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The Scandinavian Water Race Company

10 April 2018

By Dave Mitchell
Photos by Dave Mitchell & Ditte van der Meulen

Doom II

Beyond the twin set and pearls of Alexandra lies the badlands. It's dry, it's dusty and features an 11 metre clock surrounded by thyme. It's on the wrong side of the 'Otago Rail Trail' tracks, Manuherikia River and derelict water race, and receives less rainfall per year than Fiordland often gets in a day.

Ditte Bouldering.

Ditte and I discovered a network of magic trails flowing up and down these rocky ridges, hidden gullies and through the box canyons the local rabbits call home. Recent rain had transformed the area beyond recognition, greening up the more fertile slopes, filling the usually dry ponds and providing fuel for some evil looking toadstools. We found a couple of awesome downhills and somehow made our way to the Manuherikia Dam for a fun ride back on the old gold mining water race track into town. 

For details ask the friendly lawn mower wielding trail builders at Altitude bikes. They did the graveyard zombie killing stunts in one of Peter Jacksons early Brain Dead movies.



Young Australian

Bannockburn, mined and sluiced its way into history via the gold rush that gripped Otago in the late 1800s. A pub, a post office and a nice cafe seem to have survived the inevitable decline, plus the old motor camp. These are now surrounded by windmills and grapes on the cusp of harvesting, and a new wave of liquid gold.

Carric-kature building.

Clutha, Cromwell and grapes.

Just south of Bannockburn, the Carricktown track climbs abruptly from above Smiths Gully to what remains of the once vibrant town of Carrick. Little remains of the homes and mines that dotted the settlement and surrounding countryside, just a few schist walls and some massive slag heaps. We carried on up into snow grass and spaniard high country meeting up with the very famous and very original 35km long Carrick Range Water Race. This comes from the Coal Creek side of the Old Women Range far far away and its waters are still flowing today. Originally built in 1874 for the gold workings and now used exclusively for irrigation. How's that for ultimate recycling.

Look still turns.

More quartz rock vicar.

The track meanders to the top of Adams Gully where far below a rather big water wheel has set up shop. The Young Australian waterwheel was dragged up the hill in 1874 along with a 10 head stamper. After a few years the stamper jumped ship for a loftier posy up a ridge on the opposite side of the gully, swapping water wheel for pelton wheel. Finding the huge water wheel was easy but locating the well camouflaged stamper was a different story. It was all made way more amazing by their remote location and robust health. Hermits in the high country.

Don't believe all you read on a safety yellow sign.

We continued on to Watts Rock and Duffers Saddle, where the track meets the Nevis Road at the highest point of any NZ public road (or so the 1300-metre sign said). Before retracing our tyre tracks back to camp, we checked out the 4WD track that disappears over the Old Woman's Range horizon - our next ride if the weather stayed kind.

Fish & Chips, the camping version, Butchers Dam.

Cairnmuir Mountains.

Musterer's Hut
On a blustery day we rode from Cornish Point Road onto the open ridge top of the barren Cairnmuir Mountains in search of a restored musterer's hut at the end of an old water race. We found both, as the wind picked up from the nor-west, giving us no incentive to continue and making brakes obsolete on the steep down hill return. The hut was cool and contemplative and with bonus field mushrooms to fill our empty packs, full.

Rustic inside.

and out.

Old Women Range, tracks for getting lost on.

Old Woman
Under a steely blue sky the rising sun banished the light frost that had coated the ground and surrounding infrastructure. There was not a breath of wind to blow us off course as we peddled on a long slow climb up the ramparts of the Old Women Range. Mist chocked the adjacent Nevis, Clutha and Kawarau River Valleys reflecting morning sun from their cotton wool tops. Black spotted white butterflies materialised from nowhere to follow our progress. A clear view of the east face of the Hector and Remarkables Range lit up, and beyond that Aspiring and the southern alps to Cook. On that clear day it felt like we could see forever.

Hut stop.

Progress seemed rapid to the salubrious and well kept Old Woman Hut, after a steady climb on a long ridge into the DOC conservation area. A food stop seemed appropriate while admiring the view from the front deck's wide comfortable bench seat. Perched in a small stream gully and flanked by giant sheltering tors, it would prove a great place to hang out when the weather turned pear shaped, that's for real. We continued on our quest to the top of the Old Women Range at the 1700-metre contour before blasting back downhill to the saddle, for a sightsee down into the bottom of the Nevis Valley and then onto our pool appointment.

Nevis Valley homestead.

Lonely graves, Nevis Valley.

Nice crib.


Just like ducks on the wall the Poolburn, Manorburn and Greenland reservoirs reside in Otago's empty quarter. Access is via a dry weather road at best, 4WD mostly and not a show in Hades when the snow comes to roost. We motored in via the Old Dustan Road from the very top of the Ida Valley and set up shop at Club Poolburn water's edge. Cribs of immense ingenuity and quaintness dot the otherwise deserted landscape like mini expressions of their owners personalities. Nothing flash, obnoxious, big or nasty amongst them. They fit into the landscape just like a glove on a chicken's lip, adding character and cool.

A curve too far.

We rode around the lake edge, past the tall grey concrete dam and into the hill atop the Old Dustan Road. This road was built from Clarks Junction, inland of Dunedin, to Galloway Flat, and really did open up the back blocks of Otago in the 1800s. After 10kms we took the 4WD Long Valley Ridge Road and headed towards the Serpentine Diggings. I cannot conceive of a more remote and inhospitable place to play in winter with dirt and water than this. We eventually reached the old Oliverburn Farm Hut with its bowling green door and bright white stucco cladding. Its roof wired down with No8 wire to a bunch of ground penetrating waratahs and its insides small but cosy. Peddling the ridge above we glimpsed views over all three reservoir mixed with the rock tors, snow grass and seeding spaniard which must like it there, as they grow rather big and sharp.

First ever farmer with a plasma cutter.

Show us your map then, no we're not lost.

Manorburn revealed.

From the end of the ridge we dropped down to the schist remains of the Serpentine Mine buildings and to the Serpentine Mine. Little remains but a few rail lines and cast iron cogs disappearing down a steep slope to the valley floor hundreds of metres below. The restored waterwheel and stamper are resplendent and complete just above the valley floor. It's a real stunner in a completely remote location that is by no means easy to get to. We soaked up the history, took a few images before groveling back up the 350 metres to the top.

Wagon wheel meets water wheel, nothing like biking into work.

The track then continued down the other side of the ridge to the Serpentine gold workings where 200 miners once roamed. The original corrugated iron and schist Serpentine church built in 1873 is all that remains of the town and at a lofty 1000 metre contour became the highest church in the Dominion. Using gravity and a bunch of large rocks strung strategically from the roof it has successfully combatted the lifting power of the massive southerlies and north westerly gales for over 145 years. We ate lunch and headed back to base.

It was Sunday.

Graham Sydney could have painted this.

A gravity warping sunrise.

After a lipstick sunrise we made for the Ida Valley and St Bathans, home of the Scandinavian Water Race Company, to check out some more industrial relics. Then onto Naseby for singletrack and the incredibly scrummy food and coffee at the town's Black Forest Cafe, yum. A slow anticlimactic return back home to Christchurch followed, to face the overgrown garden on steroids and service the rattling bicycle drive trains, and do some long overdue washing.

One Tree missed the cut.

The Black Forest of Naseby.

Puffballs and ball tampering
Well we came across 3 ginormous puffballs in a reserve by Lake Dunstan, Russian spys no doubt. Not to worry, the very next day they had been taken out by the Cromwell reserve lawn mowing contractor, aka the cleaner.

Delicious fried in butter.