(We have been ‘meandering’ in the South Island for just over 12 months now!!)
Beginning of December and we were staying at the Hans Bay DOC Camp, overlooking Lake Kaniere, which is inland from Hokitika. The weather was just beautiful for a few days.
On our first morning, peace was interrupted by the sound of a helicopter coming in to land right on the lake-front. So we gabbed the camera and went to see what was going on.
Vehicles had also arrived carrying in two large plastic water tanks.
We sat on a fence and watched the proceedings over the next hour. The helicopter moved an existing tank from the front of one property around to the back and then carried the two new tanks up and around the settlement and set them down on another property further up the hill.
The ‘chopper’ even landed in the camp clearing next-door to our motorhome to pick up more water containers.
Well that was our entertainment for the day!
Next day we set off walking along the road to a Walkway to Canoe Bay. A nice bush walk through a stand of old rimu trees to a little beach where we lingered checking out the stones…no greenstone.
In the morning we drove around the northern end of the lake to complete the circular Kahikatea Forest Walk. This was also the start of a 4 hour walk/cycleway down the western side of the lake – good one to do if you had a vehicle at each end (Neville did suggest that I start walking and he’d pick be up at the other end – yeah right!)
We set off for Hokitika instead and stopped along the way to check out an old water race system –directing outflow water from Lake Kaniere to a Powerhouse near the township of Kaniere. A trestle bridge/chute alongside the road was interesting. The Powerhouse is still operating and generates enough electricity to power around 100 houses in Hokitika. The restored turbines and generators are the oldest commercially operating equipment of this kind in NZ today.
Back in Hokitika we spent another couple of days there – time to do laundry and explore a walkway along the riverbank beside the Club Park.
05 Dec – time to say goodbye to Hokitika for the time being so headed north to Kumara Junction – drove down to the shore to walk along the beach – again looking for greenstone. Another motorhomer showed us some nice polished pieces he’d found in this area – but our search was fruitless.
We drove on a little further to look at one of the combined road/rail bridges along the West Coast and then U-turned to go back to drive to Goldsborough along a side road. It used to be a bustling gold mining town but nowadays it’s just a DOC Camp. It was our destination for the night.
Prior to getting there we stopped to walk along the Tunnel Terrace Walk which started and ended through some narrow hand-dug tunnels and followed a trail around a gold mining area.
After settling down at the camp we did another pleasant walk alongside Shamrock Creek. Public gold fossicking is permitted here – but we don’t have a ‘gold pan’ with us (hmm might have to remedy this!). We followed the walkway till the track got very boggy and retraced our steps. Saw this colourful memorial alongside the track – nice that it hasn’t been vandalised.
Continued on next morning to the Kapitea Reservoir (passed it earlier in our travels as we drove out from Arthurs Pass). This time we went to look at the Londonderry Rock that we’d bypassed last time around. Situated in another mining area, the 3000-4000 tonne rock became ‘famous’ when miners’ sluicing activities around it caused it to dislodge, sending them running for their lives!
Our target that night was Lake Brunner. We headed along the road-less-travelled (gravel) to the south-western end at Carew Bay. Unexpectedly, we found a small official overnight stopping area there, so parked up, moved into our ‘lounge’ and settled in…enjoying the lake view.
It was short-lived, however, when the infernal rain caught up with us again and set-in for the next two days. Later in the evening a ‘sleeping car’ arrived and parked up to camp – until a local came down and ‘gave him the message’ seeing as they were not self-contained and they hurriedly left.
There were two walks locally that we’d intended to do but we decided they weren’t going to be pleasant in the conditions so packed everything away and drove on.
Road took us around the bottom of Lake Brunner and then back up the eastern side to Moana – the main settlement in the area. The local garage had a well stocked store attached, so bought some bread & milk then drove to the local ‘free camp’ area at Iveagh Bay and found a nice spot to claim for a few days.
The rain cleared up overnight so we were treated to some lovely lake views over the next couple of days.
Went for a walk one morning along a nearby track to a Lookout point. A nice bushwalk but the track became very steep, slippery and muddy so we didn’t go too far. But we did make it to one of the lookout spots and enjoyed the lake view before retracing our steps.
The camp area was quite busy every night and we met up with a couple travelling in a bus that we’d seen earlier at the Club Park in Hokitika. Happy Hour was fun with Colin and Sonia from the Bus and Margaret and Jan from a Sunliner Motorhome that they’d shipped to NZ from Australia. The tales that were being told ranged from the hilarious to the amazing! Always interesting to hear about other’s adventures.
10 Dec – we left Lake Brunner and set off on a detour towards Lake Haupiri just to have a look. Colin & Sonia decided to follow along too. There were a couple of o/night spots listed but neither were level or very inspiring so after a lunch stop we U-turned back past the Lake.
Stopped to take a photo across Lake Haupiri and I spotted a large complex of buildings and realised it was Gloriavale – the exclusive Christian Community that has been the subject of two recent TV documentaries. I’d heard somewhere that it was located in the area – just hadn’t expected it to be so large and ‘grand’ looking.
We drove on to the old mining area of Nelson Creek and pulled into a Community run Camping Park to have a look. Cost was a ‘donation’ of $6pp. Neville and I decided we’d stay as there were some interesting walks there around the old gold workings. Sonia & Colin also stayed and we set off together on a 20min walk around an area of old Tail Races. It was interesting and quite different to other gold workings we’ve seen – lots of narrow, deep shafts running towards the river and exiting via ‘caves’ at the bottom of cliffs along the river’s edge.
We’d walked through a couple of caves and across a long swingbridge to the start of the walk.
There were a couple of longer walks to do here too, but as it rained most of the night we decided next morning they would be very wet underfoot, so we packed up and drove on to Greymouth. We were allowed to park overnight in an area adjacent to the Cobden Bridge which spans the Grey River – so that was us for the next three nights.
It’s just across the river from the town and in easy walking distance to the shops and a supermarket (you can’t miss the ‘big red shed’). We also said ‘farewell’ to Colin & Sonia here as they were heading off to Reefton. Who knows we may bump into them again when we get up to the Nelson/Marlborough area.
Had to pay a visit to Greymouth’s VTNZ to get the COF on the truck renewed – six months comes around quick. Anyway it passed everything thankfully – wonder where we will be when the next one is due?
Have visited here on a couple of occasions but it is a nice walk around the relics so stopped again to stretch our legs.
Infamous for the worst mine disaster in NZ history when an explosion caused the death of 65 men and boys working in the mine at the time.
Continued along the same road to the historic town of Blackball. Two events of national history occurred here…local miners went on a long strike fighting for a 30 minute meal break that was eventually adopted for miners around the country and it was also the birthplace of the NZ Labour Party.
Not too far from there we visited the Pike River Memorial. It’s a fitting memorial to the 29 miners that perished in the Pike River Mine explosion – a well tended garden area where 29 large rocks, that were taken from the mine entrance, have been placed. The families have put up plaques and decorated the area with poems and items relating to the individual – it was quite ‘moving’ really. There is also a little shelter where there are information boards, a visitors book and the ‘sign-in’ cards of the deceased, showing that they are still in the mine and have not finished their ‘shift’.
When we visited there were three people camped outside in two cars and a caravan keeping vigil and watching who goes up the road towards the mine. Currently the Protesters are meeting here each morning before they proceed to the mine road to prevent the contractors going in to seal up the mine. The campers told us they cook up a big breakfast on the BBQ each morning so the protesters set off with a good feed to sustain them. They were quite certain that their current appeal to the Government, to allow a team to enter the mine before it is sealed up, was going to be successful at long last (and in light of John Key resigning as PM). I guess it’s ‘watch this space’ on that one.
We left and carried on towards Reefton – joining SH7 (which continues on and up over the Lewis Pass). We were aiming for a DOC camp just off the highway approx 7kms before Reefton. The camp was nicely laid out with individual bays and a large common area with a river on one side and a large grassy park area where people can put up tents. It also had the most impressive outdoor cooking structure I’ve seen anywhere….complete with fireplaces, BBQ and even a ‘pizza’ oven!
We stayed there three nights it was so nice and peaceful and lots of birdlife to watch and listen to in the mornings. We also managed to get our Internet working (most of the time) but only drawback…no service on our Spark network phones.
We had more rain for a couple of days and saw the river change overnight from a pleasant stream to a raging torrent. The water is very tea-stained from the forest tannins.
But there is ‘gold’ in the river and other campers were trying their luck (before the flooding).
17 Dec – we drove into Reefton which was buzzing with locals and visitors as there was going to be a street parade here in the afternoon celebrating Christmas and the Goldfields 150th year. The cafés were doing a roaring trade with a group of motor cyclists that were passing through and during the day people were going for rides up the street in a large carriage being drawn by four draught-horses.
A lot of the buildings in the ‘high’ street are originals from the 1800’s. Reefton also boasts being the first place “to see the light” as the Powerhouse built across the river produced New Zealand’s’ first Public Electricity Supply in 1888. It was interesting that one of the first electric appliances used was an electric iron!! Poor women….but then I suppose that was exciting in the day, considering the alternatives up to that point.
After browsing the shops we headed up the road to nearby Blacks Point so we could go walking in the Murrays Creek Goldfields area. We headed up the creek on a walk to Cement Town.
We climbed uphill at a steady rate and it took us around an hour to get there. Nothing much to see now of what was once a bustling gold town – all overgrown and no tracks or explanation boards. The walkway continued on around in a loop (4 hours total time) but as the afternoon was passing we U-turned and headed back.
We’d arranged to spend the night at a Club POP (Park-Over-Property where members of the NZMCA allow fellow club members to stay overnight at their house or property for a small donation). We hadn’t actually used one of these in our travels till now but as they advertised a washing machine we could use, we decided to visit. The people were very welcoming, showed us we could park on a grass strip alongside their driveway and in their garage they had a shower, toilet, washing machine and drier we could use for free. For a $5 donation we could also plug into power. They then ‘left us to it’ so I managed to get all our laundry done and we enjoyed a lovely long shower before we left in the morning. It was certainly handy and appreciated.
We lingered in Reefton for another 3 days – parking in town during the daytime, going for walks, caught up on paperwork, watched the rain fall, lunched at one of the nice cafés and generally relaxing. At night we’d drive to the local Racecourse where we could stay overnight for only $2pp and also top up our fresh water tank there.
We enjoyed the circular Powerhouse Walk that crossed over the Inangahua River just east of the town and continued downstream to the Town Bridge, back up the main street, to end at the I-Site which now houses the massive Boving Turbine, that produced the electricity supply making the town famous.
On our last morning we returned to Black Point to visit the Museum there. We had an amazing personal tour of the exhibits by a local man in charge of the museum that day. He even managed to keep Neville interested for the hour or so we were there.
These vehicles we spotted on a local property were not museum pieces…but probably should have been!
We enjoyed our stay at Reefton, the people were friendly, the town is serviced by a good number of shops, Mobil garage, hardware store, two supermarkets, library/council service centre/PO, 2nd Hand shops, cafés, historic pubs, hospital…and so on. No sign of a ‘dying town’ here. They even have a covered heated swimming pool and the largest and most complex skateboard park we have ever seen. For a population of 1026 people (2013) it’s an impressive little town.
21 December we headed out of Reefton and drove back to the Slab Hut Creek DOC Camp to spend Christmas there. Our ‘spot’ from last visit was vacant so we bagged it quick. It was in a little alcove away from the main park making it quiet and quite private with shrubs and trees screening it. Unfortunately Santa didn’t find us there, however, so we missed out on our presents but we certainly didn’t starve with our fridge loaded to the gunnels with lots of Christmas ‘fare’ and a bottle of bubbly to wash it down.
We stayed for seven days and apart from the first day we had some lovely, warm sunny weather. Spent the time relaxing and going for walks up the riverbank and out along the road back to the main highway.
We also tried our luck at gold panning in the river that was now back to its normal water flow (was flooded last visit). We’d bought a pan back in Reefton. The river is very rocky and it was hard to find places where we could scoop up gravel but we did find a few specks of ‘sparkle’ over an hour or so.
Lots of the people from the camp were in the river every day trying their luck, some had ‘serious’ set-ups with long screening boxes anchored in the river current that they could put large shovelfuls of gravel into and let the river do the main sifting. The small stuff would fall to the bottom and they then used their pan to do the final sort. No big nuggets to be found (that we heard about) it’s just tiny specks but we were told that you always find something here. We were pleased with our efforts anyway but it’s obviously just a pastime for the regulars (like fishing is).
We packed up on Weds, 28th December and drove back to Reefton to buy a few staples but mainly so we could make some phone calls seeing as we’d been out of phone service at the DOC Camp. We spent the night at the Racecourse again, though it was starting to become very busy with people setting up for a Trotting Meeting on 30th December.
Our destination for New Year was the old ghost town of Waiuta which was up a side road off SH7 on the way towards Greymouth. The road was sealed for the first 9km to the settlement of Blackwater. We stopped there to look at an old School Building that closed in 1949. We both had a trip down memory lane…look at those old desks and remember those inkwells!!
From there the road was gravel for another 8km and it got narrower and narrower as we wound uphill to Waiuta. Again we were thankful we didn’t meet another vehicle along the way as there was nowhere to pull over. We heard later that a 4WD car ended up stuck in a muddy ditch on the side of the road sometime during the day.
We parked near the Blackwater Mine ruins where in 1905 the nearby “Birthday Reef” was the West Coast’s last great gold discovery. The building still standing housed a large boiler and the brick-lined steel chimney is still dominant, though it’s only about a third of its original height of 33 metres.
