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|Touring in New Zealand 2004 part 4|
We left Lake Hawea at an unusually early hour, as we wanted to take the Glenorchy road along Lake Wakatipu and on to Paradise and the Invincible Mine. We did not want to stay in Queenstown so we stopped briefly on the way and booked into the Top Ten in Cromwell, they have nice and economical cabins and they let us leave our stuff early - Queenstown is one of the few places where we have concerns about valuables in an unattended car.
It was then on to Queenstown 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.
Despite everything said above we come through and sometimes even stay for a day or two. There is the superb old steamship the Earnslaw still running as smoothly and silently as when she entered the water nearly 90 years ago. 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.
This time we shot straight through and went up the Glenorchy Road, which has magnificent scenery looking over to the various stations and the Remarkables range of mountains as it clings on cliffs and hillsides above Lake Wakatipu. The road is 45 km long and has only recently been sealed throughout its length. We paused about 10 kms from Queenstown to investigate the DOC campsite at 12-mile creek, which covers a huge area right down by the lake - it looks good and there did not seem to be many Sandflies in evidence. We stopped at several viewpoints, which had stunning views over the lake and into the central snow topped mountains. Several sections of the road were originally built by private individuals but perhaps the most memorable section is called Darrell's Bluff (40.5 km from Queenstown) after a contractor, who with a simultaneous explosion of 17 carefully sited cases of Gelignite excavated almost the entire section out of the rock face directly into the lake.
Glenorchy has grown rapidly since the road has been sealed and has a DOC office where we got a lot of useful information on the roads we were planning to follow and the Invincible mine. The invincible mine is located 18 km from Glenorchy up the Rees valley road, much is unsealed and gets progressively more interesting with a couple of significant fords, fortunately our Toyota has good ground clearance. We got to the path to the invincible mine but there was no real place to park or turn so we continued and found there was easy turning and plenty of space to park at the associated Gold Concentration site a kilometre further on.
Gold was first discovered in the Wakatipu area in 1862 but it was not until 1879 that significant quantities of gold were won, after a gold bearing quartz reef was found in the Richardson Range. The Invincible Mine and its batteries of quartz crushing stamps into production in 1882. The battery of 10 350 kg stamps worked round the clock crushing 90 tons of quartz per week to release the gold. The crushed quartz passed down blanket tables and from these the concentrated sands were amalgamated with mercury in a rotating octagonal barrel later by an impressive se of seven Burdens.
Power was derived from a water race feeding a large overshot water wheel. The gold bearing quartz was extracted from mines at several levels in the mountainside - only the 'machine level' is still visible and is partially collapsed. The ore was largely mined from the, almost vertical, quartz reef by hand with some assistance from blasting powder.
The ore was brought out on a tramway to a chute down to the battery. Initially there was no effort to retrieve the gold remaining in the 'tailings' from the separation processes but it was realised in 1884 that there was up to 9.5 oz still remaining in every ton of tailings in the form of gold-bearing pyrites and extraction of even 1 oz per ton was economic. The tailings were sold on to a different company for processing. The tailings were sent in down a 679-metre chute to the workings at the Gold Concentrating site where we first parked. They were processed through classifiers, pyramidal boxes and jiggers (all forms of washers) and the concentrates were shipped to Australia for specialised processing. The lighter fractions then entered a circular 7.9 metre diameter Buddle, something we had never seen or heard of before. The material was released in the centre to trickle down the smooth plaster surface whilst jets of water of differing pressures emitted from 4 rotating arms divided the material in waste slime, slime sand (which was reprocessed), lighter ore and pure pyrites (concentrate). The fractions passed into four different concentric gutters on the perimeter. The Buddle is still almost intact with the arms on which the jets were mounted and the gutters are still present. The dams for water storage are still present although the turbine and its building are missing. It is all within a couple of minutes walk of the parking.
The access to the Invincible Mine is quite another story - it is via a steep track, which various boards and books quoted as being between 30 minutes, and 90 minutes walk to reach. We looked on the optimistic side and assumed the longer times must be for a return trip perhaps even with time to look round - not so. The climb took us 45 minutes of very hard slog and the downward trip made us realise how steep it was and took 32 minutes. A check back at the DOC office showed the height gain was close to 450 metres (1400 feet) with only a couple of brief flats where one could look at the view which quickly spread out underneath as one zigzagged up. It made us realise that some of the previous exercise had been worthwhile and that more would be good.
