Tuesday 14 February 2017

Piano Flat- Beyond the Bridge


Another quick blog post before we head off into the back-of-beyond for another week or so where there'll be no internet. In my last post I said we were about to pull out of Piano Flat that morning. In fact it was such a lovely sunny day we decided to stay on for another 24hrs. Why travel on such a gorgeous day, something we've had very few of this summer.

We're now staying at another 'flat'; first it was Cattle Flat, then Piano Flat, and now we're at Millers Flat in Central Otago, at the local campground so we could do all the laundry and stock up with supplies from Roxburgh before heading off tomorrow morning to one of our 'must visit again' places. But you'll have to wait to find out where that is!

Piano Flat Road ends and Whitecoomb Road begins at the little white bridge near our campsite.

Whitecoomb Road carries on winding and gradually climbing through a narrow tunnel of bush for another 12kms up the Waikaia River valley before it too runs out and becomes a 4WD track that climbs up onto a plateau and across Old Man Range, eventually dropping down and exiting near Fruitlands in Central Otago, just up the road from Roxburgh.

The only open area of the road is at Whitecoomb Creek where the recent flash flood has swept through causing quite a bit of damage to the bridge abutments and the surrounding creek banks. The creek obviously still yields a bit of gold as there are several mining permits nailed to surrounding trees and the bridge. There's also a rough camp of tents and shelters nearby. 

Just after crossing the bridge, we come up behind a digger slowly making it's way up the road, we still have another 5-6 kms to travel to the end of the road and we wonder where he's heading to. He's obviously been through this part of the road already, as the sides have been cleared and the road is smooth and a little wider. After a kilometre or so, the driver finally finds a place to pull over and let us pass, it'll not be the last we see of him today.

Eventually we reach the end of Whitecoomb Road. We've been gradually climbing up out of the bush and we can now see the top of the range ahead of us.

We know it's the end of the road because of the steel gates and warning signs. The gates are locked over winter due to the remoteness of the area and sub-alpine conditions up on the plateau. It's up on the range that a group of thirty eight 4WD enthusiasts got caught out in blizzard conditions last year, and spent 24hours stuck in thick snow waiting to be rescued. 

We decide to take the left hand track first (called Canton Road), it heads back down to the river valley and to a bridge I can see on our map. There's a bit of a knarly ford to cross, David has to remove our towbar tongue so we don't scrape  on the rocks on the way out.

The track then drops sharply down through a couple of bends...

...before the Canton Bridge comes into view below us. The bridge was used during the early gold mining era and Canton Road, which continues up the other side, took miners to the settlement of Potters.

Now the land is part of the largest privately owned farm station (65,000 hectares) in New Zealand, Glenaray Station.

There's a locked gate at the far end of the bridge so we can go no further. Later in the week, after our drive up the valley, a motorhome forum friend (hi Glen) called in to say hello, he was part of a 4WD group that had the key to the gate and permission to drive over the station. They were heading up to Blue Lake (see pin on map below) to explore.

The Waikaia River looks pretty benign here...

...but not far around the bend the water flows through a long narrow gorge with grade 5 rapids and waterfalls. 

Looking upriver the water is so still it hardly looks like it's flowing, its crystal clear and a beautiful emerald green. It would be great to explore by kayak through the cool interior under those trees.

I walk back up the track leaving David cleaning the windows on the ute! 

We drive back up to the gate and take the other 4WD track that rises sharply up the range, we'll go as far as we feel comfortable with, we can't afford to get stuck or damage the ute- it tows our home! The digger has been through this section recently too, and the track is smooth and wide and easy going for a few hundred metres. We pass a parked SUV (bottom centre of the photo) with no one in sight, and we wonder where on earth the people could have gone. Perhaps they are bird watching or hunting in the bush, maybe they've run out of petrol.

Across the valley to the right you can see Canton Road(track) winding it way up the hill from the bridge below (click to enlarge)

Not far past the vehicle the road takes a major turn for the worse and becomes rutted with deep wash outs scouring through the centre of the track. We stop at the next bend where we can safely turn around. We'll not go any further today we decide, but then we both want to see around the next bend 'just in case' it comes right. 

This is the view back down the Waikaia River Valley looking towards Piano Flat 12kms away.


I walk up the track and around a couple of corners to see how far from the top we are and if the track gets a little easier for our 'shiny'. More danger signs greet me...

...and the road carries on for some distance and I still can't see the top of the range. I make an executive decision and decide we'll definitely turn around. 

I take a panoramic shot of the valley before returning to the ute (click to enlarge & use your back arrow to return to the blog).

And we head back down the track, meeting the digger again, making his way up towards us. We pull over at the only available area to let him pass and David gets out to talk to him (he's the only person we see all day). We find out that it's his vehicle parked on the side of the road further up, a work mate has dropped it off there as that's as far as he'd got in the digger sorting the road out. He'd taken the digger back down the road to Whitecoomb Creek for the long weekend, out of the way, in case there were any idiots looking for a joyride.

He tells us that he's slowly making his way up and over the top and across the range, all the way to the other side and it'll take about 2 weeks. He's sorting the track out- and the many bogs across the top. I wonder what he does with the bogs- digs them deeper? He told us he was called up there the other day to pull a Toyota (he says in disgust) out, the driver had gone around a bog instead of through it. Through it and it's a rock base for good grip.   

Apparently Whitecoomb Road will also be gravelled in the next few weeks. Any more work and it'll become a State Highway! We decide we'll check the road out from the other end, when we're over that side, see how far we can get from that end after the track has been cleaned up a little.

We stop back down at the creek for a late lunch and David clears these small waterfalls of debris for me (what a good husband he is) so I can do a slow shutter (1/15) shot of them. Problem is I've left my tripod behind and a filter that would help me, so this is the best I can do hand held. Not too bad though.

The grasses that surround the creek still have the night's rainfall sitting on the flower spikes...

...the droplets of water twinkle and sparkle rainbow colours at us as the sun passes through the clouds overhead. Nature's beauty shines through in the most common of things.  


  1. Very beautiful! You have ultra steady hands ;)

  2. A few years (12, where has life gone?) now we did the Whitecoomb Rd from Fruitlands to Piano Flat. A true adventure with beautiful scenery. Tranquil but very isolated. 4x4 tracks were very challenging in places. Your photos have captured everything that I felt while traveling this area. Thank you for sharing. Another great blog to read about :)

    1. Time flies when you're having fun! :) We love exploring the tops of the ranges in Central, we're hoping to do the track from Fruitlands back towards Piano Flat next month. By then the digger will have been all the way through and the bogs may have dried out a bit more. Either way we'll go as far as possible without getting stuck. Thanks for your comments.

  3. i do river gold dredging around the area of the canton bridge ooohhhboy this place is a site to see full of advanture and i get a kick out of it


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