In dry conditions and splendid sunshine you get this surreal composition of colours in the grasslands of the valley floor. Bright orange, like painted by Van Gogh.
Further on towards Muller Station, even the hills are covered in this monocultural red grass which makes it even look more surreal. It is a bit like the red rock deserts – just that the red is not the colour of rocks but of the grass growing on the barren surface.
When you see this barren landscape you have to remember that before human settlement 95 per cent of New Zealand surface was covered in dense forests.
In the valley floor the grass landscapes are often dotted with Blue Borage and Sweet Briar.
When you see the Acheron River the first time, it is its end, as it flows into the Clarence River near the Acheron Accommodation House.
At this time it carries as much water as the Clarence. It has its spring north of Molesworth Station, and quite a big number of significant tributaries, as the Sexton and the Severn Rivers.
The Acheron is considered an excellent river for brown trout fishing. However, it is a difficult terrain for anglers. When we travelled through the station, we saw some anglers, some sitting high on the rocks above the river, other making their way to less challenging parts of the river banks.
In Greek mythology, the Acheron is one of the five Underworld rivers and is sometimes called a lake. The Acheron is the River of Woe.
Tip for anglers:
If you want to fish for brown trout outside the open road season, you can apply for a permit with Fish & Game.
BTW The pronunciation of Acheron is “Ackeron”, like in ache.
On this water-coloured map you can get quite a good idea of the location of the Acheron Accommodation House.
It also gives a great idea of the spectacular landscape it is sitting in.
Next to this map you find brochures (28 pages) of Molesworth. Have some coins ready to pay the small fee into an honesty box.
This year (2009) about 7000 people travelled through Molesworth Station in the two and half months it was open. About 900 people camped. About three quarters of the visitors were New Zealanders, and a quarter were foreign tourists.
Have a look at the ceiling inside the building. The roof is thatched with tussock grass. The beech rafters are tied together with flax.
We are lucky to see the house nicely restored and not demolished. The reason for considering the latter was that the building deteriorated between 1950 and 1970. But on the initiative of the Canterbury Branch Committee of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the former Lands and Survey Department, the restoration of the building began.
A new corrugated iron roof was added to protect the cob walls. The ceilings in some of the rooms have been lined.
The Historic Places Trust and the Department of Conservation continue to restore and maintain the building. An annual workday sees staff and volunteers clearing the grass around the building, cleaning out the interior, lime-washing the exterior, painting the windows and doors and possum proofing the interior. The possums claw away the protective wire netting, and scrabble at the cob walls, leaving the exposed cob vulnerable to the weather.
If you live in the area and want to get involved in the conservation of the building, call the trust in Christchurch, phone (03) 365 2897.
Birds have discovered the roof as a perfect nesting place.
See more photos of the interior – including the birds’ sheltered homes – in my travelogues.
This altiplano-like white cob cottage was built by cob builder Ned James in 1863. (In some sources I found 1862 as the year of construction.) It was an overnight stop for travellers and stockmen moving through the inland route between Nelson and Hanmer Springs until 1932. Then it cost two shillings and a sixpence (= 25 cents) for a bed, a meal and stabling for the horses.
This cob cottage is near the place where the explorers Edwin Dashwood and Captain W. M. Mitchell found the remains of an old Mâori whare and a heap of firewood in 1850. However, there was no evidence of permanent Maori settlement. Most probably only small food-gathering parties visited the area every some years during the summer months.
When European settlement started and inland stock routes had to be found because the pastures of Marlborough were overstocked with sheep, only a few travellers used the routes. The fact that the number of travellers increased dramatically in the early 1860’s, and those travellers needed accommodation in the area, was linked to the discovery of gold in Central Otago. The Nelson Provincial Council granted seven accommodation house licences between the Tophouse (near St. Arnaud) and “Hasties”, south of the Hurunui River. Acheron was one of them.
The licencee Thomas Carter employed the shipbuilder and stationhand Ned James to build the house which contained eight rooms, including bunk rooms. At some stage a privy was added to the north end of the verandah. Ned James earned one hundred pounds with this nearly year-long work.
One condition for licence holders was that they kept the house open eight months per year, from September to April.
The accommodation house soon became a centre for social activity. It housed the store and unofficial post office, race meetings, pigeon shoots, dog trials and the rifle club. There was always room for one more traveller; if not on the billiard table, then on the floor underneath it. Hard to imagine that this was such a hub of activity if you now travel through this deserted landscape.
When the last licence holder died in 1932, the house became an outstation of St. Helen’s Station and was used by musterers from time to time. When St. Helen’s became part of the Molesworth and crown land, it was used by station staff. It was finally abandoned in 1954 when Molesworth shifted its headquarters to Bush Gully.
