Boom towns and wild mountain roads

Hi again after some wet and blustery days up here in the North.

I thought some of you might be interested in a few of the fascinating facts I learnt about our history while researching The Drover’s Quest. For example, did you know that during the heady West Coast gold rush days of the 1860s, Hokitika was one of NZ’s biggest towns? It was chock-full of pubs (at one count 84 hotels lined Revell Street), dancing halls, and gambling dens and home to colourful characters like Fenian Jenny who liked to dance in emerald green petticoats, and diggers with funny names like Johnny the Rat and Alex the Greek.

 The road through Arthur’s Pass had only just been completed, linking the goldfields to Christchurch. About a thousand men had hacked out a route through the rock and thick bush, using only pickaxes and shovels. It was a hair-raising journey across that early road. In those days, Cobb and Co was King, with many people travelling by coach across the treacherous Pass to get to the wild West Coast. I read amazing stories of runaway coaches and horses hooning down steep mountainsides, or else crossing raging rivers like the Waimakariri in flood, or the Taramakau, nicknamed the Terrible Cow. Exciting days!

3 Responses so far

  1. 1

    zackids said,

    Every time I go to Hokitika I imagine all the pubs and hotels that used to line Revell Street. If I could travel back in time I’d love to go back to Hokitika during the gold rush.

    The part in The Drover’s Quest that had me on the edge of my seat was when the drovers were coming down the steep Otira Gorge on the other side of Arthur’s Pass. You had me very worried for a while there.

    • 2

      starauthor said,

      Yes, I read many true accounts of cattle going over the sides of the steep Otira Gorge. Luckily no coaches ever did, though there were some very close calls.

  2. 3

    jen said,

    My great grandfather was a coachdriver in the 1880’s between Ross, Hokitika and Kumara…..sometimes over the Otira route, a.very risky business in those days. He died in 1911 in middle age, but worked for the Commercial Hotel crowd (Revell street, Hokitika of course).
    Oh I can just hear the sharp clinking of the horse shoes against thos river rocks and that crunchy rattle as they slipped off round rocks into the firmer footholds as they picked their way across those rivers with people perched sometimes so high up on those waggons.


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