Exploring the Rock and Pillar Range in Central Otago

I’ve often wondered how this area got it’s name because to me it’s all about wind up on the tops, but then again I’ve not yet seen it’s full extent, especially the northern end around the historic [skiing] Big Hut area.

Recently though I’ve been poking my nose into the southern end, and it’s been enjoyable, despite being chased away by wind recently at about 3am – even after being parked into the gale the noise and rocking made sleep impossible, but that’s another story.

The ascent up from Styx Creek – I call this beautiful place Butterfly Rock…
Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

This is another much larger tor higher up – a bit too high for butterflies
Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

The view to the south…
Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

The view to the north…
Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

I used my 4wd Land Cruiser camper to get up aways to these high spots [google satellite map link], but on encountering a boggy patch and being alone I parked up and climbed on foot up to the left of this very large outcrop, then circled it and came down on the right. It was pretty chilly, so I “called it a day”, and descended, then spent sometime looking for a flat camping spot near where I’d parked, but everything was too steep, so I drove down to my favourite place…Tor, Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

A well earned cold beer and a sunset…Camping, Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

This used to be the Great Moss Swamp, but it was dammed for irrigation in the early 1980’s. Quite a tragedy by today’s reckoning, as it was the largest alpine wetland in the southern hemisphere. Now it’s called the Loganburn Reservoir…Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

My favourite camping spot at 1006 m above worry level – I call this spot yogi butterfly rock. But don’t be fooled – this is where the wind can be wild and free…Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

Dawn…Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

I “found” this a bit by accident while exploring the reservoir’s dam – they’re very private and even sheltered, but you’d best hurry if it’s raining! The crib, or bach as they’re known here is for those prone to fishing for introduced brown trout. The question is posed though: Ladies, gents and ?  Toilets, Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

The rocks in the area were used as fence posts in the early days…Fence Post, Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago NZ

This photo was made on my last trip 2-3 weeks ago. The evening started out quite nice, but the ominous clouds heralded some very strong winds, and arrived at 3am, forcing me to move to a more sheltered location 7 km away…Rock and Pillar Range, Central Otago, NZ

Again from 2-3 weeks ago – the road heading north.. Many of the black and white photos above were made on the high point in the distance…

Some alternative views of historic Old Cromwell Town, Central Otago

There are countless references all over the Internet to this old area of Cromwell, Central Otago, so I won’t duplicate describing what it is all about, except to say that most of the old buildings, and sites of, were submerged when Lake Dunstan was filled. The buildings below, above the lake water level, then became the basis of an historic precinct, much visited by tourists and also host to a regular Sunday Market.

This cafe was closed when the photo was made, but they do make a great coffee, and give great service. To the right is the ever popular art cooperative, Hullabaloo Art Space. To the left is an ally way leading to the Marie Velenski’s little craft and art shop, which is the focus of the next few photos below…
Cromwell jolly squared

The ally way...
Historic buildings, Cromwell

Marie Velenski’s craft shop…
Marie Velenski's craft shop, Cromwell

Marie, with some of her art work…
Marie Velenski in her craft shop, Old Cromwell Town, Central Otago

A colourful quince tree that Marie takes care of…
Quince tree in autumn in Old Cromwell

The view in the other direction from Marie’s doorway. On the taking of this image by-the-way, I did not see the slight female figure in the doorway. It is probably not a ghost, but I find it disconcerting that it showed up, for me at image processing time…
Scots Bake House, Old historic Cromwell Town

Nearby there is a blacksmith building that has been recreated…
Blacksmith model Old Cromwell Town, historic precinct

Blacksmith model Old Cromwell Town, historic precinct

Lastly, a nice wall I discovered nearby, quite close to a derelict building which is the subject of the featured image above…
Autumn colors and wall in Old historic Cromwell Town

The Young Australian Waterwheel

When gold was discovered in Bannockburn near Cromwell in 1862 it was not soon before enterprising miners climbed higher up the Carrick Range behind the alluvial workings, to look for the quartz reefs that fed the terraces below, that are now sluiced away.

By 1876, based on good returns and the knowledge that more water would soon be available to drive the stampers by waterwheel, there were soon five batteries in these higher areas. However the reef then petered out gradually and mining had ceased by 1898.

