Saturday 17 September 2016

A Treat at the End of the Road- Central Otago

Catch-up; Late March 2016

Well, I didn't quite get this batch of back blogs done before it was time to pack up the van, say our good-byes once again to Mum & Dad in Napier, and hit the road. We're heading south this time, at a snail's pace. Heading south, back to the South Island for some more adventures but doing a little beach hopping along the east coast on the way. 

So here's the last of the Central Otago blogs from our day trip around the Ida Valley, and funnily enough, this was the one I really wanted to tell you about because we found an extraordinary sight at the end of the day (and at the end of a road).

After a delightful afternoon at Hayes Engineering exploring the wonders of yesteryear we carried on north a few kilometres before stopping at the historic Gilchrist Store in Oturehua for an icecream.

The shop was closed when we drove through here last August so this time I was able to take some inside photos of the general store (after asking of course).

Many of the shelves had grocery items from the past stacked along them.

You could certainly spend a wee while reminiscing and still miss some of the displays which were tucked into all the nooks and crannies. It was actually hard to decide what was for sale and what was on display.

That's now three historic general stores we've visited in the South Island; the other two being Hodgsons of Murchison and my favourite, the Langford Store at Bainham in Golden Bay.

Our next stop was at the site of the old Golden Progress Mine where the quartz reefs of the Oturehua field were worked on and off from 1868 to 1936. The size of tailings left behind suggest that the mine was one of the bigger ones in Central Otago.

I left David in the car reading his virtual paper while I made my way up a narrow gully full of shady poplars. I scared the living daylights out of a number of sheep resting in the shade but not before the first of them nearly tripped me up as it made a dash for freedom up the hill. I would have thought they'd heard me crunching through the leaf litter, I could certainly smell that they were nearby.

A restored miners hut sits near the bottom of the gully where once there were a number of huts and a hotel, the Withers Pub. 

Across the 'lane' from the hut is the remains of the Mine Manager's house.

A track leads the way up to the head of the gully, past the tailing mounds and on to the poppet head and mine shaft.

The 14 metre high poppet head sits over the mine shaft which is 45 metres deep. This is a very rare relic, it's the only poppet head left standing in Central Otago. The poppet head supports wheels which ran steel ropes that hoisted the gold bearing ore to the surface. The metal cage sitting beneath it was used to move miners, equipment and ore up and down the shaft. The boiler powered a winch that pulled the steel cables through the wheels.

This is looking back down the gully from the tramway track where once the ore was carted in trolleys down to the battery to be crushed.

The battery, which was removed to another mine, was once supported by the concrete blocks here and powered by this second boiler. I always find these sites fascinating, reading the information boards and imagining the frenetic activity that would have been going on in this now peaceful valley.

Our next stop was along the straights at the north end of the Ida Valley, to take a photo of the Hawkdun Range. The range made famous by NZ painter Grahame Sydney. I can understand its appeal, it's a fairly uniform row of mountains that stretches like a backbone across the landscape separating Central Otago from the Waitaki District. It looks really impressive when it has a coat of solid snow om it too.

The Hawkduns are on one side of the road and the old Blackstone Hill (aka Hills Creek) School, is set back off the road and tucked into some pines, on the other side. The school which was built in the 1890s and closed in 1949, looks to be fighting for survival. This is one of the few remaining buildings in Hills Creek left over from the gold mining era when there were also 13 hotels operating in the township during its heyday. 

We take the loop road off SH85, there a couple more stops I want to 're-do', we're heading for the hills...

...back to St Bathans and the Blue Lake. I want to see if the scenery and lighting are any different to my last photo shoot of the lake back in early August last year. There's a slight ripple and the sky is just as moody as on our last visit. I'm happy with the first visit shots but I take a couple of quick shots for old times sake...

...and we carry on down the road leaving St Bathans behind. The sun has lit up these 'Badlands' cliffs that border a wide gravelly river bed. They remind me of the Clay Cliffs at Omarama but are not on such a grand scale and also look like the Cathedral Cliffs at Gore Bay in North Canterbury.

We take one last detour (can you hear David protesting?). It's just a short dead-end road to the tiny settlement of Cambrian, the 'Village of Trees'. We've visited it before, it's a quirky & creative little settlement (Grahame Sydney lived there- there's that name again) but I wanted to see if there was anything new now that it's a different season. 

I spotted these old cars in a shed at the end of the road so I take a photo while David is turning the ute around. I hear someone calling out and down the road comes a wily old 'hippy' guy followed by two well toned younger guys who I find out are Woofers. They've been doing some planting and clearing down the road. The old hippy (and he is, he tells me) says he's got something that might be of interest to me seen as I'm taking photos.  

He leads me across a grassy woodland area, around a corner and over a small bridge which crosses a tiny stream and there stretching off into the distant is the most amazing sight...

...a mass of mauve; thousands of false autumn crocuses, aka meadow saffron.

My hippy man proudly tells me I'm the first person to take photos of his flowers this season, they've only come out en-masse in the last couple of days. He also tells me not to tell too many people, he doesn't want his peaceful little village overrun with tourists! So don't go telling him I sent you there. 

Hippie guy has been a very busy man now that he has put down his roots, there's a few hectares he owns at the end of the road and he's converting them all to woodland gardens, and visitors are free to wander. He's planted crocuses everywhere, right up the road edges, in another forested area where on our last visit there were masses of bluebells. 

He tells me he decided the bluebells had to go and he's replaced them all with the crocuses. They do make an amazing display but it seems such a shame that they only last for a short while- a fleeting moment in time. If you are in the area mid to late March do check out this stunning display. And once again we're thrilled to find a hidden gem while out exploring.

As we walk back to the road, I stop to take a photo of the old stone cottage where the Woofers are staying. It's just as well I only had eyes for the cottage because David alerted me to the fact that I might be taking a photo of the stark-naked Woofers who are standing under their outside shower right beside the cottage! And no I didn't mange to get them in the shot....sorry ladies. 

The Complete Ida Valley Loop


  1. This just reinforces what a great area Central is, we simply must get down their.
    Thanks again ...full of the good stuff!

    1. You're welcome Jimu, it's our favourite area. Now I must catch up on the other back blogs, try to tempt (or confuse) you some more :)

  2. How lucky are you being in the right place at the right time(again)to capture those flowers? I would love to see them.

    1. Mark it in your diary Katrina, autumn in Central :)


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