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Touring New Zealand 2006 - Part 3

It was now on to the Otago Goldfields with our first overnight at Naseby, which is a delightful place with almost the whole of the centre being original 1864 with some additional buildings from the gold rush days. They also have a nice little Settlers museum. The town was very quiet while we were there - it has a permanent population of 85, which grows to around 4000 over Christmas when the cribs, campground and hotels fill up. It then fills again as winter comes as it is a centre for curling. It has excellent walks in the Naseby Forest area, which is also full of well-preserved and documented gold artefacts and workings. The only thing that spoils it is that many of the tracks have been cut up or turned into gravel slides by mountain bikes, despite signs on the entry restricting the areas and banning them from walking trails. I guess the problem is they can be hired in the village. We stayed over night at the Larchview Motor Camp, we were immediately recognised by John and greeted as old friends. Unfortunately our favourite ex-miners cottages were not available. They are being upgraded and en suites are being added.

Once we had settled in we took an easy walk up past the swimming dam and into the area which was most recently used for mining which still has many artifacts in place including piping and several of the hydraulic monitors used for sluicing the faces along with some excellent explanatory boards. Considerable areas have just been sluiced away and you can follow where the tailings channels took the residue down to the Hogburn, the route we took back followed the Hogburn down to town.It was a hot day so we stopped for an early beer at the Royal Hotel, which had Emerson's Bookbinder and a Wanaka beer on draft as well as the usual nationwide beers. We found we had been just too early for Happy Hour so we had a walk round town and returned for a Jug (two pints) of Monteith's Gold between us for the great sum of $5.

There are many walks in the Naseby Forest area and next day we did one of the longer walks along an old water race for the gold workings and still in use today for water for irrigation. It must have been one of the longest races produced at 112 km long taking water from the Mount Ida range.

We then passed Hoffman's dam and after a precarious crossing of the water race on a conveniently placed log we continued on past the turn to Coalpit's dam to the end of the forest where we turned back rather than climb over fences into private land. We came back a few hundred metres and dropped down a forest road to Coalpit's Dam where we were back in 'civilisation' at a picnic area with lots of tables where we had our lunch. We went back up the track to the water race and shortly after crossed a bridge and continued round a 'species walk' that unfortunately has been partly destroyed by logging which also made the path difficult to follow. We finally rejoined the water race after a few mistakes and crossing an area where forestry work seemed to be in progress - fortunately it was a weekend otherwise we would have had to retrace our path adding several kms.

We got back in time to walk down into town and had two excellent ice-creams - doubles which only just balanced on their cones for $1.20 making the little village shop high on our list of best ice-cream sources in New Zealand. We had intended to go round the small but excellent museum but we found they closed at 1530 so we went into the motor museum in the old butchery. It is open on request from the house behind and we spent a while talking to the owner and collector - we had been recommended to visit by the owner of Hillside Book Exchange in Dunedin and we spent a fascinating time. The owner has gathered up a large collection of old and unwanted vehicles as well as his main interest which was Cadillacs, he drives one in impeccable condition and has many others in his collection.

Most of the cars are from the just post war period up to quite recent. One vehicle we had to ask about looked rather like an early (Mark 1) Landrover but was slightly more basic and had no markings on either of his examples. We were told it was a Tracker - the only vehicle ever manufactured in New Zealand although it drew heavily on parts and sub-assemblies from other vehicles. It found some favour with farmers and was a viable substitute for the much more expensive imported Landrovers. Every free area outside is full of cars in various states, it has been described as a refuge for interesting vehicles, and the inside of the house is also equally stacked with his collections of household items such a radios from the same period - he also has an impressive collection of magazines of all sorts. A real Aladdin's cave to visit.

In the evening we went into the town to sample the food at the 'Cottage Garden Cafe', a restaurant which we had enjoyed greatly and rated very highly last visit. We booked as last time we had been told they can be either very full in the season or open on demand - the dividing line is very narrow in a place like Naseby with only 86 permanent residents rising to thousands of visitors and cribbies during the season. This time we came away somewhat disappointed as it did not match our expectations from the last visit. We started with homemade bread and dips and the main courses were still good with an excellent plate of vegetables alongside although both the steak and venison could not be described as tender. The sweets were still the highlight with an excellent strawberry cheesecake with homemade ice-cream alongside.

