|Subject: 2000 South Island Travelogue no. 3|
Day 4 - Alexandra, Clyde &Cromwell.
During the night we had an electrical storm with torrential rain and great
In the morning the wind and rain had subsided, leaving us with cloudy
skies and temperatures on the cool side.
We decided to have a look at the sights in Alexandra and then head off
for Clyde and Cromwell.
Like many other towns in Central Otago, Alexandra owes its origins to
the discovery of gold between Clyde and Cromwell in 1862, when thousands
of miners came to make their fortune.
Landmarks of Alexandra:
Shaky Bridge:- This bridge was once used by wagons and teams of horses.
Before it was built the only way to cross the river was by punt, a risky
venture when the river ran high. The bridge was opened in 1879 and later
sold, to two settlers living across the river, for the paltry sum of $2NZ.
The bridge soon fell into disrepair but luckily it was repaired by a specially
formed committee and now the bridge is only used by foot traffic only.
Old Courthouse:- This building, opened in 1879, played an important part
in the day to day life of the Central Otago goldfields and is one of the
oldest stone buildings in Alexandra. The courthouse can be visited and
an audio tape maybe hired which re-enacts some of the battles of the goldfields.
We then visited the Alexandra museum, which as we expected, dealt in some
depth, on the history of the goldmining and dredging. It also had details
of the transition from gold to orcharding. The 'Blossom Festival' which
is held in spring each year, with floats decked out in flowers, also came
in for a mention. The effect rabbits on our high country farming was unbelievable,
some of Central Otago looked like a desert, mainly due to the rabbit explosion.
Photographs showed this in graphic detail. The eradication programme of
these pests was also very interesting. Outside was a huge 6.7 metre water
wheel, which would have originally been at one of the gold sites. A wander
through this small museum was most enjoyable.
We went from Alexandra to the township of Clyde. We walked through the
old part of Clyde and took many pictures of the historic buildings. Of
particular interest to Rachel was the very old, single roomed Bank of
New Zealand. Rachel used to work for the bank in Christchurch.
The hotel was also worthy of our attention, with the beautiful iron work
on the second level. Along further, on the other side of the street was
the Masonic Lodge, which was pure white and the two stone pillars at the
entrance were reminiscent of columns that you see in buildings built by
At the far end of the street there are some lovely small cottages with
beautiful English type gardens surrounding them.
After some morning tea we were off to Cromwell. Cromwell is located on
a finger of land pointing out into the man-made Lake Dunstan, at what
used to be the junction of the Clutha and Kawarau rivers. A dramatic backdrop
is provided by the Dunstan, Cairnmuir and Pisa ranges, parched in the
summer, as they were at this time but still with patches of green dotted
here and there, and often covered with snow in the winter.
We went straight to the mall to pick up some brochures from the visitors
centre. It was then we noticed a small museum run by volunteers. Entrance
was by a gold coin($1 or $2) which we gladly paid. It was a wonderful
little museum and I suggest it should be the first call for anyone who
visits Cromwell. It is a well set out museum with the emphasis on displays
that tell the story of the districts rich history. Topics include the
township, family life, gold, Chinese(there is a large photograph of a
Chinese mining village on one wall), pioneer women, bridges and hotels.
Both of us really enjoyed visiting this small museum.
We had a look at the rest of the mall and noticed a crowd milling about
the book shop. Jeff Wilson, a member of our well known All Black rugby
team, was signing his latest book. Maybe I had better explain, they are
called the All Blacks due to the colour of the gear they play rugby in.
A little further on Rachel spied a 'Fish 'n' Chip' shop with a sign outside,
stating that the shop had won an award for the best 'Fish 'n' Chips' in
New Zealand. For those who are not too sure what I mean by a 'Fish 'n'
shop, they are usually small establishments that deep fry pieces of fish,
wrapped in batter, along with chips, which are called 'French Fries' in
other parts of the world. There are literally thousands of these type
of shops spread throughout New Zealand. A survey was done last year and
the parcel of 'Fish 'n' Chips is still the most popular form of fast food.
