Early Surveyors in the Upper Clutha Valley

Pictured is a copy of a watercolour painted by John Thomson of Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River from Grandview Mountain, December 1857. Source John Hall-Jones collection.

Wanaka Sun column by Pam Dovey - Upper Clutha Historical Records Society  

In December 1857 John Turnbull Thomson, Chief Surveyor of Otago (1856-1873) and later Surveyor-General of New Zealand (1876-1879), set out with his staff on a reconnaissance survey starting from the lower Waitaki Valley and following descriptions of the great southern lakes and rivers given to him by the Maori Chief Reko.

Arriving at the Ahuriri branch of the river, he followed this until he came to a low valley with a pass to the west. He named the pass Lindis, after the Lindisfarne Priory of his home land in Northumberland.  

From there he travelled on up the valley and scrambled to the top of a nearby peak to stumble upon the panorama of the Upper Clutha basin.

He sketched the vista in his field book and named the mountain on which he stood Grandview, situated at the end of the Hawea Range.

He then looked in a north-westerly direction to a glorious pinnacle of ice and snow which he named Aspiring.  The Maoris called this peak “Tititea” (the upright, glistening mountain.)  

To the left, flanking the western side of the Upper Clutha Valley, was the rounded bulk of the Pisa Range, so described because the rock on the ridge reminded him of the leaning tower.

It seems that he also named Black Peak and the McKerrow Range, named after his chief field worker James McKerrow.

More detailed surveys were carried out in 1858-59 by Edward Jollie and William Young, who surveyed the boundary between Canterbury and Otago to the west of Wanaka.

They explored a portion of the west side of Lake Wanaka following the Matukituki River, hoping to find a pass to the West Coast.  

They climbed a mountain supposed to overlook Wakatipu, probably Mt. Motatapu.  

On reaching the summit, Jollie saw the peak that Thomson had named Aspiring.  Then he noticed Young’s sweating face.

“I think we’ll call this mountain Perspiring”, he said, and for many years so it appeared on maps.

Then in 1862, James McKerrow with his assistants John Goldie and James Bryce were to define the run boundaries in the area.

They returned to Dunedin and set out again, spending the next two months doing a detailed survey of the Upper Clutha district.

They took fixes from the windswept tops of Criffel Peak and Mt Pisa and scrambled up the Matukituki to be enthralled by the scenery.  

Goldie describes climbing on all fours up the mountain sides. They surveyed the outline of the two lakes, correcting Thomson’s earlier suppositions and Jollie and Young’s inaccuracies, and plotted the course of the Clutha River.

The explorers and surveyors walked long distances, endured harsh conditions and carried heavy loads.  

McKerrow’s party started out with one horse to be shared for riding and two pack horses laden with provisions and equipment.

The ground served as a bed, caves and tents for shelter, and they would be lucky to find enough wood for a decent campfire to make their damper.

If John Thompson was to return and climb Grandview Mountain today, the panorama he would see from the top would not be too much changed.

Sources:  Aspiring Settlers John H Angus; Wanaka Story Irvine Roxburgh.

Pictured is a copy of a watercolour painted by John Thomson of Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River from Grandview Mountain, December 1857.  Source John Hall-Jones collection.

RELATED:  Previous Wanaka Sun columns by Upper Clutha Historical Records Society...

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Irish street names in Wanaka Posted:  Tuesday 13 Jun, 2017

A look back at Pembroke (Wanaka Township) Posted:   Thursday 13 Jul, 2017

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