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Pukerangi was originally called Barewood but was changed in 1912 to the Maori name Pukerangi, which means 'Hill of Heaven.' The area was taken up early by sheep farmers and later experienced a mining boom at the nearby The Reefs.
The Otago Central Railway reached Pukerangi around 1890. The building of this difficult engineering project opened up the area. Combined with local mining activity, Pukerangi had its own school and for a time a shop.
Local and historic information is available in the waiting room of the station building. At Pukerangi you will find toilet facilities and water for your drink bottle but no cell phone coverage until nearer SH87.
Time permitting, you may enjoy an alternative route to Middlemarch with stunning scenery and many places of historic interest on the way. This route adds 6,8 km to the trip and is a great way to explore the area.
First 2 km: Gravel (Pukerangi Rd).
Next 5,8 km: Sealed (Pukerangi Rd).
Next 4,6 km: Gravel (Pukerangi Rd).
You are now at the junction of Pukerangi Rd and SH87. Turn right (north).
Last 8,5 km to Middlemarch along SH87: Sealed. Total distance: 21 km
Soon after leaving Pukerangi you reach the highest point. From here you have a panorama view of the Strath Taieri Valley and the township of Middlemarch, where the Rail Trail begins. To the west the Rock & Pillar Range and to the far north Hyde and the Kakanui Mountains in the distance.
6,4 km from Pukerangi is Matarae, first opened in 1897 as ‘Sutton Tanks’ and used in the days of steam trains with boilers that needed to be filled regularly. However, water supply was found to be unreliable. A wooden building was added as a shelter for passengers in 1901. The siding was closed 1985.
On the left a little further on is a 650 m long alluvial mining pit dating from c. 1900. Water races from Sutton Stream brought water into the pit at various points. Little is known about how much gold was taken. On your right, across the Taieri River, more sluicing remains from the Mt Ross diggings of the same era.
The span of this unusual road and rail bridge over Sutton Stream is 30,5 m and it is 18 m above the stream.
The use of the Army Department. Stories abound of disorderly behaviour on trains conveying troops and of the trouble officers had in controlling their men in the rocky terrain affording ready hiding places. A loop to hold 27 wagons was opened in 1928. The siding became a tablet “switch out” in 1930 and used as a regular crossing place until after 1940. Permanently closed in 1960.
hese rock shelters are described as a ‘small moa hunter site’ and are located close to the fence at ‘Camp Siding.’ At a rock shelter further along the road some yellow-brown chert flakes (stone chips for cutting) were found. This area was used in spring and early summer by Early Maori from Otakou (on Otago Peninsula), who migrated “up the Taieri River for eeling, for catching birds, especially weka, cooking cabbage tree stems and gathering tikumi (Celmisia leaves for fine weaving) and taramea (sweet gum from Aciphylla species)” (Hamel, 2000, p. 7).
Sutton Station served a once thriving township with its own post office and school. Originally named Blair Taieri, it was named after an early runholder, John Sutton, who first took up land in 1854. The area was rich in dairying.
Sutton School opened with 40 pupils in 1898 and operated until 1958, when it was amalgamated with Strath Taieri School in Middlemarch. The school buildings are now used by Otago Youth Adventure Trust, offering opportunities for recreational pursuits, group activities and positive experiences. Note large Wellingtonia tree.
Just passed the old Sutton School turn right into Mt Ross Rd. From here the road is unsealed (gravel) for the next 9 km.
As the road veers right you pass Garthmyl Rd on your left. Carry on and cross the Taieri River on the 125-year old Sutton suspension bridge. At intersection with Murrays Rd turn left (north).
Travel past Longford Rd and stone sheep yards till you reach Mt Stoker Rd. You are now on 5,5 km of sealed road for the remainder journey, first Mt Stoker Rd, then Moonlight Rd. Note Smooth Cone with its lone pine (planted Armistice Day 1919 to celebrate end of WW1) and ruins of old stone cottage below.
Further along on your right is Cottesbrook’s magnificent stone woolshed (one of the oldest farms in the area). You cross the Taieri River again. You will soon arrive at the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail on your right. The township of Middlemarch is on your left. Either turn left down Tawe St or continue a few hundred metres till you reach SH87. Turn left there. Total distance: 29 km.
These back-country gravel and sealed roads are in excellent condition and see very little traffic. However, do watch for unexpected vehicles.
The following describes sites of interst along this alternative route.
Built of schist blocks and wire ropes by Mr Bain for £2,724 and completed in 1885.
Similar bridges were built in Hyde, Ophir and the Kawarau River between 1876 and 1880. You can choose to cross the Ophir bridge on your tour of the Rail Trail.
A stone tablet by the yards states, “These stone sheep yards were erected by John Keast and son Thomas in the early 1920s. Horse and sledge were used to drag the stones to the site.” The yards are still used today.
This unusual and symmetrical hill is a volcanic ash vent. The single pine tree (Pinus sp.) was planted on Armistice Day, 11th November 1918 to celebrate the end of WW1. Also known as Conical Hill, but never ‘One Tree Hill.’
Little is know about this picturesque ruin. The land, originally part of Cottesbrook, was taken up in 1899 by Thomas Popham Jr, a young man who served with the 4th Rough Riders in the South African War. He died in 1902 on his return from the war aged just 22, bequeathing all his “real and personal estate... unto my dear father, Thomas Popham.” Who built the cottage, however, remains a mystery.
Imagine the hustle and bustle as you view Cottesbrook stone woolshed (built 1858) as, in the days at her peak, 24 blade-shearers clipped away at the fleece of nearly 70,000 merino sheep on the former 250,000 acre station.
At 318 km, the Taieri River is New Zealand’s third longest river. Its catchment is almost 20% of Otago. It has a variety of fish life, most notable the introduced brown trout and salmon. Many of the tributaries are important breeding or spawning grounds.
The spring of the river is in the Lammerlaw Range. From here it flows north to the Maniototo Plains, eastward around the north end of Rock and Pillar Range, south along the Strath Taieri valley, through the Taieri Gorge and Taieri Plains to enter the sea on the coast south of Dunedin. In the early days much alluvial gold was found in the river and adjoining country side.
Hamel, J. (2000). East of the Taieri River. Department of Conservation: Dunedin.
Dangerfield, J. A., & Emerson, G. W. (1995). Over the Garden Wall. The Otago Railway & Locomotive Society: Dunedin.
Matarae Siding 1920 by G.J.Griffiths.
Map of Matarae sluicings. From Hamel, 2000.
The Mounted Riffles' Territorial camp at Matarae 1918.
Map of Maori rock shelters. From Hamel, 2000