Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

03 November 2009

Owen River Tavern

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

It’s worth reflecting that in 1847-48 Thomas Brunner took 550 days to explore, with his Maori guides, the return journey from Nelson to the West Coast glaciers by way of the Buller Gorge. They suffered dreadfully and risked, among many others, the threats of drowning and exposure. They came so close to starvation that they were forced to kill and eat Brunner’s beloved dog, Rover. The explorer was enough of a detached scientist to record ‘The flesh… is very palatable, tasting something between mutton and pork . . .’

That same journey today by car on the fine, tar-sealed highway might take three or four leisurely days (or one day at pace); although Nature, hereabouts, isn’t above reminding us, by rock fall and the occasional flood, that we shouldn’t take too much for granted.

In the valley of Brunner’s Buller River, on the Nelson to Murchison road, lies Owen River, named for a small stream draining the Lookout Hills and Marino Mountains to the north. Dating to the 1880s, it was once a small town founded when rich quartz reefs were discovered in the area. Nowadays the shouts of both gold and coal miners are faint echoes of the past while the solitary tavern refreshes tourists, fishers, hunters, Buller River rafters and cave explorers, and the local farming community.

Mt. Owen, 1875m, is a pleasant prospect from the beer garden on a summer’s day, the sort of day that poor Thomas Brunner might have welcomed for drying clothes and equipment and mourning his loyal and, in the end, sacrificial Rover…


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By Don Donovan