Okahu was the name Maori gave the main route through the Lindis Pass to the Clutha from the Waitaki River. The Taiaroa map, cited by Herries Beattie showed that Maori were familiar with the area, and camped alongside Omako (the Lindis River). Huruhuru’s 1844 map of the ‘Middle Island lakes’ demonstrates that Maori were familiar with the area. Residents travelled from the lakes district, through Okahu, to the Waitaki to visit whanau. Te Raki and his people used the pass to flee Te Puoho’s war party at Lake Hawea in 1836.
Reko sketched the Central Lakes district for chief surveyor of Otago John Turnbull Thomson. Thomson crossed and named Lindis Pass in December 1857. On his journey through the Lindis, Thomson discovered gold in the Lindis River, but little attention was paid to the find. Pastoralist John McLean came through the Lindis in 1858, and was determined to take up land in the area. He took up a fourteen-year depasturing licence on 5 September 1858. He named the run (235) Morven Hills. Other members of the McLean family took up land in the area – Runs 236, 237, and 238. Morven Hills was a vast run – 400,000 acres (161 874 hectares). The land on which the Lindis Hotel was later built was part of the Ardgour run (Run 237), held by Allan McLean.
Looking for Gold
Runholder John McLean requested Provincial Council assistance to form a road through the Lindis because it was impracticable for wheeled traffic. The Provincial Council employed the road makers in April 1861, where they worked to put a road through McLean’s station. For part of the way, before the Lindis Gorge on the Upper Clutha side of the Pass, the road ran on the west of the Lindis River, passing close to McLean’s pre-emptive right. Amongst the road makers was one Samuel McIntyre, a veteran of the Australian goldfields.
In early 1861, McIntyre, who was employed on a road crew for the Provincial Council, rediscovered gold in the Lindis River. In March, there was a rush to the area. Research indicates that the gold find was probably at the north end of Goodger’s Flat, upstream of Faithfull’s Bridge.’ Otago papers played the find down, reminding readers of empty reports of gold finds in areas like Mataura, and cautioning people to stay in their regular employment. Despite their warnings, would-be miners travelled to the isolated area to try their luck. The Otago Witness warned that if people ‘congregated’ at the diggings ‘they would be likely to suffer considerable hardship from being short of provisions, or would probably have to pay famine prices, which would absorb all the profit they might make from digging.’
The Lyttelton Times reported that the gold was ‘of a good colour, scaly, and occasionally in small nuggets of grey quartz,’ and that several men had made an ounce per day. Their correspondent also reported that the Geelong had made several trips from Dunedin to Oamaru with passengers heading to the Lindis – as many as 60, 70 and 120 people on different occasions – enough to be considered a small rush. Despite the earlier warnings, the Otago Witness reported that ‘much excitement prevails, and there are many of our settlers making preparations to be off.’ The paper reported rumours that someone had obtained four pounds of gold – a member of the government road party, working after hours. By 20 April 1861, some 300 people were reported to be at the diggings. The correspondent revised earlier warnings, admitting that ‘diggings are a fact’ but continued to caution that people should not rush to the area as winter approached. The Provincial Government had offered a reward for the discovery of a payable goldfield. Miners petitioned the Provincial Government certifying that Samuel McIntyre was the ‘first discoverer of the Gold Field’ and that he was entitled to the reward offered by the government, the ‘Field being a Payable Gold Field.’
Edward McGlashan submitted a lengthy report on the Lindis to the Otago Colonist. He noted the need for roads, and for accommodation. He noted that while the run holders had ‘cheerfully done their utmost to alleviate the wants of travellers’, with miners flocking to the area ‘it will become impossible for station holders to supply their wants.’ He suggested that ‘houses of accommodation’ be built by the Government and leased, or that ground was leased for that purpose, binding the parties ‘to erect houses of certain dimensions, with stables &c.’
Indeed, it was the providers of services that made early returns. A correspondent to the Otago Witness reported that ‘Storekeepers and teamsters are said to be reaping a rich harvest.’ McLeod and Gibson were among the earliest storekeepers to advertise – opening their store in mid-May. Dunedin storekeepers cashed in too – J. Curle of Princes Street advertising a large quantity of ‘‘Diggers’ Struck Dishes, Billeys, Knives and Forks, Table Spoons, Douglas’ Pumps, Lead Pipe, Sheet Lead, Zinc, Rosin, Tin Plates, Struck Wash-hand Basins, Pie Dishes, O.G. Spouting, Galvanised Rigging, Camp Ovens, Glass (cut to order), Whiting, Cast Iron, Spouting, Wire’ for those diggers on their way to Lindis Pass.
