One of the reasons we included Nelson on our New Zealand itinerary was to visit the workshop of Jens Hansen, a must for any true fan of The Lord of the Rings.
Danish-born Jens moved to Auckland in 1952 and, after completing a jewellers apprenticeship, settled in Nelson with his wife and young son in 1968. He knew and loved The Lord of the Rings and was thrilled when approached, in March 1999, to design the fabled ring. Fifteen prototypes were submitted from which the final ‘movie ring’ was chosen. Forty variations of The One Ring were made for the filming, scaled for different scenes and sized to fit Hobbit or human fingers. Then there is the 8” version seen spinning and turning through the air in the prologue of the first film.
Sadly, Jens was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and died in August the same year at the age of 59, never seeing his rings on screen. His legacy continues under the guidance of his sons and a remarkable team at the workshop.
Having made a very special purchase, we drove a few minutes out of town to the Grand Mercure Monaco Resort, our home for the next two nights.
Reminiscent of an English countryside village, the resort offers a range of accommodation from self-contained two bedroom cottages
to boutique hotel rooms. We had a stunning view of the Monaco Peninsula.
The guest lounge was cosy and comfortable
and we enjoyed a delicious dinner, as well as breakfasts, at the restaurant.
The grounds have been set up beautifully, with a peaceful lake enticing a variety of birdlife.
A short stroll down the road, The Honest Lawyer, exuding the charm of an English country pub, was the perfect spot to imbibe a pint of Guinness in the afternoon sun.
Perusing the menu, we decided to stay for dinner before a slow walk home as the sun was setting in spectacular fashion.
The next morning dawned crisp and clear, another day of adventures awaited.
There are many reminders in the Northern Territory of Australia’s involvement in World War II and a visit to Darwin Military Museum gives a fascinating insight into just how close the Japanese invasion came. On 19th February 1942, the Japanese bombed Darwin, killing 252 people, destroying aircraft, sinking 10 ships and severely damaging the township. Over the next 21 months, the Northern Territory was subjected to a further 97 air attacks by the Japanese, including 51 bombing raids.
Since the mid-1960s, the Royal Australian Artillery Association has been accumulating war memorabilia and the vast collection includes artefacts from the Boer War to the present day. Once past the entrance display,
I realised there were far too many intriguing items to photograph, not least this painted feather. The MV Manunda was launched in 1929 as a passenger liner and souvenirs of voyages, such as this, were common. The vessel became HMAS Manunda and served as a hospital ship during World War II before returning to civilian life in 1946. Ten years later, in an ironic twist of fate, she was sold to a Japanese Shipping Company, broken up and used for scrap.
We continued our exploration outside, where larger artillery pieces and military vehicles are scattered through tropical gardens and various outbuildings. A memorial to the Australian Digger stands adjacent to one dedicated to Gunner, a kelpie credited with the ability to alert his squadron when Japanese aircraft were approaching.
The sheer scale of some of the exhibits is boggling, it is difficult to fathom the logistics of deploying this equipment in the field. Boom net buoys were used to suspend the huge cable for the anti-submarine net stretched across Darwin Harbour. For added security, a massive metal detecting loop was laid on the floor of the harbour to detect any submarine activity.
Vehicle-mounted workshops were primarily used for maintenance in the field, with small engines under the bench to run electrical items such as grinders and compressors.
Probably the most terrifying place to be on the fighter planes was the ball gun turret. Suspended underneath the aircraft, the gunner, usually the smallest man in the crew, had to assume a foetal-like position on missions of up to ten hours.
Some remnants of wartime are still being found in the N.T., like this Japanese drop tank. The tanks carried extra fuel to extend the range of the aircraft and, once empty, could be released to reduce drag in combat situations.
There are several engines and propellors on display, each with their own story. This one separated from the fuselage of a Kittyhawk during a forced landing in 1942. Fortunately, the pilot survived.
Almost as uncomfortable as the ball turret, two personnel would be squeezed into the hot, noisy cabin of the Ferret scout car. One would drive and the other would man the machine gun and grenade launchers.
On a much larger scale, the Buffalo was used as an amphibious transport vehicle, though its design meant it could only operate in the calmest of seas without taking on too much water.
