The Alexandra Bridge

The drive through to Alexandra was simply marvellous. In fact, there was only one word that could describe the day, and that is ‘delicious’. Everywhere I looked, everything had a radiant autumnal glow as the sun hung in a rich blue sky that reflected off the shop windows as I drove past. The whole town had a relaxed, lazy sort of feel. It was almost as if no one was in a hurry to do anything at all. I was certain that if at that moment a meteorite the size of texas had come hurtling out of the sky and headed straight towards this spot, all the town residents would have casually looked up at the sky and said, “well, would you look at that”. 

As I passed through the town, I suddenly decided to detour to look at the former town bridge, a structure that is a true feat of skill and engineering. Built in 1882, the remains sit right next to the newer version that spans the Clutha River. Beyond the bridges, the banks of the river were lined with autumn colour that was reflecting off the water. I wished I had longer to enjoy my current surroundings, however time was now starting to press against me and I really did need to get back to Dunedin. I vowed to return at some point to do the place justice.

The Matrix Is Fixed

Towards Chatto Creek & Springvale Road – Buy 

The Matrix is fixed. You might have noticed there’s been a bug over the last few days as posts appear and then vanish or don’t seem to appear at all. It turns out there was a problem with an update in one of the widgets and a few other bugs that had crept into the system. Essentially my blog had a cold! The good news is that it’s all fixed and normal business has resumed. 

Conroys Dam

Skull in long grass – Buy 

Is it just me or is there something fascinating about old animal skulls? After leaving  Butchers Dam, I ventured the short distance up the road to Conroys Dam. An historic gold mining site that was dammed in 1935 for the Last Chance Irrigation Scheme to provide irrigation for orchards on the Conroy and Earnscleaugh flats. Having arrived, I enjoyed a pleasant amble around the conservation area, which is where I spotted an old animal skull in the long grass. An object I found most captivating I must admit. For a moment I considered taking it with me but being stuck by a moment of clarity, I realised it wouldn’t fit on the mantelpiece. A while later, I continued on to Alexandra, skulless, yet knowing my wife would be a little happier with my decision.

Butchers Dam

Butchers Dam – Buy 

Am I alone in thinking that driving New Zealand roads isn’t the majestic, relaxing pastime it once was? All too often the journey is filled with morons with caravans who drive at 20 km/h an hour, idiots in campervans who seem to be permanently lost and Leaf drivers who pull out in front of you and drive like they are at the front of the parade. Then, just as you break free from this challenge to your patience you come across a 10 kilometre stretch of road that is reduced to 30km/h and a single lane, just so 6 guys can fill in a pothole. 

Thus it was that I found myself on a stunning Sunday afternoon in mid-January, driving in a long line of traffic through Alexandra’s dry, rocky and dramatic landscape, slowly losing the will to live! By the time I reached a place called Butchers Dam, with 10 kilometres until Alexandra, my sanity couldn’t take it any more, so I called in at Flat Top Hill Picnic and Conservation Area and went for a stroll around the lake.


Little Valley Road – Buy 

In the morning I awoke with that feeling of dread that overcomes you the second you first open your eyes and realise the first few moments of the day are going to encompass dealing with your own stupidity. I’d forgotten to leave the heating on and as such my room was like a ice box. The only way to solve this problem was to either brave my way across to the heat pump and set it so the room temperature resembled a Caribbean Island as quickly as possible, or dash straight for the shower and the instant awakening from a blast of hot water. 

I braced myself and got up, heading for the shower, stopping only momentarily to flick both the kettle and heat pump on. A short while later, having readied myself for the day which included packing, I headed out into a fine Central Otago morning. The streets were quiet with the only signs of life being parents desperately trying to get their children into the family car for Saturday morning sport. I headed across town and five minutes later I was crossing the Manuherikia River and driving up Little Valley Road into the hills above Alexandra where I would be able to enjoy seeing the Alexandra Clock up close. The clock was installed in 1968 and has been keeping regular time ever since, apart from a brief period in 2020 when someone swung on the arms of the clock during lockdown and it stopped, forcing repairs to be made. To get to the clock there’s a very steep track that can be navigated, something I wasn’t prepared to do on this trip, however you do get to glimpse the clock as you head to the observation deck and lookout in Little Valley. I headed there now and found myself with views that simply are outstanding. As I took in the view in the crisp morning air I noticed most of the activity seemed to be coming from runners heading out of town onto one of the many dirt roads that surround the town. The smoke from chimneys started to drift across the valley and in the distance the traffic heading further inland seemed to already be growing. I suspected most people forget about views such as the one in front me.

The Clutha At Alexandra

The Clutha River at Alexandra  – Buy 

I spent the night in Alexandra, Central Otago, a small town with a population of 5,500 which is 195 km north-west of Dunedin at the junction of the Clutha and Manuherikia Rivers. Alexandra was founded during the Central Otago gold rush of the 1860s and has steadily grown to be a major junction point for people travelling to popular destinations further inland such as Cromwell, Wanaka and Queenstown. The town is a pleasant place that is always filled with both travellers and locals from the surrounding farms stopping off for refreshments and supplies on their way through which gives it a busy, bustling sort of feel. It also has a clock on the hillside that lights up at night which I rather like. However, since I had left Dunedin late in the day, it was already dark by the time I arrived at my motel. I’d have to wait to see the clock until morning.

Winter Morning In Alexandra

Winter morning in Alexandra – Buy 

If you leave Dunedin and travel in a north-west direction, after 195 kilometers (or 121 miles) you’ll reach a town that started life being called “Lower Dunstan”. These days, it’s better known as Alexandra. Named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark by town survivor John Connell, it sits at the junction of the Clutha and Manuherikia rivers. 

In 1862, the Otago Gold Rush stretched into the Cromwell Gorge and later towards the Kawarau Gorge and Lake Wakatipu when Horatio Hartley and Christopher Reilly collected 34 kilograms of gold from the Cromwell Gorge. The discovery brought thousands of miners over the Rock and Pillar from Strath Taieri into the town of Lower Dunstan  which became known as Alexandra.

Butchers Dam In Alexandra

Butchers Dam In Alexandra – Buy 

Despite having driven through the Central Otago township of Alexandra many times, it’s not a place I had really spent any great length of time in, since my childhood. So, with a few days spare during the winter months, I decided to base myself at a local hotel and set about exploring the area. Over the preceding days I explored numerous walking tracks through the hills, found disused cemeteries and visited dams in relative isolation.

Butchers Dam

Butchers Dam – Buy 

It was while admiring the lovely sights of Butcher’s Dam that I decided it’s a shame it’s there at all. I’m not opposed to the dam, and the area is very nice. Not only is there a dam and lake to enjoy, but it also contains a historic hut, a multitude of tracks to walk and even a conservation area above it at a place called Flat Top Hill. 

However, before the dam was built between 1935 and 1937 during the great depression, the area was filled with all sorts of buildings and structures from the gold mining years of the 1860’s. Once gold was discovered there in 1862, miners from everywhere flocked to the area and a town quickly sprung up. The town included a Hotel, a store, butchers shop and market gardens that were owned by Chinese prospectors. 

As I walked along the dam I imagined how wonderful it would be to see the remains of the historic town that would have stretched through the valley and what a shame it is that those remains are lost forever. Still, the lake is very nice!