The Nevis Valley is a deep bottom valley flanked on the west side by the Hector Mountains and The Remarkables and on the east side the Garvie Mountains, Old Woman Range and Carrick Range. It is traversed by the Nevis River with the Carrick Range cutting off Bannockburn. The Valley consists of two sections - each of approximately 11km, separated by a 7.6km gorge, the Lower Nevis at 600 m and the Upper Nevis at 800 m. The early Maoris used the valley as a trail route and for Moa hunting which they named Te Papapuni. In the nineteenth century, both sections were settled. First by the pastoral owners late 1850's and then later the miners in the early 1860's.Two small town settlements grew, both in the Lower Nevis late 1862 - one at The Crossing, the other at the south end of the valley - the Lower Nevis Settlement. Today the valley is deserted except for the family's running the high country farms in the Lower Nevis - the Ben Nevis and Craigroy stations (The leases are now with Pioneer Generation - former Central Electric Power Board which they have subleased out.)
Access today is from Cromwell along the road to Bannockburn, over the Carrick Range at 1278 meters, the highest public road in New Zealand, joining onto the Old Woman Range and then down to the Lower Nevis Valley below. The road then closely follows the river before climbing up over the Hector mountains at the south end - Nokomai Saddle (1100m), coming out just north of Garston on the Invercargill-Queenstown Road.
The Valley is often snowed in most of the winter allowing no access from either ends. The Nevis Road at Commissioner Creek - at the Gorge mouth, through to the Central Otago District Council/Southland District Council boundary is closed over winter after the Monday of Queens Birthday long weekend through to 30th September. For a half day outing, ordinary cars can climb over the saddle, as long as their is no snow, which allows for a scenic drive surrounded by high, often snow covered mountains with a grand view looking back over Cromwell, Lake Dunstan and the Upper Clutha Valley. After a stop at the saddle to admire the scenery then comes the descent to the Lower Nevis through a tussock rock outcrop landscape. Allow some time to explore around the remains of the old miners' stone huts, what is left of the old town settlements, views of old mining activities - both from sluicing and dredging and finish with a short visit to the local cemetery. The Nevis River also stocks brown trout but for fisherman, fly only.
For a full day outing to drive through the gorge, the Upper Nevis and the climb out over the mountains it is recommended for a 4-wheel drive vehicle. There are numerous creek crossings and waterholes, - some fifteen, starting at the gorge and finally with thirteen crossings of the Nevis River itself at the upper end of the valley. Little maintenance of this stretch of road is done and often some of the creek / river approaches are regally washed out.
Starting at the gorge, many different old water races can be observed running along the hill slopes. A large number of Chinese miners worked the river and the terraces though to half way through the gorge, leaving their evidence of stone stacking on both sides of the river. Even through the gorge, the miners have left other presence of their work - remains of some old stone ruins.
The Upper Nevis has some of the best remains left over from the early settlement days, old homesteads and miners cottages - some stone while others of wooden construction. Here the dredges have left their evidence near the river while the larger ponds are created by hydraulic elevator sluicing and the erosion scars on the hill slopes as a result of the sluicing guns. More recent evidence can be seen from strip mining which took place in the 1990s. While most areas of land have been restored, other areas have been just been left abandoned.
Leaving the Upper Nevis, climbing to 1100m south end of the Hector Mountains, provides views to the south and to the west of more mountain ranges and valleys. The Upper Mataura Valley can be seen along the main Invercargill-Queenstown Road. A stop at the old historical Ski Club Hut for a late afternoon tea is a must before the final descent down the steep winding hill.
Tours to the Nevis Valley, historical Otago Goldfields, Wild Flower Walks and general scenic tours can be arranged with John Douglas, Safari Excursions
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