Spent a couple of nights at Cromwell and spent some time walking around the Historic Precinct – most of the buildings were re-built here after the old town disappeared below the water line when the Clyde Dam filled and Lake Dunstan formed.
Looking towards the ‘junction’ where the Kawerau River meets the Clyde River.
Then drove back to Clyde to a lovely picnic area/overnight spot right on the lakeside just north of the Dam wall. Can stay there if self-contained – courtesy of Contact Energy. Parked up with a few other motorhomes and caravans – it would be a very popular place in summer.
Next morning we stopped in Clyde to do a walk around the township – more historic buildings.
Also visited artist Jan Rasmussen’s studio – renowned for her Otago landscapes. Would like to have one on my wall (that’s if I had a ‘wall’ to put it on of course).
Arrived back in Alexandra and stopped there for a few days catching up on shopping and to stay in touch with family for a while. We also had another visit from Lyn and Merv (Obelisk trip) – they’d spied our m/home parked in town and called by. We then moved back to Butchers Dam so we could do the walk around the lake that we intended to do before we took off to Wanaka.
The walk didn’t actually go right around the lake as it ended at a private property with an old stone wall around it and an old orchard and gardens. It was built by a Chinese entrepreneur during the gold rush days. He took fresh produce to sell in Alexandra each day and prospered. Reputedly he was over 100 years old when he died – either by heart attack or just fell off his horse while returning home.
The wall even extended out over the lake bed making a private area for guest swimming and boating. On our visit the low lake level made this just a boggy expanse to cross – hence our decision to head back the way we came. An interesting walk and great views out over the lake.
07 May – Left the Alexandra area and set off to do a loop eastward to Ranfurly and beyond. Detoured first to look at the Lower Manorburn Dam just out of Alexandra. It was well worth the stop – the reflections on the lake were magic. The Dam wall itself was nondescript but the lake and picnic areas lovely – what a pity there were ‘no camping’ signs everywhere.
So we moved on and ended up at Omakau for the night – parked on the riverbed of the Manuherikia River (thankfully no rain overnight!!)
In the morning we drove through nearby Ophir Historic Gold Town. Walked the streets and took photos of the old buildings and also the old bridge on the southern road entrance. This town is one of the most authentic of the old gold towns in Otago as the buildings have been so well preserved in the dry climate.
We drove back out of town to go and look at the historic suspension bridge that was built in 1980. It was a pretty impressive structure.
Left town and passed McTavish’s Hut near the roadside.
Onward to Moa Creek where we turned onto the Old Dunstan Road and up Rough Range to the Poolburn Reservoir (another place on our ‘must go there’ list). The gravel road was OK to start with but the last 14km stretch deteriorated and in places was just a clay and stone surface which made it a very punishing bumpy ride.
We stopped at Rabbit Rock along the way for a photo. Amazing country – tall rock stacks, deep gullies, windswept tussock land and occasional gatherings of merino sheep.
Then the Poolburn Reservoir came into view and it was indeed a spectacular sight. When full it covers an area of 300 hectares. We could see that the water level was quite low but this only added to an almost unreal landscape of rocks, blue water, golden tussock and speargrass. The island on the lake was used as the setting for the city of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Around the shores are many baches of all shapes and sizes and these were disguised as rocks during the filming.
We didn’t know where to explore first but headed left towards the Dam area – though we didn’t quite get there, as the road down developed bad washouts and deep wheel trenches indicating that in wet weather vehicles were in ‘muddy trouble’. We didn’t fancy negotiating the ruts so we parked-up on top of a hill overlooking the lake and decided to settle there for the night. Walked back to get a view of the Dam.
During the afternoon we went for a walk around the rocky tors (much to the alarm of the local rabbits) and enjoyed watching the colours of the landscape changing as the evening approached. We felt completely alone as there was no sign of any lights in any of the Baches and the only other vehicle we saw drove out before nightfall.
We had intended staying here a few days, however at 5:00am next morning we were rudely awakened by rain on the roof…bugger!! We went back to bed for an hour, then got up to have an early breakfast and discuss our options. As the rain was not letting up we decided to head-out in case the road turned into mud. We had seen photos of what the road can look like in the wet so we felt it was a wise decision. We set off in the dark still at 7:00 but daylight arrived as we progressed down the road – it was still raining, but the road was still OK….thank goodness.
So we didn’t get to explore around the other side of the lake or capture any great sunrise or sunsets while there. We can always come back again…though the bumpy road in would have to be negotiated all over again…we’ll see…that’s a decision for another day!
So we drove back through Moa Creek and along the Ida Valley to Oturehua. There is a neat General Store there which is a working store/museum. It was built in 1902 and still operates under the name of “Gilchrist” today. We went inside to buy bread and stayed for ages taking in the old fashioned wooden shelves displaying old food tins and products, tobacco and cigarette tins and all sorts of nostalgic ‘Kiwiana’ products bearing long gone brands. Brought back some great childhood memories for us both.
Rejoined SH85 at Idaburn and headed south towards Ranfurly. Stopped at Wedderburn along the way to look at the old Railway Station there.
The Otago Central Rail Trail (Clyde to Middlemarch) passes through here and we saw some ‘very wet’ cyclists go past.
On arrival at Ranfurly we checked in at the Ranfurly Pub – which is a POP (Park over Property) and settled in their carpark around the back for the night. It continued to rain all day so we definitely made the right the decision to leave the Poolburn Reservoir area that morning.
I went for a browse in the local Museum/Info Centre in the main street – interesting information on the 1943 Hyde Train Disaster (speeding train derailed and 21 died) and the Golden Mining area (that we didn’t stop at on our way here due to the rain).
Next day the weather had improved a little so we headed for the Naseby area. We drove into the pine forest near the town to the Coalpit Dam and arrived at a nice picnic spot.
Went for a walk around the lake and came across some ‘rustic’ play things for kids under the trees.
A track led off to the “Great Naseby Water Race” so we decided to have a look. Was a bit of a trudge uphill but eventually found it. Was like a natural stream about a metre wide with clear and steadily flowing water – even saw a few small fish. Followed it until it disappeared steeply down a metal pipe.
Retraced our steps at that point back to the m/home and started to drive out. Then saw another sign to Hoffman Dam so another detour. This Dam wasn’t as nice as the last lake but we got a surprise when we came across the Water Race again. This area was all mined for gold – hence the water dams and races. We came across large piles of old tailings too at Hoffmans Dam.
Drove out of the forest and on to Naseby. Lots of shops and buildings but the town had ‘closed down’ for the day…nothing open so there went our idea of buying lunch! Drove to look at the “swimming lake” which has been filled in but looks like it is filled with shallow water in winter for ice skating or curling.
And surprise, surprise, we encountered the Water Race again! A Notice advised that the Race comes all the way from the Ida Mountain and runs for around 100 kms. After the gold rush it became the town water supply, but these days it is used for farm irrigation.
Naseby is renowned these days for its large indoor skating and curling complex. Neville remembers coming to Naseby in his 20’s to try curling on an outdoor pond so it was probably one of the lakes we visited earlier in the day.
Headed out of town up Dansey’s Pass Road to Kyeburn Diggings. Pulled over to look at the signboards by a Cemetery. Interesting Fees!
Another sign told the story of a local disaster when a group of people perished in a big snow storm nearby – and there was a large memorial gravesite in the cemetery for those lost.
We arrived at Kyeburn Diggings itself – the historic hotel there still going strong. There were a lot of vehicles parked up and looked like a function happening – we could see people working like mad in the kitchen making meal preparations. We decided to drive past to find a DOC camp nearby – the gate was just before a big road sign advising that The Danseys Pass Road past that point was closed to large vehicles due to the narrow road. We drove over it a long time ago in our campervan – even then we remembered it as being pretty ‘hairy’.
The track into the DOC camp was pretty narrow too but we emerged out into a nice little area beside a stream and enjoyed a quiet night all on our lonesome.
Next morning we drove back past the pub and headed back, taking a side road to Kyeburn situated on SH85. This highway through to Palmerston (near the East Coast) is known from early days as “The Pigroot Road”. The road today is a non-event but steadily climbs up and over the Kakanui Mountains and in the days of horse-drawn wagons it was an arduous journey – many horses died of exhaustion while dragging their loads. “Dead Horse Pinch” was the final obstacle before the route reached its half-way point and headed downhill again.
We drove on as far as Dunback and stopped there to look at an Historic Bridge and take a lunch break at the local Domain. They allow Camping here too for a few dollars. But we moved on again and started to loop back towards Ranfurly.
We were heading for Macraes Flat where the operating Frasers Gold Mine is located. We were blown away by the size of the operation – great big ‘holes’ in the ground and even the roads through the area were changed as the ones on our maps have been swallowed up for the mining ’cause’. Stopped at an official Lookout but even then could only get a limited view of the whole site.
