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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Omakau and St Bathans

It was time to move on today and we were spending the next two nights at Omakau.  Traveling up SH85 our first stop was at Chatto Creek, to view what is reported to be the smallest Post Office in New Zealand.  When it opened in 1892, the Post Office was a mere canvas tent with one window.  It was later upgraded with corrugated iron, with the internal walls lined with old wallpaper, magazine pages, and newspaper.

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Chatto Creek Post Office

The Post Office was run by Miss Kinney for 40 years, who knew everyone and everything about the district, and road a bike 4km to and from work every day.  Often in the winter she was offered a ride by one of the locals who had a car – but she had very strong views and would only accept a ride if the motorist was a Catholic, and not one of those other types!  The Post Office closed in 1975, and was reopened as a museum by the locals in 2004.   Next door to the Chatto Creek Tavern, and well worth a stop if you are driving by.

Any sign declaring “historic bridge” is well worth checking out.  The bridge crosses the Manuherikia River west of Ophir, a single lane suspension bridge with schist masonry towers,  and was constructed in 1880.  The bridge was named after Irish hero, Daniel O’Connell, and was a popular choice, because the local area was heavily populated by Irish Catholic gold miners.

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Crossing over the historic Daniel O’Connell bridge

The  Omakau Commercial Hotel has sites at the back of the pub for caravans and motorhomes, (8725 POP) and we are happily tucked away on a concrete pad with power for the next two nights, surrounded by flower gardens.  Built in 1898, it is still going strong.

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On site at Omakau

After enjoying lunch under our awning, we took a trip to St Bathans, stopping on the way to look at the old White Horse Hotel.  It was established in 1864 as a coaching stop during the gold rush days, with the wooden part being a later addition.  Robert Mee became the proprietor in 1909 and built the new (current)  White Horse Hotel across the road in 1925.

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The old White Horse Hotel

At the outskirts of St Bathans we stopped to have a look at the DOC Camp in St Bathans Domain.  There were several campers there – we would be worried about the falling tree hazard!

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We stopped to look down at the Blue Lake at St Bathans, where miners dug away a 120m hill to create a 70m hole. They blasted the hole using powerful jets of water that came from races cut into the sides of the hills, using picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows.   This was once the site of the deepest hydraulic mining lift in the world.  After the gold ran out, the men and machinery went away, and the hole in the ground filled with water.

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Down at the lake, people were swimming in the lake, paddling at the edges, and gazing at the stark white banks surrounding the lake.  Previously known as Dunstan Creek, the town was named for the Scottish Borders village of Abbey St Bathans by early surveyor John Turnbull Thomson.

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White cliffs surrounding the lake

Established in 1860,  St Bathans had a population of 2000, and a dozen hotels during the heady gold rush days.  St Bathans began as a tent city, and then streets were formed, and buildings made from wood, iron, and mud bricks appeared.  When the last profitable gold was taken, the population quickly dwindled.  Now there are only two businesses in town, the Vulcan pub, and the Post Office.  The main street is tiny, and lined with some interesting vintage buildings which have survived. 

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St Bathans in 1885

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Surviving buildings in St Bathans

Visiting St Bathans is like taking a step back in time – and it is the history which brings the crowds.  Perhaps the fact that St Bathans is a little off the beaten track that leads to it’s appeal – a destination showing how things used to be.

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