I gave up counting rabbits around Bendigo once I hit 50 – they were everywhere. I wasn’t surprised when I read that a pair of rabbits can potentially breed to 12 million in three years!
Rabbits were released in the South Island in the 1850’s, by the late 1800’s they had stripped the land in some parts of Central Otago to such an extent that farms were abandoned. Methods to control the population included harvesting for meat and skins, a rabbit canning factory was opened in Cromwell in 1915, receiving 10,000 carcasses a day was common.
There was a change of tack with the Rabbit Nuisance Amendment Act in 1947 – the aim was to destroy the rabbit population. Despite this and various other initiatives, including the illegal release of RHD (rabbit haemorrhagic disease) in the late 1990’s, plenty of rabbits are still hopping around the Bendigo hills. You’ll find some of Shrek’s merino sheep relatives keeping them company, and maybe a resting giant or two.
Gold was in them thar hills long before the rabbits though, miners first found gold in the Bendigo Creek in the early 1860’s. The gold bearing quartz reefs were left for the companies who had the money needed to mine them. The Cromwell Quartz Mining Company was the most successful, the initial shareholders received some of the highest dividends ever paid in New Zealand mining history. At Bendigo and nearby Logantown and Welshtown you can see the remains of buildings, batteries (stone crushing plants) and mine shafts.
The first stop is the small remains of Scott’s Bakery at Bendigo – grapes are the new gold.
From Bendigo it’s a 4km drive up a single lane, unsealed road to Welshtown. You’ll find old mine shafts, the remains of stone buildings, and the Pengelly Hotel, somehow we missed the Matilda Battery. Information panels tell of houses decorated with wallpaper from Paris and London, not at all what we’d imagined.
On the way to Welshtown you’ll pass Logantown, there’s not much left to see now, but there were once three hotels, four general stores and two butchers. Logantown was named after Thomas Logan, one of the founders of the Cromwell Quartz Mining Company.
We didn’t follow any particular walking tracks, we just roamed around the barren but beautiful area. Water, sunscreen and warm clothing are worth taking any time of the year.The Walk Cromwell brochure is a handy reference, you can pick it up at the Cromwell i-SITE in The Mall. (Bendigo is around 20km from Cromwell).
‘Illustrated History of Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes District’ by Gerald Cunningham.