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Balclutha to Waitahuna via Hillend (35km, about 30 minutes)
Balclutha to Waitahuna is an easy drive. But you can skip the twisty Manuka Gorge by turning off at Hillend Rd about 6km north of Balclutha.
It is a scenic drive along one of the historical gold-mining routes.
The road follows the ridge lines across the hill tops and offers views south to the Kaihiku Ranges and west over lush green rolling farmland, the Clutha Valley and the Rankleburn forests to the Tuapeka West hills.
Look out for the tiny old school next to the lonely community hall in Hillend.
After Hillend you can take a right at Falla Burn Rd which links up with SH8 at the Mt Stuart Reserve.
If you go this way, check out the viaduct which once carried the railway line.
Otherwise, once you reach the gravel and turn right on to Mt Stuart Rd, the route dips into a gully then climbs towards Mt Stuart’s peak. Wind turbines appear ahead and during the early days the strong winds often toppled stagecoaches.
The road then takes you down past farms. You turn right on to Johnstone Rd before the descent to meet up with SH8, 3km from Waitahuna.
To finish off your drive to Waitahuna, turn right on to Lockharts Rd and left on to Coghill Rd where you will find a wild race of metal creations by Pat Crosby.
In the 1860s, Hillend was a way station for diggers, merchants with bullock trains or passengers on the stagecoaches making their way from the river town of Balclutha along the same route to hopefully make their fortunes at the Gabriels Gully goldfields.
Waitahuna, originally named Havelock, was once a prosperous gold-mining town. Dredging for gold continued until the early 20th century.
It had a post and telegraph office; a branch of the Bank of New Zealand; a public school; many churches; two hotels and many stores, all servicing the gold-diggers.
Gas and charging stations in Balclutha and Lawrence.
4/5. A nice peaceful drive.