It appears that trains are a thing in Lumsden. A miniature engine is attached to the side of the public toilets; the playground has a train engine made of car tyres. In the Railway Precinct around the old station, a number of vintage locomotives and wagons are on display. Wandering around them, I discovered that rail lines reached Lumsden from Invercargill in 1878, the famous Kingston Flyer used to come through here, and two of the rusted engines, dating from the 1880s, had recently been hauled from the Ōreti River. They’re not all that has been fished from rivers around the area. Brown trout are in abundance.
Lumsden, on the Ōreti River, is a 20-minute drive from the Mataura River, apparently one of New Zealand’s most famous fishing spots. The Waikaia River is also handy. I talked to Trevor in the Kiwi Fly Fishing Shop (on Lumsden’s main street), which is chock-full of gear for an adventure on the water. He had a handy Mataura River Anglers Access brochure, put out by Fish & Game. It shows the access points in the region, on all three rivers, and gives the regulations. Apparently most fishermen come to sight fish – see, catch, and release.
Kiwi Fly Fishing have a range of courses and trips, for first-timers through to seasoned anglers. All require around a week’s notice, to make sure a guide is available. The first cast course is in two parts: 1½ hours of learning the casting techniques, and afterwards, two hours on the water. Trevor told me that last season the fish were so big they were breaking the 14kg lines … apparently they’d eaten the mice that were crossing the river.
Opposite the shop, I noticed two washing machines and a dryer on the roadside in a bus-type shelter. This is ‘Laundry or Naked’s’ 24-hour Self Service Laundromat. Very handy.
THE BAFE, LUMSDEN
Passing by Lumsden Takeaways, which has Bluff oysters, I stepped into The Bafe. As the hybrid name suggests, this is more a bakery than a cafe, but with comfy sofas at the few tables inside and a jukebox playing. It’s been voted numerous times as one of Deals on Wheels ‘Best Eateries on the Road’. The walls are decorated with awards and blown-up newspaper cuttings that feature the business. Sol3 Mio are pictured with a jumbo donut – three donuts in one. I tried a single one, full of fresh cream, and discovered why this place is renowned for them.
During summer The Bafe is open six days a week, owners Chris and Judy Paama baking 100 donuts a day. Varieties include peach and passionfruit, salted caramel chocolate and rocky road – a favourite with kids. They produce 15 types of pie, such as Pork, Potato, Bacon and Watercress and Steak, Bacon and Cheese. Their biggest seller, Beefalo (a Southland bison-cattle cross), has been a finalist in the Great Southern Pie competition.
ROUTE 6, LUMSDEN
Further up the road I stopped at Route 6, another eatery. I opened the door and walked into a red, white and chrome, 1950s-style, American diner. There’s also a 1955 Dodge Kingsway, with a surfboard along the driver’s side that doubles as the local Post Office counter. The building was once the BNZ bank, and the kitchen is situated in what was the safe.
Owner Rob, a bit of a petrolhead, came up with the concept of Route 6, Lumsden being on State Highway 6 – with a nod to America’s Route 66. Burgers are on the menu here, along with pancakes, waffles, salads, and a selection of cabinet food. This quirky establishment is popular and open till 8pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, sometimes later during the summer.
I popped over to the historic railway station, where Five Finger Crafts sells knitted items and other handcrafts. Vintage items remain in the building, like the luggage hooks hanging from the ceiling, the sales counter which was once the ticket office, and an old gaslight on the wall. The volunteers here run the information centre, in a room to the side, and if they’re not too busy in the shop, you might get the chance to have a look through the small, rather haphazard museum containing railway paraphernalia and town memorabilia.
As rain pelted down, I headed for Kingston, 53km north, dubious as to whether my plan to ride part of the Around the Mountains Cycle Trail would eventuate. The 186km trail circles the Eyre Mountains, beginning or ending in Kingston. Along the route are Lumsden, Mossburn, Mavora, Mt Nicholas Station and Walter Peak Homestead, where riders can take the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown.
