Sunday, 26 April 2015

Molesworth Station... The Acheron Road... Part 1...

 I woke to an extra chill in the air and looking out the window
couldn't quite decide whether there was a frost or not...

 So I threw on some layers of warm clothes and my thickest 
socks and raced outside as the sun was venturing over 
the hill tops. Definitely a hard frost, my socks stuck to 
the brittle crunchy grass... I hadn't bothered about shoes!

 It was back into my bus to light the fire, have breakfast and
pack up ready to move on... And find out just exactly what
this famous Molesworth Road is all about...
In the DoC brochure "The road is unsealed and suitable for
two wheel drive cars. Vehicles towing trailers, caravans, buses
or vehicles over 7 meters long are not permitted except under
exceptional circumstances and with special permission".
I had measured my bus... 7 meters exactly not counting the
bits on the front and the big box on the back and I do have
a tow bar which is what would hit the ground first in any deep fords.

 The Acheron Road is open 7am - 7pm Labour Weekend Saturday
to Easter Monday or the second Sunday in April (whichever is
the later date)... This summer it had been closed because of the
high fire risk, but a couple of days of rain and it opened again
for a short time... The window of opportunity I had been waiting
for... Here's the gate... 59km to the south boundary at the
Acheron Accommodation House and the next DoC Camp.
 These speed signs amused me... How fast was it anticipated
vehicles were going to travel? The road is not exactly State
Highway 1.  More information in the DoC brochure suggested the
59km journey would take a minimum of two hours driving...

 So... What's that saying... 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained'..
Off I went... Across the flats looking south to the triangular
shaped Dillon Cone (2174m) and straight ahead to Barefell
Pass, recorded by Frederick Weld in 1850 and still used
for moving stock from the Awatere to the Acheron catchment.

 The road was a bit of a farm track in places... But then
that's exactly what it is...

 The first ford... Deeper than it looks but easily do-able and after the 
drought most of the summer it's amazing there is any water at all.

 Wards Pass was a steady climb up to 1145m... Closed by winter
snowfalls for long periods, but a magnificent view this day.

 And down the other side... The only part of the road I
used 1st gear... Partly so I could enjoy the view (no traffic
to hold up behind me!) and partly because my brakes
overheat very easily and cut out!

 And here's one of the reasons, no vehicles longer than 7 meters.
This was a real hair pin bend... The road doubled back on itself.

 The first bridge I came to over the Acheron River... 
No weight restrictions on this one.
No sides either!

The Acheron River... A portrait of colours and contrasts...
A huge changing light show depending on time and season.

 At the bottom of the pass, the road crosses a section of
Muller Station, courtesy of the runholders, then...

 Driving on through the beginning of the 250 hectare expanse
of Isolated Flat... The road seemed to stretch forever.

 The electricity wires looping across the flats... And through
the whole station.

 Isolated Flat is described as an outwash plain, bordered by
more magnificent mountains and the Awatere Fault.

 In 1850, the explorers Mitchell and Dashwood wrote of Isolated
Flat: 'The soil and the grass here were much improved and good
cattle stations might be farmed but I fear the immense quantity
of speargrass and other prickles would prove an
obstacle for sheep'. How true that proved to be. 

Between 1850 and 1938 there were multiple private owners of
 Molesworth, I counted 12, as I read the history. Some of them put in
managers but overall most owners never had enough money
 to fund the property in lean years.
Some of these various owners were experienced and respected sheep
farmers so sheep were favoured with one owner introducing some cattle.
I the late 1860's there were 25,000 sheep and 600 head of cattle.
In the 1870's merino's were introduced. In the early 1990's a decision was
made to move out of cattle completely. Nobody knows why this was but it
would eventually have disastrous consequences.
The two biggest contenders for the Molesworth land were the weather
and the rabbits... Severe snows and rain storm 1911-13 killed 39,000
sheep. In 1914, Rutherford, the then owner claimed to have broken the
back of the rabbit problem... In 1990 there were over 40,000 sheep and
10,000 lambs. In 1936 the final shearing tally was just 22,000 ewes.
The bills mounted along with the rabbits and in 1938 all the freehold and
leasehold interests of Molesworth, Tarndale and Rainbow stations were
purchased by the crown for 5250 pounds. Originally there was
Molesworth Station, Tarndale and Rainbow which were managed together,
St Helens and Dillon Run which were mainly managed as one unit.
In 1938 the Rainbow was auctioned separately and has never been  part
of Molesworth but Tarndale and the original Molesworth were
amalgamated. In 1949 St Helens and Dillon were also amalgamated.
What were 4 separate stations or runs then made up the 180,470
hectares of Molesworth.
Another bridge over the Acheron...

And another ford, deeper this time but no problems... I kept to 
the right, my tow bar hit the bottom so good thing I was 
no longer and the ford wasn't any deeper...

