20 April – left Lawrence and headed south-west from town over the hills to Tuapeka Mouth.
Going to have a look at the historic ‘punt’ across the Clutha River. Prior to bridges across the river there were a number of punts operating and this is the last one that is still in service. Sign says it’s funded by the local Council, but these days it is actually part of the National Roads system and it is free to foot and vehicular traffic. We stopped to have a look and check out the hours of operation: 8-10am and 4-6pm daily.
There’s a good place to stay in Tuapeka Mouth – just $5 to park up at the old Presbyterian Church which is now cared for by the local Heritage Hub. Both the church and clubrooms on the grounds are open and a sign says we can use as much water as we want. Inside the clubrooms there are books, magazines, games and puzzles free for the taking and a ‘fully-fledged’ kitchen and lounge area to use. We actually stayed there two nights it was so ‘welcoming’ and it rained all the next day so we had a ‘day off’.
When we moved off we got ourselves organised early enough to get down to the Punt during operating hours. We knew we wouldn’t be able to take our motorhome across because the overhang from the rear wheels is to long – the weight of the truck as it drove on would make the angle of the ramp too steep and the rear would bottom out. But we wanted to be around to see someone else take the journey across.
As soon as we parked the punt operator came out of his little hut to welcome us and said no problem to take us for a ride across and back. Cool! The operator told us that he actually works for Downers who have the contract from NZTA to run and maintain the Punt.
We were fascinated to learn that the punt is propelled across the river by water power alone. Once it is untied, the rudders on the two pontoons are angled so that the fast river flow catches them and it drives it across the river. It is prevented from racing off downstream by cables that run across the river and hold it ‘on course’. Once we hit the main current of the river we were really racing! To come back – the rudders are just angled the opposite way again. All very natty! Just as we got back to ‘our’ side of the river someone appeared over the other side so the puntsman was off again to give them a ‘joy’ ride too.
The Clutha River is fast and deep and in the early days the punts were the only practical way to cross over. The water flow is actually quite awesome – if you ended up in the water you would be ‘miles’ downstream before you managed to get yourself to the other side.
But on looking at the map and see where it comes from it’s no wonder – both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea feed into it and become the north part of Lake Dunstan. At Cromwell, Lake Whakatipu also feeds into Lake Dunstan via the Kawerau River and it all gets banked up by the Clyde Dam north of Alexandra. From there it becomes Lake Roxburgh behind the Roxburgh Dam before running ‘free’ again. The river is the longest one in the South Island and the second longest in NZ. But it’s the largest river in NZ by ‘volume’ and it’s average discharge into the ocean is estimated at 614 cubic metres per second – it’s also listed as one of the world’s most swiftly flowing rivers alongside Australia’s Macleay & Fitzroy Rivers and the Amazon and Atrato Rivers in South America. What makes it unique is the relative short distance it travels in comparison to these other ‘mighty’ rivers.
Leaving there we had to drive south to cross over the river bridge at Clydesville and then drive up the opposite side of the river to get back to Beaumont on SH8 so we could carry on towards Roxburgh.
But before then we decided to do a longish side trip to go and see remote Lake Onslow which is high in the hills north-east of Millers Flat. Gravel road again – bugger – we had just used the free water back at Tuapeka Mouth to give the truck it’s first clean for months….after 40 mins of driving it was covered in dust again!
But it was worth the drive – the last part of the journey is a narrow dry weather clay road so not an area we would be able to drive the truck to for most of the year.
The road climbed up towards Mt Teviot (997 metres) and the view over the rolling hills and valleys was impressive.
We passed a forestry plantation and nearer the end there were large cattle ‘beasts’ grazing and giving us the evil eye! Eventually we got a view of the lake which covers quite a large area of the valley before us and formed by damming the Teviot River in 1888 and flooding an area called Dismal Swamp. It’s 710 metres above sea level and was originally created for gold mining and irrigation purposes.
As we got closer we got to see the remote Huts built along the shore – as the lake is full of brown trout it is a popular spot for keen anglers and we learnt that some of the cribs are owned by fishing clubs.
The only sign of life was a boat trailer at the boat ramp and we later saw the boat arriving back and the vehicle driving off down the road.
