranch are like those for Neverland. As a Raetihi local says, you reach it by travelling beyond Timbucktoo, into the Styx and on towards the middle of nowhere.

Strapping on six-shooters here seemed as natural as slugging back the jiggers of whiskey which slid down the bar in the Lucky Strike Saloon, as natural as the town, which is so solidly and cleanly built it seems as if it were there forever.

There is no reality at Mellonsfolly Ranch. In fact, this is key to understanding the building of the town from the beginning to its glorious end.

The concept was unreal, and the four-year-long construction process with up to 40 builders living on site during the week was equally unreal. Strutting down the main street, past hitching posts and Western-style wagons, gunleather riding your waist – that’s unreal.

The more permanent refugees from reality are The Judge and Texas Rose, who checked in their names – Graeme and Joy Pointon – at the gate when they moved in to manage the town.

The couple owned 10 acres down the valley, spending weekends from Wanganui, where Judge worked as a legal executive and Tex as a council manager. They sold up, and had just bought a new house in Wanganui when Bedogni rang, offering them a job managing the ranch.

Neither had any experience in the tourism industry. “We never did our OE,” says The Judge, explaining that he and Tex met when they were 18 and 16 respectively. This is their OE.

The Judge is the frontman – he greets visitors and breaks them in with a tour of the town, telling the legend of Charles Mellon, Bedognis’ nom de guerre in the fantasy world of Mellonsfolly Ranch. The story goes that Mellon (the name was taken from Auckland’s Mellons Bay, where the Bedognis have lived for years) struck gold in the town, working the mine until it collapsed. The town that grew up around the old mine remains. By the time he is finished, the magic of make-believe has begun.

In the Marshall’s office, the Judge leans in, conspiratorially serious to ask: “Do you want to wear some gear? I never go anywhere without mine.”

He pulls his jacket aside to show a revolver tucked into a shoulder holster.

The construction is immaculate, and the details intricate. Bedogni oversaw the entire process, insisting Mellonsfolly Ranch be built with only the best materials, in the most authentic fashion possible. He and wife Kenda, the former head of Chanel in New Zealand, travelled often in the Western states of the United States, and once the folly began, loaded up containers with memorabilia and antiques which add to the feel of the town.

“I didn’t want plastic,” says Bedogni, who took a third share of $350 million when Metropolitan Glass sold out to an Australian company last year.

The details are remarkable. Rust is spray-painted on to roofs to age the buildings, the flag outside the courthouse has 42 stars on it, reflecting the United States in its pre-1900 period. Old advertising flyers on yellowed parchment are in small frames on the wall, one beneath a light switch reading: “This room is equipped with the Edison Electric Light. Do not attempt to light with match. Simply turn key on wall by door”.

The comforts are equally remarkable. All floors have inbuilt heating, the imported brass beds are sublime, a movie screen rolls down from behind the bench in the courthouse for movies or television.

In the Telegraph office, the switchboard disguises a plug for a satellite internet connection.

It’s that kind of quality that lifts Mellonsfolly Ranch beyond the cheesiness of theme villages.

It can take in up to 21 guests, hosting couples overnight through to large birthday parties and corporate conferences.
A couple married here once, riding in for 10 hours on horseback to get hitched in the main street.

Judging by the guestbooks it’s not too busy, with one large group a month for rooms that range from $200 to $250 a night, including three meals.

Tom Dickie of Taupo wrote in the guest register: “Bloody good stay. Won the shooting and the horse race.

“First man to be kicked out of the saloon.”

Ron Mitchell, who stayed in the Buffalo Bill room: “I’ve lived out the fantasy that every young boy would want (on my 60th birthday!).”

The idea, once it got under way, was that guests see nothing that wasn’t around in the 1880s, says Bedogni. Of course, he says, that’s more Hollywood 1880s than the real thing – the saloon has polished floorboards and a macrocarpa bar, rather than sawdust underfoot and a rough-cut bench.

His initial idea, he says, was to build a log cabin retreat for family and friends on the 1000-acre block of land. Then, someone suggested another building and “let’s make it Western”.

“At that stage I was probably too far in to stop. We sort of got carried along with it but I was brave enough to keep it going.”
The vision expanded with the decision to get a return on the investment by opening it up to paying guests.

“It turned from a good idea to a folly, to a grand folly.” He’s an intriguing character, is Bedogni, who paid $8 million for a wild west town, decorates his office at home with Napoleonic art, once entertained the building of a grand Moorish garden and has been a supporter of fan groups of the comic character the Phantom.

He’s undoubtedly wealthy – but untouched by affectation, unless you view a penchant for building towns as such.
There is a sense that money liberated this creature of impulse – during what he calls his Napoleonic period there must have been family concerns they would awake to find the garden resculpted into a replica of Waterloo.

Bedogni watched Western TV shows as a boy, and still owns the pair of Gunsmoke pistols he was given as a child. Ask him why he built Mellonsfolly Ranch and he says: “Good question”, then thinks about it for a bit. “Why does one do these things? If Kenda was here, what she’d say is: ‘That’s what he’s like. He gets carried away’.”

As to how much it cost, he says: “I’ve embarrassed myself”, and why he built it in such a remote location and he grins: “It’s one of the integral parts of the folly.”

Bedogni leans forward, attempts to explain, but ends by simply saying: “We’ve been on a journey.”

And: “I’m sure there were people who thought we were crazy. We probably were.”

So who would buy it? “For a lot of people it would be the owning of it.”

He’s selling it for a number of reasons, but mainly to have a rest. He and Kenda want life a little simpler.

Bedogni sees three types of buyer. Someone wealthy, who wants a private block of land with comfortable accommodation and doesn’t mind shedding a few hundred thousand dollars a year to keep it spick and span.

Possibly boutique tourism operators, he thinks, or finally one of those grand American hunters, who fancies 1000 acres that hasn’t been hunted on for 10 years.

Bedogni hasn’t made a return on his investment, and probably won’t. As he says, “It’s over-engineered, over-commissioned and over-complied with”.

Mainly, it’s bizarre. There are sheep hollering from paddocks across the valley and ponga ferns among the manuka. On the ridge opposite, a farm fence marks out the boundary between Bedogni’s Neverland and the neighbouring farm station. For all that, it’s a place where native Americans are Injuns, and where Brokeback Mountain’s love still dare not speak its name.
It has “wanted” posters in the Marshall’s office – Kid Currie is worth $18,000 dead or alive – and it’s own whiskey label, bearing the face of Mellon/Bedogni.

With its boardwalk and campfire, its water tower and balconies around the cathouse, it’s perfect for any cowboy fancying a quick getaway.

“It’s something very, very different at the end of a windy road,” says The Judge. “It was just a hole in the bush before it started.”

Posted in Central North Island, New Zealand | Leave a comment

Mountains to Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Turoa & The Old Coach Road

This year’s cycle trip was in the central North Island.  The trip over the Napier – Taihape Road was stunning with gorgeous views of Mt Ruapehu.  Neither Steve or I had driven over that road so we were exploring new territories.

We all met in Ohakune which is better known as a ski resort town in the winter although there are plenty of summer activities too.

We had engaged Ted from Tread Routes in Taupo as our guide, rental bike and luggage transport extraordinaire. He met us in Ohakune at 1pm on the Friday and sorted those that were renting bikes out. We then all jumped in the van for the trip up to the Turoa Skifield. Stage one of day one was a 17km descent down the mountain road. The weather was perfect and the mountain greeted us in all her glory.

The descent was fast with some of the guys getting up to 70km per hour on their bikes. I wasn’t that brave and had my back brake lever close at hand. It was a blast though and over all too quick.

Stage two of day one was the Old Coach Road.  Ted shuttled us to the Horopito end of the trail and we rode back to Ohakune.

The cycle trail, which uses most of the historic Ohakune Coach Road between Ohakune Station and Horopito, was opened by New Zealand Prime Minister Mr John Key in July 2010.  This part of the Ruapehu to Whanganui “Nga Ara Tuhono” cycle trail, also called “Nga Haerenga,” was the first of the national cycleway ‘quick start’ projects to be launched.

The northern end of the coach road at Horopito is the home of Smash Palace, the famous auto wreckers yard with hundreds of vehicles waiting to be restored and loved again. I think every Kiwi over the age of 40 has some memory of the movie Smash Palace.  The wreckers yard stretches some way and it is incredible how many cars are there.

The cycle trail is a mixture of new narrow track and the wide cobbled Coach Road.  The cobble stones certainly made for interesting riding, in fact it was rather uncomfortable in places!  8.5kms of the 17km’s was covered in cobblestones.

The Ohakune Old Coach Road formed an integral link between the two rail heads between 1906 and 1908, allowing through journeys by horse and coach before the rail was completed. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was one of the final components of the North Island main trunk railway.

Along this road, drays and carts carried supplies and materials for railway construction and coaches ferried railway passengers between the steadily advancing railheads.  The first coaches ran between Raurimu and Waiouru. As the railway tracks were laid between the railheads the gap reduced, and by May 1908 the coaches were running between Ohakune and Makatote.  Once the railway tracks were connected and daily trains began running in November 1908, there was no need for the railway coach service along the Ohakune to Horopito Road.

The road was left unmaintained and became overgrown until work on the cycle trail began.  This trail is the start of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail which goes all the way to the sea in Whanganui.

