Touring New Zealand 2019 - part 3
South Island - Mount Somers, The Lakes and Central Otago
Mount Somers: The last part left us leaving Christchurch for Mount Somers. Mount Somers is only 124kms west of Christchurch but seems in a different world. It is a favourite place of ours and is where the road to Erewhon starts. We usually stay at the Mount Somers Holiday Park and it comes high on our list of places to stay; if it is full then the Domain next door also has camping spaces with power. The office was always surrounded by pots of the largest lilies we have ever seen from the lily farm down the road but since those days the owners have changed twice. The new owners have done an amazing job on the grounds but have yet to replace the Lilies. They have half a dozen of the basic cabins we were interested in on the site - good value at $60 as they are recent construction and very well equipped with crockery cutlery, kettle and toaster to complement the full kitchen, laundry etc. in the facilities block which again has an amazing collection of everything one might need, cupboards full. Outside the kitchen there are beds of every sort of herb you could wish for when cooking. The site even has a games room with table tennis and the pub opposite does basic meals. There is an amazing old style local shop nearby which has settees in the window and a classic petrol pump out side and we had a couple of ice creams - the cheapest this holiday and a good size. The camp site rarely seems to be full as the Mt Somers Domain is next door and although it offers nothing like the facilities people think it must be cheaper. There are many things to see and do in the near area and two of the sites to visit are only a short drive up the 'Road to Erewhon
Buxton Lime Kilns The closest is the Lime Kilns. It has car parking outside and signage for the track into the site but it was clear that not many people actually visit. The track was OK but would be easier in trousers because of the encroaching bushes. There is also a track from the lime kilns up to the old rock crusher and a lookout. The track needs care because there are large holes, from the lime kilns below, which are partly hidden by the intruding grass and bushes.
The Burnett Limestone Quarry is next stop. It is down a short side track about 4 km further along the Road to Erewhon. There are a number of old artifacts as well as the original 'White Stone Lodge' with a variety of building styles of work. The Limestone which was quarried here was difficult to cut but was easy to split cleanly so holes were drilled at side and top and a series of wedges used to careful split out the huge block, many were taken as ballast in ships to Australia where they were used for important building works.
In the evening we decided to quench our thirst from the hot day at the pub which is right opposite the camp site and again is an old favourite. On the way we passed the the old mustering hut which has been brought down from the mountains and installed as part of the museum in the domain which is opposite to the pub. It has served as many things including an mountain hut for the mountaineering club and is full of memorabilia. The cooking at the pub was restricted during a weekday after a jug of beer we got seduced into a couple of huge fish and chips. Everyone drinks beer in small glasses, poured from a large jug. In the past we have even sat in front of a roaring log fire, the weather can be very variable in the mountains! The walls of the pub are still covered with information boards on the history of the area and walks throughout it it and the boards matched those we had seen earlier on our walks. It used to be a small-scale coal mining area and there are pictures of the railway, initially narrow gauge and with several home made engines, one based round a 20 HP McCormick Deere tractor engine that we had just seen an example of at Fairlie. There was also information about the 'inclined plane', the jig, which we had seen. The combination of the accommodation and pub makes it a perfect stopping place even if you do not want to do the “Road to Erewhon”.
The Blackburn Coal Mine and Jig Walk This is one of our favourite walks in the area and we set off for it on the first morning. We have visited the mines several times in the past past and, as we said earlier, one can read about them at the local pub which has full size copies of all the original boards on the walls. There is a turn off about 8.5 kms from Mt Somers which continues as a gravel road another 3.5 kms to the Woolshed Creek car park. We followed the old Miner Trail which forms the initial part of the Mt Somers walkway up past the Jig and on to the old Blackburn Mine coal workings. The Jig was an 'inclined plane' tramway arrangement with an up and down trolley linked by cable with suitable brakes to allow a load of coal to descend whilst the empty truck was taken back up. It ascended 164 metres in 550 metres so even the old miners track which zigzagged a little gave us a little exercise. One climbs through the forest of black beech which has a thick black coating over the bark which seems to be a sweet fungus which delights the wasps which feast on it. There were some interpretation boards at the shelter which is at the entry to the mine. The mining started in tunnels but after the coal seam was set on fire by spontaneous ignition it converted to open cast and the fires were put out every morning before work started. On the previous trip to the mine we saw there was a hydraulic monitor on display and we were not sure if the everybody was sluiced away or if it was used to put out the fires. On the way down there is an alternative route via a nature trail - it .
The Road to Erewhon: We continued our trip into the mountains on the Road to Erewhon - which is about 45 kms, taking one past Mount Sunday to Erewhon Station, a trip we have made several times in the past but one that never palls. The road has superb views and eventually goes to Erewhon Station which was featured in the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler, one of the classic New Zealand books we bought and read long ago, we have more recently obtained his follow-up, Erewhon Revisited. Now the book has been mentioned in the Lord of the Rings Location guidebook by Ian Brodie it will probably become extremely expensive and difficult to find, however it may lead people to also read the other classics in the series - fortunately we now have copies of most of them!
Hakatere Conservation Park: We stopped first to look at one of Mid Canterburies oldest buildings in an area which has just been opened up and serves as an information post into the Hakatere Conservation Park and the O Tu Wharwkai wetland. It now has a lot of the buildings converted into accommodation for what we assume are school groups and also has a room full of information boards. The stone cottage dates back to 1862 and despite some additions and alterations still retains most of the original characteristics of the early station days.
The road changes to gravel as one continues. As one approached the jagged snow covered peaks over a ridge one is suddenly presented with the view of Mt Sunday ahead surrounded by a flat covered in brown tussock and the braided tributaries of the river Rangitata. One year we just sat there admiring the view whilst Pauline got her watercolour paints out at the top of the hill looking down and got our chairs out - the view is spectacular and one can just see the road below winding across past Mt Potts station which now offers weekend accommodation and heliport facilities for Heli-sking in the winter. This time we just set up our chairs and table and had coffee and biscuits. The area just short of Erewhon was used for part of the filming of Lord of the Rings, a camp was set up for 11 months and near Mt Potts Station. Mt Sunday a rocky outcrop rising above the alluvial shingle plain left when ancient glaciers carved out the Rangitata River valley. This was used as the site of Edoras the capital of Rohan laying at the feet of the white mountains near the river Snowborne. It is called Mount Sunday because the boundary riders from the high country stations used to arrange to meet there every Sunday.
As one continues past Mt Potts station there are viewpoints where one could look up at Mt Sunday, itself a tiny feature in the vastness of the plain and surrounding mountains. A permissive track to visit Mount Sunday has been set up since it featured in the Lord of the Rings and there is another new car park which has excellent views out to Mount Sunday. One can then drive as far as Erewhon Station, nestling at the foot of the mountains. Samuel Butlers description is as true now as when he wrote Erewhon “Never shall I forget the utter loneliness of the prospect - only the little far away homestead giving sign of human handiwork, the vastness of mountain and plain, of river and sky; the marvelous atmospheric effects - sometimes black against a white sky, and then again, after cold weather, white mountains against a black sky.” The book had led us to seek out Erewhon before we even knew the area had been kidnapped by for the Lord of the Rings although it is fair to say they have made good and you would hardly know there had been a small township for 11 months in this area. Erewhon Station now offers accommodation and the chance to take a wagon trip pulled by Clydesdale horses. If you do go that far it is worth noting there is at least one interesting ford to negotiate on the way in addition to the rough gravel roads. We have put some pictures below from 2012 of the final section of the road to Erewhon.
This year we parked at the new car park and took the permissive path across and climbed Mount Sunday for the first time. There are also organised trips to the peak and as we were starting the 45 minute climb a large six-wheeled tour vehicle arrived, opened the gate, and proceeded to drive along the rough track. We are accustomed to 4WD or AWD but this is the only place we have seen a 6WD! The climb is not hard but there are a few slippery sections so walking boots are desirable. The views were well worth the walk and climb.
Geraldine: Geraldine is a good centre for a number of the DOC camp sites up in the foothills such as Orari Gorge and Waihi Gorge but is a bit touristy – the coaches all have comfort stops there and it is the home of the biggest jumper in the world as well as an impressive tapestry. It is a centre for the local area and has a number of useful shops and is also the home of the excellent home style preserves and pickles firm Barkers of Geraldine. We bought a wheel of local Brie and a big at Talbot Forest cheeses next to Barkers
The Geraldine Historical Society Museum: Geraldine has two museums both of which are worth a visit if the have time - the first is an excellent 'local' museum, the Geraldine Historical Society Museum which is free and is right in the centre next to where all the buses park, but of course none of them go in. We must have spent over nearly an hour and had to move the car as we were only on 60 minute parking. Pauline admired an old American organ, the sort which has 2 foot pedals which are pumped to make the air pressure for the pipes, and eventually found a few simple hymn tunes in their music book which she managed to play sight reading.It is free to enter and a gold coin lubricates ones exit.
Geraldine Local Food: We then re-parked outside the Talbot Forest Cheese outlet. We are not sure if their cheese was made on the premises but Talbot Forest Scenic Reserve is just a short distance north of the town and we were able to buy a whole 1kg wheel of Brie which for $20 and a a big offcut piece of their Mt Somers Blue which is incredibly tasty (and had probably been what got to the brie) for $20 a kilo instead of the usual $60/kg. Having set ourselves up with the savoury side we went in the Barkers Outlet next door to get a replacement for the Blackcurrant and Cranberry Cordial we had been give by Chris and also came away with all sorts of other bargains in jams and chutneys which had set too hard or too little or were not quite the correct colour. These included the award-winning Limes with Elderflower fruit syrup and several cut price jars of jams, big catering 'squeezy' packs of pickles and an unusual but excellent Mandarin and Ginger Dressing - all at about half price.
The Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum: The next Museum was just on the edge of Geraldine and is far from free - we thought long and hard about $15 each as we have already visited The Geraldine Vintage Car & Machinery Museum several times. It has a huge collection of tractors, farm machinery and cars and motor bikes and took well over an hour for a quick look round. Some highlights were: John Britten (of motor cycle fame) 's Campervan, a Harley Davidson Hearse and a very rare original Spartan Bi-Plane. If it is your first visit to Geraldine and you have time to do it justice it worth a visit.
Fairlie and Fairlie Museum: Our next stop was Fairlie where we visited the Fairlie Heritage Museum which has a large collection of largely farm based items. It spreads over a number of large buildings including an original pioneer cottage, now in a time warp and the blacksmith's premises. The entire Fairlie railway station had been added - it had been moved complete from its original site in the main street and must have been quite a sight as the building and transporter was 114 feet long and about 24 wide. To these had been added a number of new 'hanger like' buildings which were full of basically agricultural and transport machinery from a stage coach similar to those of 120 years ago carrying 17 people inside and hanging onto open seats on top to veteran cars. There is a lot of old farm machinery much of which is under cover but outside which was a challenge in some of the rain storms. There was a big collection of fixed engines and lots of farm machinery as well as the railway exhibits and hospital equipment in the old station. There is even an autogiro hanging from the roof. There was also a lot of interesting information about sheep farming, especially shearing through the ages. and lots of unlikely but fascinating displays inside including barbed wire – hundreds of types and almost as many types of fencing wire tensioners. There is a turnstile taking $2 coins to enter and there may be an additional charge if you go across the road to the tractor collection
They have moved the tractors to a huge new building the other side of the road which one collects a key for from the cafe/shop. On our last visit it had a number of old cars which included a Standard 8 only one year different from Pete’s first car and a converted Standard Vanguard which looked as if it had been a pick-up then a shooting brake. Pete also had an Ensign which came from his father which was a close sibling of the Vanguard. There were lots of interesting old tractors and tracked vehicles all of which seemed to be runners. The cafe was not open and we were already fairly saturated (excuse the pun) so we did not try to chase down a key. We have added some pictures from an earlier visit to make the write up complete.
We left Fairlie and worked our way over Burkes Pass. Burke’s Pass village has the earliest ‘United’ church in New Zealand – tiny but worth a halt as there was also a lot of information on the new heritage trail set up round the village. Burke’s Pass itself is relatively low at about 750m.
Lake Tekapo: It was then on to Lake Tekapo -by then the skies were blue with just a few cumulus clouds over the mountains and the odd cloud in some of the valleys. Tekapo lies in MacKenzie country, a vast basin of golden tussock grass with the lake at 2,300 feet above sea level, an area known for sheep. Maori were the first to venture into this area. In 1855 James MacKenzie, of sheep stealing fame, found the pass used by the Maori opening up the area which now bears his name. The Maori name for the lake comes from Taka, sleeping mat and Po, night. The views across the lake were good, not perhaps the best we have seen but still very impressive. The light blue of the lakes provided by all the granite suspended in the melt water from the glaciers - this time speckled with light from the little waves driven by the high winds.
The Church of the Good Shepherd: We again stopped to visit the tiny and very beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd which always has lots of tour buses outside and swarms of tourists all taking photos of themselves against the mountain backdrop. The Church of Good Shepherd has a plain glass window over the altar with a stunning view of the lake and mountains - far better than any stained glass. I use an earlier picture taken in 1999 for my Xmas cards. Who needs stained glass? The Church was built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the Mackenzie country. It is now interdenominational and as well as regular services it does a good trade in Weddings. The builders of the Church were instructed that the site was to be left undisturbed - even the Matagouri bushes surrounding the building were to remain. Rocks which happened to be on the lines of the walls had to remain. The stones for the walls had to be procured within 8 kms of the site, were to be left in their natural condition. The original wooden shingle roof has however had to be replaced with slate. We got one of our few tourist free pictures of the church - tiny but perfectly formed. It was very clear down the lake to the central mountains almost 70 kms away. It must be one of the most photographed churches in New Zealand, as well as the nearby bronze statue of a sheepdog. We arrived at lunchtime and the building had just closed for an hour.
In the past we have spent a lot of time speaking to the regular warden, Dave Clark who has a huge fund of knowledge about the church and also what is going on in Tekapo. He is also a great walker and was responsible for our first walks up the nearby Mt John, which he used to climb most mornings, and many other tramps over a wide area. Dave has now bought a house outside of Tekapo so he is already down to a couple of days a week - when we passed by latter in the holiday we met his new partner Anne. There seems to be a lot of new building in the area and a new bridge and we understand that the plan is to make the car parks the other side of the bridge and turn the existing car park into a different form of park.
The Hydroelectric Canals: We usually follow the canals as much as possible towards Cromwell - there are many private roads following the canals, which connect the various lakes and power stations providing hydroelectric power, only a few of these now remain open for use with some restrictions, such as speed, and most are tarmac and to a very high quality, in fact some of the Heritage trails such as the Bullock Trail, used these roads. We suspect abuse of them by freedom campers has led to the restrictions and hope they will be relaxed again. There has been much argument over the flooding of the valleys but the results are, to us, a number of extremely beautiful areas with good recreational facilities. You can follow these hydroelectric scheme roads for miles along wide canals with pale blue waters and past vast power stations with banks of pipes several metres in diameter bringing the water down from the canals above. The waters are the same incredible light blue colour of the lakes. The Tekapo Canal road was closed for construction work last time and this time we found almost all these private roads were closed and we could not even reach the Mt Cook salmon farm. We understand there are fears of tourists driving into the canals in high winds but strangely they are still open for cyclists who must be at far greater risk.
Lake Pukaki: The next stop was Lake Pukaki where we stopped for pictures beside the lake. There are now two good parking areas and we stopped at both. At the big viewpoint at the end one gets an excellent view right up to Mount Cook. The Mount Cook Salmon farm which we normally stop at on the canals has been forced to move its sales to the viewpoint buildings and we bought some half price 'sushi' salmon which had been frozen. Outside was a statue of a Tahr, a Himalayan Chamois imported for hunting. There is a second salmon farm alongside the main road near Lake Ruataniwha but we were already stocked up. We stopped in Omarama, bought an ice cream. Omarama is famous for gliding and hosts major competitions. One of our Twin Astir demonstrators was brought to New Zealand and was based at Omarama for many years.
Ruitaniwha: We stayed at Lake Ruitaniwha and the less said the better about the camp site, we have stayed once before and it was quite acceptable but it seems to have changed hands or has new management as it is arguably now the worst value campsite we have stayed at for many years with limited and poorly maintained kitchens and other facilities. The kitchen had no hot water for washing up and the gas stove was difficult to light and we found one had a ring with full gas flowing when it the knob was in the off position and the safety flame cut was obviously not working- that caused a big flash and a few missing hairs but could have been worse if it had not been audirightbly hissing to warn us! It must be terrible when full when rowing competitions take place. We had a look at the lake on the way out in the morning
The next morning we left Ruitaniwha for Wanaka stopping at the Salmon farm to purchase some additional stocks. We went down to look at the Salmon in their 'netting tanks' and even ended up do the tourist thing and feeding them which at least was free! They move surprisingly fast and are incredibly agile for large fish. We then went through Omarama, the centre of NZ gliding and over the Lindis Pass and the Lindis valley on our way to Wanaka. . The intention was to also stop at Tarras for fuel but it was busy and we continued towards Wanaka where we knew there were several petrol stations.
Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea : Lakes Wanaka and Hawea are two of the most beautiful and largest lakes in New Zealand and have some of the best accessible New Zealand scenery. It is difficult do such South Island scenery justice with just words. Pictures help but even they can not do it justice - it is on too grand a scale. I still do not know how to convey the majesty of the mountains and the ever changing colours of the lakes or the barely suppressed power of the rivers. They have been gouged out of solid rock by the actions of glaciers and lie parallel, almost connected by a narrow isthmus part way down. To give a scale Lake Wanaka is 45 kms long and Lake Hawea 35 kms. Lake Wanaka is a thousand feet deep and Hawea even deeper and glaciers have smoothed the sides down to the water from their maximum height of 3000 feet above lake level. The bottoms of the lakes are below the present sea level.
The lakes are fed by Glacier melt water and have the most incredible colours, usually a light blue, sometimes almost white, from all the fine rock, ground to a powder by the Glaciers. - we have seen them so still that it is almost impossible to tell the reflection from the mountains behind when you turn a picture upside down and we have seen them with waves crashing on to the beaches. They can be so still and clear we have looked down and watched cormorants hunting underwater over a bottom perhaps 50' below. There are a few boats, mostly tinnies or glass fibre boats trailed in for fishing so they are virtually still on the surface, dots in the vastness of the lakes.
Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park: We have used both the Wanaka and the Glendu Bay Lakeside Holiday Parks which are both run by the Queenstown Local District Council along with one at Arrowtown which had been well spoken off by our contacts. Being government owned they are both reasonably priced and clean and tidy although they do not have the bells and whistles of a Top Ten or the like. We prefer to be close to the centre of town itself, and the Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park is within easy walking distance and has a number of good kitchen cabins so is our preferred choice when staying in Wanaka
The Mount Aspiring Road: We arrived too early to check in so we went a little way down the Mount Aspiring Road which has some awesome views into the mountains. It is just over 50 kms to the end of the road at Raspberry Creek car park, and is sealed as far as the Treble Cone ski field. The unsealed part of the road is slow with many cattle grids and the last 10 kms has a number of fords (4x4 in bad weather) one of which Pauline was sent ahead to reconnoitre on foot on our last visit. It is hard to do speeds in excess of 40 kph on the unsealed parts, even slower at the far end, and it normally takes well over an hour for the 50 kms. There are a collection of warning signs and information boards one needs to read before embarking on the last section and to only do it in fine and predictable weather; we had driven the road safely several times. A few of the fords do need care and the route choosing carefully and we have watched a couple of hoons probably end up with wet floors when pounding through.
Diamond Lake Walk: This time we had limited time as we needed to get back to the camping ground to check in so we stopped at the Diamond Lake Car park and did the short walk round the lake rather than our usual longer walk which also climbs past the Lake Lookout. The climb to the Lake from the car park is only about 70m and well formed, the climb to the lookout is still good but hard work as the extra 170 metres is mostly in the form of steps but the views a well worth it. It is a favourite place for climbers and there were several clinging to a near vertical rock face.
Rippon Winery: Closer to Wanaka we paused at the iconic Rippon winery which is often used as advertising for NZ wines because of the beautiful view from the tasting room down through the grapevines and to Lake Wanaka. We had a brief stop at Rippon Vineyard on the way back. It has changed a lot since the early days but the views over the vines to the little island in the lake are still magnificent. They have a new winery and tasting rooms which are higher up the hillside but no longer do lunches. They now bring in outside caterers for functions and weddings - the new function room does look most impressive. The tastings are now more formal and in groups but still free. Pete had a tasting but found the wines less impressive than the views although they had some unusual varietals which we might have bought at a more reasonable price.
Lake Hawea and Kidds Bush: The next day it was time for a trip to Lake Hawea. Our first stop was at the General Store which we knew from previous visits to have the most enormous double ice creams. This time it was close to lunch time and we were first seduced by a whitebait pattie then an egg and bacon pie, both were reasonably priced and very good and filling so we never got our ice-creams. We then drove about half way up the side of the lake to stopping at some the lookouts and then went on to Kidd's Bush camp site and picnic area. It is about 7 kms down a rough track just before the main road leaves the lakes side about 30 kms from Hawea town. We carried down our chairs and tried to skim the flat stones which are found on all the beaches round Lake Hawea however the wind was coming up. Pete usually has a short swim - the Lakes are fed with ice melt and it felt like it although usually it is not too bad close inshore. This time with a brisk wind even inshore seemed too cold. Kidd's Bush, is best known for its squadrons of sandflies which gather hidden in the sun before diving in formation on the unsuspecting swimmer as he or she emerges wet from the water. This year has been relatively sandfly free and we have not had to use deterrent yet although we did get a few bites beside the lake. We stopped several times for more pictures on the way back as the light was perfect although there were none of the magic reflections one sometimes gets in a really calm day.
Mt Iron: We climbed Mt Iron, only 240 metres but plenty enough on another day without a cloud in the sky. Mt Iron is interesting as it is a result of glacial action. It is Schist, a rock composed of old sedimentary rock compressed and forged by pressure and heat into an almost golden coloured rock with a layered structure - it is used for building and for tiles as it can easily be split. Mt Iron has been smoothed on one side by passing glaciers, the whole area was 7000' under ice a one time. The other side has had huge chunks of rock frozen, split and wrenched free by the glaciers. The walk involves quite steep climbs and descents and takes about one hour and a half.
Cardrona Valley Road: We took the Cardrona Valley Road from Wanaka to Cromwell. It follows the Cardrona River and takes one to over a thousand metres over the Crown Ranges and past the old coaching inn at Cardrona. In the past the road was slow and difficult, but it is now sealed. It is a hard climb up into the Crown range from the South and has some spectacular views back over the valley to Cromwell and Lake Dunstan but is reasonably flat once one is over the Crown Range and made the initial descent to the Cardrona River Valley with gradual descent to Wanaka. What has struck us the last couple of times has been the number of subdivisions and new builds starting on what was previously a scenic backroad. We once blew a head gasket on that road.
The first highlight was a stop at Bradrona. We have seen several fence lines covered on old shoes and sometimes panties but never one covered in bras or so big a one. Most were signed. It is alleged that one of our friends lost her bra to the fence but we could not find it. Cardrona itself is still a small place; the old School and the Church buildings have been preserved and are sited opposite to the Gin and Raspberry gold workings, named after the owners reward whenever a days wash-up exceeded an ounce of gold. Just a few yards further is the famous restored Cardrona Hotel - it used to be one of the famous inns on the Gold Trails and does excellent food as we have found previously and has lovely gardens.
A few kilometres after the Cardrona Hotel, next to the Waiorau Snow Farm, is the the car park for the Roaring Meg Pack Track. This track goes all the way to the Roaring Meg Powerhouse on the banks of the Kawarau River that we had passed a hour earlier. It was described as a nice 4 hour return walk to either the Meg Hut or the Miners Hut, along the river valley as it climbed into the hills over a 3,500 feet saddle past the remains of old gold workings. We once tried it but on a day that was so hot and it was so exposed that we gave up - a day like today. The day was very clear and we had some excellent views down over Chard Farm's winery and vineyards below us and out as far as Queenstown and Lake Wakatipo just before we started the steep winding descent. At the bottom we turned towards Cromwell rather than Queens town which quickly took us to the turn off for Chard Farm.
The Chard Farm Winery is well worth the interesting trip down the narrow unsealed road which seems to hang unsupported off the steep cliff down to the Karawau Gorge below. We have found their wines consistently good and they are difficult to obtain anywhere other than at the cellar door – they have an enthusiastic following and most are sold direct although they gave us the names of places in Wellington and Auckland where some wines could be obtained. It was Pete’s turn for the tasting and he tried most of their selection.
