Newsletter 6 parts 1 and 2

Newsletter 6 parts 1 and 2

11th November 2022

Working for myself, I don't really have holidays as such.  But my partner does, and she organised the bookings to enable us to tick something off her personal "to do" list. She doesn't do Facebook or much online due to the nature of her job and the personal security risks it entails.

We left heading north on SH1 and for me the drive is also a revisit of the many places I've cycled past in previous years, mostly between Dunedin and the family place at Lake Hawea.  Back then I carried no tent - I knew where the bridges were.  Every time I travel the highways of Otago I pass places that are familiar from much slower travel.

Passing over the Kilmog I looked down into the valley at the old abandoned farmstead I first visited about eight years ago.  On that day I'd had to stop and open a gate on the road and the farm owner was close by - I asked permission to go and get photos (not something I always did then) and was told it was the old family home and that his mother had never regretted moving out to beside the highway.  On a frosty day, down in the valley, she'd sometimes not had running water til three in the afternoon.

He also invited me to explore another old place I'd not know of - now gone. On that day I realised that seeking permission was worth it. In recent years, thefts from farms have made it more important.  It was also on that day I recalled all the old places I had seen growing up in Dunedin and being taken for day walks with the family.  Many of those places are gone now.  On that day I decided to find and photograph as many as I can as my way of preserving  them before they vanish in their turn.

Oamaru was reached and opshops were visited.  At the north end of the long Oamaru straight I always recall the many times I've hitched north from Dunedin and been dropped off in central Oamaru to walk the long road to the end of town.

At Pukeuri Junction I remembered a hot afternoon waiting at the start of the Waitaki Valley highway, eventually walking a little then a little more - then walking to the first houses beside the road and the shade of their trees.  Did I really walk that far in the summer sun that day? I guess there was nothing else to do.

Reaching Kurow, we crossed the new bridges over the Waitaki.  A portion of the old wooden bridge, originally built for trains as well as other traffic, is preserved in the picnic area, with its memories of a few nights spent under its shelter, listening to the rattle of passing traffic. The railway beyond the bridge was projected to extend halfway up the Hakataramea Valley. 

The last time I'd used it for shelter was on the last night of a hitching expedition to the Upper Waitaki canals to find and photograph the evidence of an historic practical joke, played on the monolithic Ministry of Works back in the 1980s.  That afternoon I'd returned from the canals with another destination, to be sought if I had the time.  On the north bank of the Waitaki, visible from the highway, the Slip Road once made its way up a hillside and along a cliff face composed of alternating rocky spines and scree slides.  It was once the only access to two stations on that side of the Waitaki and was a road which passengers, unused to it would often get out and walk over rather than sit in a farm's truck looking at the view.  When the Waitaki Dam was built part of the road was flooded and a bridge built.  No one lamented the end of the Slip Road.  



An 1899 photo of the road taken by an enterprising photographer.  Photo courtesy of Culture Waitaki.



On that day I walked up the road, bypassing the Hakataramea Cemetery, smelling the November fragrance of flowering matagouri and finding the end of the usable road.  Ahead of me was a sheep track across the scree.  Below me, looking down the uninterrupted scree slope, was the Waitaki River.  Beyond the scree two rocky spines close together had been bridged.  I looked at the bridge and looked down at the water. I didn't feel like swimming that day.  I took my photos and returned to the Kurow bridge.

My account of reaching the Old Slip Road - and more - is

Newspapers in the late 1920s, referring to the planned hydro project which now goes by the name of the Waitaki Dam, refer to the relatively small cost of bridging the Waitaki above the slip.  In 1928 the Minister of Public Works and the project engineer inspected the site and were presented with a case for including a bridge on top of the dam.  I wonder if the presentation included a drive over the Slip Road.  The new bridge, above the dam, was opened in January 1933 and the Slip Road closed.

Mr Black, the Waimate County engineer in the early nineties, said that he could build a road across "The Slip." In August of 1892, four men each receiving 8s a day, commenced work on the road. A little later several more men were employed at seven shillings a day, On April 1, 1893, the slip road was thrown open to wheeled traffic, and so the punt outlived its usefulness. This dangerous road is about 11 chains long and is approximately 300 feet from the river. In wet or windy weather boulders and shingle rolled and slid on to the highway, making a crossing in rough weather extremely dangerous. It is reported that an intoxicated man fell over the edge and rolled to the bottom, where he crawled along to safety. Steep approaches ascend to the road from either side. A remarkable escape from death was experienced by Mr A. Sutton, of "Waitangi," a few years ago. When coming down the west approach, the steering gear of his car failed to act, and the vehicle rolled over seven times, until checked by a scrub bush. The driver emerged unhurt. Two or three years ago another man was not so fortunate; his car while descending the east approach, rolled into the river. Later both car and driver were recovered. The cost of theslip roadwas in the vicinity of £700. A splendid view of this dangerous highway may be obtained any where between the hydro works andKurow.

When the authorities decided to erect a dam, for hydro electric purposes, four miles above Kurow, it was found that some of the road connecting the slip with the two stations would be inundated. After some discussion it was decided to erect a bridge at the head of the prospective lake, thus enabling the settlers to travel down the river on the Otago bank. The old punt crossing is not more than 200 yards upstream from the bridge site. During the winter of 1930 the foundations of the concrete piles were built, and the main work of the bridge was completed towards the end of 1932. This new means of communication is called the Waitangi bridge, and received its name from the original title of the Waitaki river. With a length of 630 feet, the structure is the longest of its type (Warren Truss) in New Zealand, and cost £15,000 to build, this amount being £1000 less than the estimate. On, January 30, 1933, in the presence of a large public gathering, the Waitangi bridge was formally opened by the leader of the Legislative Council, the Hon. Sir James Parr, and so the sixth means of access was opened to the sheep runs "Te Akatarawa" and "Waitangi."  -Press, 4/2/1937.



The Slip Road, from the Kurow Museum, via the Hocken Library.





Press, 4/2/1933.


In 1968, with the new Aviemore dam providing a road over its crest, there was no need for the Waitangi Bridge.  It was dismantled and part of it was taken to the Mt Cook area where it can be seen spanning the Hooker River, providing access to the Tasman Glacier.


Hooker River road bridge - photo from Wikimedia



Arriving at the Hakataramea Cemetery I spent a few minutes walking its lines - it's not a big one - then a few minutes drive back across the bridge and it was the turn of the Kurow Cemetery.  A few of the smaller plaques commemorate children who'd died at the Campbell Park Special School (a place for "problem children") in the 1930s.  A few years before at the Kurow Museum I'd been told that the graves were those of boys whose families had not been able or willing to receive them for burial.

Further up the Valley we passed the Waitaki Hydro village, still empty and unused after many years.  As I had before, I sent silent curses at the vandal who'd had the mature apricot trees cut down.  Maybe they taunted someone with their beauty and usefulness.

Beyond Omarama we took the turnoff to the Clay Cliffs.  The Cliffs themselves were closed for the foreseeable - apparently due to road washout - but we were headed for another place.  Returning from the Cliffs on a previous visit I'd seen a sign pointing to the Quailburn historic site and it intrigued me.  I'm always looking for a handy overnight camping spot so I thought it would be good to check out for the future.  

Before the sealed road gave way to gravel, there can be seen a solitary chimney.  This is one of the few remains of a laudable project which would reward soldiers returning from the Great War with parcels of land to farm. An Act was passed and loans were offered.  The Benmore soldiers' settlement was one of many, and one of the many which failed.  Despite the cutting of a water race from the Quailburn to irrigate the land, it didn't last long.


