Central Otago Tours & Wildflower Walks

by John Douglas

Known today as Old Dunstan Road or The Dunstan Trail

Both the Dunedin City Council (DCC) and the Central Otago District Council (CODC) close the two high mountain sections of the Old Dunstan Road in the winter months to motor vehicles from the first Tuesday in June to 30th September. The first section is that over the Rock and Pillar Range from Sutton Stream to Paerau / Styx Valley. The second section is the road crossing Rough Ridge from Linnburn Runs Road turnoff onto the Old Dunstan Road to the Poolburn Reservoir.

For the miners of the 1862/ 1863 summer, going into the Otago interior to the Dunstan gold rush, the first route - the Main Road, from Dunedin to the Dunstan, (today Clyde), was to travel a track that these early miners named it “The Mountain Road” This first part of the road runs by West Taieri (Outram), over the foothills of the Maungatua Range to Campbell Thompson's Station (today Rocklands Station) at Deep Stream. From here a steep climb commenced over the Rock and Pillar Range passing right close to “The Great Moss Swamp” with the Lammermoor Range behind. After reaching a height of over 1,000m, came a steep descent down to the Taieri River next to the Styx Creek mouth crossing (Paerau).
For nearly the first year, these first miners and supply wagons continued on pass Valpy's Station near Patearoa to Murisons Puketoi Station and followed Shennans track over Rough Ridge to Ida Valley Station. Later after gold was found on the upper Serpentine flat in June 1863, the main road to The Dunstan from Styx soon went pass Black Ball hotel (now long gone with Serpentine Road off on the left (a 10-mile / 18km dray track to the Serpentine settlement) while the main road continued on over Rough Ridge down through the Poolburn catchment to the south end of the Ida Valley. After crossing the valley with a short climb over the last mountains, Raggedy Range - off from Webster Lane with a straight climb up the valley opposite, descending to Galloway Station on the banks of the Manuherikia River, (shifted to it present site 1865), crossing over to Moutere Station on the other side, (shifted to its present site 1873), then along today as what is known as Springvale Road. Finally after a completion of a 110-miles (175kms) journey, they arrived at “The Dunstan”, the camp at the mouth of the gorge, which was becoming known as the Dunstan Gorge. For those walking it was quite an experience, often taking 5-6 days and often in some unpleasant conditions.
The road crossed high bleak mountainous country subject to sudden storms, in which a traveller could readily perish from exposure. The Mountain Road, later the Dunstan Road, today as the Old Dunstan Road - Dunstan Trail, served as the main wagon route for only a few years, because of the harshness of the weather, long tracts of soft boggy soils crossing over the Rock and Pillar Range but still thousands of miners, the supply wagons, the gold escort and a regular coach service still used it in those early goldrush years of the early 1860s.
The second route that the early miners later used, and become the main wagon route, known today as the "Pigroot", started from Palmerston to the Maniototo Plains and onto the Dunstan. Though this was longer by 30 miles (50 km), it was an easier route, travelling over lower hills, across plains and with no major river crossings.

Today for the traveller, there are many different routes from Dunedin to go and visit the Central Otago District or onto the Queenstown Lakes District, but unfortunately though the Dunstan Road is the shortest route it has never been developed due to lack of any major settlements along the route, its mountainous nature and the costly problem of having to clear the snow which lies for long periods over winter, both on the Rock and Pillar Range and Rough Ridge. However both these mountain sections of road continue to be used today but both are still dry weather summer roads. However, most parts of the Dunstan Road have been developed and now mainly sealed. The road out of Dunedin, on State Highway 87, can be travelled as far as Clarks Junction, which is the turnoff for those travelling on over the Rock and Pillar Range while there are good weather roads in the Ida Valley and over the Crawford Hills Road to Galloway then to Alexandra (SH 85) and onto to Clyde (SH 8).

The Rock and Pillar Range Section (Approximately 34kms)
The road over the Rock and Pillar Range reaches 1041 metres and though gets a grade most summers should only be travelled from late spring through to the month of May - well most years! The climb from Rocklands from Deep Stream Bridge is a little steep at first before reaching some flat ground travelling through some well-developed pasture paddocks. Here you will find a turn-off to the Te Papanui Conservation Park Lammerlaw Range . Again this road / track is recommended for 4-WD vehicles and if you continue on, there is still no recognised exit at the Lawrence end down through the private timber forests above Lawrence.
Back now with the Old Dunstan Road, a short climb takes you onto a plateau through a tussock grassland landscape dotted with tors. Next a gentle climb takes you past the Loganburn Reservoir (earlier known as the "Great Moss Swamp"). The dam construction was completed in 1983 and first filled in 1984 as the water supply for the Maniototo Irrigation Company. Further along just at the highest point (1041m) can be seen, off on the right, a true 4-WD track that climbs through the tussock to a turnoff to McPhee's Rock. The track that continues pass the turnoff, takes you to the Rock and Pillar Conservation Reserve and summit. McPhee's Rock, was named after Mother McPhee, who in the 1860's ran an accommodation establishment down below on the Dunstan Road which was nicely situated, 'as the first overnight coach stop halfway between Dunedin and Dunstan.
A steep descent takes you down to the Upper Taieri Plains - Paerau (Serpentine Valley / Styx Valley), with a grand view looking right through to the Maniototo Plains. At the bottom alongside the Styx Creek, is the original Styx Hotel, built in 1861 which for a few years, from late 1862, was used as an overnight coach / gold escort stop. The old gaol house nearby was in fact the lock-up where the gold bullion as well as prisoners, were chained to the wall when the gold escort stopped for the night at the hotel. Their escort horses stayed in the stables close to the hotel

