The Old Man Range forms the south western boundary of the Manuherikia Valley. The first Maori called it Te Kopuwai - today translates as the wet place! Kopuwai is now the name given to the Reserve at the summit top and the Fraser Basin administrated by the Department of Conservation. John Thomson, an early surveyor on his Maniototo exploration in 1857, on reaching Tiger Hill, just south of Ophir, would have seen on the skyline the mountains far to the south, a pillar shaped schist tor but was likely named after Alexander Garvie's Clutha Valley survey 1858 and named it the Obelisk, Greek word for pillar and the mountain range, Obelisk Range. However the miners of the 1860's would have seen the rock as a face of an Old Man and hence referred to the rock as the Old Man Rock and the mountain range south of the Rock was renamed as the Old Man Range.
The Old Man Range is one of many uplifted mountain ranges of Central Otago, rising to 1695m a.s.l. at the Old Man Rock. It is characterised by a smooth, tor-studded plateau-like crest, sub-artic landforms and of distinctive high-altitude alpine plants and insects. Plants include miniature shrubs, miniature cushion plants with a large variety of alpine plants flowering from late spring right through to the last weeks of autumn. Giant ground wetas, grasshoppers and spiders semi-freeze in winter and with some thawing out in the spring, thus enable them to be seen with their young ones out amongst the plants or under the rocks. What with the unusual rocky landscape, the panoramic views and the nature walks through the wild flowers, the possible taste of the harsh mountain environment conditions, makes this range well worth at least one visit when touring through Central Otago.
Safari Excursions run guided tours to and along on the range when conditions are right. Vehicle access to the mountain summit starts October / November, once the snow drifts clear from the road and then through to late May / June when the snow drifts close the road. 4-wheel drive tours start from short drives of 3 to 5 hour duration to full day outings. Private vehicle access is possible but tracks are rugged and require some driving skill. Another option is by walking. If venturing away from formed tracks, a map and compass are essential. Cloud, mist and blizzards can easily disorientate you here on the mountains and it can be very dangerous.
Road access is best from Fruitlands up Symes Rd which takes you to the northern end of the range, right to the old Man Rock - 26 metres high close to the TV tower. There are a number of stop offs - early snow banks to be walked on or sledged, as well as to admire the plants flowering on the slopes, in little gullies, areas of wetland, along with large sculptured and some weird rock outcrops to be viewed and for the views looking over the mountains to the east and of the valley floors below. Once on the summit close by to the Old Man Rock, the highest point on the mountain - 1695m a.s.l., from here can be seen the higher snow covered mountains to the west and to the north west in the distance, the Southern Alps and on a clear day Mt Cook.
Leaving and going south from the Old Man Rock, takes you past some of the best tors on the mountain - 'Chimney Rock' and then onto 'Three Sisters and Big Brother'. A stop here allows for a worthwhile walk through little alpine gardens on the lee side of the rocks. Travelling on south, the Fraser Basin opens up for a view of the basin and normally the snow covered cliff faces. At the half way point is Hyde Rock - a spectacular cliff face that drops 150 metres to the valley floor below.
The track from Hyde Rock to the access road at the south end - the Waikaia Bush Road, is slow going, rocky, rutted and over causeways at boggy stretches as we descend through tall snow tussock grassland. The Fraser Basin has now gone and replaced by Campbell's Basin with a good view of the Waikaia Valley. The track straight ahead should be ignored and instead the track on the right down to the "shelter Hat" is the one recommended. Tall mountain daisies, tall speargrass and false speargrass compete all within the snow tussock territory. At the "shelter hut", a hard left turn takes you onto the Waikaia Bush Road. Once on the Waikaia Bush Road, the road travels through a major wetland and a changing landscape, as we descend to the Roxburgh / Alexandra SH 8 just north of the Roxburgh Dam
Tours to the Old Man Range, of other mountain ranges, Historical Goldfields of Central Otago, wild flower walks and general tours can be arranged with John Douglas of Safari Excursions
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