It’s not exactly one of those places that makes you think Wow! I must visit there but like a lot of the little towns we have found in the South Island there is so much more to Reefton than first meets the eye. We had stopped just off the main street with a view to grabbing a few supplies from one of the local shops and then moving on.
But as is often the case in small towns no sooner had Sarah stepped out of the motorhome than a couple of the locals just passing by struck up a conversation, turns out they were also motorhomers and after telling us all about the must see’s in town told us about the Reefton Racecourse a CAP (#6531) at the princely sum of $2 per person per night with fresh water but no toilets or dump station. It’s also only about 600 metres from the main street so very handy to town.
After a quick drive down the road we decided that we would park up at the Racecourse while we at least investigated the area. So we dragged the bikes out of the garage area and set off up the main street.
There is a really good I Site here complete with a replica mine inside as well as lots of graphic cards about the area. You can also visit Google Play to download the App they have had made for the Powerhouse Walk around the town. it’s really very good and great to see small town NZ investing in themselves. The app gives you a verbal commentary of what was where and when as you take the short 2.5 km walk.
So with the App downloaded we set off to experience the Powerhouse Walk. Reefton was the first town in the South Island to install electric power generated from a small power station that they built on the banks of the Inangahua River that runs along the back of the town. First we needed to ride to the Eastern end of the town and cross the suspension bridge that spans the river. It was time to dismount and push the bikes across given how narrow the bridge was.
There’s not really much left to see along the walk just some old concrete ruins, although there are plans to rebuild the power station within the next two years. As we passed this area we came across a group of four taking photos of each other doing the decent thing we offered to take a photo of the four of them. Two brothers (twins) their sister and her friend.
We got talking to the twins, Nigel and Stefan McKay, who it appears are local icon’s even set to become the face of the advertising behind the new Reefton Distillery despite the fact that neither of the drinks alcohol. When Sarah mentioned that we had just come from Springs Junction – DOC camp they said that they knew it well in fact they where involved in the recovery of the bodies from the landslide all those years ago (refer previous blog). Later on when we met some other people in town you just had to say the twins and everyone knew who you were talking about. (Photo lifted from Facebook)
After finishing the powerhouse walk we rode around the town making the decision that we would spend the night. That night we received a sampling of how much it rains on the West Coast when at around 2am both of us where woken when a flash of lightning followed immediately by an incredibly loud clap of thunder. For the next 30 or so minutes as the thunderstorm raged it was as though someone was emptying a swimming pool directly on top of the motorhome!
The following morning with the rain easing we wondered what else there might be to see in town. There are two blogs that we have been following Chris Miller’s Bugger it we are off and Shellie Evan’s Two Go Tiki Touring So we checked out both of these to see what they had written about Reefton. Chris Miller had a great blog about his time here mentioning in detail the Miners Hut something we had missed the day prior.
With this in mind we got some of the domestic duties out of the way. They do never seem to go away and then set off into town to visit the Miners Hut. This is right in the main street so how we missed it the day prior is completely beyond me. The hut is a replica miners hut from the early days of prospecting in the area and whilst that’s interesting what really makes the place special are the four bearded miners that staff the place.
Actually you probably cannot call them staff as they don’t get paid to be there but do collect donations to keep the good work going. All four of the are real characters with an extensive knowledge of the history of the area and are very pro mining using the now abandoned Oceania Gold Mine just up the road where extensive replanting is underway to restore the land as an example of how it can be done correctly. The hut itself was originally built by Oceania as part of their legacy to the town some 25 years ago.
One of the really interesting things about the hut was it’s wooden chimney. When one of the bearded four told me about this I thought he was joking but no the place has a wooden chimney. This is secured to the building by two wire cables that you release in case of fire and the chimney then falls away from the hut protecting it from fire. I would never have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. Also of special interest is their “Sky” dish which they tell me requires a new can to be mounted each time you wish to change the channel or every time the All Backs score!
The town is another of places that we have found in the South Island with hidden gems round every corner including it’s fair share of the old and the new. It would make some house buyers in Auckland cry to see a new house @$229.000. The old gravestones had all been moved from the original cemetery to create a park but at least they have acknowledged the people that they knew where buried there.
The following day we moved onto the Slab Hut Creek – DOC Camp (#6537) a really pretty camp set alongside what is usually a gentle stream but with the rain 2 nights ago it was still a roaring torrent but at least the water level had fallen from where it was. If you look at the photos above you can see the line of debris along the lawn where the stream burst it banks.
As you can see from the sign this is also an area were you can fossick for gold but with the stream running as high as it was this was not going to be an option for us but we did talk to a couple who had been prospecting before the rain who had collected around $300 worth of the stuff.
We parked in one of the designated bays that have native trees marking the boundaries on both sides giving some privacy if you wanted. For us it was also a chance to try out the generator and I must say we were both surprised how quiet it was.
There was a pathway right next to our spot that led upstream so it was out with the new tramping boots for a bit of a test run. The pathway follows the stream really closely with quite a few areas where the day before the steam was probably flowing over the path. You can see in the photos above that it has also scoured under the tree roots in a few places so these trees will probably be floating down stream shortly.
Sadly not 15 minutes into the walk we reached an area where the path had been completely washed away with a torrent now flowing in the area we should have been walking and the bush was to thick to try to circumnavigate so we returned to the motorhome.
One cheeky fella that deserves special mention is this native Robin who was so inquisitive I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had come right into the camper. We have come across a few of these during our walks but it’s always one of those things that by the time you get the camera ready the bird has moved on so it was good to get a couple of great shots.
We decided that we would also visit the old gold mining area of Waiuta. The place is located about 15kms from the main road with the first 8 kms tar sealed and an easy drive but the last 7 kms is a good quality gravel road. What you maybe cannot see in these photos is that the road is only as wide as the motorhome with a drop on one side and a cliff on the other there was absolutely no place for anyone coming the other way to get past us on this winding piece of road that climbs up to the old town. Thankfully we met no one coming the other way either on the way in or out.
There isn’t much left of Waiuta these days with only 6 buildings standing from the original days and the population of 500 is now non existent so it’s a lonely walk around among the ruins for the two of us, we were the only ones here. Because almost all the buildings have gone walking along the road you might see the odd chimney standing but in most cases it’s just a signboard standing there telling you what used to be there.
The ruins that are left are the ones that were not worth carting away once the mine closed. After a collapse at the entrance pit it was deemed not worth trying to renter the mine and it was closed. Within 12 months almost all of the inhabitants of the town had left taking with them all the timber that had been used to build the buildings so they could establish a new house in a new town.
Wandering around the town we discovered the site of the original find as well as some evidence of mining including a couple of mine shafts, not that I would have entered them even if you had paid me to do so.
What is left intact at the site of the mine is in a rather poor state of repair but the buildings are all open meaning you are free to wander around and explore. It does give you a sense standing here of what it must have been like when it was all running. with the miners changing shifts and the battery stamper going 24/7 crushing the quartz to extract the gold.
Those buildings that are still standing are either like the one on the left held up by who knows what or have been restored like the lodge on the left that is available for hire through DOC. Or waiting to be restored like the pale yellow house which the local preservation society is trying to slowly restore.
It was not till we had left Waiuta that we found out that you are welcome to freedom camp here and there are plenty of spots where you could do this although most places are a little exposed with the old village standing at the top of a hill. If you so decide to stay or visit I hope you are lucky like us and find no other traffic on the road on the way in or out as it really is narrow and windy.