Saturday 28 September 2019

Blue Lake Circuit Track- St Bathans


Before we left St Bathans I walked the 5km circuit track around the Blue Lake. On previous visits, due either to dreary weather or searing hot temperatures, we've only walked the 2km loop track through the sluicings on the southern side of the man-made lake.

This time it was neither too hot, nor raining or the lake blanketed in fog. In fact it was a beautiful blue sky winter’s day though it was still bitterly cold. The fog that we woke up to quickly retreated; you can see it still in the valley below the St Bathans Range in the photo above.

David came with me on the Sluicing Loop Walk, which aside from the fabulous reflections…

…has a interesting landscape steeped in early Central Otago history. Remnants from the gold mining operations that converted the 120 metre high Kildare Hill into a 68 metre deep lake are still visible… 

…and in some places we might as well be on the moon; other than a few reeds growing in murky pools of water, the barren earth is largely devoid of vegetation.

Dozens of rabbits have also made this arid landscape home- perhaps the greywacke gravel is easy to burrow into- they scatter over rocky ledges and drop from high cliffs as we make our way to the end of the lake. 

There’s not a breath of wind at this end of the lake either...

...and the still dark water provides perfect reflections.

We cross one last wet area where the water flows on a natural course across the solid rock base towards the lake. David heads back on the loop path to the carpark… 

… and I follow a track through gaps and up and over a number of excavation piles, slowly climbing as I  follow the DOC marker poles which are sparsely placed.  I have to stop often to scan the horizon and scrub to locate the next pole. There are also numerous sheep tracks that weave in and around the sluicing piles that can side track you (literally) if you're not paying attention (read taking photos & not watching where you're going).

There are several narrow & boggy waterways to cross, overgrown scrub to tug at your clothing and many mounds of earth to scramble over. Plus a few felled wildling pines to clamber over. But eventually the way is clear and the view over the lake opens up.

This isolated pillar of rock looks out of place high up here above the lake, perhaps it was left there as a sentinel overlooking the ‘glory hole’.

As I follow the track higher, the bottom section of the lake disappears from view for a time so I zoom in on the top end of the lake and the tiny village of St Bathans. 

Part of the boardwalk and path we’ve just walked are the bottom right of the photo. In the village from right to left you can see the church, a new cottage being built and my favourite two storeyed Post Office. What I haven’t seen before is the cottage high up on a knoll at the far end with fabulous views overlooking the lake. And if you look carefully you can see our ute parked in the carpark, centre left above the cliffs (don’t forget to click on the photo to enlarge).

Finally I reach the top of this part of the climb, the track levels out and heads towards the the cliffs above the lake. Here’s a view of the Blue Lake that not too many people will have seen, a totally different perspective of the lake and quite an odd shape now that its all in view. From this vantage point not only can you see the village to the left but the Manuherikia Valley and Dunstan Mountains stretching away into the distance on the right.

And if you look carefully you’ll be able to see our fifth-wheeler ‘Out There’ parked up in the St Bathans DOC camp.

This one might make it easier to see, dead centre between the large pine trees.

The marker poles are a lot closer together up along the top of the cliffs...

…perhaps it’s to make sure you keep to the track, there are steep cliffs and a couple of large scree slopes including this one which I carefully negotiated; it’s very easy to get distracted by the views.

A helpful information panel indicates where the buildings were located in the early days of the gold mining.

Over two thousand people once lived in and around St Bathans, I think the permanent population is about ten now.

The red berries of a hawthorn bush add a splash of colour to the overgrown tangle of matagouri, gorse and rosehip bushes that grow on the slopes and in the gullies above the cliffs. 

Can you see our ute in the carpark above the cliffs? Just in front of the toilet block. I think David might just have taken himself off to the pub for a drink and a chat.

Towards the end of the lake, the track heads away from the cliffs into a deep gully where there's another very boggy waterway to cross before it heads back out to the cliff edge. The seeping water is just a trickle over the edge today but it has sometime, or several times in the past gouged a great part of the cliff away. There's also the remains of a stone cottage and mining pipes nearby.

I weave my way through the last section of track which is overgrown and looks to have been attacked by a local wild pig population and then break out into the open again and find myself at the top of the lake (and looking directly into the sun).

There's a strategically placed bench seat and another information board, but I have no time to rest as I can see David driving up to the end of the track which finishes nearby. 

So that's it from St Bathans; I think I've now covered every inch and seen it in every season. And yet it still has that pull appeal....maybe I need to see it in autumn again, just one more time...

I couldn't mark the track around the lake other than place orange markers but at least you get the general idea of where it went.


  1. Have really enjoyed your St Bathans posts. It is a darling wee town, and the blue lake, incredible. We can only begin to imagine what it must have been like in its hay day! So much history abounds. Did you see Cambrians?, its nearby, I was lucky enough to happen there early one spring.... Ive never seen so many daffs.... stunning. Ive always wanted to revisit but so far that hasnt happened. Cheers, Rona.

    1. Hi Rona, glad you enjoyed the blogs. Yes, we always pop into Cambrians whenever we're in the area. We usually managed to say hello to the eccentric old hippy gent at the end of the road, once he took me to see his newly flowering crocuses, he was very proud of them after pulling out all his blue bells. Here's the blog I did on the crocuses & Cambrian-
      And here's an earlier one-

  2. Thanks Shellie, another great post. When we visited only stayed for couple of hours and didn't do much of the walk - next time - it's on my ever increasing list.

    1. Pleased you enjoyed it Gill, just make sure you time the weather right otherwise you might need your gumboots! :)


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