Remember: If you plan to stay for the night, you are not allowed to stay inside this building, only at the nearby campsite.
The Acheron Accommodation House is 26 kilometres north of Hanmer Springs.
Shortly before reaching the Acheron Accommodation House, you cross the Clarence River.
Just a short way after that the Acheron River flows into the Clarence River.
Shortly before you cross those bridges on Molesworth, you always have to perform a sharp turn to the left or to the right. So be prepared to slow down when you spot a bridge.
After a drive through a very dry and dusty desert-like landscape, interrupted only by huge power pylons, you approach your first kind of oasis in the desert landscape.
The dot of green at the horizon gets bigger and bigger as you get closer. They are the willows growing in abundance in the area of the Acheron Accommodation House along the Clarence River.
This is the first river you get to see when reaching the valley after having crossed Jacks Pass. This intersection is about 10 km from Hanmer Springs.
While you travel to the right along the river on the Acheron Road (so: out of this photo), the Rainbow Road turns off to the left (on the photo: to the right along the ridge in the background).
The Clarence River has its spring at Lake Tennyson (on the Rainbow Road) in the Lewis Pass area and flows south first and U-turns north here - north of Jacks Pass. It is the eastern boundary of Molesworth Station and about 250 kilometres long. At the Acheron Accommodation House is the confluence of the Acheron and the Clarence Rivers. The Acheron comes from the north, and flows into the Clarence River. The latter then flows between the Inland and the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges to the sea. The river mouth is 40 kilometres north of Kaikoura, at the settlement of – Clarence :-).
An exciting way of spending part of your holiday in NZ could be a 5 day river rafting trip on the Clarence River. It starts at the Acheron Accommodation House (tour start in Hanmer Springs, of course) and ends after 215 kilometres north of Kaikoura. The operators claim this is a family-friendly activity and not dangerous. (Cost of such a trip is about NZ$ 1350.) The grades of the rapids are 2 and 3. The average gradient is three metres per kilometre.
Sorry, I have not tested this activity. I am not that enthusiastic on water that I would spend 5 days in those inflated boats…
For more information check the websites of those operators:
Have a look around at Jacks Pass saddle. The beautiful landscape of Molesworth starts to open up – but be prepared for the first Oh’s and Ah’s at the end of the pass road when you reach the Clarence River.
Even if access to Molesworth Station is not allowed, the drive to the point where Molesworth begins is well worth the effort. You get a very good idea of how beautiful this landscape is.
You might consider walking to Jollies Pass or at least Mt. Isobel from Jacks Pass if you do not plan to travel through Molesworth. It is just a one and half hour’s walk from here to the Mt. Isobel summit, and about 3.5 hours to Jollies Pass.
Driving up the road you have mostly dark pine and beech forest to your left and to your right, and if you miss one of the many curves, you would fall deep down into hell.
Pine forests are harvested in regular periods. Unlucky you if you travel when this happens. The hills look naked like landscapes on the moon. Many of the forests of the Hanmer region hav been planted for forestry purposes and not for beautifying the landscape. You see one such regenerating forest in the background on the right.
Especially in spring you also see how infestated the forests are with broom, as the flowers of the broom dye the landscape yellow. Many visitors consider this beautiful. However, broom is an invasive pest plant that destroys native vegetation.
The worst infested areas are those pine forests, as seedlings can settle everywhere when once the trees are felled. You will hardly find any broom in an evergreen native forest.
When you leave Hanmer Springs behind, the gravel road immediately goes up the hill. You are climbing Jacks Pass. Look back and you see the wide valley floor of the Waiau River and the fields and paddocks of the area.
This Waiau River is one of four Waiau Rivers in New Zealand, two in the North and two in the South Island. This one has its spring in the Spenser Mountains and flows 178 kilometres eastwards to the Pacific Ocean. Its main tributary is the Lewis River which rises at Lewis Pass. The Waiau cuts through three gorges before reaching the ocean 130 km north of Christchurch, just north of a settlement named Gore Bay.
The river was formerly called Waiau-ua.
There is a Maori legend associated with this river and the Clarence River – which will be the first river you get to see when travelling to Molesworth Station. According to the story the Waiau-uha (Waiau) and the Waiau-toa (Clarence) were male and female spirit lovers living in the Spenser Mountains. For some reason they were transformed into rivers, the sources of which were not far apart. When warm rains melted the snows and caused floods, it was said that the parted lovers were lamenting and that the rivers were swollen with their tears.