Let pa­tience pre­vail and all will be re­vealed


Driv­ing into Naseby in early spring, you might be for­given for think­ing there must have been some mas­sive civil emer­gency that re­quired all the in­hab­i­tants to run away.

The well-tended main street has a large park with a chil­dren’s play­ground but no chil­dren. There are a few in­ter­est­ing look­ing shops but no shop­pers. A closer pe­rusal re­veals that one whole block of early set­tler build­ings is in fact a mu­seum but it’s closed. So are both pubs and al­though there are suf­fi­cient houses to sug­gest a pop­u­la­tion of at least a cou­ple of thou­sand, only a very, very few have smoke com­ing out the chim­ney. This is sur­pris­ing as even in late Au­gust it is still bit­terly cold. So where is every­body? The an­swer is that mostly they are at work – in Dunedin and Christchurch and In­ver­cargill.

Lo­cated in the mid­dle of the Man­iototo, a re­gion known for its harsh win­ters and bak­ing sum­mers, this old Cen­tral Otago gold min­ing town is now mostly a col­lec­tion of cribs or hol­i­day homes for up to four thou­sand ‘crib­bies’ that swell the pop­u­la­tion dur­ing the ‘sea­son’ to en­joy hik­ing, cy­cling, fish­ing and swim­ming.

The rest of the time it is al­most a ghost town with a per­ma­nent pop­u­la­tion of just over one hun­dred.

I say al­most be­cause if you scratch the sur­face you will soon dis­cover that mod­est as their num­bers may be, na­tive Nase­byites are around. Not only that but they are tena­cious, en­ter­pris­ing and highly mo­ti­vated to not only keep their town alive, but to see it thriv­ing through a num­ber of quite unique ini­tia­tives.

On first ac­quain­tance Naseby may look like a well main­tained mu­seum that only comes alive when the hol­i­day mak­ers ar­rive, but it is in fact a thriv­ing lit­tle com­mu­nity with a num­ber of sur­pris­ing as­sets, not least of which is its dy­namic his­tory.

LIKE SO MANY OTAGO TOWNS, gold lies at the heart of Naseby’s be­gin­nings with the al­lur­ing metal first be­ing dis­cov­ered in May 1863 in the nearby Hog­burn.

It took just three months for two thou­sand min­ers to gather on the gold­field and to found a town they ini­tially named Parker’s, in recog­ni­tion of the brothers who led the party of five that first dis­cov­ered gold. In quick suc­ces­sion the town was re­named Hog­burn, Mount Ida and fi­nally Naseby. Why it was named Naseby, af­ter a small mar­ket vil­lage in Northamp­ton­shire that was dis­tin­guished only by a cat­a­strophic de­feat of the Roy­al­ist army there dur­ing the English civil war is no longer known. How­ever as Naseby, the place pros­pered.

This was per­haps in­evitable given the rich pick­ings to be had on the gold­fields. Only a cou­ple of months af­ter its dis­cov­ery, the first gold es­cort was on its way to Dunedin with 4300 ounces on board, worth nearly six mil­lion dol­lars to­day. By 1878, the pop­u­la­tion had dou­bled and the town had grown to ac­com­mo­date three banks, a fire brigade, fine coun­cil build­ings, a cou­ple of lodges, a hos­pi­tal, a po­lice sta­tion, an im­pres­sive court house, a town hall, eigh­teen stores, four­teen ho­tels, two butch­ers and three churches – ev­ery­thing re­quired for rea­son­ably so­phis­ti­cated ur­ban liv­ing. It was also of­ten up­roar­i­ous and pub­lic brawl­ing out­side the nu­mer­ous sa­loons that sold ev­ery­thing from cheap rotgut to fine whisky which made for a lively court­house. It is hard to say if the se­lec­tion of es­tab­lish­ments cater­ing to more car­nal re­quire­ments fu­elled the fires or quenched them, but they did a good trade.

