It was a good idea to stay here in Omakau for a couple of nights, giving us time to get out and about to explore the area. We started off with Historic Ophir – just a mere 2km away, and not too many changes since our first visit six years ago.
The old 1886 Post Office has been lovingly restored by Heritage NZ. As well as attending to postal duties, the Postmistress guides visitors through the building. Designed by the Public Works, the building was constructed of schist slabs on the sides and back, with the stone worked into blocks for the frontage.
Ophir Post Office and former Cottage Hospital
One building which has changed is Pitches Store, which was in the throes of much needed renovation last time we saw it. Purchased by an Auckland couple they restored the exterior to it’s 1880s appearance, and modernizing the interior of the building. It now includes six king sized bedrooms, and an award winning restaurant built around an open fireplace. Just the place for weary cyclists to have a breather while biking the Rail Trail – or others stopping off for lunch or a coffee break.
Up and over the hill we travelled into the Ida Valley, where a derelict old building with a sign in front brought us to a stop. This was the remains of the Moa Creek Hotel and Store, built in 1870 and finally closing in 1968. The abundance of moa skeletons and bones in the area gave the settlement it’s name.
Moa Creek Hotel and Store
Across the road in a paddock was a cemetery looking rather like a Neolithic burial mound – but is not man made. There are 16 marked graves on the mound, but a survey using ground penetrating radar suggest a further 55 more, some on the mound and some in the paddock. It is presumed that the mound became a burial ground because the low lying paddock was prone to flooding. The burial mound is now fenced off and administered by a Trust.
Moa Creek Cemetery
Then we were on our way up Old Dunstan Road, to travel very slowly up a jolting 12km unsealed rocky track to get to Poolburn Dam. Believe it or not, but we were traveling through farm land, very marginal land indeed with all those rocks everywhere.
On the way to Poolburn Dam
First view of the dam
There were old buses and baches (known as cribs in the south) dotted around the lake side, and plenty of people in residence. One or two of the buildings even had TV satellite dishes on the roof, and all seemed to have an outhouse close by. You would have to be a keen fisherman to come and stay up here, it was much too bleak and wild for me. This is a summer venue only with the track closed to traffic from June to September.
There were a few hardy souls fishing at the water edge, but our arrival was ignored. So we took a few photos, turned around, and drove back down the slow, bone jolting track back down the hill. Finally on flat ground once more, we stopped to read a sign at Bonspiel Station. Seems they are offering Lord of the Rings tours.
And this old truck wasn’t going anywhere, it had finally come to to the end of the line and was pensioned off.
Works End for this old truck
Safely back at Omakau Hotel again I breathed a sigh of relief. Have to admit I wondered if we would regret making that trip on the rough track up the Poolburn Dam and back, but we made it safely and Robin can now tick this trip off his bucket list. While chatting to one of the staff we found a little tidbit about the hotel stables.
Located at the back of the hotel are the original schist stables (now called McKinnons) which were built around 1880 to house Mr Leask’s horses when he farmed the land the hotel now stands on. This is where Speight’s filmed their Real Southern Men “Good On Ya Mate” adverts – the most memorable being “The Two Tickets to the Ball”. Watch the ad here
Inside the stables
We had a “Farewell to Omakau” dinner in the hotel restaurant, and very nice it was too. What to have? That didn’t take too much thinking, we both ordered the Pork Belly. It was a huge serving, and very tasty indeed.
Ready for dinner – note the row of mini bottles up on the ledge
Time to move on tomorrow, next stop Ranfurly. We have certainly enjoyed our time here at Omakau. The sites come with power for only $15 per night, and a bathroom block if required for an additional cost.
Our site – with the optional bathroom block