Cruising through Clutha history

The scenery is stunning along the banks of the Clutha River. Photos: Yvonne O'Hara
The scenery is stunning along the banks of the Clutha River. Photos: Yvonne O'Hara

Yvonne O'Hara takes a cruise on the Clutha River.

Ever since I moved to Central Otago in 2001, taking a cruise on the Clutha was on my bucket list.

One of the original Alexandra bridge towers can be viewed from close range during a Clutha Cruise...
One of the original Alexandra bridge towers can be viewed from close range during a Clutha Cruise trip.
It was near the top, along with getting a dog, taking a husky sled ride, participating in a Cavalcade, and doing a road trip back to Nelson.

I now have my sixth and seventh dogs, have taken them on a three-day trip to Nelson (one day there, one day in Wakefield and one day back), and last month was lucky enough to tick off the cruise on the Clutha River.

It was something I had wanted to do for nearly 20 years and I always made plans to take the cruise each Christmas, but was never able to manage it.

Clutha River Cruises, operated by Laurence van der Eb, provided the three-hour heritage cruise and it was the most fun I have had in a long time.

The weather was stunning and seeing the river from a different view point was amazing.

There was even a rescue.

The company offers a heritage trip from Alexandra to Doctors Point, which includes a stop for tea, coffee and home baking.

There area several stone gold-miners' huts to be seen along the banks of the Clutha River. They...
There area several stone gold-miners' huts to be seen along the banks of the Clutha River. They were built in the 1860s and 1870s during the area's gold rush.
The trip provides a snapshot of and commentary on the area's history and those on the cruise can see gold-miners huts, rock shelters and other mining artefacts.

In addition, the company runs a fast-paced hour-long jet-boat trip, as well as private charters for functions and educational trips.

It also provides a jet-boat transfer service for people and their bikes between Doctors Point and Shingle Creek, for those cycling the Roxburgh Gorge Trail.

There is a 13km stretch where the trail is incomplete and the transfer is necessary.

The Roxburgh Gorge cycle trail runs along the side of the Clutha River.
The Roxburgh Gorge cycle trail runs along the side of the Clutha River.
Mr van der Eb operates a pontoon craft, which accommodates about 10 passengers, and although life jackets are available, they are not required to be worn because of the size of the craft.

He took the craft under the newer Alexandra bridge and past the remains of the old one, both of which I had not seen from that angle before.

We passed Frenchman's Point, which recalled French immigrant Jean Desire Feraud, who was Clyde's first mayor and who planted the region's first grapes.

We saw the stunning and dramatic landscapes, including the massive towering, craggy schist rock formations, the unusual green/blue of the seemingly quiet Clutha and the typical, earthy, dry Central Otago colours.

We saw examples of miners' rock shelters and partial cottages, which were tucked under schist rock overhangs, some with stonework walls, which provided additional protection against the weather for those who lived in them.

There are also remnants of sluicings, water races and old piping.

Two miners' stone huts at Doctors Point provide opportunities to explore a piece of history...
Two miners' stone huts at Doctors Point provide opportunities to explore a piece of history during the Clutha River Cruise's afternoon tea stop.
During the trip, Mr van der Eb told stories about the gold-mining history of the Dunstan area in the 1860s and 1870s, what the European and Chinese miners went through in their quest for gold, and how they lived.

The Clutha, then called the Molyneux, was about 30m lower than it is now, and hides the track the miners used to walk from Lawrence to Dunstan.

There were thousands of people in the goldfields in the 1870s, including the Chinese who came from Victoria, Australia, to rework the ground the Europeans had left.

Many Chinese established market gardens, wheeling in topsoil in wheelbarrows and selling the produce to miners.

Before the miners, Maori traversed the region to get to the West Coast for pounamu, but did not stay in the region.

The cruise stopped at Doctors Point and passengers disembarked to explore the area, including remnants of two stone cottages.

And the rescue ... Mr van der Eb used a long pole and hook to retrieve a hat that had sentimental value, which had blown from a passenger's head.


 

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