One of the new works now under consideration by the Public Works Department is the construction of a race with which to take water from the Quailburn Creek for the domestic use of the returned soldiers who have settled on sections that formed part of the Benmore Estate. In this connection we may mention that one of the settlers interested in this proposal is Mr Peter Williams, well known as a frontrank player in the Alhambra Football Club, also an Otago and New Zealand representative. He is very busy on his farm, and likes the life.  -Evening Star, 28/4/1917.


A Dunedin citizen who spent the holiday season in the vicinity of the Benmore settlement for returned soldiers states that some of the men are having a pretty hard time in making ends meet, and have to take on small contracting work, etc., to enable them to obtain a little extra revenue. 


The visitor from Dunedin says that, from what he could gather from local farmers, the settlement was badly laid out in the first place, and that the allotments were not big enough, speaking generally, to enable the soldier-farmers to have a fair chance of making a comfortable living.  While the soldiers have been given flat land in their allotments they have not had sufficient hill country included, and the result is that when snow falls it lies on the flat land and the sheep have a bad time.  If some sidlings had been marked off with the flat country the sheep would have had a better chance by making their way to any sunny faces.   -Otago Daily Times, 5/1/1919.


Sir, — As another man whose prospects have been blighted through "doing his bit," I should like to endorse what "Main Body" says in his letter in your issue of the 8th February. I, too, have noticed the great prosperity the country, particularly the farming community, has enjoyed. I, too, have always worked in the country, sometimes farming on my own account and at other times working for other farmers. I paid a visit to a district where I have known the people and conditions of working since my boyhood and was greatly surprised at the rapid advancement made by the people in the years' war period. Of course, it is very pleasant to see everything going so well, but why should we, the returned soldiers, not share in the general prosperity? Another thing "Main Body" must have noticed is the many cases where the number of big farmers' sons, whose appeals were granted, have added to their already large holdings by securing all the small farms around them. To give a case in point. I am back from the front classed permanently unfit. I shall never be fit to work as I used to, but, as I am a thoroughly capable farmer, I thought I would go for a farm with Government help in the way of borrowed money. While in the district I mentioned, I was told of an old acquaintance of mine — I shall call him Brown — who wished to sell out. As the farm in question was one of 50 acres, I reckoned it was just the size for me, as, being a Second Division man, I could, with the assistance of my family, milk a few cows. On arrival at Brown's I was surprised to find the cottage uninhabited, and the sheds and fowl run all unused. I made inquiries in the neighbourhood, and learned that the most notorious shirker in the district had gathered in that little home, where a soldier might have a chance of "making good," after his heavy financial losses, through serving his country. The present owner is single, is younger than I am, and is already well endowed with this world's goods, as he has two large farms, as well as that small one, on which a poor man might make a home. He has no back money to pay, as I have to pay on the little home in which I left my family while I was serving my country. To give you another experience: I went out to-day with two men (not soldiers) to have a look at a farm, which one of them thought of buying. I was not wearing my badge. On arrival at the place we met the owner, who showed us round. In the course of conversation one of my friends asked the farmer about a farm a couple of miles away, which was for sale. "Oh," said our host, " that place is under offer to the Government; it is no good — a regular swamp; it is only fit for soldiers." Comment is needless.

— I am, etc., Digger. February 9.  -Otago Daily Times, 12/1/1919.


Conditions on the settlement, despite a supply of water, drove the men out.  Harsh winters and dry summers made their farms unworkable.  The solitary chimney beside the Quailburn rd, the empty cottage visible from the highway, are memorials to the failed soldiers' settlements. So is the "bridge to nowhere" over the Whanganui River.



At the end of the Quailburn road was once the Quailburn Station.  The homestead is long gone but the shearing shed survives - just.  DoC signs warn visitors of a sinking and rotting floor and a plywood walkway has been put over parts of it.  The signs also warn against going inside with a weight of snow on the roof.  A look around the back shows what a weight of snow can do to an old  iron roof.  It also showed a healthy patch of gooseberry bushes.





Twizel was the day's destination, reached in good time to relax before dinner.  Twizel doesn't immediately bring forth images of fine dining but the restaurants we chose for the two nights were definitely worth it.

