Saturday, 10 May 2014

“The Nevis”- There & Back: Part 1

You will remember that we drove the Upper Nevis when we did the 4WD safari over Nokomai Station back in February. After we left Arrowtown we planned to stay in Cromwell (beside the lake again) for a few days so we could explore the Lower Nevis & the Nevis Gorge before we left the area. We were hoping for a fine day but with rain forecast we decided to drive it the afternoon we arrived at Lowburn, it was dry but with high cloud and haze.

The north end of the Nevis Road starts out the back of Bannockburn where it climbs sharply up Long Gully on the Carrick Range. Along the way we pass Dead Horse Pinch; many horses didn’t make it up this steep incline when pulling wagonloads of mining dredge pieces up into the valley. The high altitude Nevis Valley, was first settled by pastoral farmers in the late 1850s & then my gold miners in the 1860s.

Looking back from the top of the range we can see all the way up the Upper Clutha Valley, including Cromwell and Lake Dunstan. The Pisa Range is to the left, the Dunstan Mountains to the right & according to the signpost & a farmer who stopped to tell us, Mt Cook and the Southern Alps can be seen at the top left of the lake. On a clear day. Which it wasn’t.

At the summit- Duffers Saddle1300m; it was considerably colder at the top with a few snow patches in the lee of the rock stacks left over from the heavy fall that the region had a week or so ago. Behind the schist rocks which are known as “The Two Sisters” are the Remarkables.

The dry tussock landscape is covered in clumps of speargrass & dotted with huge & wonderfully shaped schist tors.

The road is dry and dusty as it snakes its way across the top of the saddle and then drops dramatically down into the valley below.

The Nevis River and the Lower Nevis Valley stretch out in front of us. The valley consists of two sections, each is about 6kms long separated by a 4km gorge. We can see the beginning of the gorge at the far end. The second section is where we made it to when we came in from the other end.

In the photo below, the road can be seen running along the lower ridge at the right. Much of the high country seen across the valley belongs to Ben Nevis Station and up behind the station is Ben Nevis itself, which is 2234m high. We’ve actually spent a bit of time at another Ben Nevis, Ben Nevis (1344m) is near Fort William in Scotland and is the highest peak in the British Isles. We were there for the Downhill Mountain Bike Championships a few years ago when we had a team racing our 2Stage Bikes. NZ’s Ben Nevis is a baby amongst our mountain peaks, our highest mountain is Mt Cook (3754m) which would be a giant at nearly three times the height of Scotland’s Ben Nevis.

Down in the valley there are very few signs of settlement over 150 years ago when up to 600 people lived along the river in two settlements. An abandoned house & a prospector & his caravan on the river not too far from the bridge; we saw the claim sign nailed to a pole at the roadside, are reminders of present day habitation while a stone wall is all that’s left of the “Nevis Crossing Hotel”, it now forms part of the Ben Nevis Station’s cattle yards and across the river a few broken stone walls are the only signs of buildings from the Nevis Crossing settlement all that time ago.

The Nevis River bridge dates from 1904 and replaced the original bridge which was swept away by great sheets of ice after the Nevis thawed when the river froze in 1903. This was & is still is a harsh and unforgiving environment especially in winter. A cluster of stone & wood buildings behind a woolshed belong to Ben Nevis Station. Cattle gathered on the road ahead of us as we approached the woolshed & when I get out to take a photo of the buildings two farm dogs come bounding down the driveway to see who had stopped. They give the cattle a quick burst around the paddock & then retreated back up the drive, satisfied they were still the boss.

Further along the road we take a short detour to the lonely Nevis Cemetery set up a slight rise with the huge expanse of the valley stretched out in front of the graves, Pioneer land owners and miners laid to rest overlooking the land they worked & loved. The silence of the valley filled the still air.

That was until far off in the distance we could here a vehicle approaching, the farmer who had stopped to tell us about Mt Cook. He must have stopped somewhere along the way.

We are now approaching the Lower Nevis Settlement, the main town of the valley from 1863 to 1953, though only a few buildings now remain. Over half of the original settlement was destroyed as a result of dredging operations in the early 1900s. This earth & corrugated homestead is obviously still looked after if not lived in going by the huge mown front yard, perhaps its now used as a “fishermans retreat”.

Just a little further on are the remains of Elliot’s Nevis Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in 1917 and another homestead, a 1903 wooden & corrugated house which is still being lived in by the descendants of the Adie family, early settlers of the valley. And its now that we see that “the farmer” that stopped to tell us about Mt Cook lives in the homestead.

And across the road he has a well manicured yard that contains many relics from the early gold mining period and settlement of the valley. This is also a POP, a park over property for motorhomers who decide to drive the road in their motorhomes. Most sized vans would be able to get to this point in the valley if coming in from the Cromwell end although the steep climb up the Carrick Range might foil a few. More adventurous souls in smaller vans could venture further on into the gorge and out the other end to Garston but this would only be during summer and after a long dry period as there are many fords to cross at the top end of the road (see the link at the top of this post if you're wanting to check out the full road)

The Adie family still have a claim which lies on the slopes behind the house in Stewart Gully, we can see the sculptured sluice markings from the road. There are many signs of the wide spread gold mining throughout the valley from the sluice marks along the slopes to the piles of tailings the dredges have left along the river terraces. Because of the harsh environment and the way the ground has been left after the mining has finished the land has has not restored itself; rabbits & briar bushes have taken over where the tussock has refused to grow.

David found this quite distressing, the destruction of an environment because of man’s greed, nowadays it wouldn’t happen, the land would have to be restored to its former state. If a permit to mine was in fact granted. It didn’t worry me so much, this is part of our history and it’s great that we can still see how things were achieved and marvel at the tenacity of our forefathers.

To be continued.......Part 2


  1. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading about your travels and exploits and love all the excellent photos. I am now in the South Island but haven't explored past Golden Bay yet... But I will. Your blog is inspiring. Thanks

    1. Angela, on the contrary, it is you that is inspiring! To have recovered from your accident in such good time is amazing. When I heard about it I thought "oh dear, that will put her out of action for months". I know how difficult things can get, I've had a broken ankle & I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. You have bounced back incredibly well and I wish you all the best for the future. I know out paths will cross at some stage & I look forward to meeting you in person, Thanks for taking the time to comment,

  2. Likewise, same as Licorice, Yup it's feeding my desire to become a movanner or motorhomer.
    As a scottish child my family tried 3 times to get up Ben Nevis and was rained and fogged off each time.
    As an adult I finally made it to the top before 10am in the morning.
    I'd welcome the oppertunity to meet you both should you come to the Nelson area. We even have room for a park up. Anyway keep em coming!

    1. Jimu, we'll be somewhere across the top of the South Island at some stage over winter & if it works it would be great to meet up. Glad you're still enjoying the blog. I'm impressed you got to the top of Scotland's Ben Nevis before 10am! There was rain & fog for a number of days when we were there too, it was freezing walking up to the start of the racing which wasn't anywhere near the top.


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