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Arrowtown Wanaka

23rd January 2012

A Bygone Gold Rush Town and a Climb High Up Over Lake Wanaka

Cardrona Hotel
    It had been freezing through the night. I glanced across at the Remarkables and saw they had a new crust of snow. On other peaks I could see low clouds depositing a dusting of snow on their crowns.
    A warm shower kick-started me for the day, and then I ever so slowly munched my way through some very chewy muesli by the car, vacantly watching a couple of girls going through their tai chi rituals on the grass.
    A guy sauntered by with his small daughter, both dressed in tracksuits plus thick jackets. "Strewth Rebecca, we must be getting soft. There's a bloke in shorts and T-shirt," said dad. Perhaps I did look an odd spectacle in this sub-Antarctic region.
Cardrona Shop
    I climbed up out of the small town and headed up to the twisting, narrow Crown Range Road, the most direct, though probably not the fastest route, to the Cardrona Valley, where gold was discovered in late 1862, and Wanaka. This back road was indeed an isolated route, fairly bleak with its dusting of snow, and must have been a nightmare to travel during winter in times gone by. It is probably a nightmare today, come to think of it.
    On the way I stopped off in Cardrona, a half street hamlet. Gold was discovered in the Cardrona Valley in November 1862, and soon several thousand miners joined the rush to pan and sluice the river flats. No record remains of how much yellow metal was found here, as it was all included with the yields from the much richer Arrowtown diggings. It was certainly not as rich as the incredible Shotover deposits, but work was steady, and a handful of mines did very well. The most famous was probably the "Gin and Raspberry", which was situated on the river flats across the road from the school. The mine reputably got its name from the habit of mine owners in shouting this particular drink to all hands, whenever an ounce of gold was extracted from a bucket of pay dirt. Other good mines were "The Pirate", no doubt in the hands of a claim jumper, and the "Homeward Bound", presumably worked by a homesick miner from the other side of the world.
Cardrona Hall and Church
    After the great flood of 1878, most miners drifted away to other areas, but a few hundred people stayed in the small town of Cardrona, named after a small village on the banks of the River Tweed near Peebles in the Scottish Borders. At the turn of the century, the road between here and the Cardrona Hotel boasted a row of shops, a bank and a post office.
    Gold dredges began to work the river flats, and there were as many as six in operation around 1910. The last of these remained until the 1930s, when many people turned their hands to rabbiting for a living. Rabbits were in plague proportions in those days, and even at five for a shilling, enough money was made to give several farmers a start.
Panoramic View of Roys Bay from Wanaka      (please use scroll bar)

