Old-fashioned values of integrity and trust are evident in places like Gilchrist’s Store in the Ida Valley where nostalgia melds with present-day bustle. Owned by the Gilchrist family for 87 years, the store has anchored the community since 1902. As well as selling groceries and delivering bread, milk and mail, it’s where gumboot-clad locals enjoy a laidback yarn.
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The Wooden Cup rugby match is one such occasion—a spirited encounter between the Becks-Lauder and Cambrian-St Bathans’ communities that’s also a good old-fashioned country reunion.
At the St Bathans’ domain, people of all ages and dispositions tussle for the Cup before heading to the Vulcan Hotel for a beer and a yarn. In small communities like St Bathans, the `local’ is a traditional gathering place for friends, families and neighbours.
Activities such as the Brass Monkey Motorcycle Rally are more adventurous social traditions that attract bikers from across the country. This annual mid-winter’s ride to camp out at the Idaburn Dam is one of New Zealand’s best-known and longest-running motorbike events.
Swapping steel-horse stories beside a roaring bonfire, there’s a singleness of spirit, a levelling, and liberation under the freeing beauty of the Ida Valley’s big, starry sky.
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Mid-winter is also a time for the ancient Scottish game of curling. When a hoar frost shimmers and the Idaburn Dam has a coat of thick ice, curlers gather for the national Bonspiel—often finishing with a warming wee dram.
In these valleys, five dams supply water for irrigation schemes that supply local farming communities. Most were constructed in the 1930s by men on unemployment schemes during The Great Depression.
The dams are also reflective, peaceful places for locals and visitors. Resting under moody, wide skies and surrounded by tussocks and craggy schist tors, there’s time to simply take it easy here, or enjoy the simple pleasures that fishing brings.
These remote dams are tranquil sanctuaries resting in a timeless, wilderness land. Here nature calms your soul and the world is still. In these valleys, water is a precious resource that early goldminers also used to modify the landscape and accumulate wealth.