New Zealand has an extensive history of gold mining. The principal New Zealand gold fields were Coromandel, Nelson/Marlborough, Central Otago and West Coast. DOC has as many as 1000 gold-mining sites on lands it manages, and some of these are currently used as campsites.
Grant Jacobs the author of the blog, “Code for life”, shares a recent experience he had while on a camping trip at a gold-mining era campsite. He writes*:
“[When] camping in New Zealand, small items left lying around are at risk from thieves. I was reminded of this whilst sitting on the foundation stones of what was once an old gold miner’s hut, the iron remains of the roof and perhaps chimney at my feet, reading a novel with my tent pitched on the other side of the clearing where the thief stalked.”
Tent across the clearing at an old gold mining campsite
“Some of these camping grounds are now, and probably were then, home to indigenous thieves. As I sat on the foundation of the miners hut, my back against a tree, I became aware that one such cheeky thief was prowling my tent on the other side of the little clearing.”
A weka under the outer fly of the tent looking for items to steal
“Those not familiar with weka might think that they would only steal food, but stories say that weka will steal seemingly anything portable that attracts their attention. Of the non-edible objects, lore has it that a bit like the gold miners, they prefer shiny things.”
Weka have a bit of a reputation for pilfering small objects. They will take the objects to the nearest cover to investigate them. For this reason it is best not to chase weka but to simply watch where they go and retrieve the objects a little later.
Because of its scavenging habit, the weka can be problematic for conservationists. Some subspecies are threatened, but moving them to offshore islands can disrupt other threatened wildlife species. For example, weka released onto Codfish Island, where they haven’t lived in recent times, threatened the viability of the Cook’s petrels there and had to be removed.
In the North Island, gold mining was a key part of Coromandel’s early development. Similarly, in the South Island, Otago was the centre of the gold rush in the 1800’s. Today, both Coromandel and Otago offer great family camping and sight seeing, and a golden opportunity for those who like to get off the beaten track.
We had a look at Coromandel camping on Monday. Now let’s have a look at Otago.
Bikers on the Otago central rail trail
Dropping into Central Otago from the Mackenzie Country marks a change in many respects. Apart from the colour of the rugby jersey, the colour of the land changes too. The typical schist rock begins to show itself and the sun, if it is possible, gets hotter in summer. The Lindis Pass is usually a thoroughfare to further down to Wanaka or around to Alexandra in the Cromwell Gorge.
To get some insight to the gold mining history of the Otago region, the disused Lindis Pass Hotel that dates from the late 1800s, provides an opportunity to see how isolated the Central Otago region was and how difficult it was for travellers over the pass.
Located at Nine Mile Historic Reserve, the building is undergoing restoration work as the stonemason stabilises the rock in the remnants of the hotel that sits in the middle of the campground.
Keep an eye out for the turn off because the campsite is not signposted, nor is it visible from the road. From SH8 take Old Faithful Road opposite Timburn Road and continue alongside the Lindis River until you get to the campsite. For those who persist, the rewards are worth the effort of going down the six kilometre gravel road—even for smaller camper vans. The road is part of a working farm, so be wary of other users. At the campsite there is a loo, water is from the Lindis River, and an interpretation panel that keeps the memory of the hotel alive. On a hot dry, sunny Otago day, this is a perfect place to camp. And it’s free.
If you are down in Central Otago doing the rail trail, there is a golden opportunity for side trips to historic mining sites in the region. St Bathans is an old gold mining town near the foot of the Hawkdun and Dunstan Ranges, 60 kilometres north of Alexandra, on the road to Ranfurly. Established in 1863 to service the area’s goldmines, St Bathans is a place that time has passed by and the streets are straight out of mining history. There are no facsimiles here.
Oterehua frost Otago Central Rail Trail
St Bathans was typical of a gold mining town because the first buildings were probably not intended to last very long, due to the fickle nature of gold mining. Unexpectedly, some have survived and form an eclectic mix of mud brick and timber buildings including the town hall which has been restored.
Camping is available at the St Bathans Domain campsite. It’s a basic DOC site with toilets and water from a tap. There are nine tent sites and it’s free to stay there. You can always stay in Ranfurly, or in any of the small towns like Wedderburn on the way around the Central Otago rail trail or even Naseby, another former gold mining town where DOC manages the old Post Office. The building contains much of its original fittings and equipment and is currently leased as a craft shop and information centre. A camp ground at Danseys Pass coach inn has the basics of camping on hand and sits adjacent to an old arboretum (tree collection to those who had wondered). The site provides access to Oteake Conservation Park at Buster diggings with gold mining relics like mine tailings and water races.
Getting into a Graham Sydney landscape can be as easy as a visit to Oteake Conservation Park. Over 64,000 hectares of the St Bathans, Ewe, Hawkdun, Ida and St Marys ranges form the park with outstanding landscapes including mountainous high country, rolling tussock hills, scree, wetlands and shrubs.
There is a network of huts in the park but for those driving around and looking for a less adventurous access to the park, the Homestead Campsite is a good starting point. This basic campsite has water on tap and toilets. Like many of DOC’s more obscure sites, it’s free to stay there and provides an ideal platform for exploring options for mountain biking, 4WD, fishing, and easy tramping in the nearby St Bathans and Hawkdun Ranges. From SH85, turn into the Ranfurly end of Loop Road, then into Hawkdun Runs Road and follow the road to the campsite. There are two unbridged fords to contend with but these are not an issue in summer.