Friday, July 5, 2013

The Travelling Trio NZ - Part 3 - Otago Settler's Museum and on to Wanaka

Monday 24th June

Today we have decided that we will resume our original plan, so we’re heading up to Wanaka. The roads are now open but with some active warnings of snow and ice. The drive won’t take all day so before we drag ourselves away from Dunedin we’ll make a quick visit to Toitu, The Otago Settler’s Museum which has been recently redeveloped. I had actually intended to take the Dunedin walking tour, but we’re running a little bit late so we decide to explore the museum and see what we can find there about the ancestors. 
 The building is impressive, with a large new entry area that complements the reuse of a string of heritage properties along Queen’s Gardens. Pay and display parking doesn’t give us very long, but we have to make this a quick visit in any case. I take my time adding my life force to the large pounamu boulder at the entry way which is smooth with the caresses of those who visit. I encourage Son to do the same and explain that you should only receive pounamu things as a gift, not buy it for yourself so it would make a great souvenir to take to someone special as a present.
I then concentrate my attention on the early European settlement period noting that the gold rush occurred in the early 1860s. Like gold rushes everywhere, the influx of people from all over the world had a profound impact on the Otago region. There’s lots of great displays, but in the short time I have today I need to get a sense of what I can find on the family. To the research rooms I go. The attendant directs me to the computer bank and gives me a quick run down on the resources arrayed on the tables. I have no joy finding any reference to James or William Russell in either text or the volumes of photograph indexes. James died in 1885, William in 1908. Gosh my forebears were good at flying under the radar. Matthew Russell died in the 1930s and the only reference to him is a short note at a meeting of the Early Settlers Association noting that he had died and stating that he had emigrated to Port Chalmers in 1866. 
The attendant at the research rooms gives me a few leads I could follow if I had time. Unfortunately I don’t have time. Oh damn. I might just have to come back again some time and devote a few days to the research. How will I ever bear it? Before we leave we do a wander through the remaining galleries. Truly impressive. My goodness Kiwis pull a good museum together.
The cemetery website says that the Southern Heritage Trust accepts submissions about people who are buried in the Northern Cemetery. When I get home I’d better get some information together and send it in. I’m proud to have a connection to this lovely city.
It's nearly midday and we’ve got just one more essential errand here before we set off. Brunch. We're following TripAdvisor advice and heading to The Good Oil Cafe. We find a metred parking spot on George St and make our way across the road, only slightly delayed by Hubby pointing out the restaurant he'd liked the look of - The Reef Steak and Seafood. They had seafood chowder on the menu and that is always  a lure for Hubby. The reviews of the Good Oil have made a big deal of the sticky cinnamon buns so that was a big drawcard for me but I add Potato and feta rosti with bacon and poached eggs. Hubby can't resist Penne with chicken, bacon and mushrooms, while Son indulges in a Big Breakfast. This has kransky, bacon, poached eggs, tomato, and mushrooms on toasted ciabatta. The cinnamon swirls are totally delicious. I had bought one to take away and have later, but after a little nibble we decide we'll get one warm to share now. Soooo good. I really must learn to make sticky cinnamon buns.
Amply fortified for the journey, we’re off to Wanaka. 

Our car has a dashboard display showing the outside temperature. We find this very useful for assessing the risk of ice on the road, adjusting our speed to the temperature. Generally we are keeping at least 10 kph below the limit, but when the temperature is down around freezing we drop the speed back further to about 80, taking particular care to slow down before bends and so forth. It’s a bit like driving on dirt. 
Just expect a loose slippery surface and drive cautiously. No drama. 
Our route is out through Mosgiel and Milton. We pass a lot of standing water.

Then the turn up towards Lawrence. Here’s where my curiosity pays off because it turns out that the bloke who wrote the lovely tune to God Defend New Zealand was from Lawrence! How lucky to be passing through. He wrote the tune to complement the lyric in one sitting in response to a competition. His name was John Joseph Woods and he was originally from Tasmania. Bracken (who wrote the lyric) was raised in Victoria. Both these places were, like NZ, simply colonies of Empire in those days, but it illustrates the depth of the connection between Australia and NZ. So many important figures had an interest and/or influence in both countries.

It’s not long before we get into the higher country where there is widespread snow. This, our first real experience of snowy landscapes and is both fascinating and beautiful. At times the scenes we're passing illicit a gasp "Oh look at that!"

A rainbow makes a stop at the Clutha River irresistable. 
We follow the river upstream and are very interested to find stops at lookouts over its various dams and hydro power stations. The first and most informative is at Roxburgh. We hunch our shoulders and snuggle into our jackets in response to the wind chill but we can't stand still for long.

At Alexandra we make a brief stop to get a picture of the clock on the mountainside. I wonder who has these ideas. Getting that enormous clock up there must have taken some doing! I wonder if it was controversial. It reminds me of the Saint on Castle Hill in Townsville hanging over the town like that. It's no hardship to be passenger travelling beside The Clutha River. 

At one point we stop so I can get a look at a memorial to the discoverers of gold in the area. The men aren't interested and wait in the car. I fuss about getting the shot right and admiring the scene upstream. I turn around to  go back to the car and gasp. Looking down the river I am presented with a beautiful scene. Bright pale sky blue water snaking back and forth in a serpentine effect amongst the brown hillsides. Wow. “Come and see this.” I call. None of us expected that! We’re starting to get into the sort of scenery that gives us a hint of what NZ is capable of. Awesome.           
A quick snap of the cluster of fruit announcing the communities pride at Cromwell. As we get nearer to the snowfields and Wanaka the mountains, covered in the huge 
dump of snow last week present as a huge white wall rising suddenly out of tranquil green pastures, hidden in shadow. The snow shines in the late afternoon sun. A contrast to the heavy bank of grey cloud obscuring the bright blue of the sky. 
Before long we’re checking in to Bella Vista Motel which is very conveniently located right in the heart of Wanaka. Our room is cold. The standard is basic. It's a bit disappointing.
It’s still light, but will soon be dark. We turn on the heaters and make our way to the lake to enjoy the fading light, silhouettes and whatever sunset appears. Our breath hangs in the air and we jiggle and shuffle our feet in the cold, but the beauty keeps us captive until night claims the lake and dims the golden glow of the trees lining the water.
We've organised a tour for tomorrow so we explore the street and make sure we know where we need to be in the morning. It takes a while before we finally locate the Wanaka River Journeys sign in a prominent position, precisely where we were told to look for it. We head back to our room hoping that the heaters running in our absence have made a dent in the cold.
Dinner is at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. My research tells me this is the place to eat in Wanaka at the moment so I have booked us a table for 7pm.  We rest in our rooms for a while and wander across the street for dinner. Bella Vista may be colder than I'd prefer but you certainly can't complain about the location. 
Francesca's has a great atmostphere and too many tempting things on the menu. There's a burley young fellow manning a wood fired pizza oven over in the corner and the menu is offering a special on imported truffles that were only able to be acquired through personal connections. 
Everything about Francesca's is brilliant other than the table service, which is indifferent. As has become the habitual practice, I capture the progress of our meal on my phone. Arancini filled with tallegio cheese is delicious. I know some people who I can torture with thoughts of those delightful little morsels. They come in a serve of four. There are three of us eating. Oh how tragic, someone will have to have Tommie’s share. Crumbed buffalo mozzarella. Mmm.  Hubby has to have the Ribolitta with caolo nero and reggiano (a rustic vegetable bean soup) served with grilled ciabatta. Our mains: braised duck ragu with pappardelle, porcini and pancetta - Son; Beef lasagne with salad -Hubby; House made potato gnocchi with braised beef cheek ragu, pecorino and gremolata - me. Yes, everthing tasted as good as it looks and sounds!

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