Today we had a neat little adventure – a group walk across private land (permissions obtained) with the Otago Photography Enthusiasts group. We were to take in several interesting sites along the way, including an old tunnel, an isolated cemetery, and a ruined farm house. With so many of my favourite things involved, there was no way I wasn’t going to tag along.
After meeting up in town, we took our assorted vehicles up the northern motorway and through Waitati. Turning off onto the narrow twisting Coast Rd at Evansdale we followed it across numerous train crossings and past Seacliff.
Although we were not yet at our designated meeting point, I noticed that everyone had pulled up at a lookout. They won’t lose me that easily! I joined the team, who justified the sudden change of plans by pointing out the magnificent view northwards of the bright morning sun shining on the coast.
Once we’d all admired and photographed the vista to our contentment, we continued and gathered at our pre-arranged meeting spot just beyond yet another rail crossing. We followed the railway track (at a safe distance mind you!) back towards the south. Almost immediately we came to a high gate giving access to an overgrown road heading towards the steep sandstone bluff ahead.
The northern entrance to the tunnel is mostly hidden by a thick wall of bushes, but the top of the arch is visible from some distance away. The arch is noticeably coming apart, illustrating the subsidence problems that led to it being abandoned in 1935 for the more stable nearby cutting.
Squeezing through the foliage, we found the 161 metre tunnel blocked by rubble only a few metres in. A good idea, as it no doubt becomes more and more dangerously unstable as the years go by. Built in 1877 it was in use for just under 60 years before being closed.
We now had to get to the other side of the bluff to continue our adventure. The path of least resistance was of course the modern railway cutting, but nobody wanted to meet a train in that narrow chasm. One of our party chose to climb directly over the hill near the tunnel, while the rest of us crossed the tracks and climbed up the sandstone cliff near the start of the cutting.
Walking along the top of the ridge, we were able to make it safely to the other side. Here we were able to access the other end of the abandoned tunnel, pushing through a bushy thicket into the cutting until we came up against the sealed entrance. Peering into the darkness, we could just make out the lumpy shapes of more earth and gravel packed inside to discourage foolhardy adventurers.
Heading onwards, we caught a good view of a sandstone sea stack just off the coast before coming across a gnarly apple tree still carrying some fruit. I sampled a tart little apple under the watchful eyes of a fantail perched above.
As we munched, we drew level with Brinns Point and its mysterious cemetery. But first our attention was drawn to some nearby macrocarpas, a likely indication of the site of an old homestead. Poking around we discovered some scattered bricks and half-buried concrete slabs, confirming our suspicions.
The 1922 map of Dunedin and its surrounds calls this Parker’s Farm, so this is likely the home of James Henry Parker and his wife Harriet Lloyd. The people of Brinns point were some of the first settlers in Otago, whalers who mingled with local Maori and greeted Dunedin’s Scottish settlers upon their arrival. The “half-caste” community became somewhat marginalised as Dunedin became the local economic power, and James Parker was one of several who returned to whaling in the 1870s to make ends meet, forming part of the crew of Maori Girl, the old whaleboat that can be found today in the Otago Museum.
As we wandered down the ridge to the lonely point, the smell of the ocean rose to greet us. The name Brinns Point derives from “Mother Brind’s Point”, known for the wife of a whaler named Brind who would keep watch here for her husband. Mrs Brind was one of only three white women living in Otago prior to the arrival of Johnny Jones’ settlers on the Magnet in 1840. However the Brinds did not remain here and left permanently for Australia soon after.
The four restored headstones in the tiny fenced cemetery look northwards up the shining coast. Many more burials remain unmarked, likely including the Parkers. A cairn here commemorates two couples and their descendants: John Edward Rodden Thompson and Morere Wharu, and James Edwin Lloyd and Hinekoau (parents of the aforementioned Harriet Lloyd).
John Edward Rodden Thompson is a bit of a mystery as the (possibly Irish) whaler used both last names interchangeably. Rotu Kurukuru, one of his daughters, married into the Lloyd family and lived to the impressive age of 105.
Then there’s the headstone of William Wilson and daughter Catherine Rosamund Morere (Molly) Wilson. In 1891 Catherine wrote into the Otago Witness’s Letters from the Little Folks column, telling of her four brothers, one sister and little red calf. Sadly she died at only 14 and a half years of age, and her heartbroken family regularly placed poems in the papers memorialising her.
Next door is the headstone of Annie Peebles, wife of James Peebles, and Catherine Rosamund’s only sister. Together they were the grand-daughters of John Edward Rodden Thompson and Morere.
Finally we have the resting place of William Henry Lloyd, who died suddenly at 54 from what was ruled as “exhaustion from mania”. Buried with him is his son Walter Joseph Lloyd who died at only 18 years of age.
Mother Brind’s watch may have ended, but these few people along with their unmarked brethren have taken up her mantle, keeping watch over the ocean from this lonely and little-known bluff.
Once we had paid our respects, it was time to continue to our last stop. To get there, we had to cross a gorse-filled gully. We successfully negotiated the muddy bottom and followed the fence line upwards until we found a prickle-free place to cross. As we emerged from the valley we caught sight of our final destination.
This place is marked as “Loyd’s Farm” in the 1922 map, so I guess it belonged to the Lloyd family who are memorialised in the cemetery below and who intermarried with their neighbours the Parkers whose place we visited earlier. From this weathered old cottage the residents would have been able to look from the window down on to Brinns Point and the resting place of their loved ones by the ocean.
We poked around the crumbling farm house for a while before making our way back up to the railway track. Then it was a long plod back along the flat trail beside the track until we reached our vehicles. Our excursion on this brilliant winter morning had proved productive for everyone – I’d got plenty of neat material to share with you readers, while some gorgeous photos were obtained by more skilled photographers than I.