Brought me to the Isolated Saddle... And time for a coffee stop.
It was a beautiful but windy day  but... A head shepherd by the name of
Mowat who worked on the station 1907-1913, recorded driving a
mob of 5600 shorn hoggets across Isolated Saddle on Christmas
Eve 1909 and being caught by cold, squally southerly showers
that developed into a storm. 3000 sheep perished. (Taken from the book
'Molesworth, stories from New Zealand's largest highp-country

Parked on the brow of the saddle...

This point on the road is also the beginning of the Mt Augarde Track.
Mt Augarde is 1244 meters in altitude.
There was a very good information board where I took
these photos...

Saturday, 25 April 2015

'Lest We Forget' - Anzac 2015

 At Trentham on 3rd October 1939, volunteers from Welington,
Wellington-West Coast, Hawkes Bay and Taranaki Territorial
Districts entered camp to form the 19th (Wellington)
Battalion 4th Brigade NZ. Division.

Sailing for Egypt in January 1940 the unit served with British and
Allied forces in the Middle East and Central Mediterranean
throughout the Second World War.

The Battalion received its baptism of fire at Servia Pass is Greece where
it beat off a force of veteran Austrian troops. Following heavy fighting
in Greece and in Crete the 19th campaigned in North Africa and Syria.
The final engagement as an infantry unit was in the desperate fighting
to establish the line at El Alamein when the Division stood almost
alone in the defence of Alexandria. On July 14/15 1942 at Ruweisat Ridge,
 the 19th suffered casualties of half its numbers when overrun by superior
armour. 1940-42 had been the dark years when the free nations of the
world had to pay a heavy price for unpreparedness. Their citizen
armed services had fought courageously,  often in defeat,
against an enemy superior in arms and air cover. But
the flood tide of Axis tyranny was about to turn.

The 19th, with the 4th Brigade, was now withdrawn to base camp at
Maadi inEgypt to reform on October 3rd as the 4th N.Z.
Armoured Brigade. Later, men of the 1st N.Z. Armoured Brigade,
mostly South Islanders and already trained in armour in New Zealand,
brought the 19th N.Z. Armoured Regiment up to full strength...

 These are the three veteran soldiers of the 19th Armoured Regiment
from Christchurch, who are still alive today...

Sailing to Italy in October 1943, equipped with Sherman medium tanks,
the 19th at Perano were the first N.Z. Armour to be committed to battle.
The terrain, the mud and cold of two winters were to be in contrast
to North Africa. The Regiment fought throughout the long and arduous
Italian campaign, mainly in close support of the N.Z. Infantry. The
German enemy were resolute and skilful in defense of the many natural
obstacles, holding the barrier to Rome, the Gustav Line at Cassino
for three months. On the 2nd May 1945 the 19th entered Trieste, occupying
the town for three months after the close of the war in Europe.

De-mobilisation was completed in N.Z. in 1946.

     Casualities      Killed or died on active service   227
                                            Wounded and Prisoners of War   921

 The crowds of several hundred people who came to remember... 

 The sun rising over Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains as we
gathered together, members of the 19th, wives, widows, sons
and daughters, families, friends, supporters and
 members of the public.

 Members of the Queen Alexandras Mounted Rifles Regiment - RNZAC
who formed 'The Parade' and performed the flag ceremonies.
Here the flag is broken...

 Two of the remaining veterans of the 19th lay wreaths...

 'The Parade' at attention...
 Members of the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts lay their poppies...

 Followed by families and members of the public...

 Silence... As we remember...

 The Last Post is played by Bugler Anthony Smith as Ross Smith, one
of the memorial guardians who gave an address, salutes the flag...
And Peter Griffen, another guardian who read the Ode...

 The flag is lowered... Never to touch the ground...

 And as the bugler plays the Reveille...

 It is raised again.

Then... And now... A 70 years age gap...
Afterwards, while we all had warming cups of coffee with
double rations of rum... This young soldier from the Queen 
Alexandras Mounted Rifles Regiment, whose grandfather had
been in the early Wellington 19th contingent came to chat with Dad...
It was a very special moment as youth met with age, hands were
shaken... And this young soldier who hasn't yet seen active
service said it was a real privledge to meet with a soldier
who had given and contributed so much to our freedom...

 Here is Dad with one of  his son's, my brother Tony. They were both
active from the beginning days in building the 19th Memorial.
On the left is the man, now retired, who was the Victoria Park
Ranger for 27 years. He now looks after the 19th Memorial as a
guardian on a voluntary basis. On the right is Gary Moore,
the 44th Mayor of Christchurch 1998-2007. 
He has come to the Anzac Service here, every year since 1999.

 Dad and Tony meet one of the Junior Guardians... The Park Rangers
grandson... Who is being trained up to take over the maintenance
of this wonderful memorial and picnic place in the years to come.
Read more here about the story behind the planting of all the trees,
some native to the countries in which the unit served, and some
N.Z. native trees representing those who served and returned home.

Dad planted a Beech tree, under which his ashes will be buried
when he dies...

 Read this article if you can, it's a few years old now,  these
two returned veterans are long gone... And read the link above
to find out more about the guardian scheme and how to
become one if you are interested.

Dad and Des Tomkies... Time to say goodbye... For another year...
Till we meet again...