Friday, 23 May 2014

Gabriel's Gully, Lawrence

I got a bit ahead of myself with all the excitement of the Oyster Festival & the storm so I’m now stepping back a week or so to catch up on the blogs I missed from our last camping site at Grays Dam, Gabriel's Gully in Lawrence.

What a beautiful spot, it was very pretty with the trees at the end of their autumn colours & the grasses & reeds reaching right down to the pond’s edge.

Backlit trees at sunrise on the pond
It was a quite a small pond with just a few water fowl making it their home; a pair of coots, a couple of shags, a few welcome swallows and a lone female paradise duck that kept me awake for most of the first night. She was calling for her partner and I felt very sad for her, David found some fresh empty cartridge cases on the ground & we can only assume that her mate was shot by some lazy scumbag who couldn’t be bothered driving out of town to a legitimate place to go duck shooting.

Unlike other ducks, Paradise pair for life & she was calling for him all night & all the next day. Female paradise also have very loud calls. At one stage another pair flew in, the male ahead of his mate and the pond female got all excited doing a head bobbing swim all around him. Until the other female landed when all hell broke loose. After a good scrap between the females the other pair flew off & our female resumed her calls. It was with great relief when I got up on the third day to see that overnight a lone male had flown in and taken up residence with the female. She looked very happy swimming around the edge showing her new mate the best places to feed. Peace was restored to the pond.

Other than the quacking duck it was a very peaceful spot, we stayed for 3 nights and on each there were 2-3 other RVs sharing the clearing at the end of the track with us. Gabriel’s Gully is named after Gabriel Read who discovered gold there in May1861. This was the beginning of the Otago Gold Rush, by July there were 150 men working the gully and by September over 6000 people were camped throughout the gully in amongst the diggings protecting their small claims.

By the end of 1861 there were over 10,000 people on the goldfields, imagine 10,000 people, tents and dirt piles spread out down the gully shown in the photo below. Except that the valley floor is now a lot higher than it was back then. Water races from local rivers & dams (Grays Dam included) fed water into the area to wash the hillsides away into the sluice boxes to recover the gold. Gunpowder & dynamite were used to break up the rock. The tailings slowly filled up the valley floor.

Grays Dam is at the end of the bottom track that disappears out the left of the photo (a photo taken with my cell phone while on the 90 minute walk around the gully)

Across the gully and at the top right of the photo above is Blue Spur. Blue Spur settlement was originally at the head of Gabriel’s Gully on the flat but when that ground was needed for mining the township was moved to the top of the ridge away from the flooding & mining. The town prospered from 1864-1868 with two of every type of store to service the miners, a school opened in 1867  (it was closed in 1925) and during the 1880s when Blue Spur had a population of 500, there were over 200 pupils & five teachers. Today all that remains of Blue Spur are these two buildings one a residence & one the butchers shop.

Just one gully away from Gabriel’s was Weatherstons goldfield, discovered not long after Gabriels and claimed to have had more gold recovered in a four week period than Gabriels. Over 1500 miners flooded into Weatherstons within a few days which led onto Weatherstons being known as the gayest & noisiest town on the goldfields. It also suffered the fastest reduction of miners when news  came through that gold had been discovered near Dunstan further inland.

Today Weatherstons is well known for its mass plantings of daffodils and 100 year old rhododendron bushes along with the ruins of the 1884 Black Horse Brewery. The brewery was once Otago’s most successful provincial brewery and that was during prohibition. In 1923  the brewing rights were purchased by NZ Breweries, the brewery closed down & the workers offered work at Speights Brewery in Dunedin.

On one of the information boards was this photo of the ladies pushing for prohibition, looking at some of those faces I doubt anybody would want to give them a kiss anyway!

The daffodils were first planted in 1895 and it was thought that over 1 million bulbs were planted during the first few years covering 10-15 acres of the hillside beside the brewery. No expense was spared and  prices as high as £100 were paid for single bulbs from the Netherlands. Incredible when the average wage was only around £5. People came from far & wide to see the daffodils when they were in bloom, the flowers were also picked by school children & sold for charity. In 1912 the first train excursions from Dunedin arrived; 2 trains of 13 carriages each organised by the Dunedin Horticultural Society. In 2005 the daffodil fields were once again opened up to public display, the first time in 50 years.

It's a pity we visited the ruins at the beginning of winter, the site didn’t look that attractive with bare trees, wet & muddy ground and overgrown abandoned buildings although the lovely red of the hawthorn berries added a bit of interest & colour.

And I was finally able to grab a shot of another New Zealand native that not too many people would have seen or know about. This is a Brown Creeper (Pipipi- can you guess the sound they make?) and they are actually quite common throughout the South Island but are very hard to see (and photograph) as they flock & move quite fast through the tree canopy feeding and calling to each other. Against the light of the sky they could be mistaken for sparrows. This isn’t a great photo but at least I have a record until I can get a better one!

In an old farm yard near Weatherston I spotted this; I wonder where the lion escaped to……

And once again after an afternoon of exploring we got home in time for me to catch some reflections-

And finally I need to add the photo that is the blog header at the moment (it'll be gone soon). I also sent this photo off the NZMCA for their "I Love Winter" photo competition and they made it their Facebook header.......

.......which actually replaced my Lake Dunstan storm photo!


  1. Reflecting upon the reflections.... Who would want to leave that scene...and wow what a lot of history in that area..... No ghosts eh!

    1. It was very tranquil and a nice place to spend a few days. I was looking for ghosts through the windows of that house, it was a bit creepy, wouldn't like to be there at night.

  2. Such beautiful shots Shellie, you have definitely sold me on visiting the area this time next year. Thanks for the reminder about the daffodils, might be worth a day trip in the spring.
    BTW, the lion cage did indeed house a couple of lions - Sultan and Sonia. They escaped from a circus in Lawrence in 1978 and sadly were both shot for their troubles. The circus owner donated their bodies to the Otago Museum in Dunedin and they can be seen in their fully stuffed glory in the Animal Attic on the top floor. Well worth a visit and the most popular animals up there.

    1. Thanks Lisa, And how extraordinary, I didn't have a clue about the lions. Do you think that the cage was from the circus? It is rather small. You know what this means. another blog "Truth is stranger than fiction" :)

    2. So glad you followed the lion story up Shellie. TBH I didn't know the cage had housed the animals but I have visited the lions in the Animal Attic with the kids a couple of times over the years so knew about the story. And it's always nice to be able to track down a local who has researched it. I might keep an eye out for the book when I'm in Lawrence in Sept/Oct to see the daffidols!

  3. Interesting to hear about those lions, Lisa. And sad, of course. This blog is just packed with stories! I'd never heard about these daffodils before. And the Autumnal colours are marvellous - thank you very much for the amazing photos, Shelley.

    1. You're welcome Olwen, aren't the autumn colours just stunning. Who says NZ is green! :) Amazing about the lions (and sad), I never knew or saw mention around the town either.

  4. Hi, your shots are fabulous. I grew up in Lawrence. We used to find all sorts of interesting things in the old ruins. Near the township was an outdoor iceskating rink (totally overgrown now). In a hut, we found old records they use to play on a gramophone while people were skating.
    I remember those daffidols being in a calendar when I was young. I'm just getting into photography myself and wondered which editing software you prefer

    1. Hi Sarah & thank you very much for the compliment, I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. We are kindred spirits, I spent my childhood on a farm in Napier that used to be an Old People's Home before the 1931 earthquake. After the 'quake the rubble from the ruins were bulldozer over the sides of the hill and as children we dug, uncovered and explored and found many interesting items from the early 1900s. We even found the Home's dump site which we excavated retrieving old bottles, urns, medicine, china, etc. The farm also had lots of daffodil, jonquils & snowdrops along with many fruit trees that had all been bulldozed over the sides but survived. I still love exploring and delving into NZ's history.

      Regarding photography, I use Photoshop Elements 12 for the more advanced editing but am usually happy with Windows Photo Gallery for the everyday stuff. I take so many photos now that we're on the road I just don't have too much time to spend in the "dark room". Get it right in camera & then there's only a bit of tweeking to do; copyright & sharpening. I'm not too sure how far into photography you are but my best advice is to move out of auto as soon as you can, even if it's into Aperture or Shutter Priority, don't let your camera decide your shots. Get a handle on the exposure triangle & then "practice, practice, practice". Also join a photography forum & read as many of the threads as you can (DPS is very good), also people are very willing to help with queries.

      Hope that helps.
      Cheers, Shellie


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