If you strike a good shop this type of meal is quite delicious, not too
good for the cholesterol, but delicious none the less. Unfortunately the
shop that we purchased our 'Fish 'n' Chips' from was definitely not in
the good category, they were greasy and over cooked. We threw most of
them away. I don't know what sort of award the owner had won, but Rachel
went back and let him know, in no uncertain terms, what she thought of
his food. I just grinned to myself, I knew what my wife was like, when
she considered that she had been ripped off.
We next visited Old Cromwell Town. To visit this reconstructed gold rush
town was like walking back into the history of Central Otago. The buildings
still had the names of the original traders on them, but of course the
sign writing had been touched up. Most of these buildings are now being
used, for the likes of arts and crafts, a tea room or in two cases, small
museums. One of the buildings that really interested both Rachel and I
was an old stable, set up as a small museum with everything imaginable
in the 'Tack Room'. High up on a outside wall was an old single boomed
crane with all the pulleys made of wood. This was obviously used to lower
the likes of bales of hay. Underneath was an old heavy wagon with wooden
spokes in the wheels, which in all probability would have been used to
haul supplies to and from the gold fields.
One of the other buildings, that used to house the local newspaper named
the 'Cromwell Argus', was also turned into a small museum, displaying
some very interesting photographs, some from the turn of the century and
a lot showing what Cromwell was like before Lake Dunstan was created.
When it was decided to commission the building of the Clyde Dam, parts
of Cromwell was to be submerged under the newly formed Lake Dunstan. Old
Cromwell Town was established to save some of Cromwell's heritage. Thus
far eight buildings have been meticulously reconstructed, an existing
building restored, public toilets erected and extensive landscaping carried
As we were still hungry, due to the 'Fish 'n' Chip' debacle, we visited
the local tea rooms for a bite to eat. While talking to the proprietor
we found out that the tea rooms used to be the old grain store. Except
for the roof, the rest was exactly as it had been. The proprietor also
operated a restored 1930 boat for cruises on Lake Dunstan. We would have
gone on a cruise, but the time for the next scheduled one was unfortunately
too late and we could not wait.
My generation, and future generations, are extremely fortunate that a
group of individuals took it upon themselves to save and faithfully rebuild
or restore all these buildings from Cromwell's historical past. Definitely
worth a visit.
At this point we had planned to visit Bannockburn, another gold mining
town, but Rachel said that she had seen enough of these sort of towns
and as we had done a lot of travelling over the last few days, she would
like to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. I agreed so we headed
back to the motel to put our feet up.
Day 5. Alexandra to Dunedin. The day dawned grey and dreary looking. The weather forecast promised us intermittent rain showers and cool temperatures. Oh well we have experienced very good weather up to this point. Just outside Alexandra the ground was exceptionally stony creating some fabulous photos with the many shapes of all the rocks. We were travelling along admiring the beautiful countryside, and covered 40 kms, when we approached the town of Roxburgh, when all of a sudden it hit me, like a smack over the back of the head with a rock, that, while we were heading for Dunedin, it was not the road that we were supposed to be on. I could not believe that I had made this stupid mistake, worst of all I had no one to blame but myself. There was nothing else that we could do, but turn around and head back to Alexandra. Virtually one and half hours lost due to my stupidity. We eventually found the right road and headed towards the small twn of Omakau. From there we continued along a shingle road, bound for the small township of Ophir. We crossed over on this incredible looking suspension bridge with two stone pillars at either end and numerous strands of steel rope passing through those pillars. Across the bridge, on the town side, the road had obviously been blasted through solid rock. I had my wife drive back along this road, with the sheer rock walls and across the bride, while I took some video.