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Touring in New Zealand 2004 - Part 5

It was then back onto the main road to Alexandra where we stopped long enough to give Elizabeth the curator thanks and feedback on the suggestions she had made. We decided that we would be too early for the museums we wanted to see in Clyde so we took the back road past the Earnscleugh tailings. It is not well signposted and we used the GPS reference to find the entry. 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. At the end the car park is under the tailings and you can walk up to a viewpoint or do longer walks.

Dredging was probably at its most spectacular on the Clutha near Alexandra. The ground was worked over several times and as the dredges became more powerful they would cut there way into the solid ground of the river terraces working their way over huge areas leaving behind what can only describe as furrows. The Earnscleugh 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 dredges with the resulting tailings laid out like a giants ploughed field with furrows 40-50 feet deep and hundreds of feet across where they had been ejected from the back of the dredge.

Paddock dredging seemed to involve cutting deeply into the dry land of the terraces and the tailings were scattered 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 dredgings again, which is causing concern with conservationists so it was good to see them before any changes take place.

We still got our timing wrong, or right perhaps, as we were a few minutes before opening time and had to sample another couple of the huge ice-creams. Clyde, although a comparatively small and quiet town boasts two museums, the Historic Museum which is perhaps the more conventional with displays covering early settlers and the goods etc they brought, including some interesting recommended packing lists for working women and ladies of stature. It also has some good photographs and original material on Gold and Gold Dredging. Vincent Pike, famous for helping shape and bring order to the Otago Goldfields, was Chairman of the Council which latter set up the museum - some of his possessions are on display.

The other museum is privately owned and has collections of larger artefacts from corn threshers to machinery from the herb factory in which it is sited. The factory mostly processed the wild thyme that grows prolifically in the local area. The museum also has a lot of information on the problems early settlers had with rabbits that had been introduced and then got out of control. There are displays on trapping, gassing and poisoning and a reconstructed rabbit exterminators hut.

By the time we left the skies ere threatening and we were glad to secure the last cabin at the Cromwell campsite - normally there is no problem at this time of year but there was a local festival at the weekend. We made a wise decision as it sluiced down during the evening and some of the tent sites were a couple of inches deep in water. In the morning we saw in the paper that the centre of Wanaka had been closed off due to flash floods.

We did the shopping whilst we waited for the museum to open. The Museum has a lot about Cromwell history from its start and initial signification as a centre for the gold fields on too fruit farming. It gave interesting insights into the farming in Otago. Typical "runs" for sheep farms stations were 200,000 acres which would support 30,000 to 40,000 sheep ie each sheep needed 5 to 6 acres of the barren, dry tussock grass covered land. Rabbits rapidly became a problem and a typical station employed 50 hunters to keep the rabbits down and they would kill 500,000 rabbits a year on a station in order for enough grass to remain for the sheep. There were no significant predators in NZ before man came and he brought many animals that have run riot. First Maori then Pakeha has devastated the environment by destroying the indigenous and introducing the exotic much of which is running out of control compounding the problems.

Returning to the museum, a major part covered the changes on the area when the hydroelectric scheme started. There are fascinating before, during and after pictures. There are also a number of 'books' of pictures covering the history of the Cromwell Area including a number of Goldmining pictures including dredges a work in the area. There is also a model of typical dredge and buckets and other artefacts from one of the last dredges.

We then went across to look at the reconstruction of Old Cromwell. Old Cromwell, an area of old buildings, now rebuilt mud brick by mud brick and corrugated iron sheet by sheet is already quite interesting and occupied us for an hour or two. The Old Town consisted of a number of buildings, which made up the old main street, which was flooded when the level of the river and Lake Dunstan was raised for a hydroelectric scheme. The hydroelectric scheme changed the whole character of the town - a quiet ex Goldmining and then fruit-growing centre was transformed by new people and money. The Old Town was rebuilt, perhaps recreated, as compensation for large amounts of Cromwell, and the surrounding farms, being submerged.

We still had the rest of the day before meeting up with Miles, Jane and Phil, our friends from the UK, so we decided to revisit the goldfields at Bendigo. The entry to Bendigo Gold field is on a gravel loop road off the road between Cromwell and Tarras and you then climb into the hills for 4 kms on a very rough and steep gravel road - last times we breather a sigh of relief when we got to the top only to be joined by a rally of vintage Riley's which seemed to think nothing of it! There were two suggested walks in the material we collected at the Cromwell museum and we did a short walk and saw some of the remains of deep mines and the Mattilda Stamper battery, unusual in Otago where most gold is alluvial. We also saw the remains of two long deserted villages, Logantown and Welshtown.

The information boards also showed there was another mining area a short distance away on the other end of the Thompson Gorge Road, the dry weather backroad we had looked at travelling from the other end. We went along it for about 4 kms through a number of gates without finding the mine and turned back as it was not obvious there was going to be many turning places once we were into the mountains and the weather had not been good and we did not want to be committed to full fords just to be able to turn. The actual road was much better than the one up to Welshtown so we would probably have been OK.

It was then full speed to Wanaka to join up with Miles, Felicity and Phil who had already arrived at the Motel we were all booked in to. The motel was expensive by our standards at $110 a night but had magnificent views from all the rooms and the decking out over the Lake and had a barbeque in front. The Lakeview Studios only have 4 units at present so we virtually had everything to ourselves and we ate and drank far too much whilst setting the world to rights.

We split up the following morning, as the others wanted to go to Queenstown for a trip on the Earnslaw that we had done the week before. We went in the same direction but over the Crown Range past Cardrona, the highest main road in New Zealand at 1130 Metres. It was unfortunately too early for lunch at the Cardrona Hotel, one of the early coaching inns, which has a high reputation. The clouds were hanging low and we did not have the views of last time from the top but it is still a good trip. We turned towards the Kawarau gorge to see if we could get a snack at Gibbston Vineyard but we would have had a 45 minute wait so we sampled a couple of cheese platters at there associated cheese factory - the cheeses are now much better than when we tried them just after they opened and we bought a couple. Although the full lunches at Gibbston are memorable enough for them to feature on our wine pages we have rarely thought enough of the wines to actually buy them so we decided to sample those from Chard Farm just down the road.

Chard Farm is a relatively small producer with a good reputation; the winery is reached down a tortuous single-track gravel road hanging on the side of the Kawarau Gorge. The journey was worth it, the tasting room was small and the bar and fittings were made from old pipes from the 1930s when irrigation was first brought to the area. The first thing we noticed was that almost everybody tasting ended up buying, and at the expensive end, and also there were no charges for tasting unlike a number of other Otago wineries. We spent along time talking to Jim Fraser as we tried an impressive selection of wines and once he knew we were interested he gave us a lot of background information and insight into the Otago wines and the differences between the various areas in which Chard farm and other wineries grow their grapes.

Jim insisted we started with the Riesling 2001 and despite our prejudices about New Zealand Rieslings we liked it enough to buy one. The Sauvignon Blanc 2003 was the sort where you only need to sit sampling the bouquet - excellent - it contains a small parcel of aromatic grapes from Nelson added to the pungent central Otago fruit. They hope to be able to use entirely Otago grapes when new plantings of Sauvignon Blanc come on steam. In contrast the Gewurztraminer was relatively restrained but very drinkable. We compared the un-oaked Closeburn Chardonnay 2002 to the oaked Judge and Jury Chardonnay of the same year- a recent bottle of Closeburn had brought us in the first place but we were very taken with the Judge and Jury made with low yields from branch and shoot thinning and entirely use of the Mendoza Clone and Clone 15.

The Pinot tasting was perhaps the most interesting as we had three glasses with the River Run 2002, the Finia Mor 2001 and the Finia Mor 2002. The River Run is from grapes in the Gibbston area and is good basic light Pinot. The Finia Mor comes from the best of their vineyards round Cromwell - both years are prizewinners. There were surprising differences in bouquet and taste, both were excellent and although the 2002 have more potential the 2001 is one of the best Pinots we have tried and is ready for immediate drinking. Overall Chard Farm has the best of the Otago wines we have tried and Jim gave us by far the best and most informative tasting we have had in Otago. Go to Rippon winery for the views, Gibbston for the food, but make sure you go to Chard Farm before you buy your wine.

We dropped into Arrowtown on the way back to Wanaka. It was heaving with people, as it was a weekend. We looked into the museum to see if they still had old books for sale but they had sold out so we did a section of one of a number of walks opened to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Otago they have opened beside the river past the site of the Criterion Quartz Mining Company. The Arrow quartz reef was discovered in 1864 and was one of the first quartz mines in New Zealand. A large dam was created and a battery of 5 stamps was installed. The reef started only 10 feet below the surface and the shaft was sunk to 120 feet but yields quickly dropped and by 1867 it closed as uneconomic. That was only the start of the story for the equipment and it is worth following the story of the Stamper battery as we had unknowingly crossed its path several times in the last few days.