Calls soon followed for the repair of the existing road. R. Wilkin wrote to the superintendent in June 1861, on behalf of Lindis pastoralists, asking for money to repair the road, as the heavy traffic to the gold diggings was damaging the thoroughfare.
A letter from the diggings rhapsodised ‘[t]he country in every direction seems to be literally teeming with gold. Wherever you go you can get a few specks, and as all the gold found yet is considerably water-worn, I have no doubt large “finds” will be got the nearer the fountain head is approached.’
The correspondent was right. The fountainhead was near, but it was not at the Lindis. In July 1861, the reports of Gabriel Read’s discovery at Tuapeka reached the papers, and the whole golden landscape of Otago changed. The ensuing Tuapeka rush saw thousands arriving to try their luck. The Lindis field was almost abandoned as miners followed the glittering stories.
The storekeepers – McLeod, and Hassel and Heron – tried to encourage miners to stay on by appointing a party of experienced miners to prospect the upper gorge, supplying free rations. Provisions were easily available, with the paper reporting ‘a good many tons of goods are within the canvas walls of what constitutes the township of the “Lindis Fields.” And winter was setting in, the ‘frost is so intense that a pick will scarcely penetrate the surface, and in the middle gorge the sun is never seen the whole day, which makes it anything but agreeable standing with wet feet from morning to night.’ The Lyttelton Times correspondent wrote in July 1861, that 80 of the diggers have left, and that ‘men get disheartened and drop off daily’, and those that remained were ‘barely making [their] ‘tucker.’’ By August 1861 only 30 people remained. A year later, McLeod and Gibson moved their store to a site closer to the Cromwell Gorge.
In September 1862, the Otago Daily Times described the Lindis Diggings ‘as the earliest discovered’ and ‘least-worked’ of the Otago fields. The diggings were confined to ‘one or two small gullies, near the Lindis Pass on the head-waters of the river of that name’, and workings up Camp Creek, tributaries of the Lindis River. Chinese miners moved into the Lindis field, building wing dams on stretches of the river (diversions to direct the water’s flow around the area they wanted to dig).
In 1881, a correspondent wrote that though ‘[g]old mining has been carried on in the various gullies for many years… no fortunes have yet rewarded the patient prospectors. There is plenty poor ground which, with plenty of water, would pay wages, but in the absence of this indispensable element at a proper elevation, the miners would be better engaged in anticipating the new order of things to come and turning their attention to agriculture.’ James Anderson and his party, and a few others ‘including the ubiquitous “heathen Chinee,” are the only representatives of the failing industry on the Lindis goldfield.’ Mr Howard’s ‘comfortable roadside hostelry’ at the mouth of the Lindis Gorge was the only evidence of civilsation. In fact, the Howard family must have made up a sizable proportion of the population – he had eight daughters, six of whom were living at home in 1891.
Throughout the later nineteenth century, a few miners remained on the field, but pastoral stations provided the steady income. In the late 1890s, there was a brief resurgence in mining at the Lindis when a few miners turned their attention to dredging – as the dredging boom swept through Otago.
Messrs Symes and Pool, of Alexandra and a Mr Tamblyn of Roxburgh were the first party to work the area around Black Pinch Gorge with sluicing and tunnelling. They worked with an elevating plant, as well as at another claim (the Golden Butterfly) where they constructed a water race. The miners also recognised the potential worth of the Lindis as a dredging field. Mr Ross, a miner with links to Alexandra dredging concerns, pegged off two dredging claims and worked the area with a spoon dredge. By 1899, syndicates were set up to work dredge claims – including James Simmonds of Alexandra who took up the river above the Black bridge to Morven Hills station, and H. Symes who had a dredging claim starting just below the hotel, as far as the Butterfly elevating claim.
The land around the gold field was incorporated into the Nine Mile lease. In 1910, the run was broken up. Joe Miller won the ballot for the Nine Mile lease (Run 236i).
