Before I went to visit Glenorchy I'd never heard of scheelite, but this little town at the top of Lake Wakatipu used to NZ's biggest exporter of scheelite. What is it, and why so important?
Places like Glenorchy are like little time capsules. It's at the end of a road from Queenstown, which was only completed in 1962, before that the only way in and out was by lake steamer! Originally settled by the Rees family, who ran sheep and cattle, Glenorchy locals were early promoters of tourism, taking people up to Paradise and to the Route burn. Then gold and scheelite were discovered, which brought many more people to dig for riches in the hills. The Invincible Mine, further up the Rees Valley I visited last year, this time I was off to see the scheelite diggings.
Scheelite is a tungsten ore, used for hardening steel, and particularly valuable in armaments production. It's no surprise that after production waned in the 1920s there was a huge resurgence in the 1940s. By the 1950s most mining had ceased altogether.
There's a loop track that visits the mines and a bunch of old huts up the Buckler Burn. It follows old mining roads, but the gradient isn't all that gentle. There's almost 1000m ascent from the carpark to Heather Jock Hut, where the setting is just too beautiful to not spend the night there.
There are a bunch of old huts to visit, mostly restored to give an idea of life up in the hills. They are similarly rustic, but not meant for overnight stays. Heather Jock has the best views anyway.
Glenorchy Battery and Wyuna Mine Manager's Hut:
Bonnie Jean Hut:
The walk back down was just as spectacular as the walk up. It's totally doable as a day trip, but staying a night in a cute hut with drop dead gorgeous views, for free, is priceless!!
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