Central Otago Tours & Wildflower Walks


by John Douglas

Most of the towns of Central Otago owe their existence to the early gold rushes during the early 1860 period. When a major gold discovery was made, a town very quickly developed on or very near the initial gold strike. The remaining towns, of more recent times, were established when the Otago Central Rail Line was constructed from Middlemarch over the Maniototo Plain, Ida Valley, Manuherikia Valley to Cromwell 1891 / 1917 like the rail station towns of Ranfurly and Omakau.

When a major gold discovery was made, a town very quickly developed on or very near the initial gold strike. Some of these early gold towns have now disappeared and all visible signs gone, some exist as semi-ghost towns while those that did survive, now support a local community - normally at a river crossing where a punt was first used and then later replaced by a bridge or else on a lake foreshore. Those towns that no longer exist may still have left some evidence.

The majority of the mining town's first buildings were of a wooden frame with a calico (cloth) construction. When the town grew, the buildings become more permanent - timber frames with walls and roof covered with corrugated iron sheets. Once the gold had ran out, often the buildings were dismantled and later re-erected at another new gold field strike. A few buildings were made of flat schist stone blocks with a corrugated iron covered roof. Some of these earlier buildings still remain, though in most cases just some remains of these stonewalls are all that can be seen today.

Some of the best examples of old stone ruins can be found at the Bendigo Goldfield at the northeastern side of the Dunstan Mountains at the site of Logantown and at Welshtown. The town of Bendigo has all put gone except for the ruins of the bakery, while the best example of what an old town once looked like, can be seen at the reconstruction site of Old Cromwell. The history of the Cromwell area can be found at the Cromwell Museum at the relocation Cromwell commercial site by SH 8B.

Semi-ghost towns with a relaxed rural atmosphere can be found at St Bathans, Naseby, Ophir and Matakanui. A visit to these towns provides for an opportunity of walking down history lane - many of the buildings unchanged since the mining days. At Naseby, the Watch Makers Shop is now part of the Historical Museum.

All three towns have walking brochures that greatly assist with building identification and the towns history. St Bathans has its reminder of its mining history with its Blue Lake - a 69m deep hole as a result of the deepest mining lift in the world. Naseby has its raw magnificent sluiced cliffs, but now softened by the spread of wilding pines from the Naseby Forest. Historic Ophir has a most attractive approach to the township via the Daniel O'Connell Bridge - one of the last of the four surviving suspension bridges in Central Otago and the only suspension bridge still used for every day vehicle traffic.

One town that has survived and is full of life is Arrowtown. The buildings on the main street are largely unchanged from the early mining days while a 4-WD vehicle will take you up the Arrow River track to what is left of Macetown. A spin off of tourism at Queenstown has put new life into Arrowtown. The Arrowtown museum is well worth a visit. Back up in the Shotover the mining towns of Maori Point and Skippers have long gone with just the restored Skippers School, the restored Mt Aurum Homestead and the remains of the Otago Hotel are all that is left at Skippers.

Clyde, once the centre of the Dunstan Goldfields is today just a small quite community town. The commercial sector of the town remains mainly unchanged though most of the buildings today are used for different purposes. A classic example is the renowned Oliver's Lodge. An excellent guide and plaques on the historical buildings makes it very easy for a walking tour of the town. The two-museum complex with a visit to the old Thyme Factory is well worth visiting.

Queenstown, Alexandra and Wanaka are towns that have developed, Roxburgh to a lesser extent, with Queenstown having the most of the changes. Queenstown once was the main centre of the Wakatipu Goldfield but today the main centre of a major tourism industry with its small international airport, capitalising on its scenic charm, adventure tourism and the skifields close by. Wanaka although has the same qualities as Queenstown, it has yet to have the reputation to attract the large number of overseas visitors as Queenstown has but is still doing very well. The Wanaka DOC centre is well worth a visit for both its natural and heritage displays.

Although Alexandra has changed, there is still some small evidence of the old buildings while just out of the town, the Tucker Hill Diggings and the Earnscleugh Dredge Tailings have mainly remained untouched. The new Alexandra museum complex "Central Stories" opened in 2005 is a great education value to the visitor.

Well you have heard of ghost towns but what of ghost valleys! The Nevis Valley once had two small settlements - The Crossing and the Lower Nevis settlement. Both settlements now no longer exist, leaving only a few of the old miners cottages, remains of over occupancy along with two farming homesteads that can be found scattered through both the Lower Nevis and Upper Nevis Valleys making them today ghost valleys?

Researched by John Douglas. 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