They have always been very proud of their Riesling and it is one of a small number of NZ Rieslings we like before getting to their Pinot Noirs, their specialty we tried their reserve chardonnay which Pauline was very taken with and we bought a couple of bottle. We have written at length about their Pint Noirs in the past so we will not go into them in depth. At the end we bought a specially priced half bottled of the their Mata-Au Pinot Noir which were ready for drinking and two bottles of the Tiger Pinot Noir at a price which I would prefer not to say which we will need to find somewhere safe to lay down for a couple of years.
If you want a quiet, informative tasting of top Otago Wines Chard Farm is The place to go, and if you want a meal the Gibbston Winery does excellent lunches down the road with a chance to compare their wines, or purchase a picnic from the Cheesery next door, however we have rarely bought Gibbston wines as we prefer those from Chard farm.
The Karawau Gorge: Our route took us through the Karawau Gorge where we passed the Goldmining Centre, we could see across the gorge the huge pump which was used to supply large quantities of low pressure water from the Karawau river which was driven by a Pelton Wheel driven by high pressure water from a water race high above - an interesting interchange. The last time we came we found they had started doing meals which are cooked in old wine barrels converted to a barbeque/oven. We looked into the 'Roaring Meg' car park where one can look at the Karawau river and the outlet from Little Meg, now used for a small hydroelectric system. There are many 'exotics' which are taking over from the local trees and flora down the gorge and the boards explained how physical and chemical warfare was being used to eradicate them - the results are huge tracts of dead trees and bushes but they believe it will probably regenerate. There are some walks from the small picnic/camping area opposite which used to be the site of one of the Coaching Inns. Our target however was to get to the Cromwell camp site in a timely manner rather than undertaking a long walk.
Cromwell Top10 We stayed as usual in a basic cabin at the Top Ten Campsite but it is now quite expensive ($90). When we arrived we found the site had been halved in size and extensive house building was taking place. We understand the owners, who have been there for a very long time, have had the site up for sale for several years. They wanted to sell it as a going concern but the only offers they got were from developers. After several years they gave up the thought of it continuing as a camp site and decided it was better if they developed the site themselves over a period of time. Indications are there will be no camp site when we return in two years time. A few years ago we tried an alternative out in the Bannockburn direction - the Cairnmuir Camping Ground because the Cromwell site was full. One of its main advantages was that it was next to Carrick Winery which has a first class restaurant. It was also a very friendly site and we left one of our old tents with them as they often lend tents to visitors.
Bannockburn Sluicings: The first morning we went to see the Bannockburn Sluicings which are only 5 kms from Cromwell and almost walking distance from the Cairnmuir Camp Ground. We have been before but even so it is difficult to appreciate the scale of operations and the magnitude of materials removed. The walks round the area have been re-routed in places to avoid erosion and the main walk now takes about two hours the first time allowing time to read the many explanatory boards, many have been recently updated or renewed, and to explore and photograph a little. There are some additions which are not so well signed but the main walk is enough to get a good understanding. The scale of the old operations is awe inspiring - cliffs perhaps a hundred feet high and hundreds of yards across cut out of the hillsides making huge amphitheatres and the whole area between stripped away. One is just seeing little "islands" standing to the original surface level.
Almost all of the operations were powered by water, first ground sluicing where water was just allowed to pour over the edges of the faces washing the gold bearing gravel down into sluice boxes, then latter, hydraulic sluicing where high pressure jets of water were used from below to bring down the faces. The tailings followed complex channels cut into the ground to eventually be washed away down the Kawarau River. During the walk we saw some of the water races and dams bringing in the vast supplies needed to wash away millions of cubic feet of gravel and the complex channels cut to get the tailings away to the river. The water was often reused and we saw an intermediate dam used to collect the water from sluicing before using it to periodically flush the build up of tailings down the tailings races to the river.
Stewart Town: The high point of the walk is to reach the old settlement, Stewart Town, - a few mud brick houses beside one of the larger dams. In its day it had big orchards with hundreds of fruit trees irrigated as a bonus of the water races. Now the area is once more arid and only a few pear trees and apricots survive - we were a little later this year and although the pears were still hard the ones with worms were ripe enough to eat (with care). The small apricots we usually enjoy were almost completely over and we never found any sign of a plum. One important change over the last 10 years is the increase in houses and many more hectares around the Reserve have been planted with vines. The whole area of Bannockburn sluicings is also alive with wild thyme and there is the most wonderful smell - wherever one walks off the new trail one crushes it underfoot. One can still see the shape of the water races leading from the dam, in some places running beside each other along the slope, each feeding a different set of workings or claim. As they descend the channels were stone lined and complex flumes, aqueducts and pipes distributed the water - there was often more money to be made in supplying water and removing tailings than in the gold itself. Bannockburn is perhaps the best place to get to understand and appreciate large scale sluicing operations and the couple of hours walk covers all the main features.
Carrick Winery: We had lunch at the Carrick winery which was already busy very busy with tour groups. Having chatted to the manager about our knowledge of Carrick and saying that we were content to wait until a table was available for lunch we were directed to the gardens with a glass of wine for the passenger. The wait was mush less than had been indicated and we had an outside table with the same superb view down onto the Lake as when we had been waiting. We had a good view cross to the hills of Bannockburn. As we watched food passing from kitchen to table we knew we had made the right decision. Most tables had chosen the Cairnmuir Platter for 2, but we were looking for something warm and chose the Otago Lamb rack and the Red Tussock Venison - both were superb. Carrick have done exceptionally well in the NZ Wine of the Year Awards, which replaces the Air NZ awards gain two Trophies one for the Pinot Pete was drinking before and with lunch, the Carrick Bannockburn Pinot Noir Central Otago 2015 and the Carrick Bannockburn Riesling Central Otago 2017. Considering the restricted number of Trophies for a winery to win two is very unusual. The Wine of the Year awards are like the ANZ awards and in two stages with entirely blind tastings. After all that food and in one case drink we really needed a walk! We had noticed signs to a new walk and decided to try it.
