Mining heritage tourist operator’s passion
When Clyde-based tourism operator Laurence van der Eb bought his business last year, he combined two of his great passions in life – boats and goldfields heritage.
Educated in England, with strong family ties to the Spanish island of Ibiza, van der Eb now spends most of the year in Clyde, where he lives in an historic stone cottage and runs Clutha River Cruises.
He also ferries people and their bikes up and down the Clutha, to ride the Roxburgh Gorge Trail, which opened in October 2013, during van der Eb’s first season in operation.
‘‘When I got the jetboat I didn’t know about the bikes, but I always knew I’d be doing something on the river. It all just fell into place.’’
Initially trained in his family’s shipping business in London, van der Eb, 50, decided as a young man to follow his own path. This included opening his own clothing shop in Ibiza Town called More Ibiza, named after the 1969
Laurence van der Eb with a sluice monitor from the Central Otago goldmining era, taking pride of place outside his historic cottage in Clyde. film More which was made on the island, with the soundtrack by British band Pink Floyd.
In fact, New Zealand also has a connection, with crucial ‘‘coming of age’’ sections of kiwi writer Janet Frame’s autobiography An Angel at My Table set in the unspoiled but impoverished Ibiza of the late 1950s.
Every year, van der Eb returns to Ibiza for the northern hemisphere summer, to run his business. However, as much as he loves the island that he has been going to since he was four years old, Clyde has also laid claim to his heart.
‘‘I came on a visit in 1990 and I just fell in love with Clyde and Central Otago. Something about the Dunstan captured me, and I’ve been obsessed by the goldfields since day one.’’
He even named his 12 year-old son Hartley, born on Ibiza, after Horatio Hartley, the Californian who along with his Irish companion Christopher Reilly struck gold in 1862 on the Clutha River, just below its confluence with the Kawarau River.
Infected with goldfields fever, he has spent many a happy hour fossicking, not for gold, but for books and memorabilia from antique and secondhand shops all around New Zealand, to educate himself about the country’s mining history, and specifically Central Otago.
‘‘I’ve spent over 20 years accumulating knowledge about the area’s goldmining heritage, and luckily the opportunity to take tours just happened to come along, where I get a chance to be able to talk to people about it.’’
Ibiza is full of ancient Roman and Phoenician heritage, but what fascinates him about Clyde and the Goldrush is ‘‘living history’’. ‘‘You feel like you can touch it.’’ This passion infuses his tours on the Clutha, when he points out miners’ huts etched into the Roxburgh Gorge’s rugged landscape, abandoned opium dens in rock niches and well-preserved alluvial mine sites.
It’s this atmosphere that keeps drawing him back like a magnet, year after year.
‘‘I feel connected to this place… I think it was all just meant to be.’’
Wind in the hair stuff: Clutha River Cruises’ operator doing what he loves, driving a jetboat while showing people Central Otago’s goldmining heritage.