Tuesday 20 May 2014

Horseshoe Bend & the Lonely Graves

The next day we decided to do a tiki-tour to the little settlement of Beaumont which is 35kms further down the river and where one of the very few bridges crosses the mighty Clutha.

Before we left I dove up the river to get a photo of the Roxburgh Bridge.

Now that we have been following the river downstream from its outlet back at Lake Wanaka I’ve discovered that most of the bridges are historic and usually painted in either red or blue. By my count there are only 13 opportunities to cross the river in it’s entire 338km length. One of these is a dam wall (Roxburgh), another a suspension bridge for foot traffic only & one other that I’ll keep as a surprise.

So far I have taken photos of 11 of the crossings; of the two that I have missed, one is on a main road to the West Coast, back in Albertown which we will cross again at some stage & the other (at Beaumont) was covered in scaffolding and didn’t look that photogenic. Hopefully we’ll pass over that again sometime in the future and then I’ll have the full set!

The Roxburgh Bridge, like the Alexandra Bridge has the old piers of the original bridge nearby, in fact two sets of remains, one on either side of the new bridge.The remains in the right hand photo are of the 1875 bridge. After looking for the build dates of the earlier bridges I came across this information, very interesting-

“Bridging the Clutha was a considerable challenge, which became clear in the great flood of 1878. The Bannockburn bridge on the Kawarau River was swept away, and its wreckage destroyed the Clyde bridge on the Clutha, which in turn ruined the Roxburgh bridge, a laminated wooden arch, only erected in 1875. Further downstream the Beaumont bridge was washed away and it in turn destroyed the Balclutha bridge.”

By driving to Beaumont we would be able to follow the road down the north side of the river (the true left), cross over at the Beaumont Bridge and come back to Roxburgh via the main state highway. The very new & very impressive Clutha Gold Cycle & Walking Trail also follows this same loop, the cycle trail is a continuation of the Roxburgh Gorge trail I talked about in the previous post. They are pretty impressive trails and have had a lot of money spent on them. The track ran past Pinders Pond, between us & the river, and although its out of season at the moment, we saw quite a number of people using it.

The track follows some of the old rail corridor through the Teviot Valley & the Beaumont Gorge with all new bridges over any creeks & streams, there’s plenty of signage, fencing & gates down both sides of any farmland it passes through, tiny cattle stops & cyclist sized Give Way signs at each outlet back onto the road.

There are a number of historic buildings & places to stop at along the trail. Many of the buildings are left over from the railway including the Teviot NZR goods shed and this old water tower just along the road from Pinders Pond.

Two more historic places I had marked down to check out were the Lonely Graves & the restored Horseshow Suspension Bridge both near the old Horseshoe Bend gold diggings. It’s actually quite a drive to visit both these sites, it wasn’t so bad for us as we were exploring along the road anyway but if you planned to visit from the main road as you were passing through you have to cross over at either Beaumont or Millers Flat and travel along a narrow gravel road for a good few kilometres. The Beaumont end is especially narrow & isolated as you’ll see further down.

The Lonely Graves have quite a story behind them. The story goes (& there is dispute of how true this is) that in 1864, William Rigney found a shivering dog beside the dead body of a young man. The police were notified but nobody claimed the body. Rigney dug the grave and the many of the men from the diggings attended the funeral. The pine slab with these words burned on- “Somebody’s Darling Lies Buried Here” marked the grave (it’s now inside a glass case attached to a second headstone).  When Rigney died in 1912 he was buried alongside as he had wished. His stone was engraved- “Here lies William Rigney, the man that buried Somebody’s Darling”. How wonderful is that & I’d like to think its entirely true! It’s kind of romantic too. I wonder what happened to the dog.

Very near the graves is the fully restored Horseshoe Bend suspension bridge which was built in 1913 at the narrowest part of the Clutha in this area. It was to replace an old pulley chair that was at the time the only way for the children of Horseshoe Bend to cross the river to attend school. It must have been terrifying sitting in a rickety old chair as it was pulled across the mighty Clutha with it’s deep water & foreboding swirling currents below.

The bridge was also used by farmers to get stock across the river and is now the only remaining suspension bridge on the river. It is 70 metres long & swings 75 metres above the river. We only had a short walk to the bridge from our side but there is an hour long walk to it from the main highway on the other side.

Back on the road we continued on towards Beaumont, the road, while still ok, looked a little less travelled and the area more remote. We had a bit of Mexican stand off when we came across this bull. He was reluctant to move from his mates on the other side of the fence. He backed off with his head down at one stage and then took off ahead of us down the centre of the road which was fenced close on both sides. We tried it slow so he could turn & run back past us; that didn’t work, we tried it fast; he could run faster, we tried it stopped & he just stood & looked at us. In the end he trotted behind a road side bush and we zoomed past before he could emerge on the other side. Later we passed a learner driver heading his way & wondered what the stand off would be like for them.

"Halt who goes there?!"
We hadn’t realised that it was quite so back country & in fact it’s lucky we didn’t have the fifth-wheeler on the back as we soon realised we’d have had to turn around (if we could have found a turning point, they were few & far between) and drive all the way back the way we came especially when we got to the very narrow Tallaburn Bridge. There would have been no way the fifth-wheeler could have squeezed through here. The bridge has actually been built over the metal supports of the old railbridge. No wonder it is so narrow.

Finally we reached the end of the road where we stopped briefly at the Beaumont Hotel to check out the camp site facilities, it’s listed in our directory & was recommended by a fellow “full time on the roader”. It looked ok and had the added benefit of drinks & meals available in the pub but we decided we’d head further on down the road when it came time to move.

We headed back home along SH8 stopping at Millers Flat to take a photo of another baby blue bridge over the Clutha.

We also stopped for afternoon tea in a lovely reserve beside the river and across the road from this long abandoned shop which is now beside the much bigger Four Square store. I liked the look of Mr Four Square on the roof of the shed behind the store. He looked right out of place thumbing a lift atop an old garage.

Then it was back to Pinders Pond in time to catch some more reflections before the sun went down.


  1. This was very interesting, thanks, Shelley. Beautiful pictures and stories. I'm going to send it to my sister as the Lonely Graves story is one we've discussed a lot, but we couldn't remember where it was. I loved the stand off with the bull - they're so large close up.

    1. Thanks Olwen, pleased you knew all about the graves. Not many people do. It's nice that we have this sort of story as part of NZ's history instead of the usual rugged macho manly stuff :)


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