The story of Chinese immigration into New Zealand at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is not a happy one, as witnessed by a Government Apology in 2002 by the then Prime Minister Helen Clark. Chinese immigrant stories, especially around the goldfields of Central Otago, went generally untold and therefore unnoticed by the general population until well into the twentieth century. From 1977 – 1987 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust commissioned an archaeological study of Chinese gold mining sites along the Clutha River near Cromwell before it was dammed and flooded, and in 1993 Chinese physician Dr James Ng produced Volume 1 of his four volume definitive work “Windows on a Chinese Past”. These two documents brought many of the issues and hardships that faced the hard working Chinese settlers into public view.
The Alaskan, Californian, Australian and then New Zealand gold rushes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries attracted fortune seekers from all over the world, with many moving from one boom to the next as hopes of hitting pay dirt diminished. Among those numbers were peasant men from China seeking another means of supporting their families. Because few spoke English they tended to cluster together and there was only a minimum of interaction with other miners. They were generally no more of less successful in their search for gold than any others however. At best they were tolerated, but when times toughened and the gold ran out they were ostracised. As a result of intense lobbying to politicians by “European” settlers the Government introduced a Poll Tax of £10 at the border for new Chinese immigrants, which was increased to £100 in 1896. It was for this and other discriminatory laws that the Government apologied in 2002.
Chinese miners were represented in many of the early gold fields in Central Otago, the best known and documented site being at Arrowtown near Queenstown. So also it was the case at Naseby and nearby Blacks. But what happened to them when they died?
In some settlements grave sites were established by the Chinese communities themselves, but in others such as Naseby they were buried at the local cemetery – sort of. Being non-Christian, and considered by many therefore to be heathen, they were interred in unconsecrated ground outside the boundary of the normal cemetery. Such was the fate of Luey Mee Hok in 1907, whose grave can be found under the trees with other members of his Chinese fraternity. Its a sad reflection of former less tolerant times.
Bentley Surprise in Naseby
We have visited Naseby a number of times over the years, the most recent time just two years ago. We were therefore not expecting anything out of the ordinary when we came off the end of the Danseys Pass Road and into the old gold mining town. Imagine then the surprise at finding three vintage Bentley Open Tourers parked outside the Black Forest Cafe as we turned into the main street!
Nearly every schoolboy of my era in the British Commonwealth knew of the reputation of these cars during the 1920s and 30s – it was legendary. There were some three thousand Bentley cars of this style built between 1922 and the early years of the 1930s with various engine sizes ranging between 3 litres and 8 litres. By far the most popular was the 4 1/2 litre model built between 1928 and 1931. The great claim to fame for these cars was winning the Le Mans 24 hour race in France in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930.
So there they were, a 4.0 litre, 4.5 litre and 3 litre model parked beside the only cafe in town. And magnificent they were too. Why were they in Naseby? They were part of a Bentley Owners 2013 New Zealand Tour. That morning the cars had left Dunedin and had made their way to Naseby en-route to Mt Cook. Not being the types to take the easy road, they had chosen to travel over Danseys Pass in the opposite direction from which we had just come.
Shortly after our arrival they departed with a chorus of gutsy engines and and a flurry of leaves as they headed into rain and colder temperatures in the Kakanui Mountains.
Curiously, across the street is an antiques shop whose owner has a small collection of cars from the 1930-1950 era.
Crossing the Danseys Pass between the Waitaki Valley in North Otago and the Maniatoto Basin in Central Otago has been on our list of things to do again since we last made the crossing in the early 1980s. That time we crossed from west to east. It was memorable for several reasons, one being the nature of the road, and the other being the accommodation we used (more about that later).
Our east-west journey over Danseys Pass in February began at the small village of Duntroon in the Waitaki Valley. For the first 12 km the road was sealed, but from that point onwards it turned to gravel for the rest of the journey over the Kakanui Mountains all the way to Naseby some 30 km further on.
At about 6 km into the journey, on a side road, are the Elephant Rocks.
Over 24 million years ago this whole area was under the sea. Whales and other marine life sunk into the soft sand which then rose to the surface during the last few million years. The result is an area of fossils and dramatic limestone outcrops which have been weathered into unusual shapes. This area is favored by climbers and is taken as a side-visit by people touring in the area.
On the day we journeyed over the Danseys Pass road it was raining. In order to get the above image I had to crouch behind a small umbrella to prevent the driving rain from soaking my camera. The rain persisted until we reached the summit and began our descent.
Danseys Pass Road narrows to almost a single lane not long after leaving the seal. For a while it follows the valley before rising on a twisting road through steep tussock covered hills.
Close to the summit at 935 metres the rain became heavier …
… and so too did our encounters with free-roaming sheep that often blocked our way.
The summit is reached at the 23 km mark and the road then descends steeply through Upper Kyeburn to the Maniatoto Basin.
Not far from Upper Kyeburn and the Danseys Pass Coaching Inn, still surrounded by steep hills is a lavender farm and gift shop. It was a surprising find in the middle of a high country sheep farming area, well off the normal tourist route.
Our destination for the day was the old coaching inn at Upper Kyburn. We had last stayed at the Danseys Pass Coaching Inn some 30 years ago. On that occasion it was also cold and raining. At that time one could fairly describe the inn as eclectic and in need of some TLC (tender loving care). One of the more unusual features then was that the road took a sharpish turn right at the corner of the inn. If one had a bedroom on that corner (as two of our sons did), it was rather disconcerting at night as felt as if cars approaching from up the hill would crash into the room before passing the front of the hotel to continue down the hill. Fortunately that feature has now been corrected.
Danseys Pass Inn has had a major makeover since we last stayed and it now operates as a boutique get-away hotel and a place to hold small conferences and functions. One of the nice things is that it has all been done in keeping with old character of the place and it makes for a pleasant overnight experience. A feature of the large lounge is a big open fireplace. This was very welcome as it was cold and wet outside, with the temperature dropping to 4 degrees C overnight (in the middle of summer!). The lawn you see in the foreground is where the road used to be.
Danseys Pass – the settlement – is located approximately halfway between the pass and Duntroon on the eastern side. Confusingly, however, the historic Danseys Pass Coaching Inn is located on the western side, at the locality known as Upper Kyeburn.
The next day we traveled on to Naseby, and then Wanaka.