Travel Story 

Footprint not faded

Gold mining, rabbits and wine shaped New Zealand’s Bannockburn township

I went to Indonesia for a few months about 10 years ago. The landscape was lush and awe-inspiring. Each rice padi seemed more resplendent and Technicolor than the last. My traveling companion, Melissa, and I took reams of shots, confident that we would be able to catalogue our travels with the chronology of the astonishing natural beauty we encountered.

Once home to Canada, we had the shots developed. The anticipation was excruciating. Would the pictures do justice to the glory of Indonesia? We had not labeled the rolls, but we were certain that we would remember everything. We sat down and quickly plucked the shots from the pregnant envelopes. Rice padi. Rice padi. Me in a rice padi. Goat in a rice padi. Melissa and I in a rice padi. Some guy in a rice padi. Rice padi. Rice padi. Bloody rice padi.

Hmph. Granted, they were all nice rice padis, but one shot would have sufficed. Thank goodness for digital… and although I thoroughly appreciated my time in Indonesia, it still brings a twitch to my eye and a shake to my head to think of all those damned rice padis.

New Zealand, however, does not suffer from RPHB (rice padi homogonous beauty). Quite the contrary. Of all my travels, this tiny country offers the widest spectrum of geography, flora and magnificence. From rainforest, to tropical jungles, from deserts to natural springs and waterfalls, New Zealand boasts it all. The only thing that New Zealand lacks is large predatory animals (apart from us), which is okay by me.

This past visit – visit number six, to be exact – I had the fortune to revisit Bannockburn, a small township outside of Cromwell in the province of Otago on the South Island. Bannockburn has been shaped by three major factors: gold mining, rabbits and wine.

It had been 11 years since I was last in Bannockburn and I was excited to reacquaint myself with this stark and tortured desert. Images retained included desolate rolling hills, glaring sun and rabbits. A lot of rabbits. More on that later. I had stayed in what Kiwis refer to as a "crib" or "batch" (cottage in Canadian). It was a very small cottage with a single pull-out bed that gobbled up the room when extended. I had spent a few days there with a Danish couple I had been traveling with. But with the years came many, many changes to Bannockburn, and I had no idea of what was in store for me.

Bannockburn, the "Heart of the Desert," was founded as a gold-mining site in 1867. Mining in the area had started in 1862, when good alluvial gold had been found in the flats. Prior to the availability of large quantities of water for sluicing (flooding or drenching sediment with water to find gold), tunnels were a practical alternative way to mine the gold found in distinct layers of the gravel. Water was valuable and sold by the "head" and towering pinnacles give an indication of how much was sluiced away. They were left to denote land claims. Gullies were also created by sluicing operations that removed a huge amount of material to uncover the gold bearing layers.

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