Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 September 2010

Central Otago: The Crown Range

The drive from Arrowtown to Wanaka can be striking but mundane via the safe main roads or even more striking and really exciting (but still safe these days) over this, the Crown Range. From Arrowtown (or Queenstown) you cross the Arrow River bridge and immediately turn left to wind up, via a series of hairpin bends, the steep face that overlooks the Arrowtown basin. Once you get to the top you pause to admire the superb view and then start a gradual descent  to Wanaka, passing the old hotel at Cardrona (now flossied up for the tourists) and the access to the Cardrona ski-field.

The real glory of this trip lies in its wonderful hills which, like those at the Lindis Pass, look as if they're covered in a pilled greeny-yellowy blanket, soft and cuddly. The road (see bottom right of the picture) is an intrusion; one almost feels that the hills should have been left alone.

Imagine all of this greeness changed to pristine white in the ski-ing season. That's what the Crown Range looks like in winter: glorious but often impassable by road.


22 September 2010

Bruce Bay, Westland. A Picnic Stop with a Romantic Past.

The Tasman Sea rolls up the dark grey sands of Bruce Bay, relentlessly throwing back on to its beach dismembered remains of the trees that wash out of Westland’s rivers flood after flood. These days turmoil is only from the sea but there was a time when Bruce Bay was a scene of frantic ant-like activity as hundreds of gold-seekers hungrily sought the yellow metal; they were mostly condemned to disappointment.

By 1866 Albert Hunt, a successful West Coast prospector, had developed a ‘bubble reputation’ that made him into a will-o’-the-wisp figure; he was watched carefully and wherever he went an army of gold-seekers followed. Thus it was that when he started to fossick in these areas the local population burgeoned overnight to 2000 leading to the rapid establishment of a flimsy township at Bruce Bay: stores, booze outlets, pubs and the inevitable wild west bordello.

In fact, Hunt had made modest finds, but the miners didn’t believe him, nastiness broke out leading to riots and murderous threats from besieged shopkeepers. Hunt, meanwhile, took to his heels for safety’s sake and in no more than three weeks the Bruce Bay rush had fizzled out.

It’s hard to imagine such a frantic past when you stop at the bay on State Highway 6 south of Fox Glacier. There’s no gold to be picked up but all over the littered beach are beautiful quartz stones, some football-sized, white as bleached bones and smoothly abraded by the action of rivers and sea. Some old guide books suggest that they make good paper weights, and they do, but these days one is conscious of the suggestion that visitors ‘leave only footprints and take only pictures’.

This picture is at the northern end of Bruce Bay with Jacobs Bluff and Makawhio Point in the distance. The bluffs, bays and river mouths would have been familiar to the old gold miners for the beach was their highway. It’s good as a short stop for reflection and picnic but the sandflies will want to join you!



14 September 2010

Canterbury Earthquake: Terrace Station, Hororata

This is my watercolour from ‘New Zealand House and Cottage” of  Terrace Station, Hororata. It has been in the Hall family since 1862 when it was bought by John and Rose Hall. John, later knighted, became prime minister of New Zealand from 1879 to 1852.

His descendent, Godfrey Hall and his wife, Peggy became friends of ours in the 1960s and we often visited them at Terrace Station. It is now occupied by his daughter Kate Foster and her husband Richard.

I telephoned Kate just after the Canterbury earthquake to see if there had been any damage. I was horrified to hear that of the house’s seven chimneys, six had tumbled; there was much more damage but it was too early to assess its full extent and Richard and Kate were clearly in the middle of trying to sort themselves out, so I left her in peace – well, from me, anyway. But not before she’d told me that the church Sir John had founded, St. John’s. Hororata, had lost half its stone tower which had fallen through the west end of the nave.

Terrace Station homestead will survive but it’s a sobering thought that nothing is for certain – the house withstood nearly 160 years before Nature took its price.



12 September 2010

Canterbury Earthquake: Heathcote’s Valley Inn Destroyed.

This watercolour of mine accompanied my post (search ‘Valley Inn Heathcote’) when I blog-published my book ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’

In 1877 the Valley Inn, with its trapeziform rooms and not a right-angle anywhere, became a licensed hotel. 133 years later, on 4 September 2010, it was so ravaged by the Canterbury Earthquake that it had to be destroyed.

These photographs were sent to me by Paul Corliss, author of ‘In The Shadow of the Rock’, a history of the Heathcote Valley. The ‘rock’ is Castle Rock which stands above the valley (see left of picture below). It was split asunder by the earthquake, sending house-sized boulders tumbling. Miraculously, nobody was hurt.



09 September 2010

Mitchells Cottage, Fruitlands, Central Otago

Completed in 1904, Mitchells’ Cottage at Fruitlands, above the winding highway from Alexandra to Roxburgh, is an outstanding example of the drystone mason’s craft. It was built with painstaking skill, each stone carefully considered and cut so precisely that no mortar was used or needed. It was made by men who knew of no other way to work – no short cuts, no shoddiness – simply the best.

From the Shetland Islands by way of the Australian goldfields Andrew Mitchell arrived in New Zealand in 1866, followed by his brother John in 1872. They worked around the Otago goldfields until, in the 1880s, Andrew discovered a quartz reef on the hills of the Old Man Range above the Clutha Valley. Unlike most gold mining ventures it prospered over a long period and John and Andrew, using skills they’d learned from their father, started to build the cottage below the mine.

John and his wife Jessie brought up ten children in Mitchells’ Cottage (while Andrew lived nearby, alternating between a small stone cottage close to the mine shaft and a smaller iron hut next to John and Jessies’) and although the mine was sold in 1890 and John died in 1922, the cottage stayed in Jessie’s ownership until 1929. It is now in the care of the Department of Conservation.



06 September 2010

Teviot Woolshed 1870

 At Teviot near Roxburgh in Central Otago these ruins come as a complete surprise because they, unlike just about any other architectural structures in New Zealand, are reminiscent of European castle remains. They look mediaeval but in fact are less than 150 years old. They are the end walls of an enormous woolshed built around 1870 that was destroyed by fire in 1924.

The Teviot run was the first rural spread applied for in Central Otago. It was taken up by John Cargill and Walter Miller. Under a later owner it had the first telephone in New Zealand which connected the farmhouse to Roxburgh post office.



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By Don Donovan