45th Parallel Walk and Loburn: This track starts at a car park for the 45th Plinth. One crosses the highway and climbs up the terrace face via 501 steps to panorama views of Cromwell basin. After a walk along the top one descend a hidden gully through early gold workings to Lowburn inlet which one follows back to cross the highway. Turn left and follow the the edge of the inlet. Cross the highway, turning left and to return to the 45th Parallel car park. The Sugar Loaf terrace land form as it is locally known, contributes values as part of the registered geo-preservation site. It is the best example of fluvio-glacial outwash terraces in New Zealand. A sequence of widely spaced terraces. These terraces are recognized by the community as an outstanding natural feature. The sparse biodiversity reflects arid low rainfall climate and light soils with the mix of native and introduced dryland plants species dominated by native Raoulia species – Vegetable sheep mats; small native grasses, introduced plants such as Sedum acre, stone crop mat forming with distinctive yellow flowersand Hypericum (St John’s wort). The 45th Parallel is the line that marks the theoretical halfway point between the Equator and the South Pole. The true halfway point is 11 kilometres south of this parallel because the Earth is not a perfect sphere, but bulges at the equator and is flattened at the poles.
The diggings and tailings we saw during the descent were fairly eroded and it was not easy to see the magnitude. In the early settlement days of Central Otago, Lowburn was a prominent ferry landing for travellers moving between the goldmining reefs of Bendigo and the township of Cromwell as well as the workings up the Loburn. The area round Loburn once more became important for gold when dredging commenced and in the years following the start of the gold-dredging boom of the 1890s Lowburn continued to be the focus of activity, often with several dredges working at one time. Spurred on by the desire to reach deeper and richer deposits, gold-dredges became larger and more efficient, culminating in the development of the electric-powered dredge in the late 1930s. Three large electric dredges worked on the Clutha River. The Molyneux worked from Clyde, through the Dunstan Gorge and into the lower Kawarau River. The Alexandra worked down the Roxburgh Gorge, and was later moved onto the Alexandra Flats and then over onto the Earnscleugh Plains which we described earlier. The last, the Austral-N.Z. worked the Lowburn area in the Upper Cluth. Several stories high, it is believed to be the largest gold-dredge ever built in New Zealand, and the world. Both the Alexandra and the Austral-N.Z. made steady returns, but both eventually ceased operating when all available land had been dredged. The Austral-N.Z. stopped working in the Lowburn area in January 1952, while the Alexandra stopped in the Earnscleugh area in March 1963. Much of the original Lowburn flat was inundated by the creation of Lake Dunstan, following the construction of the Clyde dam. Now the area supports a dfifferent sort of gold and we looked across at the Wineyards which surround a now quet Loburn and explored a little by car but learnt little.
Cromwell Museum One of our 'must do' stops in Cromwell is the Museum which is free and extensive and looked after mainly by a group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers. It has recently been extended into the space previously occupied by the information office which has now moved to be just in front of the 'Fruit'. It has a lot of Cromwell history from its start and initial signification as a centre for the gold fields and on to fruit farming. A major part covered the changes on the area when the hydroelectric scheme started. The goldmining exhibits are good and there is an extensive collection of old pictures both in books and more recently a computer display/database. We could not spend as long as we would have liked as the main business of the day was to get to Queenstown for a trip on the old steamer, the Earnslaw.
Arrowtown: We stopped in Arrowtown on our way to Queenstown and walked round the old Chinese Goldminers area before continuing to Queenstown. We have written Arrowtown up several times so will say no more.
Queenstown This was the day for our drive into to Queenstown which was known in the early Goldmining days just as the camp. A town meeting was held to decide on a name and somebody said it was a town good enough for a Queen and the name stuck. To some Queenstown is the essence of New Zealand - the centre of the adventure sports NZ has become known for with bungy jumping, rafting, parachuting, parascending, hang gliding and jet boating to name a few. It is a place you really have to visit the first time one comes to New Zealand but much of what it is best known for is not what brings us back to New Zealand - yes we have been on the Shotover Jet boat rides (which are an incredible experience in a rather theatrical way) and we have watched or participated in many of the other activities. It is however thronging with tourists unlike almost any other town in New Zealand. It is also one of the few places where one worries about leaving things or bad behaviour; mostly we regret to say from Europeans.
Queenstown is not the ideal place to stay, it is an expensive and the camp sites are one of the few places in NZ where one can not trust the inhabitants and stuff tends to walk away from the fridges and freezers. That is why we always base ourselves well outside and drive in.We usually stay at Cromwell as we have this year but have once tried the e Campsite at Frankton a couple of times both with a tent and a cabin. The site is certainly cheaper than Queenstown especially for a tent and much more friendly - they gave us one of their pitches which was down by the waterfront. It was quite small - it was fortunate we only wanted to put the small tent up and it turned out to be a power site al though we said we did not need one. The other waterside pitches for camper vans and caravans were even smaller and the occupants were complaining they could not even put their awnings up. The other time we had a cabin available, although they called it basic it had a fridge, TV, kettle and toaster as well as a big table and chairs, all very clean and tidy. The kitchen and facilities were right next door in the same block and they have two Siamese cats on the site. The site has excellent views over the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakitipu and of the Remarkables and other mountain ranges. It was also completely sandfly free - they promised a refund if we got bitten!
Despite everything said above we always come once and sometimes even stay for a day or two. There is the magnificent scenery round the lake looking across to the Remarkables and all up the road to Glenorchy, one is close to the Goldfields with Arrowtown and the Kawarau Gorge and there several of the Otago vineyards within an easy drive. The main reason is the superb old steamship the Earnslaw still running as smoothly and silently as when she entered the water over 100 years ago. She was initially built and had a preliminary assembly in Dunedin before being brought up by train to Kingston in February 1912 where she was reassembled and fitted out before steaming to Queenstown for final fit-out and her maiden voyage in October 1912.
We got to Queenstown with plenty of time to spare and it was a good job Queenstown has now turned into an expensive parking nightmare as they seem to discourage day visitors. We must have driven round for half an hour and out beyond walking distance before we eventual found a space in an expensive multistory car park which had earlier also been full. There was some free parking in places but the longest time was 180 mins anytime so too short for our trip on the Earnslaw. In the end we only had time for a short walk round the shopping areas before it was time to check in.