We stopped for lunch and wandered around afterwards looking at the huts and their associated long drop sheds – some were pretty ramshackle, others a bit more ‘grand’ but for sure they all shared an amazing view across the lake.
While walking around we noticed some black clouds starting to get nearer to the area and also felt a few raindrops – so we made the decision not to camp there overnight and head back out. The forecast was also not very good so we didn’t want to risk the clay road turning to mud and the truck getting bogged.
On the road out – thankfully the rain haven’t made any changes to the road yet so no problems getting back to civilisation!
Arrived back at Millers Flat Store and bought a huge cone ice-cream for only $3 – best value for a long, long time! Then headed north along the back road to Roxburgh to arrive at Pinders Pond free camp area for the night.
Pinders Pond is actually the site of an old 1918 Gold Claim where a big hole was dug to a depth of 23 metres to search the old riverbed in the hope of finding a seam of alluvial gold – unfortunately nothing was found and it was abandoned in 1922.
The hole has filled with water and is now a popular swimming and recreation area. People also throw lines in here, so presumably there are fish to be caught too.
The Clutha River runs alongside one side of the Domain and the Clutha Gold Cycle Trail also passes through it. It’s a popular part of the Cycle Trail judging by the numbers of cyclists we saw ‘peddling’ past.
Next morning we drove up the road and over the bridge into Roxburgh. The town was buzzing with people everywhere….a Film Crew has taken over the town for a few days – filming the latest version of “Goodbye Pork Pie”. Road closures, people running around with radios, trolleys carrying all sorts of equipment: make-up gear, lights, cameras, batteries and goodness knows what!
We did our grocery shopping and escaped to go south again to the start of a walkway to an historic Suspension Bridge over the Clutha River. Weather was not very nice but we donned rain jackets and set off anyway.
The 1½ hr walk took us through private farmland to a part of the river called Horseshoe Bend, also the a site of an old gold mining community. The gold workings, School, Post Office and other amenities were all on the other side of the river and people used to cross over here by small boat or by a chair attached to a wire that they used to pull themselves over on, 75 metres above the water. Nothing left of the community to see but the Suspension Bridge that was built in 1913 has been restored and is a popular walk.
On the other side we had intended to extend our walk to go and visit the “Lonely Graves” site, but our map was not very clear on how long it would take us. By this time we were pretty much soaking wet and cold so we decided to give it a miss and just head back to the warmth of the van.
Stayed at Pinders Pond again that night and next day we went back into Roxburgh to tackle the Grovers Hill Walkway. We climbed quite steeply uphill and out onto an outcrop of rocks to “Frog Rock”. Not that we could see anything that resembled a frog but it was a lovely elevated view over the township and the Teviot Valley.
The path then meandered gently down through a pine plantation and took us back to the river and an old gravesite among the trees.
The loop back undulated along above the riverbank with nice viewpoints along the way.
It was a great walk that we really enjoyed.
Listed time to walk it was 1½ hrs but it actually took us a lot longer than that as we lingered along the way to explore and really enjoy the views.
Drove to the town which was all very quiet as the film crew were having a rest day. We drove along the riverbank park in town and read the sign telling the story of the town’s three river bridges. Then drove around to have a look at them (or what is left of two of them).
The first bridge was built low on the riverbank and was destroyed by wreckage of the Clyde River Bridge upstream, that was washed away by flood waters in 1878. Further downstream the wreckage then demolished the Beaumont and Balclutha Road Bridges…awesome!!!
Back to Pinders Pond again, after parking and settling in we decided to try and walk around the Pond. The track on the road side is quite elevated and gave us some more great views over the area. Track ran out but with a bit of scrambling we managed to get right around.
25 April (Anzac Day) – decided to spend another day in the Roxburgh area so we ‘upped sticks’ and drove up to have a look at the Roxburgh Dam. Stopped near the Spillway Outlets and watched some people fishing from the sheer concrete wall at the edge – I wondered how they were going to retrieve any fish they caught then saw a couple of ‘net frames’ with wheels on one side and a rope attached so it can be rolled down the wall into the water below to place under any hooked fish and then haul them up to the top. Would have loved to see this happen, but the fish weren’t biting!
