Sunday, 26 January 2020

A Seriously Long Road Trip

Catch-up (Mid September, 2019)

While we were staying with our Southland family in Winton during September, I had the bright idea of doing a road trip to photograph the 'blossoms' in the fruit orchards of Central Otago. Never mind that it would be a 400km round trip and I was going by myself, it's no hardship at all as I love driving and I love being able to stop and take photos where and when I like. Not that David doesn't stop for me, but with the rig on the back it's often not possible or practical.

I left Winton at 7am in the cold pre-dawn light and enjoyed the quiet roads as I headed north passing through Dipton, Lumsden, Athol and Garston before making my first stop just north of Garston at my favourite woolshed...

...just as the sun reached over the nearby hills dispersing the fog that had settled in the valleys overnight.

Then it was on past Kingston around the edge Lake Whakatipu and up the 'Devils Staircase'; a winding cliff hugging road that is often bumper to bumper traffic with tour buses and tourist vehicles on the way to or coming back from Milford Sound (a 600km, 10hr round trip from Queenstown, and not one that should be undertaken lightly).

I drive through Frankton and head into the Kawarau Gorge. My next stop is at the historic 1880 Kawarau Suspension Bridge, the birth place of AJ Hackett's commercial bungy jumping. I stay long enough to watch a couple of jumpers; one extremely keen to do it, screaming and laughing with delight from the moment she stepped onto the platform, the other screaming and crying with fear!

Next stop in the gorge is at the Roaring Meg power station lookout. The Roaring Meg Stream tumbles down from the mountains above passing through two small power stations before exiting into the Kawarau River.

And the last stop in the gorge is at another favourite spot, a gravel pit that's a good stand-in for a lookout up the gorge.

And here's a comparison shot; I took this photo just a month later when spring was well on the way to turning the gorge a brilliant green.

My make-do lookout is just across the river from the replica Chinese village at Gees Flat, part of the Gold Fields Mining Centre. Sluiced terraces, tailing piles and the remains of huts can still be seen along the nearby steep edges of the gorge.

Once out the otherside of the gorge I'm approaching my blossom destination, Cromwell, 200km from home.  But after all that, there are not too many fruit trees in blossom in the orchards along the main highway, they have either finished flowering or the blooms are past their best. 

I can see several orchards smothered in pink blossoms away from the road but have no way of reaching them. Eventually I find a few trees and take some photos. I decide to carry on to Alexandra, 30kms away, another big fruit growing area in Central.

I grab a coffee & muffin from my favourite cafe in Cromwell, Fusee Rouge, and drive around to the Old Cromwell Town Lookout, above the confluence of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers, to have them.

Then it's off through the Cromwell gorge towards Clyde...

...but not before I stop to check out the memorial plaque to the miners who first discovered gold here in the 1886 Dunstan gold rush.

I continue on to Clyde where I cross the Clutha River below the Clyde Dam bypassing Alexandra town centre because I know there are plenty of orchards along Earnscleugh Road on the opposite side of the river to town.

And I do find a few orchards in flower but I'm strangely not inspired, it's now the middle of the day and the light is harsh and I fail to get creative. Again I take a few shots and carry on my merry way east, I have plan...

I take a side road through Conroys Gully, it comes out at Butchers Dam on the highway heading east. I pass- what I think is a pear orchard in full blossom- just below a snow capped Old Man Range.

I stop at an unusually quiet Butchers Dam, there are no motorhomes or campervans at any of the freedom camping areas around the dam; it's just me and a few shags drying out on the nearby rocks on this chilly, blue sky, late winter's day.

Next stop is the old cob cottage at Fruitlands where some nosy cattle keep an eye on me from the paddock behind. Perhaps they think I have food for them. Much of the livestock in Southland and Otago is strip-fed over winter which means that after they have eaten the crop back to bare earth they have nothing to forage on while waiting for the next crop strip to be opened up or hay or silage to be delivered.

There are the remains of several other cob buildings nearby, this one looks quite substantial, it could have possibly been a homestead or a hotel.

I've decided to try the Roxburgh orchards for blossom. I'm driving further east and I know rather than retracing my steps, I can do a loop and head back to Winton by turning off at Ettrick, heading over the top of the hills past Heriot to Tapanui on to Gore and then across to Winton. 

Roxburgh has many roadside stalls which sell freshly picked fruit during the summer season, most are closed up as I pass by. Still more have disappeared altogether and others have been left to the elements while climbing creepers look to have swallowed a few too. 

There are a few orchards in blossom and this time they are more accessible...

...although once again the majority of them are white. The pink blossoms I do find are spent, pink must flower earlier than the white.

The afternoon is marching on but I do a quick calculation on distance & time and decide I'm going to carry on to Lawrence, 60kms further east from Roxburgh. There's another attraction that I'm aware of, it's only open for five weekends during spring and this just happens to be one of those weekends. But I do need to hurry along as the place I intend to visit closes at 4pm. 

The historic Hart's Black Horse Brewery at Weatherston, just outside Lawrence, is not only well known for it's ruins...'s also famous for the hundreds of thousands of daffodils that are planted over the nearby hillsides.

The daffodils were first planted in 1895 and it was thought that over 1 million bulbs were planted during the first few years, covering 10-15 acres of hillside behind the brewery. No expense was spared and  prices as high as £100 were paid for single bulbs from the Netherlands. Incredible when the average wage was only around £5.

People came from far & wide to see the daffodils when they were in bloom, the flowers were also picked by school children & sold for charity. In 1912 the first train excursions from Dunedin came; 2 trains of 13 carriages each organised by the Dunedin Horticultural Society.

More recently a charitable trust was formed with the aim of preserving and developing the site, which had fallen into disuse and disrepair. In 2005 the daffodil fields were once again opened up to public display, the first time in 50 years. After losing momentum the Trust was reformed in 2016 and with support and help from the people of Lawrence, the daffodil gardens were once again open for the public to view in 2017. 

The landowner prefers that the flowers aren't picked which in a way is a shame because I'm sure the money earnt from this would help in preserving the site, there is a $5 entry fee which goes to charity. 

I was pleased to have made the effort to visit, it had been on my 'must do, one day' list ever since we visited the brewery site in the middle of winter a few years ago and learnt of the daffodils. 

For those NZMCA members reading this, the property below the daffodil slopes is Paul & Glenice Kirkwood's Weatherston POP#8890, a delightful setting in the countryside and not too far from Lawrence & Gabriels Gully.

And that was it for me for the day, it was time to head home and with no dilly-dallying if I was to get there before dark. I drove 25kms back up the road to Raes Junction, turned left and headed south west towards Gore and then on to Winton arriving just as the sun dropped below the horizon. My 400km return trip to Cromwell ended up being a 500km round trip through Southland, Central Otago and Otago.

One last stop near Tapanui to photograph some little cuties


  1. A big day Shellie. But isn't it great driving these lower south island roads. Murray.

    1. It sure was Murray..... a big day & great driving! :)


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