One of the perfect things about not having any plans, or set time frame. Is that if you want to head back to somewhere you missed along the way, then nothing is standing in your way. Except for a bit more driving. With this in mind, we decided to backtrack to head for the historic village of St Bathans. We wanted to have a look at what people we have met on the road told us we should have stopped to look at. Since it’s close to the rail trail, we bypassed it while riding the trail.
The drive back from Cromwell to St Bathans follows the river towards the Clyde dam that would have been quite scenic if it had not been for the rain getting heavy as we hit the road meaning full concentration on the road and no time to glance at the scenes flashing past on both sides. As we neared St Bathans the rain started to lift with the sky’s sort of clearing as we parked at the DOC Recreation Reserve (#8716) from there it’s just over 1 km to the village.
The camp is a massive area with space for lots of campervans serviced by a single toilet and water from a single tap that states it must be boiled so fill up before you arrive here. It is however not about the facilities it’s about the place, and this is one of the prettiest campsites we have been to.
After we have had such luck with the weather while we have been away today the weather gods had decided that it was to be a day inside the van with the sky’s opening up just as we opened up the door for a stroll into the village. With the rain, the wind started to get a bit stronger so we decided that we would spend the afternoon catching up on a few chores around the van and visit the village the following day. After all, what’s the rush to get anywhere.
That evening as the moon rose over the hills at the back of the camp, I couldn’t help but get outside and take this photo through the goalposts of the rugby ground located in the reserve. I am not sure how long ago they last played rugby here as you can see the grass is a little long. Also, you cannot see them in the photo, but there are too many rabbit holes throughout the ground.
That night was probably the windiest night we have spent in the Motorhome with the wind gusting to gale force at times. It made me really glad that we hadn’t parked near the towering pine trees (see photo above). When we did drop off to sleep we where woken at around midnight with sounds like someone thumping on the side of the van, that’s how strong the wind was. I wish I could have taken a photo of the wind to show it’s force.
The following morning the weather played its part with the wind dying down the rain holding off, meaning it was time to get out to explore the area. Across the fence from the reserve is the start of the pathway leading to the gold mining area. It reminds me of the craters of the moon in Rotorua with white clay mud everywhere. The sign at the start of the main track states that the path is damaged, to be honest, that’s instead an understatement as it’s non-existent in places where it has washed away or been washed over by a mud slip.
In the 1860s this area used to be a 120-metre tall hill, but when gold was discovered in the area, the hill was mined to such an extent that it created the Blue Lake that now fills the giant hole left in the ground. It’s called the blue lake apparently due to the high concentration of minerals in the water, but on the day we visited it may as well have been called the brown lake given the high amount of mud that appeared in the water.
For those that have been to Western Australia, we discovered New Zealand’s answer to Wave Rock with this formation left after the water cannons had stripped the silt away leaving this rock in its place.
The whole area is littered with abandoned pieces of mining machinery mostly old piping that was used to get water to the required area or by forcing water down one pipe it pushed silt up the other pipe which then went through the sieve to extract the gold. The whole area proved very profitable while it lasted.
Of course, it’s only when you get to the other end of the track that you find this sign. Although we thought this was a bit extreme yes the tracks bad in a few places, it’s still a great walk and really interesting well worth the time spent.
At the village end of the track is a walk up to the lookout that gives a great view of the lake and the diggings. Looking from this spot, it’s hard to imagine a 120-metre hill standing here instead.
Like the whole of Central Otago, the area is infested with rabbit’s, but Sarah and I were amused to see this burrow where the rabbit’s had obviously chosen the penthouse suite.
Walking up from the diggings, we decided that we would start at the top of the village working our way back to the Motorhome exploring all the historic buildings along the way.
The church is open to all visitors but is no longer a place of worship; instead, it’s administered by the Historic Places Trust with a small collection plate for donations. Despite the Trust looking after the building it was sad to see rat droppings inside the church we had the feeling that without some care and attention it wouldn’t stay in the condition it is for much longer.
Walking down the street is like walking through a hall of a museum except that this was real life these where actual buildings that people lived and worked inside. The sense of history in the town is authentic it’s also nice that at this time we were almost the only people in town. So it’s not like being in some of the other major tourist towns where everyone is getting in the way of your photos.
Oh, I spoke too soon as we wandered into the village we were passed by 15 4wds a group tour that was 6 days into a 7-day drive that had started in Blenheim. Turns out that this group had also booked out the Hotel for lunch, so our plans for lunch got scuppered.
To the right of the Hotel is the old community hall complete with its own stage. Inside are several photographic displays that talk about the history of the area and the people who lived here. Unfortunately, the light inside this area was terrible, making it impossible to take any decent photos.
With the Hotel booked out for a private function for lunch, I didn’t get inside to take photos, but with the quick look I had inside it was like almost nothing had changed since it was built in the 1860s.
They have done a terrific job in this village with signboards everywhere to either explain what it standing in front of you or what used to be here. Reading these you really get a feel for what was here during the great gold rush and how hard the conditions were for some of those who lived here. It’s well worth taking the time to read these.
No matter where you look, historic buildings dominate the place with some very lovely gardens to set off the houses as you stroll along the street. The website centralotago.com states that the permanent population is now less than 10 a figure I think might be a little low given the number of houses in the area, but whatever the actual figure is it’s definitely a quiet place.
At the other end of town with a short stroll up the hill, we reached the Catholic Church this building appears to still be in use with a lot of recent work around the building repointing the stones as well as a relatively recent addition to the graveyard. It was interesting to see the unmarked graves with the crosses above obviously records have been lost, but they still bear testimony to those below.
Next to the church are the ruins of the old school as you can see from the photos, the place is a little beyond a quick repair. In all of the places we have visited in New Zealand we haven’t come across as many ruined buildings as we have found here in Central Otago or maybe because they have been constructed out of stone that they have lasted longer than say a collapsed wooden farm shed. Whatever the reason it’s always sad to see a building reach this state.
After we had got back to the Motorhome thinking that we had missed out on lunch at the Hotel. I suggested to Sarah that we try for dinner. Knowing that when we where at Omakau the publican had made a fuss about us not booking I rode back to the Hotel to make a booking only to told that you need to order the day prior. But you can order from the snack menu. As I wouldn’t remember what was on offer, I took the above photo of the menu.
I got back to the Motorhome to show Sarah what was on offer only to discover my excellent photographic skills. We decided that we would just cook ourselves that evening.
The scenery in this area is just amazing I could quickly fill this blog with photos of the area around the camp with the hills surrounding the area and the trees really changing colour this is a place well worth a visit just for the views not to mention the history of the area.
The drive back to the main road then on to Alex, our destination for the night took us past the farm buildings above as well as the historic White Horse Hotel in Becks. Interestingly there are two of these hotels in Becks the historic one pictured. As well as a more modern pub across the road that also serves as a Park Over Property (#8719). The old Hotel appears to be undergoing restoration with repairs to the outside evident. I hope it gets completed. It would be a shame to lose a building like this.
St Bathans is about 17kms up the road from State Highway 85 if you take the turn off closest to Becks then it’s sealed road the whole way whereas if you arrive from the Hills Creek end of the road, it’s gravel road the entire way. I strongly suggest that if you are in the area, you take the time to visit this place.
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