While the gold miners had left, the pastoralists and travellers on their way between Mt Cook and the Lakes district passed the largely abandoned diggings. The Lindis Pass Hotel remained a place of rest for weary travellers on the winding road. A visitor in 1918 wondered about the mining history of the place and the miners that used to make this a lively spot and described the hotel ‘a quaint old place, with a new bedroom section, and the traveller sleeps soundly, for there is no sound save the songs of the winds and the river.’
Twentieth Century History
In the twentieth century, Lindis remained an isolated place. A motorist in 1924 described the Lindis Pass as ‘sixty miles of awful road – a nightmare all the way’, and it took him nine hours to traverse the Pass in his car. In 1928, the Lindis Pass was made a main highway. The Lindis Gorge Bridge (Blacks Crossing) was built in 1928 by Knewstubb and Company of Port Chalmers, and F.R. Dennis of Geraldine. The Main Highways Board assumed control of the road as a state highway in 1936.
During the Depression years of the 1930s, gold mining revived briefly at the Lindis. Unemployed workers, subsidised by the government, could prospect for gold where a proportion of any gold found was kept by the miner and the rest went to the government. A group of miners set up a tent camp at Camp Creek close to the confluence with the Lindis River. Photographs show the miners and their wives panning for gold and doing household chores. A school operated near the hotel from 1932 until 1946. The school site is marked by a memorial oak to the coronation of George VI and by a rectangle of trees.
The Lindis Hotel closed in 1950, when Douglas Haig surrendered the accommodation licence. For a period, the building provided accommodation for rabbiters employed by the Lindis Rabbit Board. In 1951, the roofing iron was removed and used to repair a farm building.
The last and perhaps most memorable resident of the area around the Lindis Pass Hotel was Watson ‘Wattie’ Thompson. Thompson, returning from service in the Second World War, built himself a concrete hut close to Camp Creek and the Lindis River. He was somewhat of a recluse. In later years, he shifted down to Bendigo Gully, and then to Luggate. In a tragic end to his interesting story, Thompson spent his life savings on his dream of seeing Antarctica and died in the 1979 Erebus crash.
When the property went through tenure review in 2002, the land on which the hotel stands returned to Crown ownership. The Nine Mile Historic Reserve was gazetted in 2008. In 2014, the reserve provides basic camping facilities, and a sense of what this isolated area was like for miners in this rugged landscape.
The Lindis Pass is in a semi-alpine setting, and the route between Central and North Otago, and on to the McKenzie Country. The landscape is spectacular with bleak tussock-covered peaks, and the Lindis River winding through steep gorges. The site of the Lindis Pass Hotel and the associated Nine Mile Historic Reserve marks the old route through the pass. The Lindis Pass Hotel site is located between the old Lindis Road and the Lindis River. The old Lindis Road follows a bend in the river and then would have crossed the river at what is known as Faithful’s Bridge (now a ruin). The road crossed the river further east, as shown on a 1909 survey. There was also a footbridge some two hundred metres north of the hotel. The main road was re-routed to the opposite side of the river in the 1940s, and the old road alignment and the Lindis Pass Hotel were isolated as remnants. From the Nine Mile Historic Reserve, the new road, with its steady traffic of campervans, cars and trucks, is visible. Watching the modern world pass by emphasises the isolation and gives a sense of stepping back to an abandoned world.
In the 1930s, when the subsidised miners re-worked the Lindis area, a school was set up for the children. The school site is marked by a memorial oak, planted in 1936 to mark the coronation of George VI, and by a rectangle of trees, marking the boundaries of the ground. The school building is no longer on site. The memorial oak stands in the foreground of the top picture and the detail of the plaque is shown above.
The Old Lindis Road and Faithful’s Bridge Remains
The Old Lindis Road alignment (now Faithfull Road) is a single lane unmetalled road cutting which winds past the Lindis Pass Hotel ruins around a bluff before dipping down to the Lindis River, close to Wattie Thompson’s hut.
The concrete piers of Faithful’s Bridge remain on the banks of the Lindis River.
Lindis Pass Hotel Ruins
The Lindis Pass Hotel was a single storey building constructed from stacked schist. The description of assets in 1916 described a two-stall stable, including two loose boxes, a storeroom, a urinal with a cement floor and a windmill with pump and pipes.
In 1948, just before the hotel closed, the hotel consisted of seven rooms. The hotel was built of corrugated iron, stone, timber, and had concrete floors. The building included a dairy and storeroom, as well as a bathroom and a post office. There was a washhouse with a concrete floor. An attached stone shed was described as a coalhouse. There was also a garage and store shed of iron and stone construction.
