A little patch of apocalypse then


Cars. Perhaps part of the reason we’re so attached to the polluting private car is its therapeutic value.

Music on full-bore, doing 100k, annihilated tarseal streaming out your back, you’re free to emote. Happily warble-sing while starring in your favourite American road-trip movie. Re-do failed conversations, this time with wit and collaborative success. Cry or even grief-wail. Just quietly, there’s even scope to squeeze out a loud cathartic scream. Within safety limits, the whooshing and escape allow a distraction and a privacy not normally available.

And then there’s road rage: "I cruise in my capsule, I’m safe, I’m alone. I survey the world from my mobile throne." Fume as self-righteously as anonymity allows.

A long drive needs broken though and Bannockburn Loop Track offers a broader view beyond one’s own little world.

Bannockburn Loop Track. ODT GRAPHIC
Bannockburn Loop Track. ODT GRAPHIC
It’s a one and a-half-hour walk through a previous generation’s own version of doing their best to survive life and in the process, leaving behind a power of pollution.

Gold prospectors used water to wash away surface soil and expose the treasures beneath. The resulting wasteland is a scenic cowboy country near Cromwell, the Bannockburn Sluicings.

"Sluicing" means to wash freely or rinse. Two methods were used.

One was just letting water run down a cliff from a source above, gradually washing the gold-bearing face away. It wasn’t passive though — it still involved digging a water race, a channel, to direct the water to the right spot at the top of the cliff.

The second method was blasting a jet of water at the potential gold source. This required pipelines to be laid and must have been hard physical grunt too.

Today’s walk isn’t. It’s hilly but is only 3.5km and is level underfoot.

It’s strange country, though. Despite passing evidence of all this water management — piles of rocks and deserted water races — there’s only a trickle to be seen. Dramatic rock bluffs and dry bareness contribute to the feeling that, yes, it was correct to have anticipated for all those years that by 2023 we’d be wandering a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. A little bum bag doesn’t quite cut it, though.

The last remaining cottage at Stewart Town.
The last remaining cottage at Stewart Town.
As well as being a worksite, it was home for some, mostly men but a few women and children. Miners grazed animals for eating and there is a single remnant dwelling at Stewart Town, complete with pear and apricot trees that still fruit. The house was built in 1873 and was beautifully restored in 2018 by the Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust.

Nearby is the rock-walled remnant of the plus-sized Menzies Dam, with a backdrop of high country hills.

Travelling in the car from the coast it’s easy not to notice the climb inland but up here it’s high. It’s bracing in the winter and baking in the summer, Central as we love it, forming our own Kiwi car-trip vibe.