Meridian's Hayes Project - a proposed Wind Farm ( January 19 2012 Meridian withdrew their Lammermoor Range wind-farm application, spelling an end of a long court battle.)
Meridian's 2006 Proposal and Comments
Just to the north of the Loganburn Reservoir to the Western Scarp overlooking the Upper Taieri Scroll Plain and right close beside the Old Dunstan Road, Meridian Energy has proposed a wind power scheme - "Hayes Wind Farm". This development is for the construction of 176 wind turbines that makes it the biggest wind farm in the Southern hemisphere. Each 100m high turbine has three 60m-diameter blades and with a blade at 12 o'clock, will be at a height of 160m (as high as a 50 story building), spread over an area of 92 square km (9,200 hectares). The scheme has a potential generation of some 630MW, but then only as long as a strong wind is blowing and all 176 turbines are in service. (On average 3% of turbines can be expected to be out of service at any given time for maintenance servicing and for fault replacement reasons.)
The intermittency of the wind means that at best, energy available from wind turbines, in NZ on average, is for only some 35% of the time. At present wind energy only supplies a very small percentage of NZ energy requirement. The base load comes mainly from fossil fuel, (coal, oil or gas), the rest from hydro schemes and geothermal power stations. Worse still, some of these power stations when on line have to go off line when wind energy enters the grid but still have to be kept on standby.
This is not an efficient way to operate the demand and distribution supply of electricity to the national grid. A more efficient sustainable energy option is that of marine tidal current generation. Tidal flows are known well in advanced such that energy availability is known at all times. In New Zealand there are quite a number of wave and tidal energy projects that are at various stages of development. Four are well developed - Crest Energy Kaipara Limited, Wave Energy Technology (Lyttelton Harbour), Energy Pacifica (Tory Channel) and Neptune Power with a prototype in place off Wellington's South Coast. However there are environmental issues which could impact on the sea-bed and of marine migratory species such as whales. These and other potential impacts need to be known before we fully endorse this new technology
In comparison on the Clutha River nearby, the Clyde Dam hydro scheme can on demand, generate up to a more reliable maximum of 432MW, the Roxburgh Dam hydro scheme 320MW.
These 160m high turbines, but it would be more correct to describe these turbines as giant industrial structures in a upland / rural setting, along with 150 kilometres of construction / maintenance roads, additional power pylons, five sub stations will have a massive visual impact on both travellers and recreation visitors to the area. The rolling tussock landscape with its outcrops of schist rock and that of the skyline will significantly change when viewing the major portion of the wind farm from across the Loganburn Reservoir and a smaller number while descending to the Upper Taieri Valley (Styx-Paerau Valley). Also a large number of these massive turbines, will not only be viewed on the skyline from the Old Dunstan road from Rough Ridge but also from the Paerau Valley floor roads, Paerau / Patearoa Road and again from the opposite side of the valley from the Serpentine Road on the eastern slopes of South Rough Ridge and again at Deep Creek Road / Lake Onslow Road. As well these turbines will be seen from parts of SH 87 and on clear days even from Ranfurly.
The typical Central Otago high country landscape of schist rock - tors, with its distinctive snow tussock, these turbines will have a very significant impact and their visual invasiveness will be hard to imagine in a landscape on such a massive large scale that that the area has now been renamed to one of an “energy production landscape”. The proposed Meridian industrial development will devastate the upland landscape and the wildness experience of what the early miners felt will be lost on today's present travellers, on a road that should be protected for its historic significance to the early gold mining development of Central Otago and as well in an area of outstanding landscape of significant importance to that of Central Otago.

