Our first stop was going to be at Waipiata, an old railway town and another marker point for the Otago Rail Trail. But when I saw the Maniototo Sale Yards with its tiny grandstand we had to stop so I could take a photo.
And across the paddocks from the sale yards, nestled into the foothills of the Rock & Pillar Range, I can see a group of large buildings. This must be En Hakkore, a Christian Retreat which we’d be passing on our way along the valley.
Our next stop was Waipiata, a tiny, lonely little settlement in the middle of nowhere that was once called Komako (bellbird). A village that at one stage had at least two churches, both now converted into homes.
Another business long gone from Waipiata...
Unlike Wedderburn, the Rail Goods Shed at Waipiata (below) has yet to be restored. It’s cold and bleak and snow starts to fall as I walk along the road taking photos. I’m sure the pub would be busy during the cycling season, it’s just across the road from the trail and I bet it’s a business that has survived mainly due to the cycle trail.
We leave Waipiata crossing the historic ‘Green Bridge’ which was built in 1896 and is the only flood-free crossing of the Tairei River in Maniototo. I didn’t know the Tairei River started its course in the Maniototo and in fact we’ll be near it’s headwaters later in the day. It flows a very long way, tracking along the Rock & Pillar range heading north then around the end of the range and back along the east side before heading south-east towards the coast exiting south of Dunedin at Tairei Mouth, a place we stopped at for a few days way back when we started this adventure.
We head up into the foothills and approach an imposing group of buildings; the ones I saw from the saleyards. Now a Christian Retreat (En Hakkore) this settlement, built in 1914, was originally a private facility for the treatment of tuberculosis. The dry climate was considered a suitable cure for consumption- dry and bloody cold! It was taken over by the Government in the 1920s and continued as a Sanatorium until 1961.
After the Sanatorium closed it became a youth correction centre a.k.a. a borstal which closed in 1979. During a conversation with a local, elsewhere on our travels, he told me he remembers his parents threatening that he’d be ‘sent up the hill’ if he didn’t behave.
Permission is required (of course) to visit the buildings but people do regularly call and are shown around the complex, perhaps they are interested in the historical buildings or have a link to them via their or their families past. We had a lot of ground to cover during the day so only stopped at the gates.
The building below was across the road from the main complex and as large a building as it looks from this front view, it is actually the small end. The building stretches back behind perhaps double the length of the ones above, with rooms and verandas on both levels and both sides.
We carried on up the hill, we were on a mission to find Hamiltons, and in particular the historic Hamiltons Cemetery which, other than a dam and the scars from mining, is all that remains of another long ago Central Otago gold mining town that once had 4000 inhabitants. We took the Hamiltons Diggings Road, a ‘dry weather track’ that was covered in snow & mud. Hmmm….wrong move.
David was very reluctant but I insisted we’d just head to the first rise where the road disappeared because I was sure the cemetery must be up there somewhere and I'd walk the rest of the way. Hamiltons Diggings = Hamiltons Cemetery wouldn’t you think? It didn’t take long for us to start slipping and sliding and David to be cursing. With nowhere to turn around we had to head to the rise where the track opened up a bit before we could safely turn. David was not a happy chap but I did manage to see what was on the other side of the bank where we turned; the old gold mining dam, but no cemetery.
I thought I’d missed the cemetery as it was probably further up the range on one of the knobbly hills I could see and I’d have to come back in the summer, but back on the ‘main’ road and around the very next bend was the cemetery signpost and a track leading down to it! I won't tell you what David said as he surveyed the mud filled tires and especially the mud caked under the wheel arches. "But darling" I said, "that's why we have a 4WD and a ute so we can explore off the beaten track." Again, I won't tell you what he said.
The reason I thought it was on one of the hills was from photos that I had seen of the amazing panoramic view out over the Maniototo Plain from the cemetery. Unfortunately for me the weather wasn’t that great and the view a bit hazy with a lot of low cloud and snow showers sweeping through.
Hamiltons Cemetery has been restored and a Memorial Plaque stands near the entrance remembering those that have been buried here. The earliest being 33yr old John Black French who died in 1865.
It doesn’t look it, but it’s bitterly cold up here, an ice cold wind is blowing fiercely and snow flurries are passing through as I wander around the graveyard. David only makes it to the gate before he makes a hasty retreat back to the warmth of the ute.
I finish taking a few photos and would have liked to have lingered longer reading the headstones and taking in the views but for the first time this winter, the cold gets to me too; my fingers, nose, ears and toes are about to drop off and I scurry back to the ute also.
We head off with the heater on full blast and soon warm up. The road drops back down onto the lower slopes…..
…and goes on and on forever. It’s more clay and mud than gravel and we feel like we’re driving through a farm not on a public road. And I think the farmers must think of the roads as theirs as well, they’re littered with animal poop, mounds of hay & silage and deep tractor tire ruts in places. That’s more snow flurries in the bottom left photo. We haven’t picked the best day to explore.
The next settlement is Patearoa where other than the obligatory country pub and church there’s not too many more houses. And once again we are by ourselves, the Maniototo with it’s big skies and wide open spaces is also a place of solitude.
Patearoa was once known as Sowburn part of Thomson's Barnyard (named by our mate John Turnbull Thomson) and once serviced gold miners. The remnants of a Chinese mining settlement can be seen near a walkway that runs along the Sowburn Creek. Due to the weather, the walk held little appeal to us so we passed through the village heading on towards the sharp end of the valley.
To be continued……Part 2