    For the next fifty years the valley was the domain of the merino sheep industry and became a quiet backwater.
    I called in on the Cardrona Hotel for a coffee. It still stood in its high lands setting, clad in weatherboards and veranda. This was an archetypical icon, and featured in many adverts for beer. It had recently been extended, but the workmanship was good enough to convince most visitors that it was all the original building. As I waited for my coffee, I stood by a roaring log fire to thaw out, as did most people who visited the old building. The walls, the colour of ancient smoke stains, were liberally coated with fading old photographs and paintings, and memorabilia abounded on all flat surfaces. The burnt umber ceiling had notes of every currency under the sun stuck to it, and a fair collection of coins too.
Diamond Lake
    The Cardrona Hall nearby was built in 1879 as the local school. Children from miles around used to attend, often on ponies which were left in a nearby paddock during school hours. It operated until 1954 when dwindling numbers caused its closure.
    The small church near to it had a much more chequered history. Even older than the hall, it began life as the miners recreation hall, an annex attached to the All Nations Hotel across the river. It was used for dances, billiards and social events. After the All Nations burned down, it was acquired by a Mr Enright, a devout local catholic, who had it consecrated as the Cardrona Catholic Church. It had been relocated in its time, and remained in use until 1985, when it was replaced by a new church. It was on the eve of its destruction as the fire brigade practice, that the Cardrona Valley residents purchased it and had it shifted to its current resting place. It has now come full circle, and is once again used as the local pool and darts venue, as well as for small parties and concerts.
    Suitably revitalised by my first coffee of the day, I headed down to Lake Wanaka, passing the detritus from the gold-mining heyday, strewn across the valley amongst the golden tussock. Wanaka, sat by the pretty Roys Bay area on the south of the lake, adjacent to the outflow to the Clutha River. This gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park had a more laid-back feel compared to its brasher southern sibling of Queenstown. Wanaka is primarily a resort town and is one of the few areas in New Zealand to enjoy a continental climate, with four distinct seasons. The weather is fairly dry with spring (September-December) being the wettest months. Annual rainfall is 682 mm which is half the national average. The town experiences hot dry summers with temperatures reaching the high 30s but the average is 24�C. Winter tends to have clear calm days with highs around 10�C. Due to the growing tourism business and the increasing number of retirees in Wanaka, there is massive growth occurring, up to 50% in 10 years.
Rob Roy Glacier in Mount Aspiring National Park
    I had no trouble getting into the nearest campsite to town, despite warnings that it would be full at this time of year. The site was less than 100m away from the stunning view over Lake Wanaka. The 45km-long glaciated lake, nestled between the dramatic peaks of the national park, and the poplar-studded hills of Central Otago, and reminded me very much of the English Lake District.
    The exploratory walk around Wanaka took me around 30 minutes, and the art galleries took another 30.
    I needed to stretch my legs, so I headed up Mount Aspiring Road, parked up, and set off to Diamond Lake. This was a delightful tarn left over from the last ice age, and surrounded by willows and raupo rushes. The track skirted the tarn for a short way before veering off and climbing a narrow trail into open farmland speckled with brown bracken and home to a herd of cows. After a brief glimpse of Lake Wanaka I continued up through bush and farmland. In front I could see large schist rock-faces, a major attraction for climbers. A strenuous climb up through tussocky farmland beneath large rock overhangs brought me to the brow of Rocky Mountain. Below me stretched Lake Wanaka and its two largest islands, Mou Waho and Mou Tapu, the Matukituki River and at the western end of the valley stood Mount Aspiring, at 3027m, the highest outside the Mount Cook Range.
Panoramic View from Rocky Mountain with Mt Aspiring National Park on the Left, Matukituki River Delta and Glendhu Bay, with Wanaka in the Distance      (please use scroll bar)

    Having satisfied my keep fit fix, I returned to camp where I met my new neighbours: a young couple, Lee and Alison, from Toronto, accompanied by Humpus, a Swedish hitchhiker they had picked up on the way. Humpus was travelling around New Zealand, Australia and Eastern Asia before returning back to Sweden to start his further education. He hoped to have worked out what he wanted to study by the time he returned. The Canadian couple had sold everything they had, and were undertaking a tour around New Zealand before moving on to Australia, where they had a two year visa each. Lee was hoping to pick up electrician's work there.
    Lee looked like an honest straight talking guy, but he was willing to play the Canadian benefits system to his benefit. Despite touring thousands of miles away from Toronto, he was still claiming unemployment benefit. In Canada, they don't have to turn up in person on a regular basis to answer a string of questions such as are you actively looking for work. The questions can all be answered online, which allows the system to be open to abuse. This confused me somewhat. It is not beyond the wit of man to have a trivial piece of software to trace the route an applicant has taken to reach the benefits computer using the applicant's IP address (the software exists on almost all PCs), parse the details, and ascertain whereabouts the applicant is filling in the online form. All countries have their loopholes I guess.
    I watched Humpus string his hammock up between two trees. "What is he going to do if it rains overnight?" I asked Alison. "He says he will throw a tarpaulin over himself," she replied. I gave her a bewildered look, and she instantly knew what I was thinking. "I'm with you on that one," she said as an aside with a subtle grin on her face.

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Arrowtown Wanaka

Uploaded from Holiday Park, Fox Glacier on 25th January at 22:00

Last updated 25.1.2012