The Criterion Company's five stamp battery was bough in 1869 by the Aurora Company and moved to their mine at the Bendigo goldfield we walked round yesterday, where it was combined with five other stamps to produce a battery fed by a 26 foot overshot water wheel. That company failed and the battery was bought by the Cromwell Company and moved to form part of the 20-stamp Matilda Battery at the main shaft at Bendigo we again visited yesterday. Ten of the stamps then moved to the Come in Time mine near Thompson's Gorge Road, near Bendigo where they can still be seen at the site we were seeking yesterday and failed to find. At the time we knew nothing of the inter-woven history.

On our return we thought it was time to give the vehicle another good check over - after 3000 km she had used no perceptible oil or water but we noticed one of the tyres looked a bit uneven and further inspection showed that the tracking was out as both front tyres had wear on the inside edge. We tried first Wanaka, then Cromwell and finally Alexandra before we found a Firestone garage, which could check and adjust the alignment and change the tyres - Rental Car Village have an arrangement with Firestone Garages for tyres. Even in Alexandra we were told it would take three and a half hours so we walked into town where Pauline got an incredible bargain at the Warehouse, new sandals in the sale for $7.95. We dropped back into the museum to get some suggestions for a local walk and Elizabeth suggested walking over Shaky Bridge to the cemetery and Graveyard Gulley and on to the edge of the Roxburgh Gorge diggings, time and heat permitting. She also suggested that the vineyard restaurant the other side of Shaky Bridge might be a good place to prepare for the hot walk!

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

We stopped the other side at the Shaky Bridge Vineyard Cafe, initial to get a drink as it was scorching hot but we were seduced by a board of food at very reasonable prices. Pete had a huge BLT with guacamole and aioli and Pauline a Thai Chicken salad that came to $26 and we got plenty of cold water to drink, although there were wines from William Hill available.

We walked, with the smell of wild thyme enveloping us, along Graveyard Gulley Road originally a water race to Graveyard Gulley Cemetery, which was the first burial ground in Alexandra and over 30 pioneers; some from the great snowstorm of 1863 are buried here. Money was raised in 1897 to build a stonewall and cairn. We looked at the boards for the start of the Roxburgh Gorge walk but had to return as we were running out of time.

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

The Mitchell family were, not surprisingly miners who finally were successful when they struck a gold bearing quartz reef high on the Old Man Range. By 1889 the venture was paying well and their main shaft was 50 metres deep with the adit (tunnel) 250 metres long and they were employing 19 men in the mine and the associated battery. They sold out and took up a sluicing claim on Bald Hill Flat in 1890 and it took them three years to complete the water races and tail races. The Goldfields warden commented that the construction of the races and the way the working faces were kept were "without doubt the neatest I have ever seen" by 1893 they had installed a small hydraulic elevator and it seems profitability went hand in hand with industriousness and neatness and the records say the were well satisfied with increasing yields of Gold. One can understand something of their standards from the construction of the cottage, which seems untouched by time. It, and the surroundings, is preserved as a site in The Otago Goldfields Park as a tribute to the industrious and skilful people who contributed to Central Otago's heritage. The cottage is open and unattended, a reflection on the difference between New Zealand and Europe. We took so long looking round there and latter the site of a monument to the miners who died in the 1863 snowstorms (some buried at Graveyard Gulley Cemetery we visit earlier in the day) that we abandoned trying to get as far as Dunedin. We stopped in a nice old style motel at Lawrence, very close to Gabriel's Gulley, which we wanted to visit.

Gabriel Read's discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully in payable quantities started gold fever and start of the gold rushes which were of huge significance to the whole of the new colony of New Zealand and heralded a period of economic growth and social turmoil in Otago. Within 7 months of the first discovery 10,000 miners had flocked to Gabriel's Gully and other parts of the Goldfield. Back in 1857 the Otago Provincial Council had offered a prize of 500 pounds for the proven discovery of a payable gold field, there were a number of finds including Lindis Gorge but after winter had set in the field was declared a failure. Gabriel Read was an Australian who had travelled to the Californian Goldfields but had little success and after trading in the Pacific returned to join the Victoria goldrushes again with little success. Following the success which finally came to him with "little more than a butcher's knife" in Otago, his claim was worked by his partners and he spent most of his time helping others before returning to Tasmania to take up his family lands and marry.