To fa­cil­i­tate sluic­ing op­er­a­tions on the gold­fields, a net­work of wa­ter races was es­tab­lished, some of which rep­re­sented quite as­tound­ing engineering achieve­ments given the dif­fi­culty of the ter­rain and the fact that only hand tools were used. The Mount Ida wa­ter race, which was con­structed from 1873 to sup­ply wa­ter to the gold­fields, was a stag­ger­ing 108 kilo­me­tres long and it still sup­plies wa­ter to the town­ship and to farm­ers in the area. It starts way up in the head­wa­ters of the Manuherikia River and then winds its way along the Hawk­dun Range si­phon­ing off more and more wa­ter from the streams it en­coun­ters on its way to­wards Naseby.

Such was the suc­cess of the town that it was con­fi­dently ex­pected to re­main the com­mer­cial and cul­tural cen­tre of the Man­iototo as well as the seat of lo­cal gov­ern­ment. Alas, Naseby was to fall prey to the same fate that con­demned so many small towns as the new cen­tury ap­proached when it was by­passed by the rail­way line. Naseby’s loss was Ran­furly’s gain with the ri­val town­ship spring­ing up 12 km away al­most overnight, rapidly at­tract­ing all the ser­vices away from Naseby.

When the last of the eas­ily won gold ran out in the 1930s, the town de­clined fur­ther and by the 1980s, it had be­come New Zealand’s small­est bor­ough.

How­ever Naseby was far from fin­ished. Al­most for­got­ten for decades, the old wooden Vic­to­rian build­ings re­mained in re­mark­ably good con­di­tion, a com­bi­na­tion of the hot dry sum­mers and frosty win­ters that min­imised rot and the fact that no­body was knock­ing any­thing down to make way for fresh de­vel­op­ment.

TO­DAY NASEBY’S VERY ORIG­I­NAL his­toric build­ings de­fine the town­ship and a cul­ture of preser­va­tion and restora­tion has taken the place of be­nign ne­glect. Dirt cheap, well pre­served old cot­tages be­came ‘get aways’ and Naseby was re­born. To­day the town’s motto is ‘Naseby - 2000 feet above worry level!’ and you don’t have to be here long to dis­cover that it is in­deed a won­der­fully re­laxed place.

Adding to the gen­eral charm of Naseby is the ex­ten­sive sur­round­ing for­est, the first trees of which were planted in 1899. For­est is a rel­a­tively rare thing on the mostly empty plains of the Man­iototo and it re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant part of Naseby’s at­trac­tion. The town­ship is nes­tled into the edges of the for­est which has be­come a ma­jor draw for bik­ers and walk­ers. Al­though pri­vately owned, much of it is ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic and one par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar track fol­lows the fi­nal stretch of the Mount Ida wa­ter race, an easy level path suit­able for all ages and fit­ness lev­els.

More ad­ven­tur­ous bik­ers can ac­cess over 50 kilo­me­tres of ad­di­tional track run­ning through the 500 hectares of Oregon, Dou­glas fir, Larch, and Cor­si­can pine that now cover what was the sluiced ground of the gold­fields. Th­ese tracks have earned the rep­u­ta­tion among moun­tain bik­ers as be­ing the very best in New Zealand with many fast down­hill sec­tions and nat­u­ral berms to chal­lenge the most skilled rid­ers.

Heath Lunn, the man in charge of op­er­a­tions and plan­ning for the forestry com­pany that owns ‘Ernslaw One’ is him­self a keen cy­clist and hopes to soon open a fur­ther 50 kilo­me­tres of rid­ing track. The for­est, which cov­ers some two and a half thou­sand hectares in to­tal, is man­aged sus­tain­ably and there is a pro­gramme to breed New Zealand’s na­tive fresh wa­ter cray­fish in the for­est’s fire ponds for com­mer­cial har­vest. The for­est is also home to a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of the Karearea, New Zealand’s en­dan­gered na­tive fal­con.