Day one over with we enjoyed some quiet refreshments back in Ohakune before enjoying some delicious pizzas from La Pizzeria.

Murder in slow motion….

Rata and rimu are two endemic New Zealand trees with a close relationship. Rata starts life as an epiphyte (a parasite growing in the branches of a tree) – and it often chooses rimu. The rata roots then reach down to the ground and the vine thickens, slowly encasing and choking the host tree until the rata can stand alone. That’s why mature rata trees always have a hollow core – it’s the imprint of the tree that provided all the support!

Rata love high rainfall areas. The bright red flowers (seen November to January) and berries provide food for tui, bellbirds and kaka. Humans reckon rata makes the best honey. An infusion of the inner bark was used by Maori to treat rheumatism.


Early Travel in New Zealand

Travelling throughout New Zealand in the early 1800’s was either overland on foot or horseback, or by ship from port to port. Overland was difficult and time consuming and the sea service was dangerous and unreliable.  In the 1880’s a bridle trail through the Ohakune area ran from the river port at Pipiriki via Raetihi to Ohakune, and from Ohakune the trail went north through the Horopito area to Taumarunui, and east from Ohakune to Waiouru and Taihape.

By 1882 the government had decided a railway link between Auckland and Wellington was necessary.  At that time the railheads were at Marton and Te Awamutu. Various rail routes were surveyed to find the best way to connect these railheads. The central route, surveyed by John Rochfort in 1883, was recommended by the Government in 1884.  The bridle trail was then upgraded to a four meter wide dray and cart road in readiness for the railway construction.

Coaching the Gap

There was only the volcanic plateau to cross once the railheads reached Ohakune and Raurimu. This difficult section required five viaducts and three tunnels.

Construction work would take considerable time, and railways wanted to ferry passengers across the gap to trains waiting at each railhead. By doing this, Railways could collect passenger revenue to help pay for the railway construction before the line was completed.  A new road was built from the highest point on the upgraded bridle trail, west to the Taonui Viaduct and on to Horopito.

The Ohakune-Taonui-Horopito section of the road was covered with cobblestones to provide a firm surface and good grip for horses pulling coaches and construction works’ carts up the steep grades.  The stones for the road were sourced locally.

The first railway passenger coaches ran between Raurimu, Raetihi and Waiouru on February 10th 1907. They did not use the Ohakune Coach Road. From Horopito, they used Middle Road, which has become the main highway to Raetihi.  On November 8th 1908 the railway line was finished and the first passenger train ran from Wellington and Auckland. Coaches carrying railway passengers were no longer needed.

The coach road had served its purpose.

The road can be considered a most significant example of roading engineering heritage and the finest rural road constructed in New Zealand up to that time. It has great historic significance for the period it was used as the link between the two end railheads. The end of the road’s useful life froze it in time and, other than the natural deterioration it has undergone since its use stopped, it is in remarkably good condition. It has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was built in 1907-1908 as part of the final works to finish the North Island main trunk railway.

It was designed by Peter Seton Hay, Superintending Engineer of the Public Works Department, recognised as one of the most influential engineers of the period. The viaduct has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

The viaduct consists of 13 concrete piers and four 4-legged steel towers resting on concrete foundation blocks. There are four steel plate girder tower spans of 11 metres, five 20 metre lattice truss spans and thirteen 11 metre plate girders. In total the viaduct is 284 metres long and at its maximum it stands 45 metres high. It is unique in that it is built on a 10-chain radius curve, reflecting the difficult landscape through which it passes.

Workers lived on site during the two years it took to construct the viaduct, enduring harsh winters, primitive conditions and isolation to complete construction in time for the opening of the railway.

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was in use until 1987 when the line was realigned and a new viaduct was built. It is mostly in original condition, and is currently being restored by DOC and Tongariro Natural History Society to allow visitors to again enjoy this spectacular piece of railway engineering heritage.


Taonui Viaduct

The Taonui Viaduct shares many of the features of the nearby Hapuawhenua Viaduct: it was also designed by Peter Seton Hay, shares the same construction methods, and unique curved style. It practically differs only in its smaller size (140m long and 35m high), aspect, and fact that it is built on a 1 in 60 gradient.

The viaduct has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

At this time, the Taonui Viaduct will not be restored for visitor use. Access to view the viaduct is being restored as a side track of the Old Coach Road.


Ohakune

Ohakune township began as a small settlement at the junction of the roads from Raetihi, Waiouru and Taumarunui.

On an 1892 map of the town, there was a blacksmith shop, Public Works Department whare, convent house, Engineer’s residence, PWD cottage, PWD store, an office, PWD hospital, a stable, a whare by the Mangateitei Stream, and a school.  Ten buildings in all.

When the railway reached Ohakune, the station was about one and a half miles away from the town on what is now named Old Station Road and Marshall’s Road.

