Ophir to Alexandra

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Schist rock and tussock

I love this road, but it is not a road to be found on any map. Ophir is two kilometres from Omakau and not far from the rail-trail. The back road from Ophir to Alexandra is one best pointed out by locals who will direct you out of the township via farm gates and barely discernable tractor-tracks. Once you get going the way becomes clear enough. The road rises and you will probably push a bit at first, but the scenery and the clarity of the air will almost certainly take your full attention.

Alongside views of the far hills and their frosting of snow, there is the immediate proximity of isolate schist rock breaking jaggedly through the tussock. There is no traffic of course and the way is strewn with giant mushrooms and the smell of wild thyme. The sheer quantity of the mushrooms astounds you as much as their size. Every time you think you could not see a bigger one there it is, huge and white growing out of the hillside. The thyme was purportedly sown by gold miners and together the two items provided a subtle alternative to the miner's usual rough tucker.

The track gradually enters a small valley and there is a derelict shepherd's hut and, further on, the remains of what appears to have been a homestead or small settlement beside a stream. The history of this spot is difficult to unearth, but it certainly had a very beautiful setting. Little remains today bar a few toppled stones and parts of a cast iron stove. A little exploration reveals various broken implements and the carious bones of cattle, likely slaughtered for food or perhaps drowned in the winter floods. Further out up the valleys are disused gold mines and shafts.

The track eventually descends past rusting sluicing pipes and onto a sealed back road into Alexandra past the old Galloway rail stop. Not an easy route and definitely not a short cut into Alexandra from Ophir, but a worthwhile trip if only to evoke and glimpse something close to a gentler, slower era that died out only just beyond living memory.

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