Also hid­den away in the for­est, are two dams of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent trout fish­ing. One of them, Coal­pit dam, is es­pe­cially pop­u­lar for fam­ily out­ings due to its easy ac­cess and shal­low wa­ter that is suit­able for chil­dren to swim in. Al­though it would take an es­pe­cially hardy soul to dip a toe in any­thing but dur­ing the height of sum­mer, it is open for fish­ing all year and is reg­u­larly topped up with fish by Fish and Game Otago.

In fact the lakes, rivers and dams around Naseby are known for the num­bers of fish that live in them and some are so heav­ily pop­u­lated there is no daily limit. Hunt­ing is also a pop­u­lar past time with large num­bers of red deer, pigs, rab­bits, hares, possums, duck and other wa­ter fowl to take a pot at.

Dur­ing the sum­mer there is a swim­ming dam in town that is filled

each year from the wa­ter race. Lo­cated up the hill, op­po­site the camp­ing ground, there’s a shal­low end for young chil­dren and a deep hole with a div­ing board at the other. It was empty when I was there but the at­mos­phere was quite un­like any­thing I have ever en­coun­tered else­where in this coun­try. It was rather like some­thing out of Amer­ica back in the fifties and it was easy to imag­ine pic­nick­ing fam­i­lies loung­ing on the grass in high sum­mer as chil­dren splashed about. It was spe­cial.

Those seek­ing a bit of lo­cal ‘colour’ can pur­chase a gold pan from the Naseby In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre and most of the wa­ter­ways will still re­ward a pa­tient prospec­tor with the glit­ter of fine al­lu­vial gold among the gravel. It’s easy to imag­ine those min­ers of old, work­ing qui­etly along lonely streams, per­haps dream­ing of homes far away.

The gold min­ers who founded Naseby did come from all four cor­ners of the world and when it was gone they mostly moved on. Like much of Otago many of those who re­mained to set­tle the area were of Scot­tish de­scent.

Whereas hun­gry min­ers may have been driven to hunt or fish for food, the Scots farm­ers and small busi­ness­men who carved out more per­ma­nent lives here were able to in­dulge it for the love of the sport. Fish­ing and shoot­ing were not the only sports they res­ur­rected in the new coun­try and one of them has since put Naseby on the global map.

THE AN­CIENT ART OF CURL­ING re­sem­bles a game of bowls on ice with teams of four peo­ple com­pet­ing with each other by slid­ing large stones to­wards a goal at the other end. Al­though it has been called many names over the years, in­clud­ing ‘a re­ally good ex­cuse for a drink’ it is his­tor­i­cally known as ‘the roar­ing game’ af­ter the deep rum­ble pro­duced by the pol­ished gran­ite stones as they slide across the frozen lakes it is tra­di­tion­ally played on in Scot­land. Of course it is also a good ex­cuse for a drink and the tra­di­tion of keep­ing the chill at bay with a warm­ing dram or hot toddy is still very much a part of the out­door ex­pe­ri­ence.

It has been prac­ticed all over Cen­tral Otago ever since the Scots ar­rived when­ever lo­cal ponds and lakes froze over with a suf­fi­cient depth of ice to sup­port the heavy stones. Curl­ing was first played on the lo­cal reser­voir in Naseby 120 years ago and in­deed it is still played there when the ice is right. Among other tro­phies that are con­tested is the Bax­ter Cup, pre­sented orig­i­nally by David Bax­ter to the Dunedin Curl­ing Club 1882. When the Dunedin club dis­banded in the late 1880s, it was pre­sented to the Naseby Curl­ing Coun­cil and it re­mains the ma­jor tro­phy of the Naseby Coun­cil and the old­est New Zealand sport­ing tro­phy still com­peted for.

The Bax­ter Cup is re­quired to be played for on nat­u­ral ice and it is played for on the Cen­ten­nial ponds. Be­cause the pond was pur­pose built for curl­ing and is not too deep, it can be played most years. How­ever the big­gest and most spec­tac­u­lar celebration of curl­ing re­mains the Bon­spiel, an event that re­quires much more space.