It was around September 1908 when vehicular traffic from the present station was able to get across the Mangawhero Stream bridge and connect to Old Station Road.

When the train journey between Auckland and Wellington was a two day trip, passengers stayed overnight in Ohakune. They had to get from the station to accommodation in the town, and back again the next morning to continue the journey.  In winter the road between the station and the town was very muddy, not too bad for those in coaches, but most uncomfortable for those walking.

Posted in Central North Island, New Zealand, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Australian Tennis Open – Melbourne, Australia

We couldn’t resist another trip to one of the best sporting shows on earth – the Australian Open Tennis Championships in Melbourne.  We had planned this trip about a year ago so sorted our flights and accommodation early and then waited with baited breath for the tickets to go on sale in October.  We traveled over with some friends – formally known as Sheree and Matthew and Heidi and Matt.  Informally known as Jeffo and Harty and Mr & Mrs Shoe or their latest name The Soles : )   To explain the latter a little further – Heidi is trained in Feng Shui or Feng Shoe if you’re Steve Thomas, hence his naming them the Shoes.  In yet another senior moment he started referring to them as the Soles – soles are related to shoes so lets just leave it at that : )

We met at Auckland International Airport and indulged in a pre tour champagne before our flight to Melbourne.  We were all pretty excited about the possibility of watching Roger Federer play so named ourselves Team Federer.  Matt had presented us with our very own head sweatbands so we looked the part.

I had been following the games and the upcoming draw daily in anticipation of Roger making it through and then working out when we would be able to see him play.  We had day session tickets for the Tuesday and Wednesday and day and night session tickets for the Thursday.  Roger made it through his fourth round match on the Sunday night against the fifth seeded Kei Nishikori in five sets.  Next up he was to play the unseeded Mischa Zverev who had knocked the first seed, Andy Murray, out in the fourth round.  Unfortunately this match was played on the Tuesday night so we missed it but we had everything crossed that he would make it through which he did in three sets.  We had worked out that if he made it to the semi finals he would play on the Thursday night so we were very excited.

Tuesday 24th January

First up on the Tuesday was the women’s quarter final between Venus Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia.  It was a good game but Venus was too good and won in two sets.  We have seen Venus play a few times now and she always looks lethargic on the court but can produce the power hits when required. At age 36 and after some medical setbacks she is quite inspirational.

Venus Williams

She was born in the USA and is aged 36 years old.  She is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 73kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 16 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2001, 2003, 2009 and 2010.  She turned pro in 1994 and has earnt USD34 million in prize money to date.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

She was born in Russia and is aged 25 years old.  She is 5 foot 10 inches tall, weighs 72kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 8 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round.  She turned pro in 2005 and has earnt USD6.6 million in prize money to date.

Next up was the second women’s quarter final between Coco Vandeweghe and Garbine Murguruza.  Muguruza was the fifth seed and hence the favorite but Coco came out swinging and beat her easily 6-4, 6-0.  Muguruza got pretty frustrated which didn’t help matters.

Coco Vandeweghe

She was born in the USA and is aged 25 years old.  She is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 71kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 5 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round.  She turned pro in 2008 and has earnt USD3.1 million in prize money to date.

Garbine Muguruza

She was born in Venezuela but plays under the Spanish flag and is aged 23 years old.  She is 6 foot tall, weighs 73kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 4 Australian Opens with her best performance being the forth round.  She turned pro in 2011 and has earnt USD10 million in prize money to date.

They saved the best until last in the day session with the first of the men’s quarter finals which was between Stan the Man Warwinka and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.  As with all things Swiss we love Stan so were very excited to be watching him live.  Jo-Wilfred appeared massive on the court and I thought it would be a tough match for Stan but he played so well and beat him in three sets.  Part one of our dream semi final match up between Stan and Roger was coming to fruition.

Stan Warwinka

He was born in Switzerland and is aged 31 years old.  He is 6 foot tall, weighs 81kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 11 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2014.  He turned pro in 2002 and has earnt USD27 million in prize money to date.

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga

He was born in France and is aged 31 years old.  He is 6 foot 2 inches tall, weighs 91kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 9 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2008 when he was a finalist.  He turned pro in 2004 and has earnt USD19 million in prize money to date.

That night we went to The Press Club for dinner.  The Press Club is owned by George Calombaris who is a judge on Masterchef Australia.  The restaurant had come highly recommended by some friends so we were very much looking forward to our evening.  We planned to catch the tram but a lack of patience saw the girls jump into a cab.  We told the boys to do the same but when we arrived at the restaurant and rang them they told us that they had decided to walk – they didn’t realise that the restaurant was at the other end of Flinders Street!  They then found a cab and arrived after we had been served the most delicious aperitifs ever.  I didn’t quite catch everything that was in mine but I know it had cherry liquor in it and was served over a cherry infused block of ice.

