Sunday, February 26, 2012


Although we're now buried in the first weeks of a new school year, and summer is fast turning to autumn, there is still one wonderful memory from summer that I want to share with you. A bit later than intended, but we have suffered another bout of internet issues followed by a week of ill health in the family. Everyone is now back to normal and the internet is working, so here we go.

A long time ago, before I even imagined owning a 4WD I had dreams of driving over the Old Dunstan Trail. Firstly, because of its history and secondly because it would be adventurous and even a teeny bit dangerous!

My wee car, on top of the Rock and Pillars.

When the first settlers to Otago made their way into the hinterland they travelled as the crow flies: straight through in a westerly direction. That involved climbing up and over several mountain ranges until they reached their destination. A decade or so later new routes were found that skirted these mountains, but the original trail remained. Nowadays, this trail is not serviced and is suitable for dry weather and 4WD only.

The trail begins.

Hubby and I set out early one morning, driving through Outram and over the Maungatua hills until we reached the turn off at Clarks Junction. The first section of road, to Deep Stream, was tarsealed as Dunedin's water supply is located here. We crossed the bridge and the trail began.

The ragged and rutted state of the road required a slow speed and great concentration, which is my favourite way to drive. It was the first time I'd tried out my car in these conditions and I was amazed at what a difference larger wheels and a higher clearance makes.

One of the many rocky schist outcrops.

Our view in all directions - blues skies and tussock.

We bumped and shuddered to the very top of the Rock and Pillar range through desolate country. For miles in all directions we were surrounded by a seething sea of tussock. Inside the car the sun scorched our arms and blinded us, but when we stopped the wind packed a wicked chill.

A camel and a house?

More tussock!

I stood on the edge of a bluff, the wind catching my clothing, and I imagined being an early settler, traveling by wagon. Although it was breathtakingly beautiful, it was cold and bleak, with no firewood in sight. I knew I would have my own cosy bed to return to that night, but the settlers would be out here for days.

A better strip of road - note the bare rock in front of us. I haven't got any photos of the roughest bits - I had other things on my mind!

At the summit of the range, 1041 metres above sea level, we pulled over and I spotted craggy peaks to the south west. After some deliberation I realised they must be the Remarkables - a range that ran past Queenstown, many miles away. It was that sight and the chill of the wind in an otherwise hot sunny day that really brought home to me how high we had climbed.

From the very top, a view of the Remarkables.

Then it was a steep descent into the Maniototo Basin and the historic site of Styx or Paerau where an old stone jail and hotel are located on the Taieri River. A large tree had fallen over the walking track and we were unable to get across the river to explore.  Luckily we had both been there before.  Inside the jail are iron rings where gold was shackled overnight on its way to Dunedin from the goldfields.

The Taieri River meanders it way through the Maniototo Basin.

Styx. It looks shallow, but we couldn't cross here. The old jail house is hidden behind trees.

Back on tarsealed road we travelled north up the west side of the basin until we reached the Wedderburn hotel: an old stone building that has been there since 1885. After a delicious lunch we drove around the northern edge of Rough Ridge mountain range and headed south again through the Ida Valley.

This is one of my most favourite parts of Central Otago. A long wide valley with the occasional house built under the shade of the mountains and a willow lined river. It is also the location of one of my WIPs - the modern Tegan's story.

At the southern end of the Ida Valley we turned back east and began the second section of the Dunstan Trail across Rough Ridge. The first bit was easy going - being a well used road to Poolburn. Here there are cribs (holiday and fishermen's cottages) and the site of Rohan's village in Lord of the Rings. Once we were past the burn the road deteriorated and we had a few intense moments.

Poolburn Reservoir. Rohan Village was located near hear.

This section was dotted with nine gates and we stopped and started, dragging more dust inside and getting hot and sticky. The day continued to be a scorcher. One of the best vistas of the day was descending down into the Maniototo Basin - for the second time that day.

Descending Rough Ridge into the Maniototo Basin with the Hawdun Range in the distant.

A cute barn at the southern end of Maniototo Basin.

This time we drove up the east side of the basin until we reached Ranfurly, where we stopped for refreshments and then we headed for home: hot, happy and exhausted, with a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

Now to find another trail to explore.


  1. Sounds like you had a fabulous time. This is one of my favourite places you never get tired of explorings it's wonderful open spaces.

    1. We'll have to make another trip up this way, there's so much to see.

  2. Glad you are back up and running, I mean, exploring. :)
    This is fantastic! The best way to get a feel for the place.
    Beautiful writing, btw. Have a great week ...

  3. Thanks Joanne. I'm getting stuck into some serious writing this week, so its lining up to be a good one. :)

  4. What gorgeous pictures! I have to admit I know very little about New Zealand, but seeing that scenery makes me wish I could visit there. What is tussock exactly? Is it a name for the terrain, or a kind of grass?

    1. Maybe you'll make it here one day!

      Tussock is the kind of grass, I think you call it bunchgrass in North America. It tends to be a golden colour in Otago, but we have silver and red hues of tussock too. I love the way the breeze ripples through the tussock - it just feels like home to me.