Then drove up to a Lookout that gave us a great view over the whole dam complex and the valley below.
Then over the top of the Dam to a picnic area for lunch and afterwards went on a 30 min walk up to another Lookout from another angle.
Then went back to Pinders Pond for a final night…later in the afternoon we were treated to an amazing cloud formation.
26 April – Left Roxburgh and headed north towards Alexandra.
Made a couple of stops – one to check out a Monument dedicated to the Pioneer Miners who perished in “The Great Snow of 1863” and then Butchers Dam about 9km south of Alexandra.
Free camping allowed here but we’ll come back and spend some time here later. Water level obviously well down at the moment.
Arrived in Alexandra – parked near the main shops alongside the river – after the starkness of Butchers Dam, it was a riot of colour.
Alongside the main Alexandra Bridge are the foundations of the old bridge that was obsolete when the Roxburgh Dam was built and raised the water level – the rest of the bridge supports are now underwater.
Spent the next couple of nights at a large free parking area for NZMCA Members on Council land adjacent to the Alexandra Aquatic Centre. It was very convenient and being well used by other club members.
We were considering doing the Clutha River Cruise and when others told us it was well worth the cost we got on the phone next the morning and they said “we’re going this afternoon and still have space” so as this was the last cruise for the season, we timed it just right.
We took heaps of photos on the trip so have created a separate ‘blog’ to cover the journey. We were glad we went – we learnt heaps about the history of the mining of the river before it was flooded and as we cruised along the Operator was able to point out all the little rock shelters on the hillsides where the miners lived. Most were so well hidden that unless you knew where they were, you would have missed them altogether. The Gold Trail Cycle Track runs along on one side of the river but the main mining area at Doctors Point is on the opposite side, so you can only get to it by boat. We pulled ashore at Doctors Point and had lots of time to roam around the main mining area before we cruised slowly back to Alexandra. The river journey itself was neat, the water so calm and the trees lining the banks all lovely in their autumn colourings.
28 April – Laundry day so I spent most of the morning at the Laundrette while Neville went off to do the shopping and fill with fresh water.
After that we went to have a look at a couple of sights in the town. High on a cliff face is an 11 metre wide clock that can be seen all over town – it was built there in 1968.
A walkway to the clock crosses over the historic ‘Shaky Bridge’ that spans the Manuherikia River that runs into the Clutha River a short distance downstream. We went for a walk over the bridge – it used to take vehicles but fell into disrepair and then restored as a foot bridge only. There wasn’t much water in the river below but it is apparently a popular swimming hole in summer.
Lingered chatting to a couple who live in a house at the road end. They told us that the river is slow and not really flowing because it is banked up against the fast flowing Clutha River which is at high level at the moment too. The couple have a neat house that is built on and around huge rocks above the river. We finally headed off – back to Butchers Dam for the night and where we could put our clothes outside to dry.
Not long after a little 4WD car pulled up beside us and it turned out to be the couple we were talking to in Alexandra. Lyn and Merv called to ask if we’d like to accompany them on a drive up to the Obelisk – what a fantastic surprise. The Obelisk is a natural schist rock Tor that stands 26.6 metres high on the ridgeline of The Old Man Range that overlooks Alexandra from the south. The shortest road to it is a 4WD road that branches off SH8 near Fruitlands. We had already heard of this landmark and whilst 2WD vehicles have made the journey OK in dry weather, we didn’t think the narrow and steep road would be a good place to try taking our truck up. So we had already resigned ourselves that this was one place we wouldn’t be seeing in our travels.
Needless to say we were absolutely ‘stoked’ to be invited along on the trip. Merv said that despite living in Alexandra they had never driven up there either and seeing as it was such a perfect day it was a good time to go.
The first part of the road was a normal gravel road then went through a gate and encountered a grader that has been working on the next section to the top of the ridge. This was possibly bad luck because the grader had not finished his work and had stirred up lots of loose rocks that had to be dodged and made it more difficult. The road kept going up and up and we passed several huge impressive rock outcrops along the way. There were definite lines too where the vegetation changed as the altitude increased. On reaching the treeless ridge we turned right and travelled another 2.5 kms along the top towards the Communications Tower.
