Visiting An Old Hunting Ground

It was to be a fixed wing fly-in with Karla and friend Alan, to wander around some of the places that I had hunted fifty three to fifty seven years to ago. Unfortunately, Alan withdrew due to a family illness.

After the long drive down we arrived at the Makarora Tourist Centre at the head of Lake Wanaka, were welcomed by the owner, Rhondda Osmers, then checked with pilot Ryan of Southern Alps Air about our flight the next day. Then we settled into one of the A-Frame cabins for the night.

Newlands & that spur on Mt Kuri.

I first came to work on Mt Albert Station, across the Makarora River in 1962. I was employed as a carpenter but also helped with the general station work; mustering, docking and such like. In those days there was no power, all gravel winding roads with fords (small streams flowing across the roads) and always that river. In good weather an old ex army GMC truck or a tractor was used to cross the Makarora. If the river was too deep for them, a dray and horse; if too deep for that, just one of the station horses and if it was too deep and swift for a horse – that was it, no access to the outside world. It didn’t seem bad at all, one just went with the flow, or just watched it! With any real emergency one of the local jet boats could be called upon. The road through to the upper West Coast didn’t open until late 1965.


Rhondda & Dave’s house being built in 1991. That’s Will with the red cap.

It was when working on Mt Albert that I first met Dave Osmers. He had a sort of shop or shelves stocked with various items that one could buy off him and he also bought venison, velvets, sinews and such like. It didn’t take long before Dave asked if I could give him a hand with shooting deer on ‘his’ hunting blocks on Mt Albert Station. He hunted all the way up the Wilkin, Young, and the Makarora river flats. Over the years I came down a number of times to do some carpentry work on the Station and to work with Dave, commercial hunting, over the roar period. I remember him once enthusiastically saying, ‘let’s get a hundred stags this roar’. I can’t remember if we did or not but we did shoot a lot anyway. In the gaps with the hunting I also worked on some maintenance on Dave’s motel units. And then came the helicopters. Evan Meredith was the boss and he was short of hunters as at the time the price of venison was about one shilling and three pence a pound while Evan was offering only nine pence a pound working with him. It was a lot less but with the high numbers of deer and using the helicopter, Evan’s price turned out to be very good.

Rhondda’s house today.

Dave and I joined up with Evan’s four other hunters and we hunted the tops of the Wilkin, Jumboland, Newlands, the slopes of Mt Kuri, Tiel Creek and Young Range. The helicopter was only used for transport, not for shooting from as that was illegal. So I ended up pretty fit and got to know Dave very well. He was a good companion, friend and hunter. In-between hunting and somewhere along the line, Dave and Rhondda got married and turned the Makarora Tourist Centre into something special. Dave’s now wandering about in the happy hunting ground but down on earth I was looking forward to have a look over some of our old hunting spots and to see how his house was standing up that I had helped build in 1991.


Jumboland looking towards the Top Forks Hut.

The Fly In
So the morning after we arrived we walked across the road with Ryan of Southern Alps Air to the airstrip, packed out gear into the aircraft and headed off along the grass air strip towards the Wilkin River Valley. Flying up the Wilkin I hardly recognised much at all. Dave’s Blue Ford Hut had gone. This was a hut that Dave built at a bend in the river which was as far as we could get the jet boat up normally. I didn’t recognise Dan’s Flat and forgot to ask if another of Dave’s huts, The Dogbox was still there. I was too busy looking at a spur on Mt Kuri to see the Kerrin Forks Hut. Dave and I had a great hunt after the helicopter dropped us off on this spur in 1966. Then we were flying past the entrance to the Newlands Valley after glancing down on the Wilkin below where Dave and I had floated some deer, tied up with tyre tubes and stuffed with football bladders, down to the Kerrin Forks. After the Mt Kuri hunt and the deer were collected we got the helicopter to drop us down into Newlands later that afternoon. Dave knew of the rock shelter and nearby he had hidden some tin food. The only problem was that all the labels had washed off so it was pot luck hoping the right combination was opened. I do remember going down to the creek for water but came rushing back to grab my rifle as I had spotted a number of deer across the creek. Nothing like a peaceful evening meal!