We had signed up to do the chef’s surprise degustation and every course was delicious including the chocolate forest desert that came with it’s own liquid nitrogen forest allowing the smells of the forest to waft around the table as we enjoyed the dish.  After dinner we were allowed to go down into the kitchen to have a sneak peak at the culinary powerhouse.  Unfortunately George wasn’t there that evening but we did meet a couple of Kiwi’s in the kitchen who were helping to create the culinary masterpieces.

Of course we had to keep tabs on Roger versus Mischa game during dinner and to our delight Roger came out on top in three sets.  The dream semi was on – Stan versus Roger, Switzerland v Switzerland.

Wednesday 25th January

We all walked to the tennis in dribs and drabs with Heidi and I getting there reasonably early so we could have a bit of fun with all the activities on offer on the way into the stadium.  This included being photo bombed by Rafa and scoring some more great headbands.

First up today on Rod Laver Arena was the women’s quarter final from the other side of the draw between Mirjana Lucia-Baroni and the fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.  We had seen Karolina play in the US Open where she had made it to the final and I had picked her to win this tournament.  Mirjana, at 34 years of age and after a hiatus from tennis due to personal issues including an abusive father, was making a comeback.  She is a powerful hitter of the ball and beat Karolina in three sets.  She was so overwhelmed with joy at getting through to her first semi final at a grand slam in eighteen years – her previous best performance at a grand slam was at Wimbledon in 1999 where she also made the semi finals.  It sounds like she has had a lot to deal with in her life and being able to make a comeback was extremely special for her.
Mirjana Lucia-Baroni

She was born in Germany but plays under the Croatian flag and is aged 34 years old.  She is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 66kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 8 Australian Opens with her best performance being the second round.  She turned pro in 1997 and has earnt USD3 million in prize money to date.

Karolina Pliskova

She was born in the Czech Republic and is aged 24 years old.  She is 6 foot 1 inches tall, weighs 72kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 4 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round.  She turned pro in 2009 and has earnt USD7 million in prize money to date.

The last women’s quarter final was between Serena Williams and Johanna Konta.  As we all know Serena started her 2017 season in Auckland and bombed out in the second round complaining about the wind and cold in Auckland.  She didn’t exactly endear herself the NZ public.  Johanna on the other hand won her first tournament for the year in Sydney – the Apia International.  Serena proved too strong though beating Johanna 6-2, 6-3.  I don’t think the score line was representative of the game – Johanna played well and is a strong player.

Serena Williams

She was born in the USA and is aged 35 years old.  She is 5 foot 9 inches tall, weighs 70kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 16 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, 2010 and 2015.  She turned pro in 1995 and has earnt USD82 million in prize money to date.

Johanna Konta

She was born in the Australia but plays under the English flag and is aged 25 years old.  She is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 70kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 1 Australian Open with her best performance being a semi finalist.  She turned pro in 2016 and has earnt USD3.3 million in prize money to date.

Next up was a men’s quarter final match between Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin.  Dimitrov was actually the lower ranked player at 15 but was playing well.  He had won the Brisbane International in early January beating Kei Nishikori so his confidence levels were high.  Dimitrov beat Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Grigor Dimitrov

He was born in Bulgaria and is aged 25 years old.  He is 6 foot 3 inches tall, weighs 80kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 6 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2014 when he was a quarter finalist.  He turned pro in 2009 and has earnt USD7.5 million in prize money to date.

David Goffin

He was born in Belgium and is aged 26 years old.  He is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 68kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 3 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2016 when he made it to the fourth round.  He turned pro in 2008 and has earnt USD5 million in prize money to date.

We had a bit of fun on the way out of the stadium on the way back to the apartment.  The boys got picked to be part of this street performance – they were part of the ‘six rich white guys’.  Unfortunately they took a bit long with the act so we had to go but they were quite funny.

The quarter final that was featured on Rod Laver Arena on the Wednesday night was between Rafa Nadal and Milos Raonic.  It was such a shame that we didn’t have tickets to this session – we still haven’t managed to see Rafa play live and he has been on fire.  Heidi was also very disappointed not to see Milos play too as she hails from Canada.

Instead we had a booking at Flower Drum which is a Chinese restaurant in Market Lane.  The restaurant opened in Little Bourke St 1975 and a decade later shifted to it’s current premises.  About this time. Anthony Liu was appointed Executive Chef, a position which he still holds today along with an ownership stake in the restaurant.

We decided to have the four course degustation meal – again the courses are decided by the chef although a couple of us more fussy ones requested some minor amendments.  The food was lovely and the service was very respectful and polite.  We had discussed changing our booking from 6.45pm to a later time but we’re pleased we didn’t as we still didn’t finish up until after 10.30pm.

