Day trip to St Bathans, Central Otago
The stunning desolate high country of the gold mining towns of Naseby and St Bathans is a window into the past. The past where intrepid, determined prospectors trudged through the harsh landscape on the promise of gold on the horizon. Both towns are a mere 44km apart giving visitors an opportunity to travel in the slow lane. Take time to absorb the landscape, wander through heritage cemeteries, walk around the extraordinarily beautiful lunar Blue Lake, wonder about the lives of people inhabiting the once upon a time busy St Bathans and pop into the Vulcan Hotel for a pie and local beer.
WHERE IS ST BATHANS?
Nothing like going down a side road. St Bathans does not disappoint as the drive from SH85 takes you to the end of the road and, of course St Bathans. The township is approximately 45 minutes from Alexandra.
- Heritage pub & town buildings
- Blue Lake
- Austere alpine landscape
Best time to visit
Year round with locally purchased merino wool layers for the winter snow. With an alpine climate, soaring above 30C in summer and with snow and sleet in winter .
St Bathans originally named Dunstan Creek, the town underwent a name change when surveyor John Turnbull Thomson documented the fledgling settlement with the name for the Scottish parish of Abbey St Bathans. In the 1860’s the town’s inhabitants were over 2000. The gold stampede started in May 1861 with an gold find in Gabriel’s Gully several thousand miners in a matter of months. Currently there are six permanent residents. An iconic pub is your first stop.
VULCAN HOTEL is a survivor continuously operating for over 140 years. There have been some glitches yet the heritage pub is drawing a pint. Complete with a resident ghost in room one. Rose, a former prostitute, was strangled in the hotel. It is not clear if the perpetrator was ever caught. With casual seating outside the main entrance it is a perfect spot for people watching. The pub serves gourmet pies, coffee and ice cream for the kids.
Who needs a museum when the entire town is a living homage to the story of gold fever and the prospecting narratives of many who trudged through the alpine landscape in search of gold. There are several heritage buildings from a post office, church and school. The townscape is an easy stroll from the pub.
St. Alban the Martyr church was built in 1883 during the booming gold rush. The unique building is a pioneer in prefabrication being shipped in parts from England by a prominent land runholder. There is a lack of timber (trees) in the alpine regions, largely tussock grasses hence the use of corrugated iron. “Through its association with nearby Hawkdun Station, station owner and founder of stock and station agency Dalgety and Co., Frederick Dalgety, and manager William Burnett the Church demonstrates the historically important role of the runholder and stock agent to the wider community in such isolated districts in the nineteenth century. The prefabricated structures were an expression of the development of engineering technologies, and St Alban’s is a typical example of what is now an increasingly rare building type.” Source Heritage NZ.
While the original mud-brick Catholic church has undergone substantial modifications the original cemetery is of note for those of Irish descent. The graveyard was set around the mud brick-constructed St Patrick’s Church erected in 1892 and built to replace an earlier church destroyed by a storm in the 1870s. With many of the early gold miners being of Irish descent, some are likely to have been buried in this cemetery. This private cemetery is owned and maintained by the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin. The cemetery continues to be in use today and is administered and maintained by the Blackstone Cemetery Trust. All burials and records are managed by the Blackstone Cemetery Trust. To contact the Diocese email firstname.lastname@example.org
You’ve completed your exploration of the town, enjoyed a pub lunch now it’s time to get the walking shoes on. The Blue Lake is an extraordinary lunar landscape deserving further exploration.It’s origins lie in the gold mining era with miners sluicing and dredging for gold. The sharp blue colour of the water contrasting with the stripped bare white cliffs is spectacular creating a favourite spot for photographers year round.
The lake is approximately 70 metres deep and a popular place for swimmers. The lake is a testament to the power of a mining water cannon. A 120m high Kildare Hill was reduced to 70 metre deep lake. There are two easy walks around the lake. The shorter loop walk is 2km and the longer loop is 3 ½ km. The climb to the fantastic views is stunning. The sweep of the lake, the sheer white of the exposed cliffs, the Hawkdun Range backdrop the settlement of St Bathans. The terrain early settlers trudged through is clearly visible.
Pre-European Maori were familiar with the area as it was a passageway to the ponumena mines on the West Coast. At this period the terrain was largely tussock. Due to the fragile nature of the site cyclists are not allowed around the lake, For more information about Blue Lake facilities check DOC, Blue Lake walks: St Bathans area, Otago region.
DETOUR FALLS DAM
FALLS DAM. The glorious scenery makes the detour to the Falls Dam an activity in itself. The Falls Dam is the story of water management, the allocation of a valuable resource, water and the contentious issue of water supply. Falls Dam is situated on Loop Road 10km east of St Bathans. The power house was constructed in 1935 and generates 1,250 kW of electricity. When you are driving Loop Road look out for the sign Fiddlers Flat Road which lead into the Dam wall. The dam is photogenic with the backdrop of the snow tipped Hawkdun Mountains.
TRAVEL PACK INFORMATION
- In 1873 when John Ewing formed the St.Bathans Channel Company to mine the Kildare Hill Gold Claim in St Bathans. His company constructed a tailings channel and introduced hydraulic elevating to work the claim. The site became the site of the deepest hydraulic elevating operation in the world. The Kildare Hill Claim faltered and eventually the site was managed by the Scandinavian Water Race Company in that year. The claim was abandoned in 1932 due financial hardship. Additionally there was pressure to close the claim with concerns that St Bathans would be undermined due to excessive mining practices. Runoff from the surrounding hills filled the quarry site creating the Blue Lake.
- The Church of St Alban the Martyr is located on St Bathans Downs Road, a continuation of the main thoroughfare of the small Central Otago settlement of St Bathans. The timber-framed, corrugated iron Church was prefabricated in Britain, and erected in St Bathans in 1883. Absentee runholder Frederick Dalgety, founder of the stock and station agency Dalgetys, arranged for its prefabrication and donated the Church for the benefit of his employees and the wider community. This special structure, rare in its prefabrication, and significant in its long term association with its Dalgetys, is an illustration of the importance of Christianity in the lives of St Bathans residents, and as the town’s first church it is a reminder of the interdenominational community support that continues in 2006. Registration includes the land in Certificate of Title OT79/234 and the building, its fixtures and fittings thereon. Chattels included are the original chairs, Psalm and Hymn Books, The Book of Common Prayer, Scriptural Lessons, and The Holy Bibles sent as part of the package with the church building. Source Search the List | Church of St Alban the Martyr
- Oteake Conservation Park is St Bathans backyard. In summer trekkers traverse the mountain ranges to Omarama on horseback, by mountain bike or in four wheel drives.
- Town public toilets are opposite the pub.
- Town water supply requires boiling first. A 19th century Scandinavian open water race passing through farmland makes contamination an ongoing issue.
- Wildlife enthusiasts might be disconcerted by the wild pigs casually visible in the back of trucks. Hunting for game is a regular pastime. The karearea (New Zealand falcon) wheel about hunting for rabbits, skinks and geckos. A hot spot for falcon spotting is the Blue Lake
- ACTION, CROWDS & EVENTS. St Bathans sheep dog trials in the Domain are held once a year. Generally held in March remember to check the Sheep Dog Trials calendar, St Bathans’ Sheep Dog Trials. The local St Bathans Fete. Held each January, it’s a crowd pleaser with music, pop up food stalls, artisan and vintage bits and bobs from the local cupboard and local jams and cakes for sale.
- The Domain has a camping ground. Basic, Doc managed campsite.
First come, first served. Toilets non-flush, Boil water before using. Nine non-powered tent sites.
Unique journeys, personal adventures.