ARROWTOWN

Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - By Jus­tine Ty­er­man

IJus­tine Ty­er­man and her mum take a trip and never leave the rest home.

took my mother for a ‘walk’ to Mace­town the other day. She’s 95, blind and deaf but she wanted to touch, taste and smell all the things she re­mem­bered from 50 years ago when we used to hike the track as part of a sum­mer pil­grim­age.

De­men­tia has stolen her short­term mem­ory, clots to the op­tic nerves have taken her eye­sight and os­teo­poro­sis has robbed her of mo­bil­ity - but her mem­o­ries of Cen­tral Otago and our lit­tle crib in Arrowtown are so vivid, she still lives there in her mind. It is a far hap­pier place than the recliner chair, bed and bath­room that make up the nar­row life she now leads.

Last time I went to visit Mum in her lit­tle rest home room in Ti­maru, I told her all about our re­cent trek to Mace­town. Her face and eyes lit up like an ex­cited child and she said she would love to go back there just one more time.

So we set off very early next day, like we used to when I was young, to avoid the mid­day heat.

She can barely re­mem­ber what she had for lunch five min­utes ago but her sen­so­rial mem­o­ries of our ex­pe­di­tions up the Ar­row River to the site of the old gold min­ing ghost town were as­ton­ish­ingly de­tailed.

She wanted to feel the smooth rocks on her bare feet as we forded the river, taste the tart goose­ber­ries and sweet rasp­ber­ries grow­ing wild and dusty on the side of the track and smell the pas­tel-coloured lupins which ap­pear ev­ery year from nowhere.

She couldn’t see the geckos sun­bathing on the warm rocks, the play of light on the golden tus­socked hills or the dark shad­ows cast by the high moun­tain ranges and deep gorges.

But she re­mem­bered the dis­tinc­tive smell of cold river wa­ter on hot schist and the shim­mery sil­ver pow­der of the river silt on her skin.

There were tears in her eyes as she re­lived the dis­cov­ery of a horse’s skele­ton in an old hut near Mace­town. The wretched an­i­mal must have wan­dered in­side in search of shel­ter from the snow or rain or sun, and be­come trapped when the door blew shut. The poor crea­ture would have starved to death stand­ing up­right.

Mace­town was much as Mum re­mem­bered - a peace­ful place with rem­nants of a main street, stone walls and fruit and shel­ter trees where cot­tages once stood. Dad used to make a lit­tle fire to boil the billy for a cup of tea and we ate sand­wiches and ap­ples un­der the trees.

The town was first set­tled in the early 1860s as a re­sult of the dis­cov­ery of gold in the Ar­row River. At first the rush was for al­lu­vial gold from the river. Later the min­ers turned their at­ten­tion to the hills and sev­eral quartz min­ing op­er­a­tions were es­tab­lished. But when the gold ran out, the town slowly died and by the 1930s, Mace­town was just a ghost town.

A project com­pleted in 2008 care­fully re­stored an old cot­tage, bake­house and quartz-crush­ing bat­tery, the only known all-metal stamp­ing bat­tery in Otago.

The 24 river cross­ings Mum re­mem­bered so well are now re­duced to a hand­ful, thanks to new bridges and a track cut around the hill­side - but I didn’t tell Mum that. She would have con­sid­ered that cheat­ing.

And I cer­tainly didn’t con­fess that on the way back from Mace­town, we hitched a ride in the lead ve­hi­cle of a 4WD club whose mem­bers were hav­ing huge fun ford­ing the river and ne­go­ti­at­ing the steep, nar­row, for­mer dray track.

In our de­fence, we were run­ning short of wa­ter on a scorch­ing hot sum­mer day so ac­cept­ing a ride was the sen­si­ble thing to do - and the grem­lins had ob­vi­ously been play­ing with my mem­ory too be­cause the track seemed longer, steeper, dustier and hot­ter than when I was a young­ster. So much for that song about Christ­mas trees be­ing tall when we were small and small when we were tall.

At the end of the day, we sat out­side a lovely cafe in Arrowtown in our tramp­ing gear, drank ice-cold lager and de­mol­ished a plate of hot chips - Mum would have loved that.

In her mind, our crib is still there, on the hill in Arrowtown with a view from the kitchen win­dow of the lop­sided crown on the Crown Range. There’s a smart new hol­i­day house there now but she didn’t need to know that.

As we pitched our lit­tle tent at the up­mar­ket camp­ing ground with its five-star kitchen and ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties, I strug­gled to re­cap­ture the fierce sense of own­er­ship I have al­ways felt for Arrowtown. But when we left two days later, I felt like a vis­i­tor, an out­sider. I didn’t be­long there any­more.

Then all of a sud­den, rather than feel­ing sorry for Mum, I had an over­whelm­ing sense of peace about her. She still lives there - and I don’t.

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