KINGSTON AND THE CYCLE TRAIL
By the time I reached Kingston, the sun was shining. Kingston Top 10 Holiday Park hire out bikes and I was soon on the trail which starts 1km down the road, near the busy Kingston Flyer Café. Situated in the old Kingston Railway Station overlooking Lake Wakatipu, the café is open from midmorning until late, but I was on a mission and didn’t stop. Old carriages and two big black locomotives, No. 795 and No. 778, were situated close by. I wondered which had pulled the carriage I rode in, back in 1974, when the Kingston Flyer was running. I learned that it should be back on the tracks in the near future.
Near the wharf that juts into the lake, I discovered two bushwalks. Te Kere Haka walk, a nearly 4km, easy return trail offering glimpses of Lake Wakatipu, and the two-hour Shirttail Track, a steep short trail with views over Kingston, but only recommended for advanced walkers.
The cycle trail followed the old railway line in places, across flat land where yellow gorse flowers added colour. In the middle of nowhere, I came across Trotter’s Homestead, the remains of a stone house built by William Trotter, a pastoralist and early settler. Soon, I was cycling through a landscape of rolling green hills where sheep, cattle and deer grazed in paddocks on either side of a gravel farm road. On the left, brown mountains rose in the distance, creased and crumpled. The old railway station at Fairlight, once the endpoint for tourists on the Kingston Flyer, appeared not to have seen passengers for a long time.
The Mataura River was pale blue when I crossed the bridge over it. Dotted along the trail were anglers’ access signposts. Dark, menacing rock cliffs cropped up, interrupting the grass paddocks.
It took me about 1¼ hours to reach Garston, 18km from Kingston. On the main road, the Coffee Bomb, a silver food truck, had a few customers. Browsing the menu, which included burgers and even whitebait fritters, I ordered a Southland Cheese Roll … Cheese oozed from a rolled slice of white, lightly toasted bread. It had a hint of onion. Delicious!
Next door was Garston Stables, an antiques shed with furniture, art and collectables from around the world, and the adjoining Hunny Shop, which sells and offers tastings of manuka and clover honey. They also sell beauty products such as manuka hand cream and bee venom cream. Hive tours are available, or sometimes if the owner is not too busy she’ll take customers over the road to her home where there are a few hives.
Opposite the 1930s art deco style pub, I read information panels about the surrounding area’s farming and gold history. Garston is one of 15 sites on the Northern Southland Heritage Trail, spanning 110km from Kingston to Josephville hill.
There’s also information about the Kingston Flyer, and a memorial seat, made of railway sleepers, to Russell Glendinning, who drove the Flyer from 1971 to 2002.
Only noticed by chance, under a huge pine tree near the blue and white Presbyterian Church, was a Peter Rabbit Village, with toy and china rabbits, and miniature houses and stone paths made by school children.
AND ON TO ATHOL
The cycle trail passed by all that remains of Nokomai Railway Station, a small section of platform and a ‘Nokomai’ signpost. Slightly further on is Naylor House, a stone cottage built in the 1870s, tucked among original oak trees, and offering bed and breakfast accommodation. Daffodils sprouted in a field where the remains of an old chimney and perhaps an oven stood. An information board between two suspension bridges tells of a near disastrous carriage crossing in 1875, when the Matarua River was deeper than expected.
Thirty kilometres from Kingston, after 2¼ hours of at trail cycling, I arrived in Athol. The art gallery displayed beautiful landscape paintings; the main street, Highway 6, was dotted with colonial cottages. As a one-way ride with a prearranged shuttle back to Kingston, or a day ride, this small town would be a good stop for a meal – at the Hide Cafe and Garden Bar, or the Brown Trout Cafe.
I rode back to Kingston and having stopped at the sights already, the return journey only took me 1¾ hours. As I headed towards the ‘V’ where Lake Wakatipu and Kingston lie between the snow-topped Remarkables and the Eyre Mountains, the setting sun turned brown mountains golden and fields greener. It was a beautiful way to end a very enjoyable day discovering northern Southland.
- Kingston Top 10 Holiday Park, 16 Kent Street, Kingston: kingstontop10.co.nz
- Lumsden Camping Ground, 10 Albion Street, Lumsden.
- Freedom camping is available in the carpark at Lumsden Railway Precinct.
- The Lodge, 24 Avon Street, Athol has camping facilities: thelodgeathol.co.nz
- Lumsden Four Square is the only supermarket in the area.
- Around the Mountains Cycle Trail: aroundthemountains.co.nz