Thursday 25th January

Today we had tickets to both the day and night sessions.  The day featured both women’s semi finals and the night was the big one – Roger versus Stan the Man.

We did a bit of retail therapy in the morning and headed for the tennis for the first semi final which started at 2pm.  First up was Venus Williams versus Coco Vanderweghe.  Coco played well in the first set and won in a tie break but couldn’t keep the momentum going and Venus easily won the next two sets.  Venus was very happy to have made it to the final.  When asked to relate what it means to be a role model athlete she said “I think why people love sport so much, is because you see everything in a line.  In that moment there is no do-over, there’s no retake, there is no voice over.  It’s triumph and disaster witnessed in real time.  This is why people live and die for sport, because you can’t fake it… People relate to the champion.  They also relate  to the person also who didn’t win because we all have those moments in our life.”

Next up was Serena Williams versus Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. We were so hoping for an upset in this game but Serena reigned supreme winning 6-2, 6-1.  This set up an all Williams final and at age 35 and 36 the most senior grand slam final in the World Tennis Association (WTA) history.

They have contested 27 matches in their professional careers with Serena holding a 16-11 advantage.  The first of those contests was in the second round of the Australian Open 1998, when Venus was a the victor in two sets.  They have faced off in Grand Slam events on 14 occasions, with eight of those matches being finals.  There most recent meeting was in the final at Wimbledon in 2009.

In between the day and night sessions we spent a little time out in the international themed village – they certainly do it well with a Paris themed area, and English themed area and an American area paying homage to the other grand slams.  Champagne in the sun was the perfect lead up to the match we had hoped to see right from the start – Roger v Stan.

We had different seats for the evening session and they turned out to be the best seats of the three days – we were right behind the court.  I had never sat behind the court before and it was a treat – it was amazing to see how much spin and swing they put on the ball.  At times I thought the ball was going out but it curved back in.

Prior to the game they had a light show to celebrate Australia Day.  Rod Laver was also made a Companion of the Order of Australia at a ceremony prior to the light show.

Roger won the first two sets 7 – 5, 6-1 so we thought he had it in the bag but Stan came back and won the next two 6-1, 6-4 so it went to the fifth set decider.  The crowd were on the edge of their seats – loving both players but secretly hoping for a Federer victory.  Roger won 6-3 beating the number four ranked Stan – the crowd went wild but gave Stan a thunderous applause as he left the court too.  It had been a dream for us as Roger and Stan fans but there was more to come with Roger making his first grand slam final in eighteen months and after a six month injury break.

Roger Federer

He was born in Switzerland and is aged 35 years old.  He is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 85kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 17 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010.  He turned pro in 1998 and has earnt USD99 million in prize money to date.

We had planned to have a celebratory drink back at the apartment but by the time we had all wandered back it was quite late and we couldn’t quite manage it.

Sadly it was time to head home on Friday.  We had an awesome few days watching the tennis and exploring Melbourne which is a great city.  The tennis viewing will have to be continued from our living rooms…..

The Finals

On the Friday night Rafa Nadal beat Grigor Dimitrov in five sets.  John McEnroe described it as one of the best matches he had ever seen, while two time Australian Open finalist Pat Cash described it as a rollercoaster.  We stayed with some friends in Auckland on Friday night and despite having one of the best wine cellars they don’t have Sky so we had to keep tabs on the score via the internet.

Rafa v Roger – the dream final for so many people.  They haven’t met in a grand slam final since the French Open in 2011.  The pair dominated the men’s game between 2004 and 2010, before Novak Djokovic’s emergence. They have met 34 times with Rafa having the majority of the success with 23 wins.  He has won 9 out of 11 grand slam matches against Roger and 6 of 8 grand slam finals.

First up on the Saturday was the women’s final, an all Williams affair.  Younger sister Serena proved too strong for Venus beating her 6-4, 6-4 in their ninth grand slam final meeting.  This win was Serena’s 23rd grand slam victory and she surpassed Steffi Graf’s record in the modern era.  She is one slam shy of Margaret Court’s long standing record of 24.  The victory also sees her regain the number one ranking which she lost to Angelique Kerber after Angelique won the US Open in September 2016.

The trophy the women play for is the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy.  Daphne Akhurst (22 April 1903 to 9 January 1933) was an Australian tennis player.  She won the women’s singles title at the Australian Championships five times between 1925 and 1930.  She was also known by her married name, Daphne Cozens.  She died in 1933, aged 29, from an ectopic pregnancy.  Since 1934 the trophy presented each year to the winner of the women’s singles at the Australian Open is named the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in her honour.  She was inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame on Australia Day (26 January), 2006.  She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.