Looking suspiciously like a missile, paravanes were actually used in minesweeping operations. With a cutting cable attached, they were dragged behind a minesweeper at a pre-determined depth and, once the enemy mine was located and detached, it was destroyed by small-arms fire. Sometimes the paravane received collateral damage.
The big guns were just around the corner, an impressive collection of field and anti-aircraft guns, all of which must have been onerous to manoeuvre in battle.
Knowing where to aim the artillery pieces was a little more complicated than it is these days. A rangefinder was used to determine the angle and distance to the target, this one is the largest in the world and was installed at the East Point gun emplacements.
The information was then passed via telephone to the plotters manning the ‘fire direction table’ where they computed such things as wind speed, air pressure, humidity and temperature, all of which affected the shell’s flight.
The gunners were then able to set the correct bearing and elevation to hit the target. The initial 6” guns were replaced by two 9.2” guns but they didn’t arrive until February 1944. Consequently, the only rounds fired from these were three proof rounds, the war ended and, in 1959, both guns were sold to a Japanese salvage firm and cut up for scrap metal. The replicas that now stand on the site are quite impressive.
Operating in conjunction with the rangefinder crews, massive searchlights with a range around 25 kilometres were used to spot enemy ships.
There are many displays of assorted paraphernalia
and a tribute to the military horse troops. Around 1500 horses and men of the North Australia Observation Unit, known as Nackeroos, were stationed in remote locations to watch for enemy activity.
The final outbuilding contained a wonderful array of service vehicles from trucks to Bren Gun carriers.
The most recognisable is the 1942 Willys Jeep. Originally designated a ‘Vehicle General Purpose’ or ’Vehicle GP’, the name resulted in the term ‘jeep’. Willys were the original designers and manufacturers of the Jeep and then contracted the building of them to Ford.
If you are planning a visit to the museum, allow plenty of time, there was so much more to see.
There are many wondrous walks to choose from in Cradle Mountain National Park but my favourite is Enchanted Walk. Just over one kilometre long, the circuit takes around twenty minutes, depending on how much time one spends admiring the scenery. The trail starts at Cradle Mountain Lodge and follows Pencil Pine Creek as it bubbles along, embraced by mossy banks and majestic trees of the rainforest. On this morning the sunlight danced on the water, highlighting natures artistry.
Tannins from surrounding buttongrass moorland created a startling palette of orange hues amidst the shadows.
As we meandered further into the forest, verdant lichens complemented the russet glow.
At the end of the walk, the creek tumbles over rocks at Pencil Pine Cascades on its way to Pencil Pine Falls and, eventually, on a convoluted journey into the Forth River and Bass Strait.
I had assumed our journey from the North Island to the South Island of New Zealand would be in a north-south direction. In actuality, the crossing of Cook Strait is from east to west. Named after Captain James Cook, who first mapped it in 1773, the waters of the strait are considered among the most dangerous and unpredictable in the world. The regular ferry service is often disrupted due to rough water and heavy swells from strong winds. Fortunately, our early morning sailing from Wellington was on a sea of glass.
About half of the 70 kilometre voyage is in the strait before entering the spectacular Marlborough Sounds.
Many of the small settlements, surrounded by steep, wooded hills, are only accessible by boat.
With 1500 kilometres of coastline, the islands and peninsulas of the Sounds comprise one-fifth of New Zealand’s total.
Made up of four distinctly different Sounds (Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus and Mahua), it is boggling to think that 10,000 years ago, this stunning area was actually a valley.
Three and a half hours after leaving Wellington, we arrived in Picton Harbour at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound.
As we drove out of town, we paused to look back at the breathtaking scenery and bustling harbour before continuing our South Island adventure.
On the ‘must do’ list while in Darwin during the dry season is Mindil Beach Market. As the heat of the day subsides, a wander around the myriad stalls provides the opportunity to purchase unusual artisan crafts or that obligatory souvenir for those at home. More importantly, the Mindil Beach Casino Resort is right next door and the Sandbar is a perfect location to enjoy a well-earned beverage.
With a delicious antipasto platter and magnificent view of the descending sun over the Arafura Sea, I was catered.
Another spectacular Top End sunset
accompanied us to our table on the deck of The Vue restaurant.
Overlooking the infinity pool and, appropriately named, Infinity bar
we watched as the earth turned and another fabulous day came to an end.