Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Bike Trail – New Zealand

Tuesday March 21st 2017: – We arrived in Clyde for the start of our third South Island Bike Ride in two weeks.

The Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails: The plan was to ride four days to complete the trail from Clyde to Lawrence We booked into the Clyde Motel for the night before and the last night of the ride – a lovely quiet motel about one kilometer from Clyde village – friendly, homely, clean and comfortable.

We had booked Trail Journeys (having used them very successfully before on the ‘Tasman Taste Trail’) – to cart our bags each night and also to pick us and bikes up from Lawrence at the end of the bike ride and transport us back to our motel in Clyde.  They also booked us on a water taxi from Doctor’s Point to Shingle Creek as there is no bike access between these two places. Trail Journeys were extremely efficient and very helpful – they can also book  accommodation if needed.  They allowed us to leave our cars in their car park without charge, gave us maps and advice and fitted two of the group with excellent bikes for the journey.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017

Clyde to Roxburgh – 48kms

The sky was clear but there was a chill in the air when we left Clyde to head to Alexandra and onto Doctors Point where we would be picked up by water taxi and taken to Shingle Creek. The river journey between Doctor’s Point and Shingle creek  (13 kms)  came about because access for the trail has been blocked by local lease holders  and therefore there is no bike access between the two places.We learned that some of these leases will be up in next few years so who knows??

Leaving Clyde there was a division in the group – some chose to take the shorter way from Clyde to Alexandra via the rail trail because they had ridden the river trail from Clyde to Alexandra several years ago when riding the Otago Rail Trail, those who had not ridden the rive trail chose to ride that way.  Coffee as always was on the agenda so we agreed to meet at the information centre in Alexander to purchase our permit for the trail – $25 to help maintain the trail and have some coffee.  At the information centre we were told that the $25 was a voluntary donation but we we were so pleased we did pay as the trail is superbly maintained and this cannot be cheap.

The ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ bridge across the Clutha /Mata-Au river

After coffee in Alexandra we headed to the Clutha Mata-Au river and historic bridge piers to begin the Roxburgh Trail.  But before that we went back about one kilometer towards Clyde to see a display of cricket gnomes in a local garden!

  

Just beyond the bridge is where the Manuherikia River joins the Clutha river and within another km we were riding along the Roxburgh Gorge where sheer bluffs rise up 350m each side of the river.  A few kms along we started to climb up to Butchers Creek and on to Doctor’s Point where we passed stone walled water races and several signs of the gold mining days.  The scenery is truly spectacular but what you do notice is the peace and tranquility only broken by the river noises.  The river is a deep blue and the rocks are a mixture of 50 shades of grey!  As we ride we have the added bonus of passing well preserved gold mines from the 1860 and the schist hand built minute miners huts still standing as they were!

You get the sensation you are riding right above the river!
Doing as we are asked – walking our bikes down!
Walking our bikes as requested
Scary when you see signs like this!!
About to climb the switchback
Walking the bike down the narrow switchback
And the hill goes on and on and on……

There is a series of switchbacks to test your metal and resolve and a cantilevered boardwalk that appears to be hanging over the river!  Also a sign that states “Steep Grade and tight curves Walk Bikes next 300m!  We did just that as it would have been hazardous to do anything else. The trail, which has km markers all the way, comes to an end at Doctor’s point where we were booked with our water-taxi ride to take all nine people and our bikes to Shingle Creek.  While we waited for our boat we enjoyed exploring some old schist stone huts built by the Chinese gold miners.  They are compact and solid and even though built by hand have survived until today.  However, the life for the people mining there was harsh and one wonders how they survived the fierce Otago winters, the fierce sun in summer and the rise and fall of the river in those tiny huts.

Chinese hut at Doctor’s Point
David showing just how tiny the entrance to the hut was.
Another hut on the opposite side of the river from Doctor’s Point
Inside the hut
Waiting at Doctor’s Point for our boat

Once we were all aboard the jet boat for our journey down the river, our driver took us on a guided tour imparting local knowledge gained through years on the river. It was a very impressive commentary while he swung the boat back and forth across the rive pointing out huts, gold mines, water races, track to push wheelbarrows and goods over the rocky terrain.  Gold was first discovered on a shelf at Doctor’s Point in 1877. Mining was difficult due to large boulders and a shortage of water, but returns were good.

