On this ribbon valley floor a patchwork quilt of farms and orchards unfurls in green and gold—a charming contrast to the swift turquoise swirls of their constant companion, the mighty Clutha Mata-au River.
Here in the Teviot, a generally mild, temperate climate marks a transition zone from drier, warmer inland Central Otago to cooler, coastal climes. The annual rainfall averages 557mm. The earth responds with an abundance of produce.
RIBBONS OF WATER, EARTH AND SKY DEFINE THE TEVIOT VALLEY
This is a place defined by its landscape. Verdant, plentiful valley lowlands are flanked by rocky, tussock-clad high country. Skyward, the magnificent vistas of the Old Man Range and Mt Benger frame the view. The hills enclose and protect. The river’s steadfast presence reassures. Seasonal changes paint the valley.
Early Māori recognised the plenty of this place, tapping into its generous resources as they trekked from the coast to the Otago interior. Following the powerful Clutha Mata-au’s path, they gathered raw materials and hunted moa, duck and eel.
There is a proud history of plenty here. Through the decades, livelihoods have relied on the environment’s rich resources to provide in goldmining, farming and horticulture. Since 1862, when payable gold was first discovered by James Woodhouse and Andrew Young at the junction of the Clutha Mata-au and Teviot rivers, people have recognised this area’s incredible wealth. Described as a natural sluice box, schist gravels have accumulated over the ages in the swift flowing Clutha Mata-au River. At the turn of the century, the largest gold hauls in Central Otago were recovered in the Teviot Valley in a boom that lasted 20 years.
FORTUNES WERE MADE AND DREAMS WERE SHATTERED IN WHAT WAS ONE OF CENTRAL OTAGO’S MOST LUCRATIVE GOLDMINING AREAS
Goldminers’ hard manual labour was eventually replaced by machines. Panning and cradles were superseded by hydraulic sluicing and elevating in the 1880s, as the quest for gold shifted to river banks and old river courses. From the 1880s until the 1920s, it was dredging the river that proved the most productive. Efficient steam dredges replaced the early spoon and current wheel-driven bucket dredges. Dredge wrecks still remain, steely and silent, barely revealed above the powerful river currents, hinting at the lofty rewards returned to mining companies. Goldmining altered the physical riverscape forever.
These were prosperous days as fortunes were made and lost—many miners worked for wages or went into partnership. Entrepreneur John Ewing’s ambitious plan to dig up the old Clutha Mata-au river bed using hydraulic elevating sluicing found nothing. Pinder’s Pond is what remains. And there’s also the story of the Lonely Graves at Horseshoe Bend, a poignant tale that highlights the hardship and isolation of a goldminer’s lot. By the 1920s the gold boom had faded. The possibilities for progress lay in the valley’s fertile, free-draining soils and temperate climate, as many yearned for a more settled life.