It was well worthwhile as there is evidence at the site of much of the equipment. The water wheel is collapsed but present as is the battery of stamps. One can walk along the old tramway to the entry to the machine level Adit (mine tunnel), closed by a metal grill and out over the piles of Mullock (spoil). The set of seven Burdens is quite a sight and they seem to almost be in a condition where one could power up the whole set and use them. Overall a fine example of quartz -rock mining and processing which, with the unique associated concentrator plant, make it well worth the rough road, fords and stimulating climb.
We travelled part way back to Glenorchy and then turned away to Paradise, which we had been recommended a number of years back for the spectacular scenery and tranquillity. Unfortunately, since we heard about it, it has been used for the filming of parts of the Lord of the Rings as the site of Isengard. Paradise is about 15 km from Glenorchy and has a few houses and a lovely looking property, the Arcadia guesthouse. Another 5 km over a number of fords and atrocious roads takes one on to the site of Isengard, which is a bit of a disappointment after all the hype. The whole stretch however has some magnificent views across braiding rivers with Mount Earnslaw and into the mountains of the Mount Aspiring National Park touring round it. Paradise was named after the Paradise ducks which used to be in the area - now the tranquillity we had been led to expect is now shattered a the steady stream of 4 wheel drives and even buses carrying Tolkein fans back and forth not to speak of adventure seekers rushing to and from the Dart River. Even so we did not regret the journey although it was overshadowed by our experiences at the Invincible Mine.
By the time we got back to Queenstown it was 1730 but we stopped by the Earnslaw to see if they had any places for the dinner cruise and secured a couple of places. Every evening the Earnslaw goes to the Walter Peak station for dinner in the old colonial house - a good buffet style meal with very plentiful food and a good carvery to the sound of their resident piano player. Dinner is followed by a sheep dog demonstration and sheering. 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 ridden, has unfortunately been put down because of arthritis and the replacement has not proven reliable.
The Walter Peak Station is still very active and huge by UK standards running 15,000 sheep, merinos on the high country and Peridales on the flatter parts, along with 800 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.
We still had several days before we were due to meet up with Miles, Felicity and Phil, friends from the UK so, inspired by the visit to the Invincible Mine, we decided to head slowly across the Otago goldfields to Naseby, a favourite place with excellent, but flatter walking. First thing in the morning we went into Cromwell to get to the bank having exhausted our funds on the trip on the Earnslaw. Cromwell, as we found previous years has a lot more to offer than one might expect and is a good centre from which to explore the Otago goldfields as well as being close enough to Queenstown to avoid having to stay there.
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. 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 a Old Cromwell, an area of old buildings, now largely rebuilt mud brick by mud brick and corrugated iron sheet by sheet. The area is already quite interesting and can easily occupy an hour or two. Cromwell Museum has a lot of Cromwell history from its 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.
There are fascinating before, during and after pictures complementing those at Old Cromwell. The scheme, one of the last the New Zealand "Think Big" series conceived in the 1970s, built a dam and power station at Clyde on the Clutha for which Cromwell was the major administrative and engineering base. The land that was under the parts of Cromwell due to be submerged had not been mined and the opportunity was taken as soon as the buildings had been removed. It is alleged that over 4000 oz of gold were recovered from under that area - enough to go a long way to its preservation and rebuilding on the new site.
We stopped leaving Cromwell at a viewpoint looking down on the Junction and Old Cromwell allowing one to picture how things once were.
We also stopped 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.
We diverted from the main road after passing the huge dam to Clyde, a small largely unspoilt township and walked round - many of the houses are numbered and there is a sheet detailing the matching walk. We got a sheet from a small shop selling the largest ice creams we have ever had for $1.00 for two huge scoops double and a big bag of local apricots for $3.00. Clyde has an interesting looking museum that we have so far failed to visit as it only opens from 1400 to 1600 Tuesday to Saturday.