The field at Gabriel's Gully had long life and many of the techniques in Goldmining were used there making it an excellent first visit. Initially miners targeted a surface layer of alluvial gold lying on a band of blue slate below a 2 metre layer of mud and gravel - the claim size allowed was 25 feet by 25 feet - in the first months from May to mid August over 30,000 oz had been carried to Dunedin before the onset of winter and the discovery of new fields at Dunstan caused the number of miners to reduce. Once the easily reached surface gold was exhausted the deeper gold in a conglomerate, known locally as 'cement' was targeted, in particular on Blue Spur between Gabriel's Gully and Munro Gully. Water was by now the key and complex water races and dams quickly appeared. The techniques of Ground Sluicing quickly followed by Hydraulic Sluicing were employed until the tailings started to build up in the valley bottom. As the complexity increased the claims were progressively amalgamated and by 1879 to only nine, most of which were using Stamper batteries to effectively break up the cement. The ever-larger companies used more sophisticated equipment; reworking the tailings up to three times and hydraulic elevators were used as the cement was worked down below the surface level. All the terms are explained on our introductory page to Goldmining at http://www.uniquelynz.com/nzgold.htm .

We had been there a few years ago but it was nice to see it again and place it in our new perspective. You can see a vast smooth slope where the sluicing took place and a pool at the bottom where there were hydraulic elevators raising the gravel to overhead sluices and riffle boxes. The valley floor has been steadily raised by the tailings and is now over 50 metres above the original level. Other interesting statistics for the area are that there were 450 kms of water races created in the first 4 years for ground sluicing, the longest of which was 40 km going right to the Waipori River. The one and a half hour walk round the field has just received a complete set of new interpretation boards which give a real insight into what happened at various stages, initially we thought they were set at a level more suitable to children (or a minister) but persevere as all the information is there!

We stopped at the Lawrence Visitor centre and Museum which is one of the best local museums we have been in - we have also spent time a lot of time in Museums at Cromwell and Alexandra in the past and it would not be fair to chose between them as they all have excellent displays relative to gold and we have spent a lot of time with the curators in all three who have been most helpful. One must also not forget the smaller museums at Clyde and Naseby. All are well worth a visit if you are passing. The Lawrence museum surprised us for the size and range of exhibits in a relatively small town. There are several rooms of what one could class as 'settlers' exhibits of early life, the goods and clothing brought by the settlers, machinery and household appliances, and early life in New Zealand. There is also an excellent set of exhibits and old pictures covering all aspects of gold mining, it is unusual to find such a broad spread including dredging as well as the various forms of sluicing and elevators - it also covers the involvement of the Chinese gold miners.

We spent a long time both before and after going round the museum talking to the curator Jean Stewart (lawrence.infocentre@xtra.co.nz)about the area and what else we should see, she is obviously an enthusiast and gave us a lot of advice about visiting Blue Spur and other areas such as well as Gabriel's Gully. Jean has also collected a lot of old pictures from round the area and set them up in loose leaf ring binders - we spent a long time going through the as they had a few pictures we already knew and many new ones on Goldmining and dredging in the area.

We also enquired about books we should look for and she suggested we looked at "Tuapeka - The Land and it's People" by W R Mayhew published by Otago Centennial Historical publications, 1949 a copy of which was in the collection in an old desk set up in the corner which we looked at. It is a social History of the Borough of Lawrence and the surrounding districts and has definitive coverage of Gold in the area. We were then very fortunate as we found Jean had this spare copy of her own which had been signed by the author which she was prepared to offer to us when she realised we were enthusiastic about the area and were looking for bookshops. We also took the opportunity to pick up a number of Heritage Trail booklets we did not have - there is a wide network of Heritage Trails, mostly set up and sponsored on a local basis, but all using a common format of well printed free leaflet and explanatory signs in a distinctive yellow and teal green.

We took a backroad through some of the other areas across past the Mahinerangi Lakes and the Waipori Goldmining area and then down past Berwick to join the route 1. The road was gravel but in good condition and mostly wide as it looked as if it was used for logging and forestry operations as well as for access to some nice leisure areas. Back roads, however short they look, never prove to be shortcuts, but if one has time they are rarely disappointing in one way or other - the scenery is usually good and you can go for hours without seeing another vehicle.

Unfortunately the flooding of Lake Mahinerangi for hydroelectric in 1924 covered all traces of Waipori, a gold rush boomtown and the location of extensive dredging but two historic reserves have survived. We had hoped to look at the OPQ (Otago Pioneer Quartz Co) reserve, the site of the first underground quartz mine in Otago - there is a Stamper Battery still on the site. It was unfortunately sluicing it down and we deferred for a better day. The second reserve at Pioneer Stream apparently has excellent examples of water races and reservoirs. Once we had passed the top of the range, well past the lake the rain cut back and it cleared so we decided to press on towards Tairoa Head on the Otago Peninsular to see the Albatrosses.

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