The Lindis Pass links the Waitaki basin with Central Otago, following a Maori trail well used by Ngai Tahu, who would come up the Waitaki River each summer and follow the route to Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. When Te Puoho surprised the small settlement at Hawea in 1836, some made good their escape to the coast along this path. The first European to discover the pass was John Turnbull Thomson (see A Grand View) in the course of his 1857 survey of the Otago hinterland.
McLean of Morven Hills
Hearing of a vast tract of unclaimed land, in 1858 young John McLean set off from Canterbury to be guided over the Lindis Pass by the chief Te Huruhuru. As he stood on the summit of Mt Grandview (near Hawea), McLean saw a boundless plain covered with snowgrass to waist level and stretching out towards Wanaka. He immediately took out a licence for over 200,000 hectares, a standard condition being that he adequately stock the run within a year – a near impossible task in the circumstances. He bought what sheep he could afford and prudently laid in a goodly supply of whisky.
McLean’s day of reckoning came when the stock inspector called to check that the run had been sufficiently stocked. The young runholder was waiting, with his scotch if not with his flock. The pair spent many genial hours broaching the whisky between inspections of the run, while the sheep were furiously driven from block to block so that the inspector, benumbed and befuddled by boundless Highland hospitality, reported that the stocking condition had been fulfilled.
In time Morven Hills was indeed well stocked and boasted both a massive stone woolshed and a stone-and-mud homestead. Both are still used on the homestead block of the since subdivided property. The run, named by McLean after the range that faces the Isle of Mull, was carrying at least 160,000 sheep, though estimates run as high as 250,000.
A group of buildings near the roadside dates back over a century. John McLean’s homestead (c. 1868), still lived in, is partially obscured by the old stables. Two huts (both c. 1868), one originally a school, the other a smithy then a store, are to the right, and in the distance is the long cookhouse (c. 1870), with chimneys at either end. The massive stone woolshed (c. 1880), which holds 1,500 sheep and once had 34 stands, is out of sight on the plateau to the left of the buildings, behind the new homestead. 15 km W of the summit. A boundary rider’s hut on Morven Hills is now incorporated in the homestead on Northburn station, 8.5 km from Cromwell.
Otago’s first goldfield
Traces of gold in the Lindis River were noticed by Thomson when he visited the pass. Under a provincial ordinance runholders could receive a subsidy for building dray roads along routes that were likely to be those of future main roads. This encouraged pastoralists in the Lindis region to combine to improve the track up the Central Otago side of the Lindis Pass. It was while he was working on the road that a labourer, Samuel McIntyre, struck gold in April 1861. Within a week the roadmen had washed four pounds weight of gold and by the end of the month there were about 400 diggers on the field. The paddle-steamer Geelong was packed on every trip she made up the coast from Dunedin to Oamaru.
But few diggers won sufficient gold even to cover expenses and it soon became apparent that there were no fortunes to be made. Forty diggers testified that McIntyre was entitled to the reward offered by the Provincial Government for the discovery of the first payable goldfield. But before the roadman’s claim could be considered, his find was totally eclipsed, for two months later came Read’s dramatic find at Gabriels Gully. The diggers deserted the Lindis, some for the Tuapeka diggings, others, doubtless chastened by the experience, for home. By December the area was deserted and the Lindis had returned to its pastoral loneliness.
The first red deer to be liberated in Otago were freed in the Lindis region in 1871. Presented to the Otago Acclimatisation Society by the Earl of Dalhousie, they were shipped from Scotland to Port Chalmers on the City of Dunedin and the Warrior Queen. By paddle-steamer the seven deer were brought up the coast to Oamaru, to end their journey to freedom by bullock-wagon. From the Lindis the deer gradually spread south through Otago and Westland to form the basis of today’s renowned herd. A monument near the summit marks the centenary of the liberation.