It is there­fore played at nearby Oture­hua on the Id­aburn dam and no ded­i­cated curler would miss it. Partly this is be­cause it might not take place for sev­eral years as curlers wait pa­tiently for the ice on the reser­voir to achieve a thick­ness of 15 cen­time­tres. When that does hap­pen, a na­tional bon­spiel is called and teams from all over New Zealand have just 48 hours to get there for the com­pe­ti­tion.

They play by rules that were es­tab­lished at the found­ing of the Royal Cale­do­nian Curl­ing Club and the long games carry on no mat­ter how cold it gets, and it gets cold.

Iced up eye­brows and beards are ig­nored along with flur­ries of snow and bit­ingly cold winds while kilts, tam o’shanters and of course reg­u­lar warm­ing tip­ples, re­main the or­der of the day.

Be­cause of the va­garies of out­door ice, the com­ple­tion of an out­door ice rink in Naseby across the road from the pond was good news for curlers. From ap­prox­i­mately late May to mid-Au­gust the Man­iototo Ice Rink of­fers curl­ing along with a can­teen, a heated lounge, tu­ition and equip­ment hire. This greatly ex­tended the sea­son and was partly re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of lo­cal play­ers be­com­ing ex­cep­tion­ally pro­fi­cient in the game, even by in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

Of course this did not hap­pen overnight and in fact lo­cal curlers were still play­ing the game as it had been played 150 years ago in the old coun­try, un­til visi­tors from the old coun­try ar­rived to en­lighten them. With curl­ing now an Olympic sport and with over 50 coun­tries play­ing the game, tac­tics and tech­niques had evolved. The ar­rival of vis­it­ing curlers from Scot­land in the early 1970s that brought films show­ing how to slide and also im­parted some of the strate­gies that had de­vel­oped in re­cent years, changed the lo­cal game. The curlers of Naseby quickly be­gan to catch up with the rest of the curl­ing world.

How­ever there was a prob­lem. All the coun­tries that com­peted at the Olympic level used in­door rinks so that they could train all year but the only in­door rinks avail­able to New Zealand curlers were dom­i­nated by ice hockey. This got the lo­cals think­ing and sev­eral lead­ing curlers in­clud­ing Peter Becker, one of the most ta­lented Naseby play­ers, got to­gether and per­suaded the World Curl­ing Fed­er­a­tion to ante up some se­ri­ous fund­ing to build a ded­i­cated in­door curl­ing rink.

The fund­ing, while a great start was not nearly enough to com­plete the job and so Becker and his mates ral­lied lo­cal vol­un­teers from the re­gion who gave up 6000 man hours. With many free­bies from lo­cal con­trac­tors and trades­men, they set to and built the Man­iototo In­door Curl­ing Rink.

Opened in 2006, it re­mains the only ded­i­cated curl­ing rink in the South­ern Hemi­sphere and it looks set to re­main the only one for some time. There are moves to es­tab­lish another in Auck­land but whereas Naseby was able to com­plete the job for just over a mil­lion dol­lars, Auck­land is strug­gling to cost it at less than 12 mil­lion.

In the mean­time, the New Zealand na­tional teams train here which is con­ve­nient given that many of them live nearby. The Becker fam­ily have con­trib­uted might­ily to their num­bers with Peter lead­ing the se­nior men’s team and coach­ing the na­tional team while his wife Wendy leads the se­nior women’s team. Sean Becker, a farmer in the re­gion, was a long time ‘Skip’ of the New Zealand men’s na­tional team and there are more young Beck­ers com­ing on. The Aus­tralian team also of­ten trains here but the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who use the rink are com­plete be­gin­ners, the ma­jor­ity hav­ing made the 12 kilo­me­tre de­tour from the rail trail to sam­ple the sport.

THE GOOD FOLK OF NASEBY did not stop with the con­struc­tion of their curl­ing rink and us­ing the same lo­cal net­work­ing process, they then set to and built the first ice luge in the South­ern Hemi­sphere.