The biggest difference from last visit when we rated as one of the best restaurants we had found in South Island was the service and ambience. Last time we got personal service from Jan who used to be at the well respected Dansey's Pass Hotel. This time service was from an exchange student and everything else seemed very cut back. The good selection of wines had disappeared and only two choices were available, neither really worth drinking when she turned up clutching the bottles to show us! Salt and pepper never appeared and unlike last time we were not offered extra bread with the dips and the dips were far from memorable. The bread had red and brown smears which we hope were from the dips. When we left we asked if we could bring our own wine the following evening and they said yes - after some debate we decided it was only fair to give it another try.

The following morning we found Ranfurly had a 24 hour petrol station, which accepted our BNZ EFTPOS card, so we were soon set for a day driving. We first went again to the Golden Progress Quartz mine. A 500 m walk through a flock of sheep took us to the mine workings with the Poppet Head, a 14 metre high structure supporting wheels over which ran ropes to cages used to hoist the gold bearing ore to the surface. The remains of the Stamper Battery mountings remain and there are several boilers left which powered the steam engines for the hoists and Stampers. There are several of the cages still on display, the ones for miners were fitted with safety gear which gripped the slides if the cable broke whilst the ore carriers and water containers for draining the workings just fell free.

The next stop was at the Hayes Engineering Works. Whilst it normally opens only at weekends the Historic Places Trust have decided to employ an extra person for January - we spent some time speaking to him, he used to be working on the land and now travels in a converted bus. The Works is just as it was when it closed in 1952 and is still operational and run once a month driven from a tractor power take off. The original power source, a dam driven Pelton wheel, does not work as there is no water supply from the old dam above the works.

Hayes was an inventor as well as Engineer and initially designed and built his own windmill to power the plant. It was on a tower 12 metres tall with sails of 7 metres diameter, the largest in the country at the time, but was later replaced by the Pelton Wheel to give more reliable power for the works. A major part of his business was production of windmills of various novel and patented designs.

His most famous inventions were to do with the seemingly mundane but actually very important job of tensioning the wire for fences. His designs started in 1905 and were soon in use all over New Zealand. They were developed further and the final version produced in 1924 is still in use now and finally won an engineering innovation award in 1982 - that must be a record! You will still find the Hayes brand name on most of the tightening devices at the end of barbed wire fences - we have been checking! The works is well worth a detour for a look when open and we would love to be there on one of the days when it is powered up with dozens of belts of novel forms driving the tools.

We stopped at the nearby Oturehua Store, another building which seems to be in a time warp with one side and many of the shelves preserved just as they would have been 50 years ago. There is still the old spinning disk bacon slicer (not in use because of safety considerations) and an Avery weighing machine with moving weights on an arm which confirmed our weights were still under control but persuaded us we should do some more walking after perhaps one more icecream!

Our destination was the Old Moa Creek Ghost Town, which we had read about on a previous trip. We found Moa Creek easily but it took some effort to find the Old Moa Creek Pub with its accommodation. As well as the Hotel, Bonspiel Station offer accommodation in old gold miners cottages and also do guided tours round local Lord Of The Rings film sites. We had noticed that the "Plains of Rohan" were in the area around Poolburn Reservoir so decided to investigate as many roads were upgraded when filming took place and we wanted to have a look at the Old Dunstan Road used by so many miners to reach the Dunstan and other 'rushes' in the area. We spoke with one of the fishermen who said that our vehicle would be OK on the road around the edge of the reservoir to the film site after which the road was supposed to improve, he said campervans and cars were passing by.

The Old Dunstan Road had parts of it which were quite rutted so special care was needed and there were a number of fords and gates as would be expected. However the weather had been good and it was all very dry and the fords shallow although one was followed immediately by a gate and Pauline was dispatched across to open the gate before crossing the ford. It is certainly only a dry weather road, and we have been warned that river levels can increase from overnight rain in the hills even when none falls in the valleys - on balance we would have preferred to have 4WD rather than even a sturdy van with good ground clearance and great care would be needed with a car on the section beyond the lake which had not been upgraded. Using the GPS meant that we could follow our slow progress against our map and the Old Dunstan Road information leaflet which was useful as the maps showed the road touching the lake at one point whilst it was not actually visible from the road. Eventually we emerged on the sealed road between Patearoa and Paerau.