It's an odd place, Twizel, originally designed to be temporary and designed to a Scandinavian model of curving streets and empty spaces between them to make it more convenient to walk or cycle than drive within the town. The concept was tried at the previous hydro construction town of Otematata, where empty streets leading nowhere can still be found.  But Twizel has survived its planned end, some houses being shifted to the Upper Clutha after the completion of the Upper Waitaki canal project but others being bought and kept in place.  Since then it has grown, both as a place to live in or retire to, and as a place to stay in and go to enjoy fishing, water sports, the mountains, skiing.

Twizel: a new town, but not without its memorials.

Part 2 to follow in due course.


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Part two!  


The second morning dawned reasonably sunny and it was time to head for Mt Cook.  I'd last driven the road just before covid and lockdown, driving for a Dunedin tourism business which mostly served cruise ship passengers.  But there was also the run to the Hermitage and back, which I had enjoyed despite its brutally early start.  As long as I reached the Hermitage at 12.30, I could take my mandatory where and when I chose.  One of the places was beside the Mt Cook highway about 15 minutes from the end, where the map shows a solitary 1870s grave.  The map - as a phone app - can also be used with the phone's GPS to guide the user to any place in New Zealand with an accuracy of about ten metres.

It took me three tries to find it - on the first I ran out of time, on the second I discovered that a little rain isn't good for a phone's touchscreen, on the third I found him, buried where he was found in the snow.  The story I wrote from that day is here.

The track from the Hermitage - or, more properly, White Horse Hill - up to the Hooker Glacier was formed in 1902 and the first suspension footbridge built then.  Before that, the route up the Hooker Valley was to take the "cage" on a cable over the Hooker where the road to the Tasman Glacier is now, or to cross the Mueller Glacier.

We stopped at the memorial to three men who had died in an avalanche in 1914.  I guess their remains are still up there in the glacier.  Then a look around the corner of the plinth to see that there have been many more.










by a Green Hand

Chapter IV, the Hooker Glacier

At the very outset one has to face a terrible lion in the path — the bridge over the Hooker, to wit. I don't claim to be the first who has ever crossed this bridge; in respect of the Hooker bridge, the only originality I claim is to have been the first who ever frankly confessed the slate of blue panic that all experience in crossing it. It is a suspension bridge, loosely hung on wires, and constructed of frail cross pieces of wood, the flotsam apparently of a wrecked hencoop. Supported on these transverse battens, which may be a couple of yards or so apart, runs a bit of half-inch deal, about nine inches wide; and it is on this you walk across the Hooker river. My first crossing of this bridge I regard as one of my greatest achievements in the High Alps — quite equal to the ascent of Kea Point. It is true that one might reach the Hooker Glacier by another route, crossing the Mueller moraine and skirting the base of the Footstool; but besides that this is a circuitous and laborious way, I should have felt demoralised, should have lost my self-respect if I had jibbed at the Hooker bridge. Accordingly, the night before my expedition, without saying anything to the Adamsons, lest they might be alarmed, I went out to reconnoiter the bridge. A steady breeze was blowing from Mount Sefton down the Hooker, and the bridge swayed with a rhythmical motion, thrilling to every whisper of the wind like an Aeolian harp. Fifty feet below it, perhaps, or less, the Hooker river was rushing like a thousand fairies amongst rocks and boulders, down the sharply inclined plane of its channel. Reasoning with myself that the New Zealand Government would not lightly be guilty of murder, and would not therefore have invited "the people" to cross this bridge had they not totally believed that it would support the weight of the most voluminous colonist, I controlled my nerves and committed myself to the venture. For the first twenty yards or so things went very well; the plank so far was double width, and the footing fairly steady. Besides, had I gone through I should have fallen only three feet or so. But another twenty feet on the single plank, over the bed of the Hooker, was quite another matter. A wild clutch with the hands at the wire supports of the bridge; a fore-and-aft undulating upheaval of the whole structure, as if it were an immense caterpillar making for the other side of the river; a lateral wobbling motion due to the wind from the valley; ominous cracking of the frail timbers underneath; the dirly Hooker licking its hungry chops forty feet below; a general feeling of incipient seasickness and imminent shipwreck; but all the time nevertheless a dauntless iron resolution, and steady progress, if slow; half over; dreadful pause and contemplation of the boiling river; three-quarter over, and hope begins to spring eternal; twenty steps more and I am kicking my heels defiantly on the other side, safe — safe!