The restored wheel, the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere apparently [the largest being the Old Mill Wheel in Oamaru], now stands alone, as the stamper battery it was driving was moved across the valley, where it still sits today reasonably well preserved, and relatively difficult of access.

Young Australian waterwheel on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Young Australian waterwheel on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Clever use by the miners of long ago of an existing rock…
Young Australian waterwheel accommodation on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Young Australian waterwheel on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Young Australian waterwheel on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Young Australian waterwheel on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Young Australian waterwheel on the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Lake Dunstan and Cromwell from the saddle above the gully where the waterwheel sits...
Cromwell from the Carrick Range, Central Otago


Looking back at the crest of the Carrick Range. A 4wd road from Duffers Saddle on the left, can just be seen…
The Carrick Range, Central Otago


The water race that turned the waterwheel is still in use today for irrigation. The damaged fluming in this photo once directed water from it down the steep Adams Gully to the right where there are remains of the 5 stamper battery as mentioned above…
The Carrick Range water race, Central Otago


The Adams Gully stamper and gold processing plant remains. Note the fluming as mentioned above, up the gully…
Adams Gully stamper battery on the Carrick Range, Central Otago

To access the waterwheel: there are quite a few web sites hosted by various organisations that list directions – just Google “Carrick Range waterwheel”. Most of them list two ways: climb up from Bannockburn on foot, bike or 4wd, or drive to the top of nearby Duffers Saddle and then walk, bike or 4wd along and down to the site. The former I’d not recommend, and it’s certainly not a track for a soft 4wd such as a Subaru or Rav


The largest waterwheel in the Southern Hemisphere, the Old Mill Wheel in Oamaru under restoration as of Oct. 2017. This wheel weighs in at 50 ton, which would probably make the Young Australian about 35…
Oamaru Old Mill Waterwheel restoration


What is a stamper battery >>

What is a stamper battery?

A stamper battery [a row of rock crushing stampers] represents one of many techniques to separate gold from earth and rock. The ratio of gold to dirt/rock is what determines the financial viability of a gold mining operation. Machinery is inevitably employed and has a capital cost as well as a very high maintenance cost: water is usually involved too and steel machinery is not best lubricated by water especially as it has rock particles in suspension in a gold mining operation [I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination to ponder the downstream effects on water and river quality!].

There are many areas or land in my homeland of Central Otago where what is called the peneplain is exposed by weathering, maybe aided by glaciers having stripped away substantial debris earlier, and also faulting crinkling the surface of the earth thus exposing edges where weathering can occur faster. Anyway you don’t have to rush off to the link below – just to know that rocks in keeping with a high percentage of gold are on the surface or can be mined/transported easily to a battery.


These rocks will typically be much heavier than our greywacke and shists, and they’ve once been part of layers of sediment cooked with pressure under extreme weight and silica has been forced all about. Quartz is also evident, along with “petrified wood”.

Stampers have to be constructed out of material tougher than silica impregnated rocks and crush same, then water is used to transport the crushings through a complicated refining process that leads to a water, gold and rock crushings mix [slurry].

Water was often also brought to the battery to power it, via races and fluming constructed with great effort out of creeks and around hill sides slowly loosing height to the site of the battery. The levels were calculated by using old gin bottles almost full of water [hence the phrase “spirit levels” perhaps].

When at the battery the water flowed onto a wheel thus suppling motion to a shaft on which a number of cams [all offset to ensure balance] would lift and then drop [stamp] very heavy cylinders of steel onto the rocks. The noise is awesome [some enthusiasts have restored one on the West Coast and I’ve been fortunate to see it running briefly]

This photo shows the curved cams that raise and drop the shafts that have the huge weights at the bottom…
Stamper Battery, Central Otago

This photo shows the wheels and gears that turn the shaft…
Stamper Battery, Central Otago

Here is a further explanation from DOC interpretation boards…
YStamper Battery, Central Otago

Stamper Battery, Central Otago

For me two factors in these operations astound me: how did they get the components on-site? And how did they live [or not live] in the winters!? Keep in mind that it is springtime when water is most abundant – this must surely mean working hard and long hours to have the material ready. Especially in some situations where, the water being temporarily frozen would aid the mining!