The next section of the Old Dunstan Road is now on private land but one can join it again at Styx where there used to be one of the major stops at the Taieri River crossing with the Styx Hotel, now a holiday residence and what was known as the Styx Jail although actually the stone built building was mostly used to store the gold brought by the gold escort safely overnight - here the gold Queenstown and Dunstan would join the gold from the Maniototo before continuing the journey to Dunedin. We admired the hotel from the bridge and fought our way to the confluence of the rivers to get a view and picture of the Styx jail.

We then continued to Patearoa, the site of the Sowburn diggings which were initially rushed in 1863 and the names Sowburn and Patearoa were interchangeable until the 1900s. It is still a pleasant village about which a book has recently been published: "Patearoa Past and Present" by Jim Sullivan published by Rock and Pillar Press 2005 ISBN 0-473-10439-3 with Stories and Pictures from a Central Otago Gold Town. Jim Sullivan is a Dunedin broadcaster who also writes widely on NZ history (New $28). The town has recently opened up walks up both banks of the river and we followed the one up the East bank which follows an old water race through some of the old workings. There is very little to see initially then one realises that one is walking over the site of previous houses of which all that remains are the roses and gooseberry bushes. We walked up the Sowburn to just below the point where Dyke's dam stood providing the water for the sluicing operations.

The Taieri river near Patearoa was one of the first places where dredging was tried, without much success, and we found a quaint restored dredge at Stonehenge where it had been put into the water in 1876. It is said it only worked for half a day as the Tangye boiler imported from Birmingham was not man enough for the job. It also looked to us as if it would only have been able to work to quite a shallow depth. It has a lot of big castings so it seems to us that it may have been based on a dredge design for harbours. Further attempts were made in the 1890s.

It was then back to Naseby where we were famished and looking forwards to a meal at the Cottage Garden. We just stopped long enough to pick up a nice bottle of Pegasus Bay Cabernet Merlot only to find they were unaccountably shut to our surprise. Nothing had been said the previous evening although we had made it clear we were expecting to come.

Instead we ate at the Royal Hotel which did us proud. Pauline started with Battered oysters and Pete was given a starter size antipasto as one of breads was not available for the bread plate - it was enormous and a meal in its own right. We followed with two 'Raggedy Ranges Red Stag on Kumera' plates which were considerably more tender than that from the Cottage Garden although the presentation was more simple. It was all washed down with a couple of jug of beer as we did not have the nerve to ask them if we could BYO our bottle! Overall it was better food and excellent service and in the end we were glad the Cottage Garden had not opened. The Royal Hotel now seems to hold the high ground for food in Naseby. It might just have been a difficult weekend as the contrast was so great but even so we feel we ought to put a warning on our earlier report until we have something more to report.

Leaving Naseby for Alexandra and Cromwell we took a few kilometer diversion to pass through Ophir which has twenty or so houses left in their original state. Gold was discovered in 1863 and almost overnight the population reached 1000. In its heyday Ophir was the commercial and social centre of the district with a number of stores, a school, police station, courthouse, post office, hospital, two hotels and two churches. Many of these buildings remain and are being steadily restored and the few extra buildings are very much in character. Features such as the wide street with massive kerb stones and stone lined gutters remain. Apart from the odd car you could have been transported back 130 years.

Most of the buildings are in private hands however the Post Office is owned by the Historic Places Trust, to which we belong, and we spent some time speaking to the curator and postmistress, who remembered us from when we met her when she had just taken up her post and had been with her predecessor who had been in post for 27 years and had gathered a vast and fascination number of local photographs and information of all sorts. Once more we have promised to send details of LeClenche cells, the early batteries used for telephones, from some of my grandfathers technical books. Whilst in Australia we visited the original Ophir, where gold was first discovered, and found that there were a number of sheets covering other 'Ophirs' round the world. We soaked in the atmosphere down the main street and took a few pictures before we left down a gravel road and over the last remaining suspension bridge in Otago.

We had a short stop in Alexandra to check a tyre and collect email outside the Sidewalk Cafe, one of the Telecom WiFi hotspots.

We found the Alexandra Museum which we have writen favourably about in the past has moved yet again into a large brand new building and had been renamed 'Central Stories' and we walked past without realising what it was before returning to look round and chat - Esma and Elizabeth who had provided so much information in the past were not there that day and we understand Elizabeth is now responsible for the archive which had many interesting pictures. The museum move is not yet complete so it is not possible to say if the changes are overall for the good, there seemed to be a few extra models and boards on gold and it is now more directed towards the young than we recall. Some of the exhibits we remembered were not yet back on display and we understand there is a phase 2 underway. We did not check but got the impression that the archived material was not yet fully accessible after the move and probably in the next phase.