Earnslaw and Walter Peak station: The Earnslaw does trips from Queenstown to the Walter Peak Station every two hours during the summer, starting at 1000. The trips can be combined with morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner in the old colonial house. We prefer dinner, where there is a good buffet meal with very plentiful food and the carvery has now been changed to a barbeque cooked outside although one still eats inside, luckily it was Wednesday. We found that the normal dinner cruise had been booked up but on Wednesdays they run an extra one at 1600 with an early dinner at Walter Peak Station in the old colonial house. Unfortunately their resident piano player, Bob no longer plays at dinner, he has been playing the piano for them since we made our first visit in 1993 and this year he was not playing on the ship either - a real loss. We have his CD at home. Dinner is followed by a sheep dog demonstration and shearing. They used to try to persuade the visitors to have a ride on their bull - the previous one called Robby, which we had seen and Pauline was persuaded to ride, has unfortunately been put down because of arthritis and the young replacement 'did not prove reliable', one wonders what was hidden behind those innocuous words. This time we slid away as we had seen the demonstrations before but got into a conversation with Aled who is relatively new but gives some of the demonstrations. He insisted on giving us an individual tour which was instructive and much appreciated.
The trip is not a cheap trip at $145 including the barbeque and buffet dinner but the experience of the Earnslaw is unforgettable and the food very good, with a wide selection and plenty of time to revisit the buffet many times. Highlights were the various Cloudy Bay Clams, the barbequed chicken, Merino lamb, Southland beef, which melted in the mouth and local pork all cooked on a huge wood fired barbeque with market fish (Gurnard). There was a fascinating hot sticky toffee and date pudding served in individual little saucepans for the really hungry.
The Walter Peak Station is still very active and huge by UK standards running 15,000 sheep, merinos on the high country and 5000 Peridales on the flatter parts, along some cows. When they bring the sheep in the shepherds and dogs are now taken up by chopper to the top of Cecil Peak 1975m and they use 15 dogs to bring them all in. The homestead block and demonstration area has now been separated off from the main station and is called the Walter Peak High Country Farm but it still covers 450 acres. It is owned by Real Journeys who operate the Earnslaw.
We set out to traverse the Thomson Gorge Road. It is a dry weather road which we have traveled several times in the past but every time it is in worse condition. This time it was even worse and we finally gave up just short of the Come in Time Battery when we saw the depth of the ruts on the hill in front of us. It is not often we give up but from what we heard from some trials bikes that had come through we made the right choice as it got much worse. We walked up to normal parking and Pete decided he might have made that turning point but no further.
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. DOC have extensively restored the battery. We were pleased to see the work because for many years DOC had tried to ignore the gold mining heritage in other parts of New Zealand. Portions of the overhead cable-way gear could just be seen high up on the opposite slope, marked by white posts.
For those with a good 4 wheel drive vehicle I will include details of our last successful transit.
Thomson Gorge Road: Many of the Central Otago Goldfields were very remote in New Zealand and were reached by a number of trails many of which still exist as Back-roads, Summer Dry Weather Roads, 4WD Tracks and Hiking Trails. We have taken the vans along quite a few of these in the past and we decided to repeat the Thomson Gorge Road over the Dunstan Mountains between the old gold towns of Bendigo and Tinkers which is near Omakau. It started as a Maori trail and was then used by goldminers before becoming an access road for the remote farms. Before we did it the first time we spent a long time preparing and had done a few miles along the road from both directions and bought a 1:50,000 map. It was mainly the 5 fords in the central portion which had worried us. There is now an excellent leaflet first published by the Otago Goldfields Heritage in 2004 and updated in 2007, which describes the important features and historic sites, we used the matching one on the Nevis road. We stopped in the Museum in Cromwell and picked up the latest leaflet and the lady was very helpful and gave us some reassurance about the current state of the road which was helpful. The first time we had followed the veteran car club which had taken their vehicles across before Christmas in 2005. The Thomson Gorge Road is classed as a summer 2WD Trail, but definitely 4WD at other times or after heavy rain.
According to the map, the road begins at the Cromwell end either at Bendigo township or at the Ardgour Road. We found in the past that the recommended road from Bendigo was marked as a private road and was in bad condition. Now we heard that there were more vineyards and the road was even more difficult to find and the lady in the information office gave explicit instructions on how to find the 'current' entry which coincided with our GPS waypoints which was reassuring. We enter from the Ardgour Road at Lindis Crossing. This was a good decision. According to the map the two entry roads eventually joined at a triangle, but even with the join marked on the GPS we did not identify it.
The beautiful countryside continued as we climbed over Thomson's Saddle, at 990 metres. We soon descended to the valley and saw the cattle yards. This time we did not do the short walk up Thomson's Creek to see the old stone hut as we had missed the parking. The road had gradually deteriorated and some sections had deep ruts carved by the recent heavy rains and needed great care to plot a path which would not drop a wheel into a hole or rut - the van is rear wheel drive has small wheels and does not have a limited slip differential so is prone to wheel spin or having a wheel in the air and being trapped. Other sections had lost all the metal and were back to bare rock. We had the five fords to cross and unlike last time when we were following a 4x4 we had to stop to look at a couple closely to plot a route, one was a particular challenge as it was filled with big 10-12 cm boulders and other rocks by the recent rains and had a steep exit but we got through. That was the point where the last thoughts of returning the same way disappeared. We could see some evidence of the Thomson Creek Gully Diggings along this section. At the last ford there was a large modern cattle building which looked out-of-place in the valley. We had traveled 29 kms in just over 2 hours.
Pauline kept a record of the gates and she had opened, this time it was close to 20. This is in addition to the many 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 may take again, most likely in the opposite direction which also matches the information sheet but only if we are sure it has been maintained - this time it was severely damaged by recent heavy rain which we did not know.
In summary - unless you have done the road before or have extensive backroad experience and a recent update from someone who has crossed we no longer recommend it without a 4x4 with good ground clearance. There is virtually no other traffic to help, no mobile coverage and we would expect to pay for any help or damage. Traffic is almost non existent, this time we met one lady on a trials bike the entire way, last time one 4x4. I will seriously consider a rope and hand-winch and some blocks if we ever do it again.
In the afternoon we set out to have a look at Bendigo, Welshtown and Logantown all of which played impertant roles in the early stages of gold mining in New Zealand and certainly we have mentioned the Bendigo Reefs many times already this year and in the past.
Bendigo, The Bendigo Dredge and Fulton Hogan: This visit we found that a interesting piece of historic equipment had been returned to Bendigo which played a key role in the setting up of one of New Zealands largest civil engineering firms. As we were entering the Bendigo Historic reserve we saw that an old bucket ladder from a gold dredges was layed out beside the road junction. This is all that remains of the Bendigo Dredge owned by the Light Gold Company and it had only survived as it had been used as a bridge for the Lions Island on the Clutha.
