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Riveting Relics - A Figure of Eight

28 April 2020

Words: Dave Mitchell
Photos: Dave Mitchell & Ditte van der Meulen

Drift wood for hire

After crossing the Kawarau Bridge just before Conical Hill the bare steep rock faces move back to reveal Gibbston. It's a wide open river flat that's now mainly covered in vineyards. The main town once stood where Coal Pit Road heads for the hills, as did we. The road climbs up a series of terraces mostly covered in mature grapes and frost beating wind mills. From the last house the tar-seal road reverts to gravel then a parking spot and gate, where a serious washed out 4WD track ensues. We picked our way up trying to avoid deep runnels, washouts and sections of loose schist hedged in by an overgrown menagerie. Rosehip, matagouri, blackberry, gorse, broom and Scott's thistles have thrived along with a variety of wild fruit trees. This heady mix continues unabated to the mine and saddle at the dip in the skyline.

Hug that boiler

Love those old mining relics

Coal Pit Saddle is more than just a cross roads of an alphabet soup of tracks and trails and one famous water race. Some going up, some going down, and one flat as. It stands literary at the coal face of all things black. Just below the saddle a faded yellow ex Ministry of Works derelict and disassembled Caterpillar bulldozer rests. With WW2 recycled tank quality steel It's resigned for a ten thousand year rusting away recycle plan. As a child of the projects it bought back fond memories of our sand pit with my equivalent Tonker Toy dozer while my little brother had the digger. The fathers of us hydro kids drove the real thing, making dams while the sun shone in the 60s.

Those were the days

No dolly-boys were harmed in the making of this pressure vessel

Further down the hill is a mighty crank shaft and a couple of old boilers, proud of their perfect rivets. Its mostly untrue that they use to leave the dolly-boy inside the sealed pressure vessel's after the hot riveting process was completed. The areas lack of firewood made this a very valuable coal seam indeed with dredges and steamers, hard rock mining and traction engines to power. The industrial revolution had come to town.

Crankshaft in residence

Steam tubes and rivets intact

We carried on up the Ben Cruachan 4WD track which climbs from the 1079-meter saddle to the 1895-meter Ben Cruachan, but were weren't going quite that far east. Our true aim was the once flowing Glenroy Water Race Track which heads off the main 4WD track in single-track mode, at around the 1420-meter contour well before you reach Mt Salmond. We groveled to this point and had first lunch out of the chilly westerly breeze. The top section follows a tall and very solid deer fence with an extra three electrified wires on top. It looked high enough to stop a big red kangaroo, but not an elephant.

Ex flow trail

Alas illegal motorcycle use has pretty much shagged the downhill track. Fences have been cut and deep wheel ruts have been dug most of the way down and especially through the wetter sections making the descent slow and dodgy. We did enjoy some good parts and most of the flat water race section is in pretty good nick. Where the downhill single-track intersects the water-race track you can go both ways, but the right branch becomes a bit bumpy to ride. If you legging it to the bitter end, where it once took water from Doolands Creek Right Branch, there is a hut for the bagging.

Mt Rosa Track

Mt Rosa rockery

We headed left and back out to the saddle pulling out a few wilding pines on the way. Back at Coal Pit Saddle we rode east on the Mt Rosa Track. This climbs to a 1322-meter summit and yes it's another pile of rocks and a self dismantling Lands & Survey trig of ancient imperial construction. The views north down to Mt Rosa Station and the Gibston Valley are truly breathtaking.

Our conservation bit

On the big daddy downhil

After second lunch we descended a couple of hundred meters and rode along a narrow ridge top to Antimony Saddle. There even more breathtaking views plummet down to the Kawarau River and along the dark side of the Horn Range, out across to the Old Woman and Old Man Ranges down Alexandra Way. A final gnarly climb to Mt Mason was followed by a spectacular downhill. Long and steep of epic proportions on a track you just wouldn't want to have to ride/push back up. It would burst a well riveted boiler.


With brakes on the point of melt down and pressure building up in our water bottles we bottommed out in the back of an aquatic adventure centre in the throws of being built. We rumbled past it on a very rough path around their sculptured boundary, soft green lawns and shapely pond. We hadn't seen a sausage all day so this and the main road ride back to close the loop felt like a bit of a culture shock but we survived.

Ferns and lichen

It wasn't the length of the cloth but the quality - of the uphill and downhill, that counted that day. Thirty two kilometers only, but 1550-meters up/down, so not a bad innings.

Layers of QT

The Riveting Relics - A Figure of Eight Route

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