It will be well for every novice in mountaineering to lay this lesson well to heart, that up here in the High Alps bravery is the best policy; not honesty, for there is nothing to steal.  A dauntless courage —that is what will carry you through; pluck, that is the thing. If, for instance, I had not had the courage to cross the Hooker I should never have got to the other side. I do not say it was not foolhardy to venture across the bridge alone; perhaps it was, but one cannot always be wise. I do not recommend ordinary amateurs to follow my example; they had better go with two guides, properly roped; first a guide; then when he has reached the further side, the amateur; last, when the amateur is quite safe, the other guide. The rope, of course, must be kept properly taut. In this way if the amateur falls through the bridge he will dangle on the rope until he can be rescued. 

It is curious to note how soon familiarity breeds indifference to danger, even contempt for it; which is a danger in itself. Having once crossed the Hooker bridge, I made the return journey without blenching. Half-way over, stopped and looked placidly down at the angry river; and for the smallest emolument would have danced a fandango on the middle of the bridge. In short the Hooker bridge was conquered.  - Otago Daily Times, 15/2/1896.  


1913 photo by La Trobe, held by the Hocken Library.




The original track followed the true left bank of the Hooker and crossed it on the glacier.  In 1911, the Upper Hooker bridge was built, bypassing the glacier and enabling a more direct route up the true right of the Hooker to the Copland Pass and the West Coast.


"Upper Hooker Bridge," 1913, Hocken Library photo.


The ledge of the old track.  The large rock, bottom right, is recognisable in the previous photo.

The old track descending past the left bank anchorage of the old bridge.  The dark spot on the large rock bottom right would seem to be part of the bridge walkway.  If I'd done my research before walking the track I'd have taken a closer look.

The old track can still be seen from the left bank side of the second footbridge, cut into and built up on the cliff above the Hooker and leading to a scree fan where it disappears.  If I'm ever back there with the time to spare, I'll follow it to where it descends to a narrow river flat.


Wa walked up the well-made track, greeting the many people who had braved the cold wind and rain - the track must be packed in good weather.  Three suspension bridges took us over the Hooker and I found myself almost instinctively doing a "swing-bridge walk" - when your steps begin a resonant frequency and the bridge starts rocking, you can stop for a few seconds or break the resonance by making a half step after every three or four.  Hooker Glacier and its terminal lake were cold and we stayed long enough for a few photos then returned with the wind at our backs.



Leaving the Hermitage area, we drove back down the highway, over the Hooker River road bridge for a quick look (only while researching this newsletter did I find the bridge's origin) and stopped at Glentanner, a few minutes down the road, for coffee.  As cafe views go, it's got to be hard to beat.  Before moving on I went onto the patio and took a photo looking up the valley at Rock Etam.  On the top of this roughly 200m high outcrop beside the Tasman River is the grave of local politician Thomas Burnett, whose remains were taken from Timaru to the family church at Cave and then up to Mt Cook Station and then buried high atop the rock.  I've not been to Rock Etam and Burnett's grave - yet.  When I do, depending on timing, I might first visit Parsons Falls, a few km further up the valley.  The falls are 65m high in a side valley off the Tasman which is in full sunlight for about an hour every day.




Dinner that night in Twizel was Indian, based on an online review.  Very good.



