Nothing compares to the vivid colours of autumn in Otago, especially when combined with sweet smell of firewood burning in the hearth. When the slow slope of temperature and daylight begins, it’s time to travel inland away from the beaches and into the domestic comforts of the Tuapeka.
The little town of Lawrence is just an hour from Dunedin, and it’s got everything you could want in an autumn getaway. Personally, I love a good walk along one of its magical woodland trails followed by a cuppa at the Prospector Café, but there’s a lot more to this historical gold mining town than that. Here are five of my favourite ways to spend time in Lawrence, New Zealand.
1. Ride the Clutha Gold Cycle Trail
I love a good walk, but I admit that there’s just one problem with walking. You can only go so fast. Get on a bicycle and you have the flexibility of a nice leisurely ride or a frantic race to see as much of the South Island as you possibly can. It’s up to you, but be warned there’s a lot to see. The Clutha Gold Cycle Trail, sometimes following the old railroad and other times forging new paths through pastoral farmlands, extends through the region from town to town. Lawrence is but one of the many stops along the way, but the folks of Lawrence are eager to make your stop-over sublime. No bike? No worries. JR Farm Supplies has a range of e-bikes for hire.
2. Explore the rich history
The Otago region has a long and storied past, and you owe it to yourself to hear its historic tales. The Tuapeka Goldfields Museum, a volunteer-run organisation for over forty years, is situated in a historic grainstore. Within its brick walls are the remnants of Lawrence's past.
Discover the stories of the first European immigrants that came to call Tuapeka home, look at tools left behind by thousands of hopeful gold miners, and get a glimpse of the clothing and daily activities of New Zealanders past. The Tuapeka Goldfields Museum carefully curates pieces of the past, and rotates exhibits periodically, so it's worth a visit or a re-visit if you've already been.
3. Cosy up with wool
Lawrence isn’t all history and gold dust. The locals are pretty crafty, and one of my favourite artisans to visit is Lindy Chinnery, a professional weaver for over 20 years. She claims to do much of her work by instinct. But I’m convinced that’s just a cover story to divert attention away from whatever meticulous calculations she does to end up with her amazing assortment of scarves, shawls, and blankets.
Stop in her shop on Ross Place to see her latest creations. You’re likely to walk away with a scarf or a blanket, and maybe a few for some friends back home.
4. Visit the ancestors
On a quiet hill, surrounded by lazily grazing sheep, is the Lawrence Cemetery. Divided into sections based on religious denomination, the cemetery tells the stories of the town’s ancestry. Because of the there was a certified gold rush in the 1860s, there’s a real chance that there may be family connections for you to uncover.
It’s surprisingly diverse in the cemetery, too, owing to the Chinese miners who were invited to mine the Otago goldfields. The Chinese miners set up residence just outside of town, and many of those early Chinese settlers were buried in the town cemetery.
Every April for the festival of Qingming, it’s traditional for Chinese families to sweep their ancestor’s tombs, leaving offerings of coins and fruit, and burning joss sticks and joss paper ("spirit money"). Leave coins, leave fruit. This festival has been observed for over 2,500 years, and while Lawrence doesn’t officially celebrate it, many Chinese visitors to the town have found ancestors and honoured them in private ceremonies of their own.
Whether you have ancestors in the cemetery or not, it’s a beautiful location to sit and think about those who have come before you. The journey of Aotearoa is ongoing, but looking back at those who’ve built the foundations we build upon today.
There are further cemeteries in nearby Beaumont, Waitahuna, and Tuapeka Mouth so you can stop off at those, too.
5. Relax at Greys Dam in Gabriel's Gully
They call it Greys Dam, but it looks just like a pleasant little lake. With space and approval for self-contained camper-van parking, Greys Dam is a soft and calming place to sit for an afternoon, or overnight. Here, you can enjoy the stillness of the land’s transition from summer into autumn. Bring the whānau, pack a kayak and get out on the water, finish that book you’ve been trying to read, or just take a well-deserved nap. Greys Dam is far enough outside of Lawrence to feel like you’ve gone bush, but close enough that modern conveniences are easily available.
The little town of Lawrence can easily be your annual autumn get-away. There’s lots to do here, and just as many ways to avoid doing anything at all. Bring a little curiosity and Lawrence will supply the discoveries.