Wednesday, 2 September 2015

2000ft Above Worry Level

So says the welcome sign for the tiny little historic village of Naseby- not only has the town been left behind but they’ve not moved their slogan into metric measurements either! Then again I suppose ‘610 metres above worry level’ doesn’t quite have the same ring about it. Naseby is nestled in a forested valley in the foothills of the Mt Ida Range and is just 14kms from Ranfurly.

Naseby is another town that came into existence with the beginning of the gold rush in 1863, the rush was short lived but gold mining on a more commercial scale continued for over 50 years and the town grew to become a thriving rural town. Unfortunately after the railway came to Ranfurly it gradually took over as the centre of the Maniototo and Naseby became a quiet backwater and holiday destination with many of the old mining cottages and houses sold, restored and used as cribs (holiday homes). The surrounding forest has many walking and mountainbike tracks and there are plenty of dams for swimming in during the summer and ice skating on over winter.

Naseby is also the curling capital of New Zealand, and while the Bonspiels have been held on the Idaburn Dam since 1932, the latest tournament was held in Naseby just two weeks before we arrived in the Maniototo- I was very tempted to drive up from Winton to catch the spectacle. The curling rink shown in the middle left photo below was the one used for the tournament, but it was well on the way to melting when we stopped to check it out. The indoor Maniototo International Curling Rink was across the road, along with the indoor curling rink there’s also an outdoor skating rink and a luge.

The village was virtually deserted which isn’t surprising given that there are only a hundred or so permanent residents and it’s the middle of the winter. The Royal Hotel was open, the publican was out sweeping the snow away from the path and front doors. The Royal opened in 1863 and was one of 22 hotels in the town at the height of the gold rush. There are just two left now. It became a Cobb & Co stop in 1869 and an accommodation wing was added on the right, giving ‘ladies’ an entrance to the hotel.

Across the road from the Royal is the old Mt Ida Chronicle newspaper office. Snow had fallen the night before although we hadn’t had any down in Ranfurly, that was yet to come. We had been warned by one of the locals back at Omakau, not to camp up at Naseby in case we got snowed in but as it turned out, the camping ground at Naseby was closed anyway.

Next door to The Royal Hotel is the old Council Office which is now a museum. Unfortunately it was closed for winter too so I was unable to have a look at the local history.

With no traffic on the road and nobody about I was able to wander through the village taking photos of all the historic buildings. I wasn’t quite by myself, this lovely dog was sunning herself against the wall and watching me carefully through half closed eyes as I moved up and down the street. She came out to greet me on my way back and then went back to her wall. I think she belonged to the nearby dairy.

The two most iconic Naseby buildings are the Watchmaker’s Shop & Boot Manufacturer. The watchmakers shop opened in 1868 and the owner Robert Strong turned his hand to repairs of any precision tools of the day. His son ran the shop until 1959 when he was 80 years old.  The Boot Manufacturer shop is a recreation of the 1863 original building on the site.

A German Field Gun, a war trophy, sits near the War Memorial. It is one of very few that remain in rural NZ towns.

David was delighted to spot a Trekka sitting outside the local garage. It’s been a long time between sightings and we hadn’t found any more on our travels since finding two on the Coromandel a couple of years ago. David was once the sales manager for Five Star Motors in Auckland, a retail outlet of Motor Industries, and sold many of the 2500 Trekkas that made it onto our roads.

Not only did he find one Trekka, but he found another one out the back. He also found the guy who owns them and so they spent the next half hour or so reminiscing…

…which was great because I could carry on clicking! This was the Union Church where Protestants worshipped, built in 1865. It was also used as a temporary school and a teaching centre for mining classes before becoming the Athenaeum and library in 1873.

The Naseby Post Office is another huge building for a small town, it was built in 1900 and is typical of government architecture of the day. The building now houses the Information Centre which I found closed too.

Alongside the post office are the Masonic Hall & the Court House (bottom). The Masonic Hall was built in 1869 of  mud and tussock for the Mt Ida Masonic Lodge. It was later used by the Oddfellows Lodge. The Court House was built in 1875 with its last hearing held in 1961.

This rather pink building, the All Nations Store was built in the 1870s from mudbrick and timber and like many buildings of the day had a fancy wooden facade to make an impressive frontage. It has been added to and altered over the years.

There are numerous tiny miners cottages and grander settlers houses around the village-

..including the Monkey Puzzle House (bottom right) obviously named for the very large & very old Monkey Puzzle tree in the front garden. This was the Borough Clerk’s house, the current owners have restored it to its former glory and it is now a B&B.

Once David had run out of Trekka facts and figures to discuss and I had returned from down the street we popped over the road to have lunch at Black Forest Cafe. The snow was melting fast and a curtain of water was dripping off the old roofs of the cafe building which has housed, at various times, banks, bakers, drapers and others long forgotten.

One excellent piece of inside information I did get from the Trekka man before I left them talking was the location of a tiny curling dam used by the locals.

Known as the mini Mt Ida dam it’s just a handkerchief sized shallow boxed square located in the forest behind the village.

A place where the sun don’t shine and the ice don’t melt.

Although David was less than keen to be the guinea pig and walk out on it for me after I pointed out a few slushy edges. Later I saw a photo of the dam in the summer- a large grassy square which looked to be all of a foot deep.

I wondered who would keep a dog in such a cold kennel, then I realised it was the wood box! Duh!! And I had the feeling that this little scene was going to be the full extent of the ‘hoar frost’ I've been looking for in the Maniototo.

It was about now that I wished the museum or i-Site had been open. Beside the dam sat this very old hut(complete with dog kennel too) with a sign attached which you couldn’t read other than it was built in 1905.

I wanted to know it’s history. It looks like a sentry box, although I think that thought was helped along by the words- ‘1883 Colour Royal B—‘ . I might just have to call the museum.

On our way home we stopped at the Naseby Golf Course- no chance of playing golf here for awhile.

We drove back through Naseby a few days later and stopped for lunch at the Royal Hotel. We met a very interesting fellow at the bar….but, you’ll have to wait to hear about that…


  1. Fabulous little place, you certainly uncover the real backblocks NZ. I also have Trekka memories. Our neighbour Mr Aitken a kiwi who had flown during the Second world war for the RAF spoke with the stiff upper lip, handlebar moustache, wore a cravat, had a Trekka. Kakhi Green with a white fibreglass cab. He drove it like a racing car, and always "on the pipe".....I'm waiting...patiently
    Cheers J

    1. Great memories Jimu, I can see Mr 'Stiff Upper Lip" as clear as day. He actually sounds a lot like David's father, a Warrant Officer in the RAF, except his vehicle of choice was a Daimler. And yes I can see you in a Trekka but you better be quick, they'll be like hen's teeth in a few years.


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