Tent site: Top Forks Hut.

Then we were flying past the Wonderland valley entrance before swinging around the valley to land on the rough grassy airstrip.  This airstrip was further up the Wilkin valley than the old one so we had less distance to walk to the Top Forks Hut.  Crossing the Wilkin was okay and after lunch on a log on the river bed, the hut soon came into view.  It looked a bit scrappy really and the old hut sat right next to it and now was a hut warden’s residence.  After a look around we went back downstream and sorted out a spot for our tent.



The Top Forks Hut with the old one hidden behind.

I had figured to find an old deercullers tent site, the one that I had used about 1963. Then the old tent fly poles were still standing so I had made use of them. Mike Palmer told me that he hunted here and that he had buried some ammunition which I did find. Then I had an ex army cut down .303 so did make use of them. This time though it was hard to figure out that location as the bush had spread down towards the river. The next day we headed back to the huts and along a poled track towards Lake Diana. It’s just a small sheltered lake, with no wind which produced some very clear reflections on the water. Continuing on we soon came to the larger Lucidus Lake. All was still. The day before we heard and watched an avalanche roar down into the lake. The river outflow was high and swift, no doubt due to some of the melted avalanche material still flowing out so we left having a look at Lake Castalia for another day.


Reflections Lake Diana.

Rain was forecast so we made our way down back across the river to set up camp near the airstrip. And then it rained. And the sandflies. Hundreds of them. So many that we had to sweep out the floor of the tent each night or pile them up in a heap in one corner of the tent. The pile didn’t even make a decent pillow base. It’s only the females that suck the blood and I guess the males just die after sex and who do the females suck blood from when we’re not there?


Lucidus Lake with Mt Castor & Apollo Peak on the left.

Flying Out

The rain stopped, the clouds and mist lifted and Paul Cooper of Southern Alps Air flew over and then came down on the airstrip. We hadn’t ferried all our gear down to the airstrip but that wasn’t any worry to Paul. After the roar of the engine, a few bumps down the airstrip and we were airborne, flying down the valley between the mountains on either side of the plane.  As Paul pointed out, it was Dave who started Southern Alps Air and he wasn’t a pilot! Now Paul has the Siberia Experience and other scenic flights around the mountains; Milford Sound, the Mts Cook and Aspiring too. We landed back down just across the road from the Makarora Tourist Centre.


Across the road: Southern Alps Air.

The Haunted Hotel
After a night in another A-frame cabin, more of Rhondda’s hospitality we left, heading for St Bathans and spent a night at the St Bathans Domain. The next morning we walked around the street of St Bathans with its old buildings and plenty of history. Gold it was that brought them and when the gold ran out, they left. But they had a pretty good time while it lasted it seems.

The Haunted Vulcan Hotel in St Bathans.

By coincidence Rhondda writes:
‘My great grandfather built the pub in St Bathans and a with a few woman friends I went there last year to meet up with some long gone relatives in the cemetery… all Hanrahans. Interesting place. Oral history always said that great granddad, Pat Hanrahan, built the pub in St Bathans. However, I’ve read in other places that someone else did. I think the confusion comes from the fact that the present hotel is called the Vulcan but the original Vulcan burnt down and it was the only pub left with a licence. That licence was transferred to the Ballarat hotel and the name was changed.

The display board in the reserve opposite the pub seems to confirm our oral history;
‘A grand complimentary ball and supper were given on the 18th inst., by the inhabitants of St Bathans and the surrounding. district, to Mr P. Hanrahan, on the opening of his new house, the Ballarat Hotel… There were over 100 persons present, including about half that number of ladies…and dancing was kept up with great spirit until daylight. – Otago Witness 25 July 1868’

Today the Vulcan Hotel advertises a residence ghost! Does Rhondda’s great grandfather object to the name change?

1 Comment

  1. Roger Jackson

    Walked to Lake Castalia and close to Rabbit Pass with Peter Smith in 1988 + two later trips. Very nostalgic reading.

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