In 2014, the hotel ruins measure 19.1 by 8.7 metres, with wall thickness of about 0.48 metres. There are timber lintels above the doors and windows. New timber lintels have been installed in some door and window openings to stabilise the structure. There are four chimneys standing to full height. The walls that remain are 3.26 metres from ground level.
There is a stacked stone outbuilding 0.9 metres east of the walls. Briden indicates it may have functioned as an outhouse or a gardener’s dwelling. A 1909 accommodation house application describes it as an outhouse. The structure measures 3.67 metres by 3.02 metres externally. The walls are 0.44-.50 metres thick. The maximum remaining wall height is 1.42 metres.
The stables are built of stacked schist with a hip roof and gable ends with a corrugated iron roof. The external dimensions of the stables are 7.35 by 5.75 metres, and are 2.92 metres high to the top of the bargeboards. The stables were reconstructed by Stephen Sorenson in 1998, to provide shelter for visitors.
A Norski toilet was installed at the site in March 2007.
The stone ruins for the former Lindis Pass Hotel, and its associated stables are recorded as an archaeological site under the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) Site Recording Scheme as site G40/18.
Within the historic reserve are gold tailings (NZAA Site Record No. G40/14). Archaeologists Jacomb and Easdale have interpreted the area where gold was first discovered to be immediately upstream of the concrete supports of Faithful’s Bridge, near Watson Thompson’s Hut. Hard rock gold tailings lie in this location, although some appear to be twentieth century (as they are not re-vegetated in the way nineteenth century tailings tend to be). Earlier studies have indicated that the gold workings predate 1872-1873.
Stacked stone walling (2.1 metres wide by 0.75 metres high) supports the tailings. The tailings are located below two drives dug into the terrace. Stacked revetted walling of the water race is also evident. The water race diverts water from Camp Creek. Sections of the revetment are visible within the historic reserve boundaries.
The New Zealand Archaeological Association site record form records that there are sluice tailings below a worked face, dating to the 1860s, which extend as far as the rocky bluffs. A water race begins at the bluffs and runs around the bluffs to Camp Creek.
Watson Thompson’s Hut
Watson (‘Wattie’) Thompson’s hut lies partially within the historic reserve and partially on marginal strip. The hut is built of poured concrete, although rounded boulders have been used with concrete in the back room. The hut measures 7.35 metres by 3.68 metres externally. The walls are around 0.21 metres thick. There are two rooms with a Shacklock stove in the main room. There are two large apple trees sited north and south of the hut.
Just outside the boundary of the historic reserve is NZAA Site Record No. G40/15 – a sluicing complex on the true left bank of Camp Creek. These features have not been surveyed. The site relates to pre-1900 mining and to Depression era mining. Some of the site has been destroyed by bulldozing and roading activities.
The NZAA Site Record Form records that there are tailings, a water race, a depression, and an unidentified stone structure on the north bank of Camp Creek.
Road constructed through McLean’s station on the Lindis
Additional building added to site
Lindis Pass Hotel built
Main road redirected to the other side of the Lindis River
Roofing iron removed from Lindis Pass Hotel
Additional building added to site
Wattie Thompson’s hut built
Lindis Pass Hotel ruins stabilised (Stephen Sorrenson)
Lindis Pass Hotel stabilised
Lindis Pass Hotel walls re-mortared (Keith Hinds)
Schist, concrete, timber, corrugated iron
Public NZAA Number
11th February 2015
Report Written By
Heather Bauchop and Shar Briden
Shar Briden, ‘Nine Mile Historic Reserve: Heritage Assessment Summary’, Department of Conservation, May 2014
Jackie Gillies, ‘Lindis Pass Hotel: Condition Report & Remedial Works Specification’, unpublished report to the Department of Conservation Wanaka office, 2005
Jacoomb and Easdale, 1984
Chris Jacomb and S. Easdale, ‘Lindis gold rush investigation.’ A Report to the Department of Lands and Survey, Dunedin, 1984.
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Otago Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.
Historic Area Place Name
Camp Creek Camp Site and Workings
Faithful's Bridge Remains
Gold Sluicings and Tailings
Lindis Pass Hotel Ruins
Lindis Pass School site
Old Lindis Road
Watson Thompson's Hut