Central Otago Tours & Wildflower Walks

by John Douglas

The Bendigo Goldfield is one of the best and easiest of the Otago goldfields of Central Otago to visit anytime of the year. Its location on the lower western slopes of the Dunstan Mountains lies close to Bendigo Creek, 23km north from Cromwell on SH 8 to Lindis Pass. Alluvial gold was found in the Bendigo Creek late in 1862. By 1866 with most of the easy gold gone, the field was near deserted. Meanwhile as early as 1863, Thomas Logan discovered directly above the main alluvial field, an auriferous reef. Lack of capital and partners prevented him to work the reef. In 1867 a rival quartz mining company took up a claim and commence mining on the above slopes, including Logan's area and had Logan employed as mines manager. Logan thought they were ill treating him, so he put them onto poor rock with the result the company soon ceased mining, dropped their claim which Logan promptly took up again. Maybe not quite true but still makes for a good story.

Bendigo rock mining was off to a poor start. Logan took into partnership two other miners - Garret & Hebden but it wasn't till a Cromwell businessman, George Goodger in 1868 on recognising their rock samples values and with his capital help, that they were then able to work the reef properly. Little did the partners realise that they were about to receive one of the greatest fortunes ever made in the mining history in New Zealand. So promising were their initial returns, that it soon attracted scores of prospectors back and more reefs were discovered.

The influx of miners bought in the usual following of businessmen. Little mining communities grew and small towns sprang up, first Bendigo, then Logantown and finally Welshtown. The first few years bought some success to the mining companies though it was the Logan partnership that recovered the majority of the gold. The first 10 years were the best, especially in the years 1869 to 1876 recovering some 140,000 ozs, which would then have a value a value of NZ$1,050,000. Price of gold in the 1870s was $7.50 an ounce - 3 pounds 15 shillings. Today's value (March 2013) at NZ$1,900 an ounce would be NZ$266,000,000! Increasing high costs required the partnership to be dissolved with the result a public company was formed in 1876. Though mining continued for another 30 years on and around Logan's Reef and adjoining reefs with more shafts and tunnels, the days of the good returns were gone. From 1876 to1883 some 26,000ozs of gold recovered followed by an increasing drop off of returns. Other Companies worked the other reefs but normally found only poor rock which meant that their mining operations lasted only for a period of one or two years.

Today all the mining buildings have gone along with most of the machinery. The three town settlements of Bendigo, Logantown and Welshtown remain in name only. The buildings and huts have long gone, though some stone- walls of miner's huts can still can be seen. The best ruins are found at Welshtown - calendar picture country. A walk through the Logan reef area takes you pass two of the deep shafts (now capped with reinforcing mesh), massive associated waste heaps of stone, deep reef trenches, ruins of stone buildings and grand scenic views of the Upper Clutha Valley with snow topped mountains to the west dominated by the Pisa Range.

Thomson Gorge Road - Rise & Shine Road
There are some 26 gates to open and close and three fords to negotiate - one creek and two streams
The former Vincent County Council formed the dry weather road back in 1975, which initially followed an early track over the mountain and a stock route of the early 1900s. The road is best suited for 4-wheel drive vehicles and first takes you to the north end of the reefs. Along close to the road, in the bottom of a gully, can be seen an abandoned crushing battery, the Come-In-Time battery abandoned in 1920. The battery was restored in 2006. A short walk down the gully to the battery is well worthwhile with an option of a walk into an old miners tunnel on the way down. A torch is essential for the tunnel walk. Back onto Thomson Gorge Road comes an easy climb to 900m asl, to the saddle on the Dunstan Mountains, which can be travelled over even in winter, as long as the snow has not come too low. (Higher to the south is the Mt Moka Reserve. At 1100 metres the view in summer is quite magnificent.) Once over the saddle, the road follows Thomson Creek, first passing an old shepherds stone hut (early 1900's) on your right. The drive through the gorge here has a similar feeling as being on the Skippers Road. The view down to Omakau takes in the Manuherikia Valley and the eastern mountain ranges of Central Otago. At the end of the dry weather road at the intersection, Thomson Gorge Road continues on as Racecourse Road, taking you into Omakau, SH 85. However if you want to visit Drybread Cemetery you will at the intersection need turn left onto Glassford Road while a right turn and then another right turn further along onto Naylor Road, takes you to another old mining town, Matakanui which was once earlier known as Tinkers. Well worth a visit.

Tours of Bendigo Goldfields, other Historical Goldfields of Central Otago, wild flower walks and general tours can be arranged with John Douglas of Safari Excursions

For more information email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz

John Douglas, Safari Excursions, 41 Glencarron Street 
Alexandra, Central Otago, New Zealand 
Phone 64 (int) 3 (area) 448 7474
email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz