Monday, 12 June 2017

Four Camps, Two Walks


Originally we planned to stay on in Winton (Southland) for 2-3 weeks but we were having such a lovely time with the family that it ended up being nearly 6 weeks before we pulled out from our cosy corner at the end of the driveway (we heard that the grandkids couldn't get over the size of their yard when they came home from school later in the day). You know you've spent a little too much time in one place when autumn comes and goes. By the time we said our goodbyes, the copper beech had lost all it's leaves.

We decided to ease back into our travels driving a short distance each day as we make our way up the South Island. David's having a few back issues and we need to be in Christchurch towards the end of the month so he can fly to Tauranga to see a specialist. We're hoping it's nothing too serious but want to keep on top of it because, as you can imagine, without a driver we ain't going nowhere fast!

Camp #1 Lumsden NZMCA Park- where nobody loved us, we had the whole park to ourselves on a cold and dreary day that matched our mood. We were missing the family and it always takes a few days to settle back into routine.

Camp #2 On the banks of the Mataura River near Garston. We've visited this hidden gem a number of times to have lunch or to fish but have never stayed overnight. It's a pity it's not the fishing season, and the trout know it too. They kept swimming up and down taunting us.

We had the pleasure of meeting the fifth generation farmer who has his farm on both sides of the river and the main road in the Garston valley. He was shifting a mob of sheep across his vintage 'bailey bridge' with five of his dogs, including Paddy 'the king of the castle'.

As you can see the weather hadn't improved by the next morning as we headed off towards Queenstown. Winter is well and truly underway down south.

Camp #3 Lake Hayes, Queenstown- another familiar reserve, this time we decided to test out the ambiguous freedom camping rules at the lake. On previous stop-overs we've had to park in a small area between the camping signs, but with one sign missing and anecdotal evidence that as long as you are CSC (certified self-contained) you can park anywhere in the reserve at the moment, we gave it a go. 

We found a spot under the willows near the lake's edge. If a ranger came by early in the morning (as had been the case in the past), I didn't see him. And we've yet to receive our recent mail, so if a ticket has been issued the fine may be growing in size as we speak.

Walk #1 Lake Hayes Walkway. For various reasons we had never walked the 7.5km loop walk around the lake even though we've visited the lake several times. I was looking forward to doing it when the autumn colours were at their best back in April, but it was raining when we stopped for lunch before heading to our next destination. 

The track climbs a short distance before winding its way around the side of a large hill that borders the west side of the lake. Ahead of us The Remarkables hide their heads in the low cloud.

And even though the weather still wasn't the best, it was a good time to complete the walk; the lake was a millpond and the reflections magnificent. That's an Australian Coot at the top right, they are usually quite shy but the ones at Lake Hayes are used to people.

We both couldn't get over how many abandoned, disintegrating and rotting dinghies, yachts, canoes, kayaks and sail boards there were, stashed right around the lake's edge. They were hidden under fallen trees, buried in the undergrowth, covered in mould and leaf litter and filled with water. It's such a shame, I'm sure there would be many schools or clubs that would love to have them. I don't understand why the council hasn't done anything about having them removed, many of them are an eyesore.

This dinghy was one of the better ones it also made a good subject, especially with the reflections behind.

Camp #4 Lowburn, Lake Dunstan, Cromwell- I want to say an old favourite but it's not actually a favourite just a very familiar camp site. We seem to stay here on the way to somewhere else or on the way back. This time we had the place to ourselves which is very unusual as it's a huge site and usually very popular. Another 3-4 motorhomes joined us later in the evening but they all stayed up the back. It also happened to be the long Queens Birthday weekend so we stayed a couple of days and expected to see a few more people but they didn't eventuate. They'd probably headed off to warmer climes. 

Finally we had some blue sky and I shot some lovely reflections of boat harbour at the south end of the park.

Walk #2 Bannockburn Sluicings Walk- a 3.5km loop walk we avoid no more! The last time we thought we'd do the walk it was the middle of a hot Central Otago summer. A barren dry landscape on a scorcher of a day does not hold much appeal I can tell you. We read the information board and slotted the walk in the 'must do sometime' folder and headed home for a cool drink in the shade!

The track loops through the former Bannockburn gold field which was sluiced and mined from 1862 into the 1930's. We walked the track anti-clockwise which saved us a bit of a climb in the other direction. Here the sluiced landscape mirrors the natural one of the range in the background.

The track winds its way through the sluicings past the remains of dams, water races, tunnels, stone walls and channels. There are also the remains of a few stone houses including the Blacksmith's shop, and caves and rock shelters where some of the poorest miners lived. 

Menzies Dam (bottom left)  was the largest miner's dam in Otago, the stone walls were at least 2 metres high on three sides of the dam holding water in an area the size of a rugby field. The dam was fed by elaborate stone water races from Long Gully and the Carrick Range up behind us. You'll recall the water race we saw multiple times as we drove the Carricktown 4WD Track and saw the Young Australian Waterwheel.  The dam provided 'liquid gold' for its owners, the water was sold at £4 per week for a 'head' of water, equivalent to 28.3litres (or one foot) per second. Gold sold for £3.15s per ounce in 1872 so it was a considerable out-going expense especially if you had a bad week mining.

The track winds it way through the middle of the sluicings and up onto a small plateau to the remnants of Stewart Town which is behind the dam, and named after one of the dam owners. Here there are the remains of several old stone and rammed earth buildings dating from the 1860s and a very old orchard of apricots & pears that still produce fruit. 

The track then follows the cliff edge back towards the starting point. We've walked right around the outside of this huge chasm. Piles of tailings sit in great mounds along the base of the cliffs. Another walking/mountainbike track  passes straight up the centre of the valley. 

You'll most likely not see it, but if you click on the photo to enlarge, there's a tiny black dot on the path, a person walking uphill. That'll give you an idea of how vast the expanse is. It's also a long way down to the bottom of the cliffs and quite scary to be on the edge- watch children if they're with you on this walk.

Towering cliff faces are all that is left of the hills that have been sluiced away to find the precious gold. Some of the pinnacles we pass were left by miners to mark the corners of their claims and give an indication of how much of the area the miners had sluiced.

Once off the plateau the track passes through this smaller canyon past caves and piles of tailings. Can you see David reading the sign in the top photo below? That also gives you some idea of how much earth has been moved and how the landscape has been changed.

Back in the carpark we can see the bare vineyards of Bannockburn below us, here looking towards the Kawarau Gorge. A new liquid gold. Such is Central Otago.


  1. I love the changing faces of the vineyards.

    1. Yes, it would have been nice to catch this shot in the autumn too.


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