Gold fever

Not surprisingly to go along with his deep love of caves my husband also has a love of old tunnels. Gold mining, coal mining, train tunnels, really just any old hole in the ground that you can walk (or even crawl) through. I find the history behind the tunnels often fascinating and don’t mind a walk through the bush to find them, my tolerance for clambering through them is not as high, luckily now Oliver is keen to clamber through with his Dad I am able to opt out of the darker, more dingy looking tunnels in favour of a quiet moment in the bush while they explore. Our last few weeks Wayne and Oliver have been in absolute heaven with all the old mining areas we have come across to explore, the history of mining here on the coast is extensive. So to avoid all my west coast posts sounding like mines, mines and more mines I’m going to write about them all together – the mining extravaganza you could say!

In the early 1800’s they started mining coal around the Westport area and for many years coal was king here. We visited two really interesting coal mining areas, the first of which was Charming creek. There is a walking/mountain biking track here that follows the old train tracks that were used to cart coal from the mine down to the coast. If you do it in its entirety the track is 3 hours one way to walk, we decided that we would walk to a waterfall just over an hour along the track and turn back there, then drive up to the other end of the track where the mine was to have a look at that. There are actual tracks along quite a lot of the walking track and plenty of mining relics along the way to keep it interesting. There are some places along the track where the track is literally covered in coal and also a few small tunnels to walk through. Just before the waterfall you cross an old swingbridge that was built to replace the old rail bridge in the 1970’s, about halfway across the bridge you start to see Mangatini falls. Even in the spring rain shower that chose this exact moment to arrive the falls were pretty.

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Right beside the viewing area of the falls there is a tunnel to walk through that rather conveniently for us had a board walk built through it and was a surprisingly dry spot to wait out the rain. It eased quickly as spring showers tend to do and then it was an easy walk out the way we had come.

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The second coal mining area that we visited was Denniston. When they found coal here the biggest problem was how to get it down through the steep hills, through the bush to the coast where it could be loaded on ships. So they built a railway line up through the bush, up inclines so steep your head spins a little staring down them, built bridges to span the places to rough to build track on and they lowered the coal down in carts attached to cables. The workers and there families lived on the top of the hill, for years the only way to or from that mine was up those inclines. You imagine those mothers with children in tow making that long treacherous trip, living with the constant worry of the danger their husbands jobs put them in and you see so clearly how much life has changed for us.

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On top of that hill now there is plenty of relics and rubble to wander through. And a great job has been done with information boards dotted around with pictures of what it looked like in its prime, what life was like for the people who spent their lives here. Further up the road we did an easy little walk along another old rail line and after passing lots of fallen chimney stacks from old miners cottages, piles of old rusted cablesĀ  that were used to pull the coal carts and plenty of other debris we finally found one thing that is still largely intact. The old fan house that was used to pump fresh air down into the mine.

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To even things out as we have travelled further down the coast there have been lots of old gold mines to explore. We visited a great little spot in Charleston called Mitchells gully mine, the tunnels here loop through the hill like a little maze and the owner gives a basic but informative chat about the mine, all for the grand sum of $10 per adult. Once you get to Greymouth/Hokitika area the bush is full of walks that boast some mining history. Our favourites where the Cold creek walk, which is a bit of a drive in from Greymouth and the Terrace tunnel track close to the Goldsborough DOC camp. At the Goldsborough camp there is a section of river where you can fossick or pan for gold. On seeing Oliver attempting to pan for gold with a plastic bowl another visitor gave us an old pan he had spare and the boys spent a bit of time trying to strike it rich. You can see how men got swept away with dreams of finding gold and went to these amazing lengths to do so. They dug these tunnels through the earth and the rock a lot of the times with just a pick, a spade and their own back breaking work. I for one find it inspiring, but it also makes me grateful that my time for life is now and I have the freedom to run away in a bus. I wonder if these hardworking men would have understood the way we live and what drives us to do it if it was them looking in at my life the way I look back at theirs.

 

On the move again.

The last few weeks before we left Blenheim flew by incredibly fast. All of a sudden we were visiting favorite spots for one last time, stocking up on groceries and supplies in preparation for heading to smaller towns for a while and counting down the sleeps till we hit the road again. I would say it was almost more exciting than when we left Tauranga in March, this time there was no hint of sadness at leaving the people we loved behind to temper our excitement, just pure enjoyment of the moment.

We left Blenheim on a perfectly sunny saturday morning and sticking to our rule of no more than an hours travel a day we headed for a spot close to St Arnaud. The drive was full of snowy mountains to admire and paddocks full of sheep with spring lambs in tow. We arrived in St Arnaud at lunch time and decided that we would stop for lunch beside Lake Rotoiti before heading to our camp for the night. We had spent most of a week staying right on the lake at the beginning of winter, it had stolen our hearts with its misty, moody beauty but today it’s beauty was sun drenched, sparkling and just as magnificent. We picnicked with the ducks and enjoyed a walk in the forest before heading on to find our spot for the next two nights at a spot called the Teetotal campsite. It’s a basic DOC camp situated right beside the ice skating pond. Sadly we were a little late in the season for it to be completely frozen over but there was one permanently shady corner where Oliver could play with the remaining ice. It was such a warm spring day that we pulled out the bbq and even ate dinner outside complete with a snowy mountain to gaze upon.

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The next morning as if to remind us that it wasn’t quite summer yet we woke to our most frozen morning yet. There was even ice on the inside of the windows at the back of the bus and an impressive amount of ice on the pond as well. We didn’t have time to linger in the frozen wonderland as we had booked a shuttle to go up a nearby ski field for one last day playing in the snow before we headed away from the mountains. Rainbow ski field was busier than when we had visited Mt Lyford and had two different areas set up for sledding so Oliver was in heaven. He spent the whole day running up and sliding down the hills, barely even stopping to eat his lunch and reluctantly handing the sled back to the hire place only on the threat of missing the shuttle back down the mountain. There is nothing quite like tucking your child in to bed at the end of a long, busy day that they have enjoyed immensely and watching them drift off to sleep within mere moments of their head hitting the pillow.

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The next morning was a lot milder than the previous one and made tidying up to get on the road again an easier, quicker task. We needed one more stop to break up the driving before we made it to the west coast so we stopped at an area called the Lyell historic area. In the late 1800’s it was the sight of a bustling mining community and the start of a road that led through the bush to several gold mines. Now there is a campground and picnic area there at the start of what they call the old ghost road, a cycle trail and tramping track that follows what used to be the road. We weren’t prepared to do the cycling or complete the whole tramp but we did a really worthwhile walk to a spot called the Croesus battery, the closest of the old mining sites. On the way you passed the old Lyell cemetery, a handful of old graves, some with headstones intact that tell tales of hardworking men and women who didn’t live the long lives we expect today. Some others have been overgrown by the bush a little and in one a tree had grown up in the exact spot the headstone would have been, I hope that who ever lies beneath its strong roots can appreciate the beauty of such an addition to there final resting place.

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As he gets older Oliver is finding walks like this more interesting and is more able to grasp the history side of it. The battery itself is rather intact due to the fact that it was simply to hard for the metal components to be hauled away for scrap once the mine closed, having that visual evidence for him to see really helps to bring everything to life in his young mind. So much so that he was a horse hauling a cart down the old ghost road on the way back to the bus, then we all had to have turns at being the ghost chasing the others off our road and competing as to who had the scariest ghost sounds. This was a great little adventure on our way through to the west coast, so far being back on the road was living up to all our expectations.

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