Next morning was cloudy with overnight snow on the visible hills.  We headed out of town and northwards through a cold landscape.  At Tekapo a short stop for coffee and a quick photo of a certain canine statue with snowy hills behind it.  Through Burkes Pass then a left turn off the highway, over a familiar bridge (on the list of those I've slept under) and onto an unfamiliar road, Stoneleigh, then Monument rd to see what the Monument was.  But first, a surprise.  A Category 2 building, the bluestone remains of the Ashwick Station stables.  I'd seen photos and was expecting it in the area but it was still a surprise.  Beside Stonleigh rd we'd noticed an impressive stand of tall cedars, looking very exotic near an alpine valley.  Ashwick was the birthplace and boyhood home of William Hamilton, who supplied hydro electricity from a home-made genrator to light his home at the age of 12.  He went on to invent the jet boat.




Ashwick was one of the large pastoral run bought by the government to divide and settle more families on the land.  Which is the reason why the Monument, the local Great War cenotaph, sits at a crossroads with a couple of houses in view and what seems like a large number of names on it.  The large number is due to its listing those who served on one side and those who died on a separate panel.  Still a lot of young men who never returned home.  Just up the road, at a place called Domain Corner, the map shows another monument.  It might be a similar one - one day I'll find out.




I drove into Fairlie over the Opihi river, crossing a bridge under which I'd spent the night after a long second day out of Hawea, which turned into a rainy Sunday evening.  A long evening, trying to true up a buckled back wheel without the proper tool and wondering what I'd do if I couldn't.  I eventually got the wheel more or less useable, only to have it collapse beside SH1 on my way back from Christchurch.  But that's another story.

The Fairlie bakehouse is an excellent example of doing something very well and having people put it on their list for when they're passing through.  As it was near lunchtime, the queue for pies was literally out the door. I had something on my list as well as a pie for lunch - something I'd had on my list last time I'd been at Fairlie and made my way through the local cemetery with my camera.  Something I'd completely forgotten about on the day - possibly because I'd been surprised by the arrival of a funeral procession.

Not far out of Fairlie is a completely intact - I think - Second World War ammunition storage depot.  A number of large brick sheds, well spaced from each other so that an accidental explosion of one wouldn't set off a chain reaction.  The clay dug out to site them has been turned into blast walls.  The access roads are distinctive, with gentle slopes and wide curves to suit heavily-laden trucks with trailers.  I found a neighbour who gave me directions to the owner's house just up the road. Nobody home there so I returned to the neighbours to take up their offer of a phone number.  Permission was granted with easy conditions and I began my exploration.

Later research revealed that it wasn't what I'd call an operational depot like the one whose remains I've found close to Dunedin.  It was more a bulk storage depot for the ammunition factory which used to operate back at Fairlie.  Everything was in good condition and I wish I'd been able to get inside. 













Back on the road, the route to Timaru was left for a few minutes to see whether the Burnett family church at Cave was open.  It wasn't. Thomas Burnett's coffin had been brought in on its way to Rock Etam in 1941.

The Timaru opshops were visited and I thought - as I always do in the old part of Timaru - that I could easily spend a day wandering around its streets with a camera. I was reminded of a visit a few years ago when I saw, on a side street, an office with wonderfully ambitious lettering on the front window, to the effect of advertising their services as "life coaches, budget planning, business planning, be all you can be, reach for your dreams..." and then, for when things went wrong, "debt collection and repossession..."  I'm sure I've got the exact wording wrong but I've not forgotten the gist of it.  I'd love to know how the business was started and where the staff are now.  On my next visit I sought the office out.  It was gone.

South of Timaru is St Andrews, with a golf course (of course) and a nice pub.  It was in the pub, some years ago now, on my second day's cycling out of Dunedin, I was offered accommodation nearby.  It was dark, I was tired, I happily agreed, and cycled a couple of km back down the highway to the St Andrews domain.  In the lounge of the kitchen block I slept on the sofa in great comfort before being woken up just after dawn by a train passing about 100m from the building.

More coffee at Glenavy - the shop there has very good coffee - then through Oamaru and straight home to see how the cats were doing.