Since 2006 they have also been tunnelling underground here and in 2010 the depth was 625 metres below the land surface, 440 metres below the entrance portal and 90 metres below sea level. 21.5 kms of horizontal drives also radiate out from the main tunnel following the gold bearing ore. Now that was 6 years ago – so no doubt those figures are way out of date!
The land all around the mine is covered in ‘mountain ridges’ of tailings and we saw steady streams of gravel laden trucks heading off to add more to the piles.
Gold extraction in this area started with the Golden Point Mine that operated from 1889 to 1944 and the site today is preserved as a Historic Reserve managed by DOC. We made our way there to have a look, passing by the Frasers Gold Processing Plant along the way.
We went for a walk around the Reserve and in a large tin shed came across a large stamper battery and machinery – all intact – and just the way it was when the workers left and the mine closed. Quite a surprise and all very interesting.
We walked around some other mining machinery that was on display nearby.
Then followed a track uphill leading into a short mine shaft.
There were also several old historic cottages in the area and another building that DOC now use for accommodation for visiting groups. Two men were working on the building doing repairs while we were there and we got chatting to them. Told us that the Frasers Mine people have done extensive testing for gold around the area and the richest deposits are still below this heritage area but they can’t touch it unless they tunnel underneath to get it. Not doing so currently….but bet that will come about in the future!
All in all a very interesting area and we were glad we made the longish trip to come and have a look. To be honest we didn’t even know the mine existed here until someone told us about it – yet it’s New Zealand’s largest gold producing operation.
We drove on to the settlement of Macraes and had a look at some more historic buildings there and the inevitable country pub of course. All the tourists booklets say to come to the Info Centre here to book on a ‘Mine Tour’ however these tours were discontinued 3 years ago….time they updated their info methinks!
Onwards…so continued westward again to meet up with SH87 near Hyde then down another side road to Waipiata to stop at the Domain there for the night. A large area around sports playing fields and only a Donation required.
Next day was just a short drive back to Ranfurly where we settled in the Pub Carpark again and spent 3 nights there, waiting out some pretty wet and windy weather.
We did venture out one day, however, to do some exploring up the Taieri River valley. Stopped at the small town of Patearoa and had a look around – found some interesting old buildings as we drove around.
Continued up the road – stopped to take a photo of Stonehenge Station cottage nestled into the rocks.
Drove as far as Paerau where the historic Styx Jail and Hotel were located.
But the ruins were across the river on private property so getting to see them close up was a fizzer! There was a faded sign attached to a gate showing that visitors are allowed access to the jail but while we were trying to figure it out and a huge black cloud was about to give us a thorough drenching so we hastily retreated back to the truck and sat eating our lunch till it passed over. Afterwards we decided that the only way to get to see the jail was by wading barefoot across the freezing river – that was not going to happen…neither of us fancied getting frostbite!!
Luckily the camera has a pretty good zoom to get a photo of the old stables and the hotel beside it. But we couldn’t see the jail as it was hidden behind trees.
The Jail was built in 1863 and was mainly used as a place for overnighting coaches to secure the gold they were carrying, rather than holding prisoners. What torture for a thief to be locked up alongside a fortune!
(A bit of a cheat but did manage to find a photo of the jail on the I/Net).
Time to start heading back so we U-turned and drove back following the canal that feeds the Taieri River down an intake pipeline to two small Power Stations and then supplies irrigation races down the Maniototo valley. We walked up to have a look but didn’t linger with a freezing cold wind blasting us at the top of the hill.
Spied a Gold Dredge on a farmers property on the way back and stopped to have a look. We missed seeing it on the way up the road..we must have had our eyes shut!
Arrived back in Patearoa and stretched our legs on the ‘bridge to bridge’ walk along the riverbank of a small stream which was quite scenic. Ended at a local swimming hole and the Sow Burn Weir. Can imagine this being a popular place to cool off in summer.
Then back through Waipiata to find the site where the old TB Sanatorium was established back in 1914. Finally found it – it’s now a privately owned Religious Retreat Facility. Huge buildings and grounds – can’t drive in so just a drive by. I have heard about this place for many years and how patients were wheeled out onto the verandahs in their beds to take in the winter cold air….even when it was snowing! Sounds harsh but apparently it was considered good for their lungs???
We rounded off our stay in Ranfurly by enjoying a good evening meal at the Pub in the company with two other couples who were also ‘camped out’ in the carpark with us. Tomorrow we’ll move on to start the journey back to Cromwell.