Alongside, the Blackwater Shaft is fenced off – it was 563m deep before it collapsed. The gold bearing quartz from the reef was not brought to the surface but transported via a long tunnel to the valley of the Snowy River where a large Battery Stamper pounded the quartz and the gold was extracted.
We set off to do the Town Walk – only a few old buildings are still standing as most of the town has disappeared over the years mostly destroyed by fires. I’d picked up a brochure from the Reefton I-site so it was interesting to walk around the streets and see where the buildings used to be and imagine the town as it was.
The original mine managers house now almost overgrown by the trees and shrubs that were planted to hide the sight of the mine operations from the family.
On the lower level of the town, in the centre there were two tennis courts, croquet lawn, recreation ground where football, cricket and womens hockey were played and even a racing whippets track. The Miners here obviously had a good social life.
And that’s not all…one of the streets was called Incubator Alley as it housed a high proportion of Waiuta’s young families (including 5 with 54 children between them at one stage). At one end of the street was the Hospital and at the other end was the School.
We also did another walk to where the town swimming pool was located. We were quite surprised by the size of it when we got there. No doubt it was a popular spot in summer.
Along the path we passed fenced off mine shafts and two mine entrances. One had a plaque indicating that this was where the “Birthday Reef” was found in November 1905 producing the gold that gave ‘birth’ to the town of Waiuta.
This mine was opened in 1936 when the original quartz reef had been worked a long way north from Waiuta so another shaft was sunk. Two years later the most modern large scale gold extraction plant in NZ was opened here that had a 98% gold recovery rate. It replaced the outdated Snowy Battery located in the Snowy River valley. The Prohibition Shaft became New Zealand’s deepest mineshaft at 879m, more than a third of it below sea level. Mind boggling!! A lot more ruins to explore here and a great viewpoint overlooking Waiuta.
We drove back to the town and stopped in the carpark there for the next four days. Some nights we had other vans and groups in tents to keep us company, New Years Eve we were on our lonesome.
We filled in the days by doing more exploring around the town. Where the hospital used to be is now a Lodge which can be hired out by groups and several 4WD vehicles were camped there over the New Year weekend.
Gills Cottage, built in 1937 for a mining family.
The ‘Friends of Waiuta’ are trying to restore it to its original condition. By the looks of it they are fighting a losing battle. We could see lots of daylight through the roof, walls and floorboards still.
Next we found the home of Joseph Divis – who was known as Waiuta’s photographer. Lots of the featured photos around the town were taken by him and he also features in a lot of the pictures as he used shutter time release so he could dash out from behind the camera to be in the shot too.
Another day we set off on a trek to the location of the large Snowy Battery to see the remains of a massive gold extraction plant.
The walk took us down a path through dense forest and around the halfway point we did a side detour following the old Tramway Track to see the tunnel exit from where the gold was transported out from the Blackwater Mile on it’s way to the Battery for processing.
Shortly after this point on the walk, the OK gradient started to descend more steeply and then we encountered lots of steep steps down to the Snowy River at the bottom of the valley. We continued on, mindful to the fact that we would have to climb back up them on the return journey.
The ruins were quite different than other sites we’ve visited, the concrete foundations of the battery in tiers up the side of the hill, tall fat funnels and the remains of several large cyanide tanks. This area was all fenced off “WARNING–high levels of Arsenic, Cyanide and Mercury present”. Complete with a picture of a skull & crossbones!
The river snakes it way past the Processing Mill which is why it was built here, harnessing the water flow through a water race system that powered the Battery.
The water race then continued for some distance along the riverbank to a small Powerhouse that provided power for the town of Waiuta.
A path following the water race also provides an alternative route back to town via a more gently graded track back up the hill. But it was a much longer way back. Now I must be honest and admit I was the one that didn’t fancy facing the steep steps on the short way home and managed to persuade Neville that the scenic route along the river would be much nicer.
And it was a very pretty walk and the uphill section long but easy going – BUT it became a 3 hour walk in total instead of an hour or so. Oh well, we had all day and my knees were saved from all those steps!
And so ended 2016…we certainly had a quiet night in the middle of nowhere on our own (apart from the campers across the other side of the town at the Lodge). We did stay up till Midnight watching part of the Rolling Stones Concert in Cuba on TV. They are certainly the ‘wrinklys’ band these days and I told Neville that Mick Jagger was like a schizophrenic ant prancing around the stage (sorry to any faithful Stones fans reading this). Just jealous that I haven’t got that kind of energy and I’m younger than he is. But at least they can still sing and play guitar etc. which is more than I can say for a lot of the ageing singers/bands these days.
Next post will be in a New Year.