We’ll continue driving from the west coast to the east coast of the South Island.
Our route took us through the small town of Reefton. It is another former gold-rush town (where they found an extensive gold-bearing quartz reef, hence the name).
If it looks and feels like the ‘wild west’ then you’re not far wrong.
Probably because the first gold was found in 1866, just after the Australian gold rushes started and not long after the Californian gold rush that opened up the American ‘wild west’. They all probably employed the same architects.
Because of the riches of the gold mines, and also the power of the nearby Inangahua River, the town was the first in the Southern Hemisphere to be connected to the electricity grid, courtesy of the Reefton Hydro Power Station.
The reward for traversing Takaka Hill is being able to visit beautiful Golden Bay. This wasn’t my first visit to the area, but previous visit was 14 years before, so I was curious as to whether the area had changed much. That is, become a Byron Bay kind of place, or had it retained its feeling of seclusion.
We stayed in the town the furthest way along the bay. It’s called Collingwood, and has no links to the Melbourne suburb of the same name other than being named after the same guy. Actually, I’m stretching the truth when I call Collingwood a town – it’s really a village.
That’s most of downtown Collingwood! It did start out quite big – a centre for its own gold rush in the late 19th Century, but a series of fires razed the town, and when the gold rush receded, so did much of its population. But its location as the sunniest spot in New Zealand and close to a slew of national parks makes it an adventure playground to those willing to brave the drive out.
Our last stop for the day was the little hamlet of Jamieson, near the shores of Lake Eildon south of Mansfield.
It was another gold rush settlement, but the terrain around these parts were so rough that it only attracted a few hundred permanent settlers.
Nevertheless, the fledgling town soon had a Catholic chapel, an Anglican church, a school, a court house and police station, two banks, two insurance offices, five hotels and several stores.
Today, it is a quaint place with a museum (closed at the time of our visit) as well as plenty of historical artifacts in public places.
40km up the road from Castlemaine is the city of Bendigo. It’s a big and impressive place, made wealthy by the Gold Rush.
It has an impressive art gallery to rival any of the capital cities.
And a sizeable Chinese garden, temple and museum complex.
You can see by all the offerings that the Chinese community is very alive and well in Bendigo today.
Alice Barker House is located near Castlemaine in Specimen Gully, the site of the original diggings for the area. Within a year of gold being found, there were 25,000 people working the site.
There are still lots of bits and bobs from the era to be found on the property, and the owners made the most of it them.
Castlemaine itself grew rich from all the gold, and like Beechworth, there are many fine Victorian buildings – including many pubs.
Next stop was the Goldfields of Central Victoria. We based ourselves near the town of Castlemaine, at the wonderful Alice Barker House.
This holiday house is filled with artworks inside and out, particular the work of Melbourne artist, Judy Holding.