We wondered if we should go back to a viewpoint looking out over Clyde that we found the last visit - we recalled it was memorable in many ways. The first sign said it was only 1 km - after a while we found another sign saying 2 kms pointing up a steep gravel track, the only thing in its favour being it was an AA sign. The climb was interesting to say the least with the wheels scrabbling for grip much of the way - if you try it let passengers out first for a leak; they will thank you by the top! The view was however worth it, one of the best we have ever had out over Clyde showing the dam and the town laid out like patchwork quilt with all the orchards the area is famous for apricots and other stone fruit. In the far distance one can see what looks like a giant's ploughed field, which are the Earnscleugh dredgings. We found various excuses to avoid repeating it and continued to Alexandra.
Alexandra is another old gold mining town on the banks of the mighty Clutha River. In the later days of gold fever some of the greatest dredging operations took place near Alexandra. There are two excellent 'Historic Sites Viewing and Walking Tour' leaflets available freely in the town which are basically historical tours of old Goldmining sites and places of interest from the golden days of Lower Dunstan. The Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust, Alexandra Museum and DOC back them. You need the car to reach some of the places of interest such as the viewpoints and dredgings and not all of the places of interest concern gold but they are extremely useful for the maps and background information so are must to collect. We went to quite a number of the places covered the year before last - our estimate it needs one day to do each of the two tours with all the walk options. Alexandra also claims to have the highest average temperatures in New Zealand and the lowest rainfall in its advertising brochure.
Our main reason for stopping was to visit the Museum, which, following being flooded twice recently, has reopened in new buildings in Pioneer Park on the main street (Centennial Avenue). The displays are currently quite restricted, as the move has only recently taken place and 95% of the material has been in storage; even so it has a number of interesting exhibits many related to gold. For example it has the most comprehensive display boards covering gold dredging we have found with pictures of many of the dredges linked to location maps showing the claims. The maps seem similar to those in Kawarau Gold by Sinclair taken from the Otago Daily Times.
We spent a long time speaking to the Curator, Elizabeth whilst purchasing a new book "The Speculators' Dream - Gold Dredging in Southern New Zealand" by T J Hearn and R P Hargreaves published Allied Press 1985 ISBN 0-86466-012-X. Elizabeth was obviously very interested and knowledgeable about Goldmining and had a collection of her own old books and she also suggested we kept our eyes open for books by Harris Beatty, F W Miller and Robert Gilkison (not sure of spelling). She lives in Ophir and also suggested several places we should look at as we went across to Naseby namely the old cottages at Matakanui (used to be called Tinkers in the mining days), the cemetery at Drybread and told us that there was still a road following the old Maori and miners tracks through the Thompson Gorge to Bendigo - it is marked on proper maps but not those for tourists as it is a gated road and only for dry summer weather unless one has a 4 wheel drive.
Our last stop in Alexandra was more mundane but worth mentioning as it is indicative of the difference between New Zealand and other places. Pauline had damaged the frame on her glasses so we asked if Elizabeth knew of a good optician. She sent us to one on the outskirts in an industrial estate where they were temporarily residing having suffered the same floods, which caused the museum to move. Laurence took one look, said wait for ten minutes and disappeared to return with them fully repaired - we tried to pay but he said that one was 'on him' and all we could do was buy a case to avoid future damage. It was then on to investigate the suggestions from Elizabeth.
We easily found the old cottages at Matakanui (Tinkers) but the road which we understood led up to the relics was gated so we did not proceed as we should have done - - we were shortly to find that many back-roads are gated. We also found the entry to the Thompson gorge road to near Bendigo - there was a big board outside one of the houses explaining about it as many people clearly stopped to enquire if they were in the right place. The board reminded people it was not a short cut and would take at least an hour, as there were 21 gates to open and close! It was marked on the entry with a proper roadsign designating as a Dry Weather road and one could see the road winding up the hillside into the distance - we explored a short distance and it seemed to be in excellent condition but did not want to cross to Bendigo at that time so we marked it down for a future trip as it looked interesting and had a lot of history being the original Maori then miners track across the range and one of the only ones still open. We latter found it is still marked on proper maps but not those for tourists as it is a gated road and only for dry summer weather unless one has a 4 wheel drive.
