Matakanui, once a bustling mining town, offers a special glimpse into how life must have been during the rush for Central Otago gold.
Matakanui lies nestled under the foothills of the Dunstan Mountains, less than an hour’s drive from Alexandra towards Ranfurly. Drive 20 minutes northeast of Alexandra along SH85 to the township of Omakau. Turn onto Harvey Street in Omakau, and continue about 10km along Racecourse Road, turning left onto Glassford Road then onto Naylor Rd.
The name Matakanui refers to one of three high points along the Dunstan Range. It was originally known as Tinkers and there are different theories for this. It may have come from the miners’ camp resembling a tinkers’ camp with all its pots and pans (tinsmiths were then called tinkers); or it may be based on a reply given by a miner when asked how/what he was doing – “tinkering around”.
Continuing straight on the Loop Road you will see the original school with its rare rooftop bell tower. Only a few of the original mud brick buildings remain. The old Duggan's mud-brick store began life as a goldfields dancehall and operated right into the 1980s. The former Newtown Hotel was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire using the old stone walls of the original. These buildings are now privately owned and respect for people’s privacy is important.
An old sluicing monitor gun stands just behind the street sign as a memorial to the miners who worked in the area and a water sluicer lies by the start of Sugarpot Road. Follow Loop Road, along which old diggings scar the broom-covered hills.
Take in the relics from days long past and imagine those hardy souls who once brought Matakanui to life.