We got out of the car on arrival at the Obelisk and were blasted by a freezing cold wind, the sun was still shining but no warmth to be had from it. The average annual temp here is 0°C. But then that was not surprising as we were 1695 metres above sea level.
The 360° view was just amazing – Alexandra far below looked as big as a postage stamp, Butchers Dam tiny – had to zoom in the camera a long way to see them properly. It was a bit hazy being late afternoon but apparently on a clear day Stewart Island can be seen to the south, Mt Cook to the north and Mt Aspiring in the east. There were actually two monolithic rocks by the tower and we were not sure which one was the actual Obelisk so took photos of both. Later checked and the first photo is the correct one.
As an interesting ‘aside’ this 4WD road continues along the Old Man Range and descends on the other side down to Piano Flat (where we camped just over 2 weeks ago) and is the same road where the 36 people had to be rescued when their vehicles became stuck and snowbound on 23 May (3½ weeks after our visit to the Obelisk). Same day we were in Cromwell, it was freezing cold and the forecast was predicting snow to low levels so we decided to have a ‘rest’ day. Heard on local radio that the river through Piano Flat was flooding nearly 2 metres above normal levels and we‘d made the comment that the road and camping area through there would be under water. (So even if the 4WD trip had got that far they wouldn’t have been able to get through there either).
Anyway after our photo stop we headed down the hill again and near the bottom we stopped to visit the historic Mitchells Cottage completed in 1904. The stone cottage was built over a 20 year period by two Scottish brothers who came in search of gold but ended up mining and farming in the area. It housed one couple and 10 children…it must have been a tight fit.
We were dropped off at Butchers Dam just before dark…a trip we won’t forget for sure. We were really ‘blown away’ by the hospitality of Lyn and Merv and their invitation to share the trip with them.
Next morning we made a snap decision to head to Wanaka to pick up a courier parcel that was being sent to us from a Dunedin company providing Rural Broadband on a ‘roving’ basis that we have recently heard about. We have been buying 10GB for $120 from Skinny and always running out and having to top-up through the month which was pretty costly but the only practical option as the Vodophone & Spark Rural Broaband services are locked in to one celltower. This new service is going to cost us $95.95/month for 80GB/peak plus 50GB/offpeak – so we will never run out now. The service connects via the Vodafone towers but is fully roving so we can move about without having to be dedicated to a singe tower. Magic! We have been using it now for over a month and have been able to get our Internet everywhere we’ve been so far. There will be places where Vodafone is not available, but then we can fall back on our Skinny Data which has a 6 month ‘life’ and we can just do a lower‘$‘ top-up on that when needed to keep it ticking over.
Drove off towards Clyde and stopped at the Lookouts overlooking the town and the Dam.
From there it was a lovely scenic drive alongside Lake Dunstan towards Cromwell. Stopped at a couple of Lookouts along the way.
Travelled up the western side of Lake Dunstan on the way to Wanaka, where we drove along the waterfront and reminisced about the last time we were here (Jan 1994), when the lake was flooding right over the road and up into the shops. Seems it’s a fairly common event when I look at the records on ‘Mr Google’.
We went to check if the courier had delivered our ‘Modem’ yet and it was there waiting for us. So then had to find a place to stop for the night – settled on the carpark at the Albert Town Tavern (just north of Wanaka) – a few caravans there also. We just had to sign in at the Bar and all good. Later we indulged in a nice meal in their dining area – was good having a night off from cooking duties.
Next morning we did a bit of ‘tiki touring’ before we headed out – firstly going to see the Hawea River. Found a nice walkway over a bridge and stretched our legs – the river is very fast flowing and amazingly crystal clear. The water level was quite high and trees on little islands in the riverbed were getting wet feet. Nearby the Hawea River meets up with the outlet water from Lake Wanaka and at that point it becomes the ‘mighty’ Clutha River that we have been following in our travels of late.
We then drove back through town via the scenic route around Lake Wanaka.
Going to head back to Cromwell for the night – this time we drove back on the eastern side of Lake Dunstan. Stopped a couple of times along the way to look at some free camp areas but in the end we went across the bridge past Cromwell to stay again at Lowburn Harbour on the lakeshore – ‘our spot’ was even empty and waiting for us.