Time Line Of The Process; May 2006 Meridian announced three public consultation days to explain Project Hayes between July and October 2006 Meridian lodged application for resource consents with the CODC and with Otago Regional Council (ORC) 30 October 2007 CODC and ORC granted resource consents for Project Hayes The decision was appealed 6 November 2009 the Environment Court after a hearing spread over three sittings totaling 33 days, declined the consents - the Court concluded that the project did not achieve sustainable management under the Resource management Act 1991 because the substantial impacts, principally on the outstanding natural landscape, outweighed the positive factors, principally the large quality if renewable energy. Meridian appealed the Environment Court decision to the high Court "creating a new legal test for projects to overcome". August 2010 the High Court allowed Meridians appeal and sent the case back to the Environment Court The opponents of the Project filed notice to appeal the High Court decision to the Court of appeal Meridian's lawyers asked the High Court to clarify its decision in respect to CO district plan landscape categories February 2011 Meridian had yet to file evidence to the Court to set a date for the next round of Court hearings January 2012 Meridian announced it had withdrawn the application for resource consents ......... other projects now are of a higher commercial priority than Project Hayes

The Rough Ridge Section (Approximately 25kms)
This section of the road receives very little maintenance and recommended for only true 4-wheel drive vehicles to use this road, and then only from late spring to May - well most years, with long stretches of the road having very deep ruts and after rain, can have some bad boggy sections Those not wishing to travel over Rough Ridge can continue via Patearoa to Ranfurly.
After crossing the Taieri River at the Styx bridge the next short section of Dunstan Road now crosses now over private property. Instead continue on the Paerau / Patearoa Road, till a left side road turn-off takes you onto the Linnburn Runs Road and back onto the Old Dunstan Road over Rough Ridge. A gentle climb to just on 1025 metres over Rough Ridge will take you on down to the Poolburn Reservoir.

Serpentine Goldfields. (Serpentine Road / Long Valley Ridge Road)
Access to the Serpentine goldfields (South Rough Ridge) can also be made off from the Linnburn Runs Road further on to Serpentine Road (not recommended and now practically undriveable), or off from the Old Dunstan Road onto Long Valley Ridge Road before descending to the Poolburn Reservoir. Again it is highly advisable that extreme care is required as both these roads / tracks are in a considerably worse condition than the Old Dunstan Road. It is recommended that a minimum of two true 4-WD vehicles travel to visit the Serpentine Church and for the areas early gold mining history, to take a topographic map of the area, either a compass or GPS or both, as well as appropriate recovery gear.
The Poolburn Dam structure was built during the early 1930 depression years (1931) to form a reservoir for the supply of irrigation water to the Ida Valley farmers. The landscape around the dam with its rocks, tussock grasslands, water features and often snow-covered mountains in the distance, provides magnificent scenery. This is why these features appear in quite a few TV advertising features as well as a location site for "Lord of the Rings", a middle earth setting for Rohan Village. This was filmed here in 2000 / 2001. Some of the fishing huts / cribs were transformed into old medieval cottages so as to be part of the village.
From the Poolburn Reservoir the road gets easier. Once into the Ida Valley, now take a left hand turn-off onto Aston Road. Just before the road meets Moa Creek Road, the farm cottage on the right at Rapid Number 129, was once the home of Graeme Cathcart and his Clydesdale horses famous for the Speights Wagon advertising. The next right hand turn is now onto the Moa Creek Road and then the next left hand turn takes you onto the Crawford Hills Road ( This road likely replaced the original Dunstan Road over Raggedy Range further to the north, maybe as early as the late 1860s though more likely at the time a race was built for the Alexandra Bonanza Gold-dredging and Sluicing Co 1901 over Lows Saddle from their dam (weir) at Greenland Swamp (Greenland Reservoir) which today joins onto the Upper Manorburn Reservoir). At the saddle - Lows Saddle is where the Bonanza miner's race, which comes from, the Upper Manorburn Dam, crosses underneath the road to the gully down to Galloway. Today the race is now an irrigation race. The view is now looking down towards the Galloway Flats, the Lower Manuherikia Valley, on to the Dunstan Mountains, while in the distance can be seen the top of The Remarkables.

Travelling Times and Gates
The road today can be travelled in some 3 hours, but as for a scenic drive and for the experience, allow approximately 6 hours, if travelling alone, so as to allow for the various view stops on the way, opening/closing gates, a lunch stop at the Styx's, while further on at the Poolburn Reservoir a must stop for photo shots and a for the look around at some of the fishing cribs / “lodges” then onto either Alexandra, Clyde or elsewhere.
The Rock and Pillar section normally has only one gate to open and close while the Rough Ridge section has some nine gates normally to open and close as well as two shallow fords to cross. All gates are to be left as you found them.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust Road Recognition 15 October 2010 the Old Dunstan Road from Clark's Junction inland from Dunedin, to Galloway near Alexandra, was confirmed by NZHPT as a Category 1 listing. Now on NZHPT's national register ( Record number 7802) because of its outstanding heritage and historic significance. The road is one of the countries longest and oldest heritage road and has remained in its largely original state.

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 0064 3 (area code) 448 7474
email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz