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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 14

Tuesday 15 March

The last part left us in Lawrence. We spent most of the morning writing up and waiting for the rain to cut back a little. We eventually drove into into Lawrence to the Museum.

The Lawrence Visitor Centre and Museum is one of the best local museums we have been in - we have also spent time a lot of time in Museums at Cromwell and Alexandra in the past and it would not be fair to chose between them as they all have excellent displays relative to gold and we have spent a lot of time with the curators in all three who have been most helpful. One must also not forget the smaller museums at Clyde and Naseby. All are worth a visit if you are passing. The Lawrence museum always surprises us for the size and range of exhibits in a relatively small town. There are several rooms of what one could class as 'settlers' exhibits of early life, the goods and clothing brought by the settlers, machinery and household appliances, and early life in New Zealand. There is also an excellent set of exhibits and old pictures covering all aspects of gold mining, it is unusual to find such a broad spread including dredging as well as the various forms of sluicing and elevators - it also has a room dedicated to the Chinese in the area which covers the involvement of the Chinese gold miners. There is a collection of old pictures from round the area in loose leaf ring binders - we have spent long periods going through the as they have a few pictures we already knew and many new ones on Goldmining and dredging in the area. We took the opportunity to pick up a number of extra Heritage Trail booklets and some new xerox sheets we did not have.

We spent a happy hour or more before setting off to find the Tuapeka Mouth Ferry which was about 25 kms away.

The Tuapeka Mouth Ferry (Punt): We left the museum just before 1600 to go and have a look at the Tuapeka Mouth Ferry which is the last of the water-driven public punts in the Southern Hemisphere. The Clutha River was originally crossed by rowboats, however these were gradually replaced by ferry services using punts with two or sometimes three hulls. At their peak there were a couple of dozen in operation. The one near Tuapeka Mouth was established in 1896. It was known locally as 'The Punt' and the original vessel had wooden pontoon hulls. This was replaced in 1915 by a steel twin hulled punt that previously operated on the Waiau River in Southland.

The ferry is controlled by two heavy wire cables across the river (one upstream and one downstream) to which it is permanently attached by cables riding along the main cross river cables. The craft is powered across the river solely by water current pressure against its hulls under the controls of rudders attached to the rear of the pontoon hulls. This historic ferry generally crosses the 130 metre width of the river in about 4 minutes. The Punt was originally used to carry livestock and farm equipment, horses, gigs, and wagons, but today it usually carries cars, other motorised road vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

The ferry is actually part of the local road network and is owned by the Clutha District Council (and part funded by the New Zealand Transport Agency), and is operated by the Clutha District Council's Roading Maintenance Contractor. It does not operate the whole day but only from 0800 to 1000 and 1600 to 1800. We were fortunate in being able to use it as it had only recently returned to operation after a five week break which we understand was because the Clutha had been in flood. The flow was still impressive and the passage was very quick. The hulls were angled far further across the flow by the rudders than we had anticipated and the pictures seem to confirm our impression that we were at over 60% to the river flow and the transit time was only a little over a minute for the 130 metres.

We completed our drive on the other side of the Clutha and crossing back on the bridge 10kms downstream - a round trip of about 70 kms with what will be one of the highlights to remember of this years visit.

Wednesday 16 March

Beaumont Bridge and Punt: Whilst held up by the lights for the one way Beaumont Bridge we noticed a set of information boards and backed up and turned in to see what they were about. This was fortunate as we discover that they covered the history of the crossing including the Punt which used to serve it. Having just used the Tuapeka Mouth Punt the previous day this increased our knowledge considerably about their use on the Clutha. The Beaumont Punt was a triple hulled version and operation started in 1878 up until 1886 when a new bridge was completed - in a typical month it would carry 200 - 450 vehicles, 1000 -4000 passengers 1000 - 2000 horses and many thousands of sheep. There was a nasty accident in 1886 when an overloaded wagon caused it to break up and it cost the council dearly in damage awards, interestingly the loss of a child was valued at £50 whilst over £600 was awarded for the cargo on the vehicle.

Pinders Pond: As we were driving towards Roxborough we noticed a sign to Pinders Pond and recalled it from a goldfield brochure. It is now one of the sites which welcome camping, limited to 3 nights. There is one long drop so is useable by tents as well as self-contained vehicles, although this year the unsuccessful re-planting of grass has limited the available areas for tents. Pinders Pond is an old hydraulic elevation pond, off Teviot Road, and is about the only major evidence left from that second gold rush period in the early 1900s that the public has access to. This pond was formed as a result of the hydraulic elevating sluicing work done by the Teviot-Molyneux Gold-Mining Company which John Ewing, the Gold Baron, was the managing director.

John Ewing is probably best known for his hydraulic elevators at St Bathans where he started with the purchase of a small claim on Kildare Hill in 1873. Ewing became extremely wealthy by installing modern mining appliances, including a hydraulic elevator. By 1894 he was working 30m below the level of the tailrace, and in the same year installed an elevator of his design to raise the material in one lift, far higher than any of the skeptics. After a roller coaster ride between riches and bankruptcy he embarked on what he described as "the hydraulic mining enterprise of my dreams". His aim was to mine the reputedly rich auriferous ancient beds on the east bank of the Molyneux (Clutha) River on Anderson's Flat, below Roxburgh. He entered into this venture in 1907 and suffered many setbacks culminating at Pinders Pond which never realised the potential he hoped for.

Roxborough Teviot Museum: This was a fascinating small museum. We enquired about it in the information centre in town and were told it only opened for a couple of hours at weekends but were told that they were usually more than willing to open up at other times if people were interested. After a quick ring round a volunteer came and unlocked it and we were left for an hour to look round. It was small but packed with interesting information and displays and considerable work must have gone into it. We were particularly interested in the many pictures of dredges and other goldmining but it also taught us a lot about the area and how the fruit growing industry grew up round Roxborough. Many thanks for opening your lovely museum to us and sharing the fruits of your hard work.

Roxborough Dam, Lake and Power Station: We stopped at the viewpoint of the Roxborough Dam, Lake and Power Station. We have written a lot in the past about the Hydroelectric schemes so will not repeat it this time.

Memorial to Miners who perished in the great snow of 1863: We stopped briefly to view this memorial which is just off the road at Gorge creek. In July-September 1863 a devastating combination of flood, snowstorm, and blizzard caused heavy loss of life among the mining population of Central Otago. In a matter of days the main gold rivers were in violent flood. The Clutha rose 20ft in a night, the Shotover was 35 ft above normal and the Arrow engulfed Arrowtown. Miners living only in tents on the river banks were caught unawares, and even those on the terraces only escaped with difficulty. Worse soon followed with snowstorm in early August. Blizzards swept inland Otago and roads were not so much impassable but impossible to find. The Warden's Court records place the ascertained deaths at 37 but unofficial estimates gave figures as high as 200 - the fate of many was never determined.

We diverted to look at Mitchell's Cottage, another of the Otago Goldfields Park sites that we had not looked at on previous visits. Andrew Mitchell built this fine cottage using techniques he had learnt in the Shetland Islands and it took many years to complete - started in the 1880s it was not finished till 1906. He also left another legacy of his remarkable skills in a sundial chipped from a solid block of schist; the shaped part above the block must be a metre across. The garden was planted with a wide range of exotic trees most of which are still present.

The Mitchell family were, not surprisingly miners who finally were successful when they struck a gold bearing quartz reef high on the Old Man Range. By 1889 the venture was paying well and their main shaft was 50 metres deep with the adit (tunnel) 250 metres long and they were employing 19 men in the mine and the associated battery. They sold out and took up a sluicing claim on Bald Hill Flat in 1890 and it took them three years to complete the water races and tail races. The Goldfields warden commented that the construction of the races and the way the working faces were kept were "without doubt the neatest I have ever seen" by 1893 they had installed a small hydraulic elevator and it seems profitability went hand in hand with industriousness and neatness and the records say the were well satisfied with increasing yields of Gold. One can understand something of their standards from the construction of the cottage, which seems untouched by time. It, and the surroundings, is preserved as a site in The Otago Goldfields Park as a tribute to the industrious and skilful people who contributed to Central Otago's heritage. The cottage is open and normally unattended, a reflection on the difference between New Zealand and Europe.

Camp site at Alexandra: This time we stayed at the Alexandra Holiday park rather than the Tourist Park we used last time. It was much better and our cabin had far more than we expected from the price including a large fridge freezer, microwave and television as well as basic kitchen utensils, cutlery etc. When we saw it we tried to stay for an extra day but it was pre-booked so we ended up staying an extra two days in a basic cabin.

Shaky Bridge, a suspension bridge was opened as a light traffic bridge in 1879, judging by the way it moves with even a couple of people the name was apt. It fell into disrepair when the road-rail bridge opened in 1906 but was restored as a footbridge in 1951 by volunteers and dedicated to the pioneers. Water just broke over the deck at the eastern end in the 1995 floods. In the past we have stopped the other side at the Shaky Bridge Vineyard Café.

Tucker Hill Road & Diggings and the Rose, Thistle and Shannock water race: There are a number of viewing and walking tours from Shaky bridge which are described in the Otago Goldfields Heritage leaflets such as Alexandra and Immediate District Historic Sites - Viewing and Walking Tours. Last time we came to Shaky Bridge we went to the left down Graveyard Gulley to the Cemetery. This time we first drove down the Tucker Hill Road past the Tucker Hill Diggings which remain much the same as when mining ceased in the early 1900s. Mining started in 1862 and the proceeds were never spectacular - the name comes from the miners standard reply to how things were going of, "Just making tucker". We drove as far as the end of the maintained road and were quickly forced to continue on foot although the track would be fine with a four wheel drive. The easiest route is is to use the Otago Gold bicycle trail rather than the track itself. After about 2 kms we could see the old water race supported by stone walls up on the hillside as described in the leaflet. It was part of the Rose, Thistle and Shannock water race of 1864 supplying the northern end of the diggings. One can continue on foot(or 4x4 on the track) to the Manoburn dam and join the Teviot road. We did not walk that far but went back later in the holiday by van to the Manoburn dam where there are some information boards showing the old fluming which took the race across the Manoburn.

Tank on Hill: We then got back into the car and climbed up to the "Tank on the Hill". An open water race from Chatto creek supplied Alexandra with water from 1873 to 1903 when the large tank was built to supply the town using the James River water race which brought water from 22km away. There were however continual battles over the water rights and it turned out that the Council had not check properly the priorities and in times of drought the diggings took priority. The Supreme Council finally ruled that James Rivers could not be expected to supply water that did not exist! The tank was therefore abandoned after only 6 years. The views were already opening up and we had an excellent view down to Shaky bridge and could start to see the huge area of tailings from dredge operations on the banks of the Clutha over the top of Alexandra.

Observation Point: We continued up to the Observation Point and lookout where the views were even better across Alexandra and out over the Manuherikia Valley and adjacent mountains with the distinctive Remarkables just showing in the distance with snow covered tops. Below were the Tucker Hill Diggings. The tailings were now quite clear and one realised the huge area they covered. See below for more details of dredging activities.

Old Coach Road: We continued for another couple of kilometres on the now gravel road to where the Old Coach Road crossed where again there were good views and we could also see more of the old water races winding across below us with their stone walls still looking in good condition. We met up with a couple of cyclists coming up the Old Coach Road who suggested we continued another couple of kilometres to just after where there was a cattle grid where we would intercept one of the races and could then follow them on foot for a considerable distance. They were correct although we did not walk a great distance in either direction they obviously continued onwards although they were well worn down.

Thursday 17 March

We had a very light day round Alexandra on foot. We walked in from the campsite along the riverside past Shaky Bridge and on into town. The park where we met the edge of town had originally been the site of a dredging operation and one could still image that one could see the dip from the pond the dredge had been working in. We spent a long time in the Museum, one of the best of the regional museums looking at the history of gold mining in the area and their displays and spent a little time at the end speaking to the Museum Manager. He let us know about some goldmining (dredging??) operations still taking place at Millers Flat which can apparently been seen from the main road. Pauline also had a discussion about a letter they are trying to get additional information about from a region she knows near Birmingham.

Friday 18 March

In the morning we started to look for somewhere to spend the weekend. We had not been aware that it was the Otago Anniversary Weekend, which with Easter a week later meant that most camp sites and any other accommodation was likely to be very busy. We tried an old favourite at Naseby and were fortunate to find a cabin which we later found had been a last minute cancellation from a large group block booking.

Earnscleugh tailings: With accommodation secured we left the Alexandra Holiday Park and set off to have a look at the Earnscleugh tailings. It is not well signposted - for reference, anyone looking for the Dredgings Reserve should cross the bridge out of Alexandra, after a hundred yards turn right into Earnscleugh Road (back road to Clyde) and go 3 kms at which you will find Marshall Road on the right and a sign to the 150th Centenary walkway. There is still a car park right under the tailings but no access and the old bridge across has come down and you now have to park in the new parking, walk almost to the Clutha on the walkway, cross a foot bridge over the Fraser river and walk back to be opposite the parking on the other side of the river – an extra kilometre or so before you can walk up to a viewpoint or do longer walks. The new parking is also used by fishermen for river access. We still have an early (1999) information leaflet which was fortunate as most of the boards we remember seem to have gone. DOC estimated the walk from the foot bridge to the viewpoint, some 400metres, would take 50 minutes!

Dredging was probably at its most spectacular on the Clutha near Alexandra. The ground was worked over several times and as the dredges became more powerful they would cut there way into the solid ground of the river terraces working their way over huge areas leaving behind what can only describe as furrows. The Flat Dredge Tailings and The Golden Beach tailings lie either side of the Fraser River entry to the Clutha and a large area has been turned into the Historic Reserve we had eventually found. The Earnscleugh Dredgings were formed by the activities of 5 dredges between 1896 - 1924 and 1951 - 1962. Hundreds of acres have been dredged with the resulting tailings laid out like a giant's ploughed field with furrows 40-50 feet deep and hundreds of feet across where they had been ejected from the back of the dredge. The deepest tailings which are under the observation point were from the gigantic Clutha Company Dredge, usually just known as the Alexandra, working in the 1950s. The other deep tailings were from the Earnscleugh number 2 and 3 dredges working together in the early 1900s.

Paddock dredging involved cutting deeply into the dry land of the terraces from a small pool of water in which the dredge floated and gradually cut its way forwards. The tailings were scattered behind from centrifugal drums and elevators. It is an awe inspiring sight and it was well worth all the diversion to visit it again, the other memorable thing was the thyme, the whole area was covered with wild thyme and the smell was almost overpowering as one walked around. We understand that there are plans to rework the Earnscleugh tailings yet again, which is causing concern with conservationists so it was good to see them before any changes take place.

We then headed across towards Naseby using some backroads and stopping at Hayes Engineering works for a snack lunch and another quiet look round on a day when it was not in 'motion'.

Golden Progress Quartz Mine: We had plenty of time so we also walked up to the Golden Progress Quartz Mine when we passed it. 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.

It was now only a short drive to Naseby where the next part will continue

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Content revised: 16th April, 2016