42. One Helluva Drive Through the Nevis Valley

They say age brings wisdom but we were probably lacking that today – if we’d known what the drive through the Nevis Valley was going to be like we probably would have turned back at Lower Nevis and gone back to Cromwell the way we’d come in. On the other hand we would have missed a great experience if we hadn’t, sometimes it’s better not to know too much in advance – ignorance being bliss!

Altogether we drove about 200 kilometres, driving from Cromwell through the Nevis Valley to Garston then up to Queenstown and back to Cromwell. It was a lot of driving but took all day, leaving early and arriving home late. The days are still lovely and long which worked well for us!

This is looking back the way we came; Cromwell is below us out of sight and that’s Lake Dunstan wriggling away into the distance.
We could still see Lake Dunstan from the very top of the hills.
From this point, it’s not that far to the Old Man Range where we went with my cousin a few weeks ago – we are basically on the Old Woman Range which lies parallel to the Old Man Range. It would be awesome to go tramping/hiking through this country – in summer!
There were lots of interesting rock formations on the tops which we used our imaginations to animate into a range of animals. There were poles sitting atop the rocks at fixed intervals which were once used to support telegraph lines – funny seeing this archaic form of communication and to think how quickly technology has moved to using satellite-based communications.
We reached Duffers Saddle at 1300 metres elevation and started the drive down the other side. Here we are looking down onto the Nevis Valley floor where we are headed. The buildings you can see are part of the government-owned Ben Nevis Station.
Crossing the Nevis River.
The tall trees in the distance are the site of an original goldmining settlement, Nevis Crossing. The first Nevis Bridge was built there until it was broken up by large chunks of ice formed during the spring thaw of the Nevis River one winter in the early 1900’s. The first miners were able to winter over as there were nearby lignite deposits which they used for heating.
Looking upstream while crossing the Nevis River.
The ruins of the Nevis Crossing Hotel, later a private home, juxtaposed with brand new cattle yards behind.
At Ben Nevis Station, a concrete mixer was heading in with a load of churning concrete for a new house being built on the land. He misjudged the width of the gate and became stuck, so Kevin helped him out of it.
We followed him along the driveway and asked a farmhand how the road ahead was, mentioning the rain of the last couple of days. ‘It’ll be fine,’ he reassured us, ‘Just keep driving.’
Past the farm we saw a sign telling us there were 24 fords to negotiate ahead of us. We hit more buildings (an original settlement) and our first ford, shallow and easy to drive through. I said to Kevin that 24 of these would be a breeze. Of course it was only later that we realised what we crossed here was no ford, just a big puddle.
We also saw a gate with a wooden warning sign ‘NO CASH NO TOW’.
At Lower Nevis.
A sign here stated we were at an NZMCA POP stop, where campvans and caravans and their owners can park up and stay. Personally I thought there was someone here with an enormous sense of humour as you’d need a jolly good 4 wheel drive to get either a caravan or a camper to this point.
There was a second sign not far from the POP stop sign, set up like an AA road sign stating the distances in kilometres to the nearest pubs – Cromwell in one direction and Garston in the other.
Beaut landscape, every bit of it the whole way through!
We came across lots and lots of goldmining activity all through the Nevis Valley. There were boards describing past mining activities which included both dredging and hydraulic elevation and we could see the usual water races lining the valley faces.
Small scale mining for gold continues in the Nevis Valley today.
Past Lower Nevis it began to rain which didn’t let up for some hours. This rainbow was in front of us for a good hour or more – no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t reach it!
Looking forward…
…looking back. The road became hilly with short sharp ups and downs that saw Kevin get into using the gears.
The Nevis River weaves along below and next to us.
We hit our first real ford – the water was over the bonnet but the bottom of the riverbed remained solid enough that we got across without much shifting.
A long ford, not quite as deep as the last one but not far off it.
Feeling a bit stressed now we couldn’t focus enough to read this goldmining sign so photographed it instead to read later.
Kevin started getting out of the vehicle with each ford to suss out the best way through. He’s actually a really good driver and knows how to work things out, so I figured if anyone was going to get us through it was him.
The water’s not far off reaching the windows.
The road and the fords got worse. At this point, we were so concerned about making it through that we focussed soley on the road, getting out to fill in potfholes as necessary. I was glad we had lots of gear in the back of the vehicle that meant we could camp out if we became stuck. I totally forgot about my camera which I regretted later, but oh well, I had to focus on helping Kevin. I did pick up a piece of greenschist while filling one hole which I tossed into the back of the car.
We met a local farmer taking a group of people out on giant 4wd buggies. Passing us, he said he would look out for us on his way back and reassured us (I think) that we were in the worst stretch right now – another couple of kilometres and we’d be right.
More getting out, sussing, filling holes and checking routes.
Finally we bounced over a stretch of old river bed and it was over – we started up the last big hill away from all those crossings of inflated streams that were draining into the Nevis River.
We stopped at this old ski hut (now a tramping/biking hut maintained by the Department of Conservation) which helped get us over our fright. It was freezing cold so we didn’t stop for long.
By the hut was this sign – the owners of the property we are now passing through, with support from the Department of Conservation, have put mountain bike trails in. Sounds enticing…
The view from the road that leads down to Garston. We could still pick out water races on the hillsides here.
Nearly down!
A bit of local fun maybe, to restrict signage like this to just one end of the road? Oh well, we had fun and the reality is we made it through. The words of the farmhand came back to me later, ‘It’ll be fine. Just keep driving.’

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