Old Dunstan Road is closed by the CODC from Poolburn Reservoir over South Rough Ridge to Linnburn Runs Road. Linnburn Runs Road is closed over winter after the Monday of Queens Birthday weekend through to 30th September while DOC have access restricted on their reserve - Long Road Ridge Road is open in Summer during dry conditions only. In the north eastern high country of Central Otago lies South Rough Ridge, an uplifted mountain range, lying mostly between 600 - 900m a.s.l. The landscape is doted with tors which is mainly in a tawny covering of magnificent snow tussock - narrow leaved snow tussock (Chionochloa rigida) on the slopes and ridges, red tussock (Chionochloa rubra) in the swamp hollows, with some native and exotic shrubs and plants growing in the tussock shrubland.
The landscape is dissected by numerous streams and creeks, most of which flow into the Taieri River west of the Rock and Pillar Range. (The early Maori named the Serpentine Creek as Waimonga - the trail of a water serpent.) The centre of the Serpentine area is a shallow boggy basin about 900m a.s.l. on top of the ill defined southern end of South Ridge. The tops offer little protection from the southerly gales, while the winter brings driving snow and sleet and metres of snow at times.
In the 1850's, the pastoralists occupied the Otago hinterland running immense numbers of sheep on large station runs. In 1861 a tide of gold miners flowed into Central Otago. By 1863 most of the rich alluvial river beds had been worked out or occupied and desperate miners fanned out into the remote gullies of Otago in search of new deposits. A small group of these miners found gold in the Serpentine, June 1863 but the harsh winter prevented any work until the following summer. For several years mining in the Serpentine was on a small scale - individual miners working with cradles or sluice boxes. With the easy ground worked out, ground sluicing by small parties was then used. This entailed building of dams and water races, some several kilometres long to get sufficient pressure to wash away the overburden.
Later in the 1880's, small scale hydraulic evaluation sluicing was introduced to enable the "deep leads" to be worked. Considerable capital and months of preparation work was often necessary before they could start producing gold. A few companies worked directly on the quartz reefs but all went into liquidation in the 1890's. The Golden Gully United Quartz Mining Coy. located in Long Valley 1890/1891 did managed to crush 130 tons of rock for a good yield of 221 oz of gold before loosing the reef. Later John Cogan bought the claim - known as Cogan's Reef, but didn't work the reef and instead ground sluiced below in the valley until 1909. The battery and its associated water wheel today still lies abandoned in amongst the tussock. Restoration work on the waterwheel was completed in 1995 and work on the battery was completed 1997.
By 1899 the small settlement of Serpentine was in the last stages of decline. The combined store and hotel was now barely profitable, as less than a handful of miners were left scattered through the diggings. The Serpentine Union Church, a small stone building, had its first service in July 1873. Due to the small numbers of miners in the area there was not many services held in it. Eventually, the church was sold to a couple of miners. Much later, when the area was deserted, it become a musterer's hut.
Today, because of its isolation and the nature of the 4-wheel drive tracks, the area is very rarely visited. It's a good days outing to go and visit the Serpentine Diggings. Starting from Alexandra, an hours drive takes you through to the very picturesque countryside settings - middle earth, at Poolburn Reservoir where you can stop for morning tea. Next a short drive on the Old Dunstan Road before turning off on the Long Valley Ridge Road taking you over a rolling tussock / tor covered landscape of the Serpentine plateau. At one of the highest spots at an old Trig Station, spectacular panoramic views takes in Poolburn Reservoir, Greenland Reservoir / Upper Manorburn Reservoir and Lake Onslow in the distance.
Lunch stop is amongst some old stone remains of a mining dwelling before walking down the slopes past the old miner's tunnel and on to the now restored battery and water wheel. The old safe now lies on top of the ground which was once used for the safekeeping of the miners pay packet and for the recovered gold. Then back to the 4-wheel drive vehicle and onto the Serpentine "church" where now some restoration work has been carried out.Here is another good stop for afternoon tea before we turn back the way we come in from. At the T Junction of the Old Dunstan Road, left hand turn takes you back where we started from via Poolburn Reservoir while a right turn goes onto the Upper Taieri Valley - old Styx Goal, the Styx Hotel / Stables. From here an hour and half drive takes you back to Alexandra - via Ranfurly, the Ida Valley and Ophir.
NB:In the past, after leaving the Serpentine Church, you could connect left onto the Serpentine Road / Linnburn Runs Road to the Upper Taieri Valley or go south on the Serpentine Road that connects onto Lake Onslow Road. Either option is NOT recommended as large sections of the Serpentine Road is impassible even to 4-WD vehicles. No maintenance to the road has been carried out for a very long time. DOC however has done recent road maintenance to the end section of Long Valley Ridge Road.
Tours to the Serpentine Diggings, other Central Otago goldfields, general tours and Wild Flower Walks can be arranged by John Douglas of Safari Excursions
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