We then drove up to the Shaky Bridge Cafe at William Hill vineyard for a late light lunch. It is just below the Alexandra clock. Further up the hill is a lookout with excellent views of the Earnscleugh tailings and across to Cromwell and mountains beyond. We had fond memories of the icecreams at Clyde, so continued there. It was under new ownership and portions are smaller. We were pleased to have booked a cabin at Cromwell - it is still very hot.

After talking to the staff in the Information Office we decide to take the drive into the Nevis Valley. They have a new Goldfields Heritage Trail leaflet on the trip but we also bought a 1:50,000 map. Unfortunately they had not told us that the NZ and Royal Brunei Army were training there for the week, and using live ammunition. Fortunately the tracks which they were using for their exercises were not suitable for our vehicle anyway. We met a few of their vehicles on the road, but saw no soldiers. We understand that the soldiers are always well camouflaged, the NZ army in the tussock grass and the Brunei army disguised as rocks. The first section of the road over the Carrick Range is a climb to 1300 metres, up Long Gully and passing Dead Horse Pinch named after the number of pack horses that died on this steep stretch. Looking back there are magnificent views of Lake Dunstan, and we could just see Mount Cook in the far distance. We were very fortunate that it is only on clear days that the visibility is good enough - it is almost 200 kms. We occasionally glimpsed the Carrick Water Race. Originally used to supply water to the Young Australian battery and to parts of the Bannockburn sluicing claims, it is now used for irrigation. The summit, 1300 metres, is just 10 kms from the Nevis turnoff, and there is a good view of the Remarkables. The young Australia Battery still has a stamper battery which has been preserved by DOC but there are reputedly no markers on how to reach it on foot and it is a several hour walk.

Now began our steady descent. At our first glimpse of the Lower Nevis Valley we had to stop and admire the beautiful green valley with the Nevis River gently flowing through. Crossing the bridge at Nevis Crossing we stopped to look at the site of goldmining from 1862. At its peak there was a settlement with three hotels. All that is left of the original buildings is the wall of the old "Nevis Crossing Hotel". Ben Nevis Homestead is a further 1 km along the valley, and was the base for the Army exercises. The old Nevis School building was shifted there after it closed. Seeing no warning signs we continued along the valley, visiting the Nevis cemetery and then walking around the remains of the Lower Nevis settlement. There is a neat Little Hut, in good condition, next to the remains of the hotel and store which was surrounded by red flags indicating the live firing area! The hut, which can be booked for overnight camping, had a signpost to the two nearest pubs in Bannockburn one way and Garston the other. Our journey ended just 2.5 kms later when we reached the river crossing at Commissioners Creek - the track continues into Upper Nevis via a narrow gorge and the track through the gorge is said to be only passable by well found 4X4 vehicles after which it opens out into another area of mining and an exit to the other side of the range. In total we had travelled 28.5 kms to the point we turned.

On the return we identified a number of extra structures such as water races left over from the mining days and stopped at the bottom to photograph the woolshed which was built from the large flat Schist rocks which were chained to the back of wagons to act as brakes down the hill - we had failed to find the matching building close the the original river crossing at the far end. If you are visiting the area for the first time you should also spend a few hours round the Bannockburn sluicings which are well interpreted and give an excellent insight into that form of gold mining - we have covered them on previous visits.

We completed our day with a short tour of the buildings of Old Cromwell. The old town consists of a number of buildings which made up the old main street which was flooded when the level of the river and Lake Dunstan was raised for the hydroelectric scheme. This has changed the whole character of the town as a quiet ex goldmining and then fruit growing centre was transformed by new people and money because of the hydroelectric scheme. The town was rebuilt, perhaps recreated, as compensation for large amounts of it, and the surrounding farms, being submerged. Cromwell is now vaguely reminiscent of Milton Keynes with a regular structure, big open spaces, new precincts and lots of sports facilities.

Before flooding, some of the historic buildings representative of the original town were rescued from the main street and rebuilt mud brick by mudbrick and corrugated iron sheet by sheet above the water level. This comprises the (free) museum area of Old Cromwell. The first building is the Victoria Arms Hotel, then the Masonic Lodge. Both are opposite the parking area. There are then eight historic buildings which were relocated, including the Cobb and Co Store, London House, G Stumbles General Merchant, Cromwell Argus and Jolly's Grain Store. It only takes a short time to admire the buildings, unless you get tempted to stop for a coffee or look at the various arts and crafts. In the period after the buildings had been recorded, demolished and moved the mining companies moved in to mine the glacial drift gravels opposite Cornish Point which had been denied to them because of the town - it is believed that over 4000 ounces were recovered in this final goldrush, more than enough to reconstruct the old town.

Having already travelled along two interesting unsealed roads we began to think again about driving along the Thomson Gorge Road over the Dunstan Mountains between the old gold towns of Bendigo and Tinkers, near Omakau, it started as a Maori trail and was then used by goldminers before becoming an access road for the remote farms. In previous years we had done a few miles along the road from both directions and its condition had been good and we had already bought a 1:50,000 map. It was only the 5 fords in the central portion which had worried us. There is now an excellent leaflet published by the Otago Goldfields Heritage in 2004, which describes the important features and historic sites, we used the matching one on the Nevis road. Again local advice from the Museum in Cromwell was helpful and also told us that the veteran car club had taken their vehicles across before Christmas so we should be alright! The Thomson Valley Road is a summer 2WD drive, but 4WD at other times.

According to the map, the road begins at the Cromwell end either at Bendigo township or at the Ardgour Road. We found that the recommended road from Bendigo was marked as a private road and was in bad condition. Although we followed our path on the GPS, and it matched our map, we decide to turn back and enter from the more major Ardgour Road at Lindis Crossing. This was a good decision. The two entry roads eventually joined at a triangle which comprised only the main Thomson Gorge Road from Ardgour and two faint grassy tracks.

We were interested in the old gold mining sites, so stopped at the Come in Time Reef.In 1880 it was the last of the Bendigo reefs to be discovered. Both open workings and tunnel operation were used, known as the Red Tunnel Mine. A marked track leads down past the entrance to a mine tunnel and then on down to the old Eureka battery. It was clear that DOC were working in the area and restoring the battery, although there was none around during our visit. We were pleased to see the work because for many years DOC had tried to ignore the gold mining heritage. Portions of cableway gear could be seen high up on the opposite slope. Then we drove along the Rise and Shine Creek. We had wanted to explore all the historic sites but were uncertain where they were. We only had a mark on the map to guide us. One other vehicle ahead of us had parked and was getting set for a serious exploration, with boots and rucksacks. Since we had to return to Wanaka at the end of the day we were short on time and decided to continue. We will explore next visit.

The beautiful countryside continued as we climbed over Thomson's Saddle, at 900 metres. We soon descended to the valley and found the cattle yards, and a few minutes walk up Thomson's Creek we saw the old stone hut. Then we had the five fords to cross, and could see some evidence of the Thomson Creek Gully Diggings. At the last ford there was a large modern cattle building which looked out of place in the valley. We were pleased to have finished crossing the fords and wondered why we had been so worried. In a dry summer it is no problem.

We had travelled 29 kms in just over 2 hours and only saw one other vehicle which stopped part way. Of the 5 fords, none had been a problem and two had been dry. Pauline had been keeping a record of the gates and she had opened, and closed, 15 gates. This is in addition to the 8 which we had found already open. The road was wide enough to pass easily in most places and where it was narrow there were long views ahead to see oncoming traffic, even on the sections cut into the hillside along the gorge. There is one section along a narrow crest which we were warned could be subject to high winds but in dry calm conditions there should be no major problems with a car provided the road continues to be well maintained. We enjoyed the journey with its magnificent views and it is a road we will take again, most likely in the opposite direction which also matches the information sheet.

Having closed our last gate we turned towards the small ghost town of Matakanui, formerly known as Tinkers. Pete insisted on exploring the sluicings, and we got scratched fighting our way through the bushes. Not many people visit the old hydraulic sluicing area with faces which had been 20 metres high. It was a small area but one which was worked continually and offering good rewards for much longer than usual. Of the old town buildings there are a few remaining, including the Matakanui Hotel, closed some 40 years ago. We stopped at Omakau at the Muddy Creek Cafe for an enormous ice cream and then took the main road back the long way to our next overnight stop, at Wanaka. The round trip over the Thomson Gorge road and back to Cromwell using main roads is about 140 km and allows one to explore the Tinkers and Bendigo goldfields in a day trip.

It was now time to leave the Otago Goldfields and head for Wanaka and the lakes. The journey will be continued in Part 4

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