A South Island road trip like no other

Bruce Ansley who singles out Nelson as the best place to live in Te Waipounamu. Photo: Jane Ussher
Bruce Ansley who singles out Nelson as the best place to live in Te Waipounamu. Photo: Jane Ussher
The South Island's rich history and appealing towns are described in a new book by veteran writer and farmer Bruce Ansley.

Ansley is the author of 11 books, including Coast, which won top honours at the NZ Book Awards in 2014.

But his latest book Down South sums up a lifetime's work and fascination for Ansley. It's a wild and a contemplative journey that gives readers a glimpse of the fascinating stories that made up some of the South Island's glittering past.

He wrote the book because his publisher wanted to know why the South Island was once known as Middle Island.

He told Sunday Morning he favours renaming it Te Waipounamu because South Island is "a dismal name" for such an exciting place.

Among the towns that feature is Mataura on the way to Invercargill which was an important place in colonial days as its river could be crossed.

"It's got a warmth to it and a vibrancy... it has had to face adversity because so many of its industries have moved away and it's got a declining population and at one stage I think it might have been the poorest town in the country.

"You've got to be quite resilient to withstand all that and you feel that when you go through."

The Mataura Falls had been "messed around with" but are still spectacular and well worth stopping for.

Dunedin was the biggest and most important city in the country during the gold rush, Ansley said.

Early on, the lure of gold was resisted by the city fathers because they did not want to see their workforce disappear but the arrival of goldminers from Victoria soon spread the word.

Many colourful stories associated with the gold rush are retold in the book.

Simmering resentment
West Coasters' simmering annoyance over not being allowed to unlock the minerals in the ground that it could ensure their financial prosperity is also covered. 

"A lot more of the West Coast is protected now than when I grew up but there's a lot of resentment about that and it doesn't go away."

One gold miner has told Ansley that there is enough gold under the town of Ross to ensure the country's financial wellbeing.

"If you ever stop at the hotel the publican will tell you there's so much money underneath the floorboards."

Englishman Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon, lived at the Mesopotamia Station hard up against the mountains that meant a "very precarious life", Ansley said.

"I'm amazed he stuck with it so long.

"They [high country station owners] had this great incentive, the land was virtually free. It was designated wasteland and that was the origin of many of those high country runs.

"The government was happy to give it to you as long as you could stock it."

Ansley endured about 10,000 earthquakes before leaving Christchurch (he now lives on Waiheke Island) and although the city has lost many of its buildings that made it so gracious it was at last being rebuilt - resulting in a smart-looking city.

The Bus Interchange. Photo: Southbase
The Bus Interchange. Photo: Southbase
Ansley grew up having Golden Bay "imprinted on our souls" and has concluded that nearby Nelson is the best place to live in Te Waipounamu.

"I like it - it's a lovely gentle place I think."

On the other hand, Queenstown has lost all of its lustre, beautiful "but messy".

He has no desire to live there. "It's crowded, and every industry there caters for tourists. It's a tourist town."







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