Sunday 4 May 2014

A “Shiny” Trip to Macetown

Since arriving in Arrowtown I have had one particular activity at the top of our “must do” list; taking the ute on a 4WD expedition to the remains of the historic gold mining settlement of Macetown which is located deep in the mountains, 15kms from Arrowtown up the Arrow Gorge. The only way of visiting Macetown is by walking (6-8hrs one way), by mountainbike or horse (3-4hrs) or by 4WD following the Arrow River through the gorge for 1-2hrs.

For those that haven’t read this blog, a “shiny” is what the dedicated 4WD drivers, with their off-road 4WDs, call our “shiny” 4WD vehicles, ones that are usually driven on the road and are only occasionally taken off-road and mostly never see any mud.

Those signs read "Back Country Road Deep Fords" & "Council Road Maintenance Ends Here"
We had a few days free between the rally & before the family arrived and I had been keeping a keen eye on the weather as I knew we wouldn’t be able to do the trip after rainfall  because of river level. I also wanted a sunny day for my photos; Macetown, like Arrowtown, has lots of  autumn colour too.

So with Tuesday’s weather forecast looking great we were up early with picnic lunch packed, gear in the ute firmly secured & my DOC “Visiting Macetown” information booklet, which I had bought especially for the trip, at the ready, we headed off down the road to the river below town which is where the 4WD track begins with the first crossing of the Arrow River.

It was about here that David wondered how many fords there were to cross. “Oh, hadn’t I told you how many?”, “I’m sure I did….. well now let me see….” as I read from the booklet “The main limitations to year-round visits to Macetown are the depth of the 22 fords in the Arrow River and mud, & ice during winter. From spring to early summer, the river normally runs high from snow melt. It is usually at it’s lowest…….. “TWENTY TWO?!!!!” he shouted, “that means 44 crossings there & back?” “Bloody hell!” I didn’t like to tell him that most of the track is single lane with few passing opportunities and some of it follows along the edge of high bluffs with sheer drop offs into the gorge below (a bit similar to the road into Skippers Canyon)

We set off up the deeply pot holed & bumpy dirt track beside the river, we assumed that it must have been so rough because, being so close to town, a lot of vehicles would cross the ford and drive a little way down the track out of curiosity. It got a little better but not much and within a couple of minutes we were onto another ford, and then another & before long we’d crossed five.

They weren’t easy fords either, the river was flowing fast and there were plenty of deep holes & big rocks littered the riverbed. Generally it was shallow enough but there were no defined areas to cross and we had to get out at each ford to plan the path we’d take. If it had been summer, it would have been easier to wade through & walk ahead of the ute but with the recent snow fall the water was ice cold. Some crossings were actually driving up the river for 50-60 metres before finding the track out. The sun glare off the water was also making it hard to see the large rocks and in the shade it was ten times worse.

You’ll remember the water pipe that cut across the paddock where we were parked for the rally, well here it is again. Tracking down the river cutting from side to side carrying water to the farms in the Arrow basin. It was about here that I had that uncanny feeling somebody was watching us. I looked up and I spotted the cycle track running along the edge of the gorge high up above us. And then I spotted the cyclists.

We took our time and managed to cover a couple of kilometres before resting on a shingle flat while we let a digger pass by. A digger! Not quite what you expect to see up an isolated (except for the cyclists) river gorge. David spoke to him and he said he was only going as far as the next pipe crossing to clear some trees, he told us the river was low but there were some deep holes & big rocks to avoid (nothing new there). He then trundled off up the middle of the river shifting rocks as he went. He would have been great to follow if he’d of been going all the way.

Three more fords crossed and we caught up to the digger.

While we waited for him to clear the slip (and a few boulders) we had a “round table” and decided that with eight fords down & 14 still to go and then having to repeat them all again on the way home it was just going to be too tough & quite stressful. David was worried that he was going to cause damage to the sills or underneath the ute on the rocks and also the holes in the river were getting a little deeper and more frequent. The sun would have gone from the gorge on the way home making the river harder to read & we were worried we’d get stuck & not be able to get help. So deciding “discretion is the better part of valour” & this “shiny” chickened out. We turned around and headed for home. And it was just as well as it was very difficult trying to read the fords on the way back too, they looked totally different coming from the other direction.

While we were checking out one crossing I looked back at the ute to see a tiny bird flitting about, landing on the mirror, clinging to the wipers & flying at the side windows. It was a female tomtit (miromiro) and I thought she might have been chasing bugs, they are usually in the bush, quite timid and don’t hang around when you spot them but this little one stayed put when I walked back towards her. And it was then that I realised she was attacking & trying to chase her reflection in the mirror, in the window glass and even in the paintwork. She had her hackles up and was flitting about not quite knowing who to chase next! I guess that was my consolation prize!

Maybe we’ll revisit the trip another time when we’re in Arrowtown. We were both disappointed but knew we’d made the right decision. I’ve heard that in spring Macetown in surrounded by thousands of daffodil flowers, bulbs that were planted by miners that have spread out far & wide. Now that would be a fabulous sight. Maybe we’ll have to walk in (I don't think so) or maybe in the summer I'll walk ahead of the ute across the fords.

In the meantime we had to make do with the partly rebuilt Arrowtown Chinese gold miner settlement just below the town on the banks of Bush Creek, a tributary of the Arrow River. This was made far more enjoyable by the fact that the family had arrived and the kids were keen to explore, racing here there and everywhere.

Ruby & Ollie enjoying the autumn leaves.


  1. So funny that they are both closing their eyes!

    1. But not so funny that I went & deleted the good photos from this day! :( I have a few but the special ones are gone. Grrrr.....

  2. What a shame that you did not get through to Macetown. We did it a few years ago in a shiny white/grey Isuzu Trooper and the only damage was that I lost the front number plate. We had passengers with us and the female of the group was outside her comfort zone in parts. Amazing Trip, such a hard place to live.

    1. Good on you! I would have loved to have got there, maybe we'll try again in summer when the water will be lower and warmer & I can walk ahead on some of the deeper fords. I'm keeping my booklet on Macetown in a safe place. Never say never..... :)


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message, I love reading them! All comments are personally moderated by me and I will post and answer them as soon as possible, Shellie