It was then on to the cemetery at Drybread, we found the entry easily and went through the gate expecting it to be close - not true. We went through gate after gate until we seemed to be driving across fields full of sheep with hardly a track visible in the grass. Just as we were loosing faith Pauline saw it in the distance. The cemetery had a lot of history and some remarkably ornate gravestones and monuments, many from the Hamilton family. When we left we noticed many roads etc had Hamilton in the name and they must have been major run holders in the area.
We then went on to St Bathans, one of our original targets for a stop on the way to Naseby. The town is interesting and time has stood still, although it is perhaps a bit more commercialised than some of its size - it has received a lot of publicity we understand on television although it was very quiet whilst we were there. We first stopped in the old Post office as we knew they sold some old books - we found a copy of the "Gold Trails of Otago" by June Wood, published by AH and AW Reed 1970 - one of a series - this one was used as the initial source for the Goldfields Heritage trail booklets ($25 in poor condition).
What interested us were the mining remains. St Bathans was the site of perhaps the greatest of the Hydraulic Elevator and Sluicing operations. Starting in 1864 Kildare hill, originally 120 metres high was reduced by Hydraulic Sluicing to nothing and then in 1880 Hydraulic elevators were used and eventually it was reduced to a pit 68 metres deep. This was the deepest hydraulic mining lift in the world. The enormous hole was flooded in 1935 when mining was abandoned. They only stopped because of fears that the main street of St Bathans was about to collapse into the workings - one can see the cracks in the builds today. It is difficult to convey the size of the Lake and surrounding workings full of tailings and faces. We guess that it could be close to a kilometre long and 200-300 metres wide which ties in with statements in one of the books that over 100,000 oz of gold had been removed from a 200 acre area by 1893. It was a blistering hot day and Pete had a quick swim in lake before we continued to Naseby
We then went on to 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 in one of the 1896 ex miners cottages brought from Oturehua in original condition - at $45 a night they are difficult to resist when the clouds promise rain, especially as they had cooking, even if no other facilities other than a big log fire and a range. When we arrived there was a note saying the owner was working up near the swimming dam so we walked up and were immediately recognised by John and greeted as old friends. We were lucky this year as the forest had been closed because of drought causing an unacceptable fire risk for many weeks but some rain had been enough for it to be opened the day we arrived.
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 Mt Ida range. We then passed Hoffman's dam and on to Coalpit dam where we were back in 'civilisation' at a picnic area with lots of tables. We continued round a 'species walk' that unfortunately has been partly destroyed by logging which also made the path difficult to follow. We rejoined the path proper on a different route back, which took us through the most recent mine workings. We made a mistake again on the path and followed a track down the Hog Burn before rejoining it via the 'one tree walking track which has been laid out with extra interpretation points. The return was then along the water race we started on but in the opposite direction.
We then went through the area more recently used for mining which still has many artifacts in place including piping and several of the hydralic monitors used for sluicing the faces along with some excellent explanitory boards. before returning past the curling dam. Naseby is a centre for curling in the winter. During the whole 4 hours of brisk, almost non-stop walking, we only saw one pair of mountain bikers and heard and saw some loggers in the distance. We had quick look into the Settlers Museum and settled ourselves back for a quiet afternoon.
In the evening we went into the town to sample the food at a restaurant which has recently opened and had been highly recommended to us - the owners were previously at the well respected Dansey's Pass Hotel which we have referred to in previous newsletters. You need to book for the evenings as they are 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. It came up to all our expectations although we had been a little concerned when we saw the outside and found it described itself as the 'Cottage Garden Cafe' giving unfortunate connotations. Inside it was a completely different story with a relaxed atmosphere with lots of leather armchairs, a blazing log stove and an internet terminal in the corner; a place one felt instantly at home whilst one read the menu on a large board.
