Basic Lindis camp site steeped in history

Once an area bustling with activity during and after the Central Otago gold rush, the Nine Mile historic reserve in the Lindis Valley is now an idyllic riverside camping and picnic spot steeped in heritage. Lucy Ibbotson visited the reserve on Boxing Day.

A short drive north of Tarras, 6km off State Highway 8 along the narrow, gravel Old Faithfull Rd, is a large expanse of reserve land administered by the Department of Conservation (Doc) which includes the recently-restored ruins of the Lindis Pass Hotel.

For Cromwell-based vineyard workers Simona Mala, Kristian Kalousek, Zuzanna Banacka and Martin Chmel, all in their 20s and from the Czech Republic, the quietness of the area, the historic remains and the picturesque setting were the selling points in selecting the free ''basic'' Doc campsite for their two-night Christmas getaway. While the camping ground has no facilities, the Lindis River was nearby and offered a refreshing alternative to a shower, the campers said.

The Czechs had the place largely to themselves, apart from a couple of families who stopped by on Christmas Day and Barbara Carston and Clarissa Bochel, who settled for a short time nearby on deck chairs set up in the shade of the trees beside the car park. Ms Carston, of Cromwell, said she and her friend often ventured into the outdoors to find ''a quiet spot'' for a catch-up over coffee and a picnic lunch.

''We're always gallivanting somewhere to find new places ... off the beaten track,'' Mrs Bochel said. Despite living in the Bendigo/Tarras area for 30 years, it was Mrs Bochel's first trip to the old Lindis Hotel historic site, but she was impressed by what she saw.

''I love the Tarras/Lindis Pass area. It's got a lot to offer; it's got a lot of history.''

In a bid by Doc to preserve the site's historic features, visitors are reminded no camping is permitted within 20m of the ruins and no historic artefacts can be removed from the reserve.

Stabilisation and repair of the hotel was completed on behalf of Doc at the end of 2011 by St Bathans heritage stonemason Keith Hinds, who recapped stone walls at the hotel alongside subcontractor Stewart Mason, of Invercargill. They had already carried out extensive restoration work at the hotel site in 2007, but the traditional lime mortar mix they used was not suited to the harsh Central Otago climate, so the walls were recapped using a more modern cement-based mix.

Doc information boards at the campsite explain the hotel began as a store set up during the first gold rush of 1861. By 1873 a permanent building had been constructed on the site. The hotel provided almost continuous service of some kind for more than 70 years including, lodgings, general store, post office and school. The building was gradually enlarged over the years and became a residence before being abandoned in 1951.

For history buffs, the hotel is not the only point of interest. Old gold workings can be viewed nearby, along with the remains of the concrete hut built by the last miner to work in the area, Wattie Thompson, near the now derelict Lindis River bridge. The on-site information boards explain how after returning from World War 2, Wattie dug for gold in nearby Camp Creek. In 1971, a flash flood swept down the creek, depositing large quantities of stone and gravel and burying the creekbed Wattie had cleared.

''Too dispirited to start again, he moved on,'' the board says. Information is also provided on the history of the Lindis gold rush in 1861, which failed within months. Word spread when roadmaker Samuel McIntyre, a veteran of the Californian goldfields, recognised the similarity between the two regions. By April, an estimated 300 miners were present, although a report in July noted the Lindis was deserted. The remoteness of the area, extreme climate and comparative richness of the new strike at Gabriel's Gully at Lawrence encouraged the miners to move on.

A renewed interest during the Depression years of the 1930s saw up to 30 unemployed workers living in a tent camp on the terrace above Camp Creek, attracted by a government subsidy. In return for 30 shillings a week, the miners were allowed to keep a proportion of any gold found. The scheme ended in 1935. The remote Nine Mile Historic Reserve, also know as the Lindis Pass Historic Hotel camp site, offers plenty for people who enjoy the great outdoors, including mountain biking, fishing and hiking.

The Lindis Peak walking track is signposted at the start of Old Faithfull Rd and the view from the summit (1226m) is one of the most extensive in Central Otago, providing a vista over the St Bathans Range to the east and numerous peaks of the Main Divide. The track is a public access easement and is closed for lambing each year, between early October and early December.

Nine Mile historic reserve camp site
: From SH8 take Old Faithfull Rd opposite Timburn Rd (about 10 minutes' drive north of Tarras). Narrow and steep in places, the road is not suitable for large camper vans
Number of camp sites: 6
Facilities: Water from stream
Activities: Fishing, trekking, mountain biking, historic sites