Kia ora: Lawrence

There's a mine of reasons to fall in love with Lawrence, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Lawrence was at the centre of Otago's 1860s gold rush.
Lawrence was at the centre of Otago's 1860s gold rush.

Where it is: In the Tuapeka District, on SH8, 92km from Dunedin, 190km from Queenstown and not far from the Tuapeka River.

Origin of name: Originally called The Junction, it was later named after Sir Henry Lawrence who died in 1857 at Lucknow in India during the Indian Wars of Independence.

Population: 417 in the township and 1584 in the combined Tuapeka/Lawrence District. During the gold rush the population was a staggering 11,500.

Town slogan: Gateway to the goldfields.

Historical nugget: Gabriel Read made New Zealand's first substantial gold strike near here in May 1861 saying, "At a place where a kind of road crossed on a shallow bar I shovelled away about two and a half feet of gravel, arrived at a beautiful soft slate and saw the gold shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night".

Another gem: Patrick O'Leary made the first bike to be manufactured in New Zealand in Lawrence in 1893.

But before he could make the bike, he had to make the tools he needed.

Famous locals: In 1876, John Joseph Woods, the local school teacher, composed New Zealand's national anthem.

Infamous locals: The Lawrence Lions - Sultan and Sonia - escaped from a visiting circus in 1978. They are now on display in the Otago Museum.

Best website: lawrence.co.nz

Main employer: Farming and forestry keep the town afloat.

Source of pride: The fascinating history and the heritage buildings.

John Joseph Woods, a Lawrence school teacher, composed New Zealand's national anthem in 1876.
John Joseph Woods, a Lawrence school teacher, composed New Zealand's national anthem in 1876.

Town fiestas: Daffodil Dayze, Lawrence Rodeo, Lawrence Spring Duathlon, Lawrence Lions Brassica Competition and Spud in a Bag and Lawrence Summer Arts Festival.

Another reason to stop: Free Wi-Fi on the main street and visitors can make free international phone calls at the information centre.

Best place to take kids: Take them to the Interpretive Track at Gabriel's Gully. It's a loop walk dotted with information panels that captivate young and old.

Best place to get a drink: Coach & Horses Inn. It's a real rural pub with a stuffed head of a bull over the bar (affectionately known as Boris) plus plenty of rural paraphernalia.

Best food: Gabriel's Cafe & Bar in the beautiful old BNZ heritage building. Great steaks and seafood.

Best flat white: The Coffee Mine - their seafood chowder is amazing too. Or The Prospector in the old shearers' building - they do lovely food and have a little garden and a permanent dog bowl so people can sit outside with their pets. In winter all these places are kept snug with log burners.

Best bakery: The Wild Walnut in a little old miners' cottage. Their baking is legendary and for $18 you can enjoy high tea. They also sell their own range of chutneys and jams.

Best museum: Goldfields Museum (attached to the information centre) is a mine of information with exhibits and relics from the gold rush. Learn about panning, sluicing and dredging to extract gold and find out more about the Chinese community whose significant contributions are recognised in an entire room.

Best walk: Do the Gabriel's Gully Walk or pick up a copy of the Lawrence District Heritage Trail pamphlet from the museum and trot about admiring the past.

Best view: Go to the top of Blue Spur off Gabriel's Gully. From this old settlement you can see all the way to the Blue Mountains and, on a good day, halfway to Alexandra and right down the Lawrence Valley to the Clutha River. Or head up Breakneck Road, one of the area's highest points, and look all the way to the wind farms of Mt Stewart.

Best swim: The Tuapeka Aquatic Centre, when it's completed.

Best mountain biking: The newly opened Clutha Gold Cycling and Walking Trail (Lawrence to Roxburgh Hydro Dam), part of the Nga Haerenga Cycle Trail. One day it will go all the way from Lawrence to Milton in one big circle.

Walk, run or cycle along one of Lawrence's trails.
Walk, run or cycle along one of Lawrence's trails.

Best adventure: Otago Dam Track, a magnificent three-hour walk from Lawrence up Gabriel's Gully through silver beech forest and across streams. Well worth the effort.

Best place to pull over: The Corner Shop sells ice creams, takeaways and all sorts of useful things and there's a nice little playground right next door.

Best park: Belleview Park is on private property at the back of the Vintage Club. There's a pond, bird life, goats and chickens and it's all beautifully landscaped.

Here for a short time: Look at all the information plaques on the buildings in the main street.

Best kept secret: Weatherstons (site of Hart's Black Horse Brewery and Daffodil Fields) was a gold mining site and the brewery was prolific during prohibition. They used to import daffodils and now there are 25 acres of daffodils running wild. The Vintage Club, like a man cave on steroids, is open from 1pm on Sundays. Admire amazing collections of farming and mining equipment.

Wildlife: Lots of birds - the dawn chorus is outstanding.

Safety warning: Swimming in the Clutha River is not encouraged because it's a hydro river. Although, that said, there are pond-like spots along the Millennium Track but do be careful.

Locals say: Good as gold.

Visitors say: This place really is a gold mine.

Thanks to Dale Taipeti from the Lawrence Information Centre. Merry Christmas, Lawrence.

- NZ Herald

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