32. Gabriel’s Gully, Lawrence and the River Punt

Leaving Roxburgh, with promises to catch up again very soon, we noticed there was a bike trail leading all the way down from Clyde through Alexandra and on to Lawrence – the Millenium Trail. The lower South Island is so well set up for biking – and setting up for biking has become an ongoing topic of conversation between us.

We visited Lawrence and Gabriel’s Gully, and at the suggestion of my cousin, on to Tuapeka Mouth for a ride on the river punt which is apparently the only public river punt left in New Zealand. It was totally supreme-o and didn’t even cost anything which was surprising, but we were told it’s fully funded by the local council and doesn’t cost much to run anyway. Plus it just runs for a couple of hours at either end of each day.

In Lawrence, scattered in various places throughout the township, there’s a lot to see of the history of gold mining. There are several of these figureposts for example, with information boards that tell you who they were and how they contributed.
The museum was particularly good with it’s information, and there was a beautifully crafted miniature stamper battery that worked whenever you pressed a button. I did get a short video of it working, but it won’t upload.
I am pleasantly surprised by the museums in general that we are visiting as many of them are starting to make an effort to show the contributions of women – the hidden half of the population back then! Bring it on. One impressive thing I heard recently is that women were typically familiar with tree species and the different hardnesses and maximised that knowledge to enable hot or slow burning when baking and cooking. But we never hear about their inventions, which undoubtedly existed.
We set off on the walking trail around the old gold mining area of Gabriel’s Gully which is well set up as an outside museum with regular information boards giving the economic, social and geological history.
The stretch of shingle you can see in the centre of the photo above is actually a fault scarp
There were two magazines in the gully signifying how much blasting went on back then to get at the gold-bearing rock.
Onwards and upwards – especially upwards!
Further up we hit bush and old house sites.
We could see where the old water races, coming in from different gullies, joined up with one another. This part of the track seemed to actually BE an old water race; we could feel the ground springing back under our feet and figured there must be old pipe underneath the track.
Around Gabriel’s Gully, the miners – or race builders – dug more than 180 kilometres of water race, totally level, sourcing water from a radius of 50 kilometres over some pretty rugged country…even further, as one came in from the Waipori River where we visited the dam a few days ago. All by hand as always back in those days – incredible work!
This shows Gabriel’s Gully from near its head – the walk goes in a big loop high up around the valley. Hydraulic elevating took off here, as material that had already been mined was reworked, and a heap more gold extracted from it.
It was fun and interesting to read excerpts from a young Paddy McMullin’s diary which were included on the information boards. He started off helping his storekeeper father, and later wound up on a stamper battery before leaving Gabriel’s Gully for good, no doubt with permanently impaired hearing!
Wild raspberries on our way back…largely untouched by the local birdlife, but no way to carry them! Jingers, goodbye to that delicious raspberry jam.
Following on down the Clutha River, this is the small office at Tuapeka Mouth from which the last of the river punts is run. Many more punts used to operate on this river in goldmining times as they were the only way to cross the river before bridges were built.
The punt – it’s exciting to be crossing the Clutha River on it! The punt is entirely self-propelling. It’s fixed to wires that are slung across the river, and has two pontoons with rudders than turn the punt into the flow of the water and propel it across. No fuel and no motor is needed!
The operator gave us a safety talk before we set off, reminding us to look out for a life bouy if we fell off as she would definitely cast one out for us!
Our car and caravan are getting smaller and smaller! Still, it didn’t take more than a few short minutes to make the crossing; it was over too quickly.
The operator told us that if the river had been any shallower, we wouldn’t have been able to cross.
One of the other people crossing both ways with us said that the Scottish word ‘bal’ means mouth – so Balclutha – the town we are heading towards after this – means the mouth of the Clutha.
There’s the other side – and look! There are two vehicles waiting to cross over. A lot of local people bring their visitors to cross on this punt, returning to their homes on a bridge 20 kilometres further along the river. This is exactly what the people in the two cars were doing.
The operator operated very smoothly. Both cars and all the occupants were loaded in no time and we were heading back for our point of origin. Of course Kevin told his joke about the ford and the isuzu, and he and one of the others started exchanging more jokes while others of us groaned.
Heading back for our point of origin.
Nearly back. We thanked the operator for such a cool trip. I hope we will do this again one day!
You always know you are in Balclutha when you see this bridge. Balclutha is the gateway to the Caitlins – yay!

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