Tiwai January 2010

I had forgotten that summer in the southern parts of NZ could be so chilly. After leaving 33 degs C in Brisbane, my aircraft touched-down at Dunedin Airport to a bracing early-January 13 degs C and pouring rain.

Patron Frank Glen was waiting for me at Knox College where we lodged for a couple of evenings as we went about our historical research business for the League at Otago University and the Hocken Library. After a couple of days of very successful interventions with academics, librarians and archivists, we headed for our next destination, Tiwai.

With continuing cool weather forecast and my sleeping bag still in a cupboard back in Brisbane, I made a rapid visit to a Dunedin department store for a couple of warm doonas. Our rental car then comfortably carried us over the kilometres and Frank and I were soon in Invercargill where, after stocking up with a few Tiwai supplies, we drove past Frank’s childhood home and then, also for old time’s sake, the famous 212 Earn Street (the latter looking a little worse for wear and quite unkempt, we both agreed.)

Onwards to Tiwai and the excitement was beginning to mount as we contemplated a night of great DX. Crossing the over-water bridge en route to getting the Tiwai gates keys from the aluminium smelter security people, we began to get concerned when we still hadn’t been able to log any Yanks on the car radio. Hi! Frank did the necessary with security and soon we were on the gravel road into the conservation area. While I was a first-timer and unfamiliar with the landscape, Frank was astonished how the recent fire had virtually levelled the bushland on each side of the Tiwai track. Visibility is now clear from
the road all the way to the coast.

Chateau Tiwai soon loomed out of the mist and the Lord of the Manor, Paul Aronsen, was on hand with his corgi, Jackie, to welcome us to this shrine of Dxing. After Frank had undertaken the ritual flag-raising, Paul soon had us settled-in, plugged-in and switched-on. With a wide choice of available sleeping accommodation, Paul went for his familiar Burtenshaw Executive Bunks and Spa, I took the Crawford Suite (Ray and Raewyn’s old sofa) and Frank nabbed his usual Tiwai Towers and Lounge window-view couch.

Over a crackling fire, Paul soon has us laughing and looking forward to both a lovely hot meal and some fine DX. Frank’s Grundig Yacht Boy and my AOR7030+ were soon side-by-side on the bench and starting to scan the X-Band. Yep, the Yanks were there and remained so for several hours. (See Tiwai Trail.)

Early next morning, after a night of teeming rain and exciting excursions in the dark to the outside ablution facilities, we were back at the controls for some shortwave DX. VOA Botswana was there (a new country for Frank), as was Urumqui, Djibouti, Lhasa and a few others.

All too soon, we had to pack all the gear, lower the flag, lock Chateau Tiwai and, by mid-morning, head for Paul’s home in Invercargill where we had a good look through his Southland Branch DX memorabilia.

There was still one ritual to be undertaken and that was to drive to Riverton Rocks to that other DXing shrine, the sand-dunes which once housed the famous 6 x 3. Given the heavy rain and strong wind, we viewed the location from the comfort of the car and paid homage to all those who had undergone their apprenticeship here in the hands of the master, Merv Branks, and had lugged batteries and erected aerials in those days of yore when North American 250 watters were a fairly regular feature of the AM DX dial.

By late afternoon, I was being seen off at Invercargill airport by Frank and Paul as I headed to Christchurch and thence Brisbane.

How can I describe the Tiwai experience? Hugely memorable, a lot of fun and made even more so by the comradeship of Frank and Paul. Thanks to Paul’s commitment, constant attention and maintenance work, Tiwai still exists as a venue for the DXing fraternity. And how can we ever repay his hospitality? It was a grand experience for a first-timer like me and I will always be grateful to say ‘Yes, I DXed Tiwai’ !