Day 26: Millers Flat to Roxburgh

Fri 17 February 2017

  • Km today: 20
  • Total Km: 458

Clutha Gold Trail

I had angled my tent to catch the morning sun, however it wasn’t to be, as I pulled back the fly to reveal the early morning fog. I didn’t want to hang around in the dampness so hurriedly packed up and headed out to rejoin the trail to Roxburgh, some 20km distant. I have a rendezvous this afternoon with St John that I am looking forward to. The fog was low lying and beginning to burn off already as I left the outskirts of Millers Flat making for some great pics. The morning smells from the trail side vegetation were of lemon, gingerbread and turnip. Rabbits darted away on all sides and a couple of early bird farmers were out on tractors, otherwise it is a peaceful stroll.

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The track today doesn’t follow the old railway line but instead follows the river bank. The Clutha hasn’t gone down any and the flow is just as swift as previous days. I marvel at how much water must be passing by continuously. It all has to come from somewhere and equally all ends up somewhere else down river. There are lovely homes and gardens to admire along the track, which gave river and mountain views. Some even have fruit trees but are just out of reach sadly. However a little way on I come across a plum tree laden with yellow plums nom nom. Little sweet and delicious. It’s feast or famine I think as down the track there are red plum trees, the branches sagging under the weight of so much fruit. They are perfectly ripe, dark plums drop into my hand with the slightest touch and they taste incredible. That’s breakfast taken care of! The trail winds slowly along the river bank passing in and out of groves of trees, mainly pine, willow and poplar. The trail undulates through and this makes for interesting walking as the scenery changes constantly and the dappled light is a photographers dream. I however are always conscious of my phone battery so save picture taking for only the best momentos. I come to a sign indicating a detour to the historic Teviot goods shed. Not able to pass this is I follow the track up to the main road and shortly along past the Teviot cattle sale yard is the shed sitting in a paddock away from the road. It is in good nick from the outside and resplendent in maroon (or is it Tuscan Red? It was an official colour of the NZR) with a white Teviot sign on each side. At one time or would have been a very busy stop I imagine as the farming stations here and nearby are massive. The Teviot Station for instance was 64,000 acres massive.

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Back on the trail and the terrain suddenly gets rocky – the sun radiates up from the stones underfoot so it also gets uncomfortable. I check my GPS to see how much further it is to Roxburgh. I really just want to be there now already. Fortunately nearby I pass by some irrigators that are spraying water across the track which provides some welcome relief and a little further on is an apple tree, from which I can pluck a good example. From here the trail descends gently alongside the road to the Roxburgh bridge. Across the bridge it’s a short stroll into the main street which is on state highway 8. I’m staying at the Commercial Hotel which provides affordable accommodation for travellers, backpackers and seasonal fruit pickers. After the heat of the day it is wonderful to set down my pack and rest the tootsies. John and Pat Kerr (no relation) own and operate the Commercial and were farming down the road at Onslow Downs prior. Pat, bless her, sizes me up and says ‘you’ll need a long bed’ so I am most fortunate to receive a double bedroom upstairs instead of a bunk room. Little comforts I am grateful for. I head out to see the town of Roxburgh. It is a Friday afternoon and there is a lone bagpiper playing on the street opposite the hotel. Apparently he plays each Friday. There is more to this place than meets the eye obviously. There is a very good clean public toilet if you are ever passing through and I can highly recommend the coffee at the 103 The Store on the other side of the road. However it is Jimmy’s Pies that I seek having heard they are legendary and everyone in the know stops there when passing through. Being a traditionalist I go for a mince and cheese rather than the apricot suggested in store. I concur with those who have gone before me that it is delicious – soft flaky pastry with perfect meat filling. The St John station is next door but there is no one there at the moment being that it is a volunteer station.

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I spend time people watching with a coffee outside 103 The Store and get some groceries before getting collected by Joanne Rae at 1700. Jo is the Station Manager at St John Roxburgh and is a volunteer. Her day job is a bank manager. Roxburgh is manned totally by volunteers. It is sobering to think that this station and many many others like it throughout our country operate purely because of volunteers. We drive out to the A&P show grounds where another volunteer Glenda is on duty as there are equestrian events in progress. Glenda works in a nursing home and a maternity hospital. We sit in the shade of the ambulance and chat away about stuff as you do. A little later Stu and Ngaire are driving past and pull up. In the country where everyone knows everyone people stop for a catch up. It turns out that Stu and Ngaire have been involved with St John locally for decades. I really am in amazing company. Within minutes not only have I been arranged to meet up with Barbara, a local journalist but I am invited to go gold panning that very evening. So in I get with Stu and Ngaire and we drive to their place, from which they operate Roxburgh Gold Panning and Heritage Tours. A pathway from their back lawn leads down to the gold panning area which lies in the tailings of alluvial slussing operations from the past. The prospecting companies were only interested in the larger gold pieces which means there is a lot of tiny gold remaining. The ingenious gold panning involves running water through dirt and pebbles along a corrugated pipe. This is then upended into a panning dish and flushed with water. The gold panning dish is then swirled and dipped to remove larger items and concentrate the gold with the finer particles. A magnet extracts iron away and finally the little gold specks can be gently transferred into a plastic vial of water. My little gold strike amounted to about $16 worth. Stu is an absolute gentleman and I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend the experience if you are ever in Roxburgh. It is a unexpected highlight to my day.

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