The men’s final is held on the Sunday night – we were back home in the Hawke’s Bay by then and were very excited to be watching Roger v Rafa at 9.30pm NZ time.  But no, our Sky decoder decided not to work so we had to resort to the iPad!  We decided to watch it in bed and Steve fell asleep after two sets – how could he do that!  I was glued to the tiny screen right to the end.  I thought Rafa was probably going to win in the fifth but things went Roger’s way and he ended up winning the last set 6-3.  The overall score was 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.  Steve did wake up for the last game and we were very excited by the result.

Federer has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in history for a male tennis player (not including the Professional Grand Slam events), and held the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a total of 302 weeks. In majors, Federer has won five Australian Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, five US Open titles and one French Open title. He is among the eight men to capture a career Grand Slam. Federer shares an Open Era record for most titles at Wimbledon with Pete Sampras and at the US Open with Jimmy Connors and Sampras. He has reached a record 28 men’s singles Grand Slam finals, including 10 in a row from the 2005 Wimbledon Championships to the 2007 US Open.

The men play for the Norman Brooke’s Challenge Cup – Sir Norman Everard Brookes (14 November 1877 – 28 September 1968) was an Australian tennis player. Brookes was a world No. 1 ranked player and later president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. During his career he won three Grand Slam singles titles, Wimbledon in 1907 and 1914 and the Australasian Championships in 1911. Brookes was part of the Australasian Davis Cup team that won the title on six occasions. The Australian Open men’s singles trophy, the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, is named in his honour.



Rafael Nadal
He was born in Spain and is aged 30 years old.  He is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 86kgs and plays left handed.  He has played in 11 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2009.  He turned pro in 2001 and has earnt USD79 million in prize money to date.

History of the Australian Open

The Australian Open is a major tennis tournament held annually over the last fortnight of January in Melbourne, Australia. First held in 1905, the tournament is chronologically the first of the four Grand Slam tennis events of the year – the other three being the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. It features men’s and women’s singles; men’s, women’s and mixed doubles and junior’s championships; as well as wheelchair, legends and exhibition events. Prior to 1988 the tournament had been played on grass. Since 1988 two types of hardcourt surfaces have been used at Melbourne Park – green Rebound Ace to 2007 and blue Plexicushion from 2008.

The Australian Open typically has high attendances, rivalling and occasionally exceeding the US Open. The tournament holds the record for the highest attendance at a Grand Slam event.  It was the first Grand Slam tournament to feature indoor play during wet weather or extreme heat with its three primary courts, the Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and the refurbished Margaret Court Arena equipped with retractable roofs.

The Australian Open is managed by Tennis Australia, formerly the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (LTAA), and was first played at the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground in Melbourne in November 1905. This facility is now known as the Albert Reserve Tennis Centre.

The tournament was first known as the Australasian Championships and then became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969.  Since 1905, the Australian Open has been staged in five Australian and two New Zealand cities: Melbourne (55 times), Sydney (17 times), Adelaide (14 times), Brisbane (7 times), Perth (3 times), Christchurch (1906) and Hastings (1912).  Though started in 1905, the tournament was not designated as being a major championship until 1924, by the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) at a 1923 meeting. The tournament committee changed the structure of the tournament to include seeding at that time.  In 1972, it was decided to stage the tournament in Melbourne each year because it attracted the biggest patronage of any Australian city.  The tournament was played at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club from 1972 until the move to the new Melbourne Park complex in 1988.

In 2017, 728,763 people attended the tournament.

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Tour 18 Golf Course – Texas, USA

After 9 nights in Mexico we flew back to Houston, Texas in the US.  This was where we were flying home to NZ from so we thought we would have a couple of days golfing and shopping before making our way home.  We had only ever transited through the airport here so it was a good chance to check it out.

Originally we weren’t going to hire a car but once we worked out that Houston is huge, the public transport was non existent and it was going to be expensive to get taxis we hired a car.  This worked out really well in the end although it was incredibly daunting driving there – the freeways are huge with ramps going all over the place.  Of course everyone knows where they are going and they all fly along at a swift pace.  Doris our GPS did well although we missed a couple of off ramps due to road works etc…

Steve had found this golf course on the internet called Tour 18 where they have reproduced the most renowned holes in the history of golf.  The course opened in 1992 and along with the same concept in Dallas these were the first replica golf courses in America.  The course’s early years were filled with litigation and seemingly endless rounds of golf.  Before the course even opened, tee times were booked for almost the entire first year.  everyone wanted to play a round including celebrities like OJ Simpson, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.