Views from Doctor’s Point
Waiting for our bikes to be loaded onto jet boat
Loaded and ready to go!

As we came close to Shingle point we were introduced to Mrs Herons Cottage where she lived and brought up 7 children while running a shop.

From Wikipedia:-

Harriet Heron and her husband initially lived in Tuapeka, where they ran a butcher’s shop. For some time she ran the store single-handed as her husband went to Wetherstones to work on a gold mine, and then to the Cluta River area. Heron sold the business and joined her husband at the mining site, located at Fourteen Mile Beach. For their first three years there they lived in a tent, and Heron was the only woman in the camp.

The Herons later built a schist and mud mortar cottage to live in, which was originally located on the shores of the Clutha River; however since the river was dammed and flooded in 1956, it now sits on the banks of lake Roxburgh.  The cottage is a maintained heritage building and known locally as “Mrs Heron’s Cottage.

Mrs Heron’s Cottage
Another Chinese Hut by the river Clutha
Swirls from our boat zig zag-ing across the river

Leaving Shingle Creek we started to climb a narrow and steep climb past Elbow creek, Hidden valley and up to Lake Roxburgh village where the trail becomes ‘The Clutha Gold Trail’. 

The climb from Single Creek
Single Creek
and on…
and on…..
and on….

We rode across the lake Roxburgh dam, past Commissioner Flat where we had to check maps to ensure we were heading in the right direction. We spotted the old remains of a dredge called the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912 but before it sank it ‘won’ 3,358 ounces of gold from the river between 1902-1906.  A sign by this dredge says there are the remains of several other dredges along the Clutha river.

An old swing bridge after Commissioners Flat
The remains of the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912

We finally came to the end of the trail just outside Roxburgh and we turned away from the village to our accommodation at Clutha Gold Cottages where Christine greeted us warmly. We stayed in a lovely old four bedroom cottage and kindly drove us all into town to the Grand Tavern and picked us up afterwards.  We were the only people in the Tavern – I think they opened it late especially for us. What an amazing day!

Thursday 23rd March 2017

Roxburgh to Millers Flat – 21kms

Before leaving Roxburgh we wandered in to the town to have a look around. First we found Jimmy’s pies and wondered at the selection of fillings. Along the main street there were several sculptures – one beautiful stainless steel sculpture created by Bill and Michelle Clarke which sits opposite the public toilets.  The detail in the faces and tools is superb. There were a few quirky shops and an art gallery that was not opened at 9.30am so unfortunately we missed seeing inside.

Sculpture by Bill and Michelle Clarke
Wonderful detail
Beautiful work!

However, we did not miss the stunning view of the Clutha river from the Roxburgh bridge, as we cycled back to the beginning of the trail for today ride to Millers Flat. 

View of Clutha River from Roxburgh Bridge

The river followed us along the track for some time as we rode through wooded areas where the leaves were turning their autumnal colour – shades of yellow, red and brown.

We arrived at the Millers Flat Holiday park our home for the night at around midday. We were greeted by Marise & John May who were a young couple who had taken over the park about nine months ago.  They have great plans to develop the park and have already made great inroads. They installed a coffee machine in their Kiosk and so we started our visit with a flat white made all the more welcome as we had frozen hands and feet and were chilled by the headwind!

Millers Flat  has a population of around 200 but the trail is bringing more visitors to the area and as a result there is another cafe and shop opening up soon. We had booked in for dinner at Millers Flat tavern which entailed riding across a massive blue bridge across the Clutha river. We tentatively headed across the very narrow bridge which did not leave much room for trucks and bikes but luckily there is little traffic so made it safely to the Tavern.  The food at the tavern was really good – had whitebait fritters – Yum!