(The video turned out better than I would ever have hoped). There was some lovely old stone cottages, in Ophir, probably dating back to the turn of the century, plus a masonry Post Office, built in 1886, that has been managed by women since 1890. It still has its original furnishings and is largely unchanged from the time of its construction. This Post Office was built to serve the goldfields that were close by. We followed the loop back onto the main road and headed for the township of Saint Bathans. By this time the rain was bucketing down. By the time we arrived at St Bathans, it had stopped raining and even a watery looking sun was trying its best to peep through. Two thousand people once lived in what is now, as we found out later, an old town with one surviving operating facility, its pub, the Vulcan Hotel. Time appears to have stood still in this small town, and it took little effort for our imaginations to picture the numerous hotels, (there was once 13), banks, dancing girls and hundreds of diggers, all trying to scratch out an existence. Apart from the hotel there are other buildings that are still as they would have looked in the latter part of the 19th century. Interesting displays can be seen in the old post office and the gold office. We were parked in a car park opposite the hotel hoping to get a photograph. Unfortunately there was a delivery truck parked out front. Rachel went inside to ask the driver how long he was likely to be. She eventually came back and asked would you like to have lunch here, the driver is eating and will be some time yet. I was feeling a bit peckish so I agreed. We were ushered into a beautiful wood panelled dining room, with pink velvet wallpaper adorning the walls. There was a small wooden bar in the corner. This pub had history and atmosphere oozing out of it. The floor boards squeaked when they were walked upon, the pink wallpaper was faded where the sun had been able to get at it and the dining tables were similar to the ones seen in so many saloons in western movies. Any minute now some gunslingers would charge through the batwings, yes they had these here to, with six guns blazing. I could live here. Both of us settled on fish with a side salad and a platter of chips. It was a simple meal but most enjoyable. During the meal the publicans daughter sat down with us and proceeded to tell us the history of the pub. The hotel was built in 1869 and it is remained virtually unchanged to this day. The population of St. Bathans is now 4 and three of these own and work in the hotel. The 4th is an odd job man who mows the lawns and generally keeps the small town tidy. Some of the houses are owned by people who come to St Bathans during holidays or sometimes on the weekends. She then went on to tell us that the hotel is haunted. Both Rachel and I looked at her with obvious disbelief in our eyes. I aren't kidding you she said most indignantly, both my parents and I have all seen or experienced the ghost. She went on to tell us that just the other night, I was here by myself, when all the doors starting opening and shutting, and the books from book shelf were hurled onto the ground. She had both of us, by now, hanging on her every word. I asked were you scared, no she replied, this ghost has never done anybody any bodily harm. She then told us what happened in the hotel that caused this restless spirit to roam the corridors of this hotel. Not long after the hotel was built, a miner had his way with a lady of the night and then murdered her. This all happened in room 1. A few years ago, some workers were cleaning up the local cemetery, when they across an unmarked grave all covered up with plant growth. Apparently permission was given to open the casket and when they did they got the shock of their lives. The corpse was still in good condition and decomposition had not really taken its toll. It was somehow determined that the body was that of the prostitute that was murdered many years earlier. This was about the time when the haunting started at the pub. I looked at the girl who just told this story and their was no hint of a smile. Her mother entered the dining room and I when I enquired whether she had seen the apparition, she replied, on numerous occasions. Rachel and I walked out of the pub, not too sure whether we had been handed a goodly amount of bull, or was their some truth to the story. Intriguing story is it not. We left St. Bathans to see the man made 'Blue Lake'. This lake was once a 120 metre hill, and now it is a 69 metre deep hole. This hill was carved away by miners using the deepest hydraulic mining lift in the world, leaving this enormous hole, a testimony to the miners' toils. This popular lake is today used for ice skating and curling, during the winter months. From the 'Blue Lake', we decided to motor through the Taieri Gorge en-route to Dunedin. We arrived in Dunedin, both dog tired and had trouble finding accommodation for the next two nights. Fortunately, one accommodating motelier let us rent an apartment normally held for long term tenants. It was a two bedroomed modern apartment, fully self contained. The tariff was $84NZ per night. We were very lucky indeed. After stowing all our gear, we went to see the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street. (gradient to 1 in 2.9) We were too chicken to walk so we drove the car up instead. How people, who live in the street, manage, I certainly do not know. Back to the apartment for a spot of T.V, a bite to eat, and some well earned rest, not necessarily in that order. More Later.........
Regards, Richard Bloomfield.(New Zealand)