Three courses – Pebble Beach, Pinehurst and Harbour Town – sued Tour 18 for replicating their holes, but all the lawsuits brought more publicity for the innovative course.  A US district judge ruled Tour 18 could keep its replica holes as long as the course made it clear they were replicas and that the original courses were not associated with the new one.  The original owners sold the course to Arnold Palmer Golf Management in 1999.  Each hole has a sign with some information about the hole and a disclaimer at the bottom per the judge’s ruling : )

The second hole replicated the sixth hole at Bay Hill Golf Club.  The late Arnold Palmer loved this course so much he purchased it in 1976.  He considered the sixth hole to be the finest hole on the course “it lets you bite off as much as you care to chance” he said.  From the tips it is a 543 yard or 480 metre carry across a lake.  During practice rounds for the Bay Hill Invitational, John daly and Greg Norman used to try and carry the lake and drive the green.  In the 1999 Bay Hill Invitational John Daly carded an 18 on this hole.

The third hole replicated the third hole at Pinehurst Number 2.  This hole is considered by many to be one of the greatest short par four’s in all of golf.  This Donald Ross designed hole will tempt the longer hitters but a more conservative player will lay up with a short iron.  We took the conservative approach and layed up : )

They have also replicated Amen Corner from Augusta on holes five to seven.  This includes the blooming azaleas, cobblestone bridges and a white Masters scoreboard with the latest-played Masters leaders updated on it.

The ninth hole replicates the seventeenth hole at TPC Sawgrass – this is the short par three across the water to an island green.  In the opening round of the 1992 Players Championship, 64 balls were hit into the water.  The stroke average for the day was 3.79, the highest over par ever recorded for a hole on the PGA tour.  John Mahaffey called it the easiest par five on the course.  Golf Magazine’s international panel ranks TPC at Sawgrass among the 100 greatest courses in the world.  The Players Championship is considered the fifth major.  TPC Sawgrass is in Florida and was designed by Pete Dye.

We both hit great tee shots and made pars on this hole.  No donating to the golf gods in the lake : )

The thirteenth hole replicated the fourteenth hole at Pebble Beach in California.  Pebble Beach has hosted four US Opens, four US Amateurs and one PGA Championship.  Jack Nicklaus was the last player to win both the Amateur and the Open on the same course.  According to Nicklaus, the fourteenth hole is possibly the toughest par five ever played in the US Open.

The fourteenth hole replicates the third hole at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.  This course was established in 1903 and has played host to more major championships than any other course in America.  Seven US Men’s Opens, four US Amateurs, three PGA’s and one Women’s US Open have been played there.  It is known for it’s fairway hazards and the third hole boasts the famous church pew bunkers.

The eighteenth hole replicates the eighteenth hole at Doral’s Blue Monster course in Florida.  It is consistently ranked as one of the toughest top ten finishing holes on the PGA Tour.  Two time Doral winner, Raymond Floyd, describes the hole this way, “It is the toughest par four in the world.  I have made sixes and sevens on it hundreds of times.”

It was a fun course to play and I learnt a lot along the way.

Next stop was the Premium Outlet Mall – another adventure on the Houston freeways!  After a couple of hours Steve had to go an find a mall while I continued to shop up a storm.  We eventually got to our hotel about 7.30pm.

We had dinner at a local pub on one of the nights and we would have to say we have never seen so many well endowed African American women in one place before – not only were they well endowed in the bust department but also in the booty department.  Wow they are some genetics : )

We didn’t fly out until 9.25pm on the Saturday night so Steve spent the morning watching the Ryder Cup while I pottered around.  We then went to one last shopping mall, although the suitcases plus extras were already full!  We dropped the rental car off safely and after nearly three months and about 45 rounds of golf we were ready to come home.

Houston
Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth-most populous city in the United States, located in Southeast Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. With a census-estimated 2014 population of 2.239 million within a land area of 599.6 square miles (1,553 km2), it also is the largest city in the Southern United States.

Houston was founded on August 28, 1836 near the banks of Buffalo Bayou (now known as Allen’s Landing) and incorporated as a city on June 5, 1837. The city was named after former General Sam Houston, who was president of the Republic of Texas and had commanded and won at the Battle of San Jacinto 25 miles (40 km) east of where the city was established. The burgeoning port and railroad industry, combined with oil discovery in 1901, has induced continual surges in the city’s population. In the mid-20th century, Houston became the home of the Texas Medical Center—the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions—and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where the Mission Control Center is located.

Houston’s economy has a broad industrial base in energy, manufacturing, aeronautics, and transportation. It is also leading in health care sectors and building oilfield equipment; only New York City is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters within its city limits. The Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled.  Nicknamed the “Space City”, Houston is a global city, with strengths in business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, fashion, science, sports, technology, education, medicine, and research. The city has a population from various ethnic and religious backgrounds and a large and growing international community. Houston is the most diverse city in Texas and has been described as the most diverse in the United States.  It is home to many cultural institutions and exhibits, which attract more than 7 million visitors a year to the Museum District.

 

 

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