Friday 24th March 2017

Millers Flat to Lawrence  – 42kms

Today started out bitterly cold with a clear blue sky as we cycled out from Millers Flat.  We had read about Millers Flat’s ‘Lonely Graves’ which was a short 5km detour from the trail and said to be well worth the extra ride. It was just of the trail to Beaumont where we had planned to meet for coffee.  The detour was close to the Horseshoe Bend Bridge carpark and was uphill all the way, but a gradual climb and well worth the effort – it was a soul stirring haunting atmosphere. Just two graves sitting side by side on a bleak hill in the middle of nowhere. 

The story goes:

An anonymous grave at Horseshoe Bend, probably of an 1860s miner, was provided with a headboard by local man William Rigney, who added the words, ‘Somebody’s darling lies buried here.’ A new headstone, reproducing the words, was put in place in 1903. Rigney died in 1912 and was buried next to the earlier grave, his headstone marked with the words ‘The man who buried “Somebody’s Darling”’.  But before he died Rigney wrote to the local paper saying

There was nothing done to enclose the grave until a maned [man named] John Ord who, I think, died long since on the Coast, and myself put a fence of rough manuka poles round it. Just then I had to go to Tapanui for mining timber and I got a board of black pine. This I shaped something like a headstone, painted it white, and with a tomahawk and a four-inch nail I cut, or rather sunk into the timber the words: “Somebody’s darling lies buried here.”

The plaque beside the grave tells the story and admits that the ‘truth should never get in the way of a good story’!

Todays ride was mostly through farmland – our first stop Beaumont which had a large bridge and little else. We followed the trail right through the very small settlement of Beaumont but found no coffee shop so rode back to the bridge and over it to the Beaumont Hotel.

However, when we got to the hotel it looked very closed.  We were desperate so we went around the back of the hotel and finally saw a man working out back and called to him.  It turned out he was the Icelandic owner of the hotel who told us he had two boys at Otago university.  We said there would be nine of us and could we have coffee. ‘Yes’, but his coffee machine would take 10-15mins to heat up.  We were happy to wait but noticed there was a sign that said ‘Whitebait Sammies $10’ (Sammies = sandwiches). We asked if we could have some – yes, no problem. By this time the rest of our team arrived and ordered nine coffees and nine whitebait sammies!!  Boy were they good.

Once we left Beaumont replete from our food and drink we started to climb up to the highest point in the trail and on through the Big Hill Tunnel  (440m) – thank heavens for the tunnel as the road close to us went a lot higher!

On the way there was a sign that read ‘ Stop for a while – it’s that simple – Lawrence 5kms

Stop for a rest, It’s that simple – Lawrence 5km

Still has it’s number plate!

As we rode closer to Lawrence there was a ‘Lawrence Chinese Camp site’ which was founded in 1867 and the last Chinese died there in 1945. Since then it was left to go to ruin until it was revived by a charitable trust which aims to retire it.  The site once had a population of about 100 and was a gold mining township serving the needs of the residents.

The township of Lawrence is a lively spot with cafes, shops art studios, brick-a-brac and hand weaving. The central Orago’s gold rush began in Lawrence with the discovery of gold by Gabriel Read in May 1861. By early 1862 there were thought to be 14,000 miners on the field. Many were locals, but they were joined by numbers from Australia, and eventually from England, Scotland, Ireland and China.  The place where he discovered the gold was named ‘Gabriel’s Gully’. At the height of the gold rush Lawrence ’s population reached 11,500 but todays population is about 450.

Our pickup from Lawrence by Trail Journeys was at 3.30 so we had plenty of time to wander around some of the lovely old building in Lawrence and visit the cemetery where John J Woods, the composer of the New Zealand National Anthem is buried, there is also a Chinese section here and some amazing iron Celtic crosses.

This was our last day riding in our two weeks in the South Island – In and around Queenstown, Around the Mountains and the Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails.  We rode 12 out of the 14 days – some very short others long but all memorable.  We rode about 462 kms in all, an average of 38kms a day!

What an amazing time we had – the sheer beauty of the Otago & Southland hills and lakes is beyond my ability to describe – you just have to do the ride yourself !

Our last dinner together in The School House in Clyde!