Opened in 2008, the 360 me­tre track is sit­u­ated next door to the curl­ing rinks, snaking back into the for­est. It is a fast and fu­ri­ous run over hard packed snow cov­ered with a layer of ice. Low wooden walls line the track and it is pos­si­ble to race around the ten curves at speeds of up to sev­enty kilo­me­tres an hour. Tu­ition is avail­able for both curl­ing and lug­ing and both ac­tiv­i­ties are suit­able for any­one of any age with a sense of ad­ven­ture.

Nat­u­rally the luge can only op­er­ate dur­ing the depths of win­ter and one lo­cal en­thu­si­ast seized the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate an all year luge.

Eric Swin­bourn is well known for his mo­tor rac­ing ex­ploits and for his bril­liant engineering on both race cars and race bikes and he had been in­stru­men­tal in build­ing the ice luge.

He had moved from Queen­stown to Naseby where he bought the lo­cal garage, set­ting it up as place to re­store clas­sic race ma­chin­ery. His wife Mar­i­lyn had a cousin who owned a crib in Naseby and they learned that he had ac­quired the ‘tin’ luge that used to run on Coronet Peak.

The stain­less steel luge had been dis­man­tled and placed in stor­age in Queen­stown and it was ap­par­ently des­tined for scrap. Eric and Mar­i­lyn asked that it be do­nated to Naseby in­stead and this was agreed. Eric then ar­ranged to truck all the bits to Naseby and it is now await­ing re­con­struc­tion as an all-year luge that will run through the trees along­side the other.

Like ev­ery lo­cal we spoke to, Eric and Mar­i­lyn would not live any­where other than Naseby. Far from miss­ing the bus­tle of busy Queen­stown, they love both the tran­quil­lity of Naseby and the fact that they have never been busier.

The ex­otic ma­chin­ery in Eric’s workshop is al­ways worth a look if you are lucky enough to be in­vited in but if he’s busy, you can drop in next door to the Naseby Mo­tor­ing Mu­seum in the old cor­ner shop.

Win­ton Amies is a self-con­fessed hoarder of all things au­to­mo­tive who some years ago re­alised he had to tidy up or risk be­ing un­able to move about in his home. His small but fas­ci­nat­ing space is now a won­der­fully or­gan­ised col­lec­tion of model cars with a cou­ple of re­stored clas­sics out the back. It took us a mo­ment to find the right door to knock on but once we had, we re­ceived a warm wel­come.

When you have had your fill there, you can wan­der across the road to the Black For­est Café and talk curl­ing to lo­cal cham­pion Wendy Becker while en­joy­ing one of her jus­ti­fi­ably fa­mous choco­late brown­ies.

We learn from her that the Early Set­tler Mu­seum along the road can be ac­cessed with to­kens pur­chased at the lo­cal dairy. This seems ap­pro­pri­ately con­vo­luted and quite typ­i­cal of the town.

NASEBY IS A SLIGHTLY guarded se­cret that re­quires just a lit­tle pa­tience to un­ravel, but once solved it is a sin­gu­larly mar­vel­lous lit­tle place. It’s worth at least a few days and there are any num­ber of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, in­clud­ing the hol­i­day park, the two his­toric ho­tels (which op­er­ate re­stricted hours dur­ing the off sea­son), nu­mer­ous hol­i­day cot­tages and a cou­ple of very smart pri­vate lodges.

Dig just be­low the sur­face and you will dis­cover that Naseby is still a gold mine.

The tin luge was do­nated by a crib own­ing fam­ily who saw an op­por­tu­nity. The luge had been re­moved from Coronet Peak some years ear­lier and was in dan­ger of be­ing sold for its scrap value. There’s a whole other story there one day …



In­ter­est­ing crib avail­able as ac­com­mo­da­tion.


Typ­i­cal crib.

Main street build­ings, part of the Mu­seum – Pub.



Main street build­ings, part of the Mu­seum – watchmaker and boot man­u­fac­turer.

Restora­tion un­der way.

Bon­spiel 2010.

Bon­spiel 2010.

Eric Swin­bourn on his about town trans­port

Tin luge await­ing re­con­struc­tion


Naseby Mo­tor Mu­seum.

Win­ton Aimes, Mu­seum pro­pri­etor.

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