We started with homemade bread and dips - we were told a single portion would be ample and it came with a selection of dips in divided square dish. The bread was excellent and beautifully fresh and as soon as it was obvious we were starving after our long walk fresh supplies quickly arrived at no extra cost. Peter had a fillet steak, which was excellent but did not give the full opportunity for Jan, our host and chef, to show off her skills, which she did with Pauline's Venison Medallions on Kumara in a delightful sauce. Alongside were good-sized portions of scalloped potatoes and crisp fresh vegetables. The sweets were perhaps where Jan drew away from the competition - we had huge portions of her homemade Lemon Passion Cheesecake and she insisted we tried her homemade ice cream alongside it. We have two regrets, we do not know the recipe and that we did not have a camera with us. The wine-list was again on a board and we had a Lake Hayes 2001 Pinot (Otago), which was good, very reminiscent of youngish Beaujolais from Brouilly.
We both agreed the food was some of the best we have ever had in New Zealand - it is perhaps not realist to judge on a single visit but we agreed that the only competitors in South Island were the winery restaurants at Pegasus and perhaps Seifried but that the personal service from Jan gave it an edge over both. In North Island we have always had a soft spot for Shed 5 in Wellington and could not bring ourselves to displace it after one meal but the prices are very different and the formality is not consistent with many on holiday. We thoroughly recommend the Jan's cooking and the atmosphere at 'Cottage Garden Cafe' which gives yet another reason for us to return to Naseby especially as they as does Breakfast, Coffee and Lunch as well as Dinner. Tomorrow will be the day we look for scales to measure the damage.
We were then heading for Wanaka back through the goldfields with a day to spare before we were due to join up with our friends. We checked email and sent out the previous newsletter from in front of the campsite office - John had put a socket in for us a couple of years ago after stretching cable around - having a local ISP account is useful as it is free access number. We find many campsites are happy to let us use a line and often do not bother to make a charge - if so we usually give them something for their charity box. If we could not use the phone there because John needed it the Cafe had also said we could drop in and use their line.
Once we knew there were no messages from our friends we headed for Ranfurly which claims to be a Rural Art Deco town but it is a fairly tenuous claim with only one or two what we would think of as Art Deco - it seems to have been the result of a working party in 1999 on how to get them on the tourist map! We feel they have little justification compared to such places as Napier - in fact many New Zealand towns have a greater proportion of true art deco buildings. It may be an excellent example of a country railhead town but that does not get visitors like holding art deco weekends. It however does have a good information office with an excellent display of contemporary photographs of the Maniototo and they were most helpful in seeking out information we needed. Pauline bought a second handbook of paintings and keeps saying we must stop long enough somewhere for her to get her paints out.
We took a back-road through the Ida valley, our first stop being at Oturehua, an old mining town that had been the source of the cabin we were staying in 1896. The historic store dates from 1882 and still largely in its original state with Kauri counters, box shelving and cabinets still occupy one side in which are displayed many items of yesteryear - well worth looking into as well as being one of the only sources of ice-creams in the area. They also had a magnificent old set of Avery Scales, the type with a big weighing platform and an arm, which you hung weights on and then slid, a small weigh along. Surprisingly we do not seem to have put much weight back on so the exercise must be making up for the ice creams.
As we drove along we passed a couple of fences adorned with items of clothing. The first had several tens of metres of knickers hung onto the barbed wire. Pete has been forbidden by Pauline for putting up his theory as to why they are hung up alongside a road which is lucky to see a couple of cars a day. He has no theory for the shoe fence so he added his sandals to the end of about 70 metres of close spaced boots, sandals trainers etc - they had both split across the bottom after the climb to the Invincible Mine.
We drove past the Hayes engineering works, which we have visited several times and written about - it is only open weekends unless you phone up the curator. If your timing is right it is a must to see. We stopped at the top of small hill and were rewarded by the most staggering panorama of views over the Ida valley. It was like being in the middle of a huge bowl with wrinkled ranges rising thousands of feet on the horizon in every direction perhaps 15 kms away. No photograph could do it justice.
The next stop was at a small village, Ophir that has twenty or so houses left in their original state. Gold was discovered in the area 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 kerbstones 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 We were too late to look round as it closes at 1200 - last visit we spent some time speaking to the new curator and postmistress, and 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. She found detains of some of the mining survey reports for the area dating back to 1890 and other early reports on dredging from the turn of the century. This year we found they had recovered the old jail, which had been moved, and were refurbishing it behind the Post Office. We soaked in the atmosphere down the main street and took lots of pictures before we continued over an early suspension bridge, which we stopped to admire.