Nature and conservation
The high Dunstan Mountains contain a rich diversity of short tussock grasslands dominated by Poa colensoi and Festuca novae-zelandiae and some snow tussock, as well as cushion vegetation communities at higher altitudes.
Lower down in the scenic reserve area, the stand of kānuka, is one of the few significant remnants of its type in Central Otago. The kānuka has regenerated and is probably no more than 140 years old as the original stands were used by miners for building materials and firewood. Ground cover vegetation in the Bendigo Scenic Reserve after 140 years of burning, mining and rabbit infestation is sparse. It grows short tussock, scabweed, and a wide range of introduced weeds – predominately briar rose.
The conservation area is now bounded on the lower edge by vineyards that are gaining an international reputation. A lack of water has always hindered development in this region. Now that irrigation systems have been established here the land has become much more productive.
The main entrance to Bendigo is off SH8 at Crippletown, just north of Lake Dunstan and the Rocky Point picnic and boat ramp area. Here Loop Road goes up the hill, passes through the old Bendigo Township, past the schoolhouse ruins at Schoolhouse Flat to the main historic sites of Logantown and Welshtown and the mining remnants scattered throughout. Parking and toilets are at Welshtown, along with interpretation panels explaining these sites. Exploration on foot or bicycle is from this point as this is the heart of this entire historic site.
Motor vehicles of any kind are not permitted past the car park.
Alternative access to Bendigo is via Thomson Gorge Road, up and over the Dunstan Range from the Manuherikia Valley at Matakanui. There are spectacular views from this road, as it passes several historic sites on the way, including the delightfully named Rise and Shine and Come in Time batteries. This is a four wheel drive road and should not be attempted in winter or in adverse conditions. The western end of this road provides access to Bendigo Township via Bendigo Creek or out via Ardgour Road and back on to SH8 at the Lindis River Bridge.
There is also walking access to the scenic reserve off SH 8 just south of the Rocky Point picnic area. This is the Mount Koinga Track and it leads up to the spur that the Kanuka Loop Track follows. It can be used as a link to the eastern end of the scenic reserve.
At the top of Thomson Gorge Road there’s a signposted track leading to Mt Moka and the Bendigo Conservation Area. This is the start of a 4WD track that traverses the Dunstan Mountains south to Leaning Rock. However, landowner permission is required to use the route beyond the conservation area, and conditions may be extreme.
Alternative walking access to the Bendigo Conservation Area can be found via Devils Creek off SH8, 5 km south of Bendigo Loop Road. This walking route follows a ridge on the true left of Devils Creek for six kilometres before reaching the Bendigo Conservation Area boundary.
Access to the Ardgour Conservation Area is signposted off Thomson Gorge Road at the top gate, where the road comes up from the east side of the Dunstan Range. From here walking or mountain bike access only is possible, and a track leads off to Mount Kamaka in the north eastern corner of the DOC managed area.
Know before you go
Warning: There are old and very deep mining shafts throughout this area. Extreme care must be taken and children closely supervised.
Due to the harsh nature of the country and possibly changing conditions, care should be taken in the Bendigo reserves and conservation areas. The climate is typical of Central Otago and can swing to either extreme in the course of a day. In winter the ranges are blanketed in snow, a complete contrast to the low humidity and very hot conditions of summer. Prepare for these extremes with suitable clothing and equipment: sun hat, sun screen, water, warm and water- and wind-proof clothing and suitable footwear.
When walking ensure that you have a map and compass. The relevant NZTopo50 series map for this area is CB13 Tarras; available from the DOC office in Alexandra.