The project was started with in the 1930's depression with assistance from the Goverment Unemplyment Board and a company was launched in 1934 by McKnight and two partners after a number of, what seemed to be, satisfactory test bores. It was the first major project for two fledgling Dunedin Sub-contractors - James Fulton and Bob Hogan and their new company. They lived in a nearby tin hut and dug the dredge pond during a freezing winter and thereby took the first step towards establishing the major Austlalasian engineering and maintenancee company that bears their name today. The dredge started work in 1935 but in the first 18 months had only produced 45 oz of gold, enough to cover only two weeks of the 75 weeks running costs! It turned out the tests had been miscalculated by at least one decimal point and not realising the area had been already been worked several times. In addition, the dredge cost much more than estimated to shift from where it previously operated in Waikaka, the tailings elevator did not work properly, the bucket ladder could not get down deep enough and the company could not get enough water in its pond. In the long term it did not seem to have set back the budding entrepreneurs -Fulton and Hogan got paid and the funds allowed them to purchase sufficient equipment to get them started. The parking area, rather appropiately, contained a number of their huge trucks. The firm is still a family owned business employing 7,800 people and the last figures I can find showed an annual revenue of $3.2 billion for 2013.
Welshtown Walk: We then drove into Bendigo Historic Reserve and did some of the walks, primarily round Welshtown. The Bendigo Scenic and Historic
Reserves cover a large area (1085 hectares) They contain a wide range of relics from Bendigo’s hard-rock, quartz mining days and they form an important part of the Otago Gold Fields Park. Gold was found first in 1862 which
influx of miners and prospectors Initially the gold was
alluvial and easier to extract but that petered out in 1865.
Then gold-bearing quartz reefs were discovered and the
focus went underground. Successfully too; in 1875 the
Bendigo reef was said to be the richest and best defined
in Otago. Mining continued in various forms, with varying
degrees of success up to 1943, when a government
mining subsidy was withdrawn. Some of the original foundations of
the Matilda and Aurora stamper battery sites are where
they were abandoned. Mining shafts and adits abound and although the major ones are fenced or covered it pays to keep to the major trails. We walked round the remaining buildings in Welshtown and then did the The Matilda track which wends its way down through Welshtown past workings including the number 2 shaft, a couple of blacksmith forge sites, huts and the large quartz battery site at the Matilda battery built in 1878. Nearby was the Mine Managers Office with the whole were the safe lived - barely larger than Pauline's hand.
Logantown: The Bendigo goldfields were some of New Zealand’s most lucrative and terrific fortunes were made and their accessible alluvial gold brought some rich yields of 15-50 ounces a week, but declined after 1866. In 1863 Thomas Logan discovered gold-bearing quartz reefs stretching into the hills. The subsequent hard-rock mining transformed the area with an estimated 52 mine shafts. By 1875 the Bendigo reef was considered the richest in Otago. In the ensuing rush other quartz reefs at Bendigo were mined with limited success. At its height there were at least 50 shafts. The thriving township of Logantown sprang up, but by 1875 it had been superseded by Welshtown further up the hill. We stopped at Logantown on the way out of the Historic Reserve but there is very little left to see and it is best included as part of one of the loop walks out Welshtown. There is also very little left of the original buildings in Bendigo - we stopped and looked at the Bakehouse Historic Reserve - interesting - but we can not say it is a high priority to visit
Northburn Tailings at Quartz Reef Point: On the way back we stopped at the Northburn Tailings at Quartz Reef Point, half way between Bendigo and Cromwell. They show the herringbone pattern which is so typical of manual goldmining and stacking of stones. The pattern is very clear from aerial pictures. They are easy to find and there is a DOC sign at the parking and well-marked path up to the viewpoint. It is on private land but access has been arranged along the track by DOC.
Old Cromwell: As we left in the morning for Alexandra we stopped at the lookout with views across the river junction to old Cromwell Cromwell was a major centre during the Goldmining days and was at the junction of two of the major gold-bearing rivers, the Kawarau and the mighty Clutha. For many years it was just known as The Junction. In 1862 gold was discovered just below Cromwell and the rush was on. As Gold ran out Cromwell became a centre for farming and fruit-growing viewpoint. The Clyde Dam, which formed Lake Dunstan, flooded Old Cromwell. The area is already quite interesting and can easily occupy an hour or two. Cromwell Museum has a lot of local history from the town’s start and initial signification as a centre for the gold fields on to fruit farming. A major part covered the changes on the area when the hydroelectric scheme started.
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, Cromwell Post and Telegraph Office and Jolly's Grain Store. There are two buildings in the precinct which are on their original sites : Wisharts Blacksmith and Motor Garage and Murrell's Cottage. 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 – but most were closed by the time we got there. 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.
The Dunstan (Hartley and Reilly) Memorial: We next stopped just short of Clyde at a roadside memorial to look over the area, now flooded by the hydroelectric dam, where the finds were made which started the important rush to Dunstan. In 1862 two Californians, Horatio Hartley and Christopher Reilly left the diggings at Gabriel's Gully hoping to win one of the awards for discovering a new Goldfield. They worked their way up the Clutha finding enough gold to keep them confident that better was to come. At one point they panned 40 oz in a week with a single borrowed pan. They kept quiet about their successively better and better finds until they discovered a very rich beach just below where Cromwell is today and where the memorial stands. In the succeeding months they washed a total of 87 pounds of gold with which they returned to Dunedin to claim a reward. They were then told they would only qualify if the new field yielded 16,000 oz in three months, a seemingly impossible change of the goalposts. In fact 70,000 oz was carried out in the remaining 4 months of the year by the Escort as well as that carried by miners. This rush started the major immigration from Australia and changed Otago and perhaps New Zealand for ever. The area is now covered by Lake Dunstan formed by the Clyde dam
Earnscleugh Tailings: We were still too early to check in at 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: It is worth providing a little more information on dredging which was probably at its most spectacular on the Clutha near Alexandra and the Earnscleugh Tailings and arguably the most spectacular remains. Often 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. By now it was time to head to the Holiday Park.
The next part starts in Alexandra and continues with Naseby
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 25th April, 2019