Merville & The Crown Range

Merville & The Crown Range

For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard stories about Mum’s bike ride across the Crown Range in Central Otago. Encouraged to tell the story many times and with a different emphasis with almost every telling, I think the three of us were always in awe of our mother for doing such an amazing thing. It was always great to hear her laughing at the memory.

“In 1944 we didn’t go back to Motueka for the tobacco planting but both Iris and I got jobs at a tea rooms in George Street Dunedin. We had a flat at Forbury Corner, South Dunedin. There were steps up the hill and we had to carry our bikes up and down then bike to work from there. We lived in a house with an elderly lady. We had the use of a sun porch and one bedroom, we had one each, and used the lady’s bathroom etc.

“The night the war was over everyone went mad and danced in the street, bells rang and there was music. There were still a lot of men in uniform and one would grab you and swing you round and then be gone. The crowd just kept moving all the time.

The tea rooms closed for a fortnight over Christmas and New Year and everyone had their annual holiday then. We both went to our homes for Christmas and decided we’d bike back to Dunedin through Central Otago.

“With just a rug and a bit of canvas to lie on and a small tent away we went. We caught the train to Kingston and boat up to Queenstown for the first night (New Year’s Eve) and then headed for Wanaka over the Crown Range.”

The zigzagging Crown Range Road

The zigzagging Crown Range Road

I have to say a little about this road for those who are unfamiliar with the area. While it was the “main” route between Queenstown and Wanaka for many years and provides amazing views from its summit, this road’s zig zagging steep incline meant a lot of earlier cars needed to pause prior to the summit to allow the engines to cool. I remember in the 1960’s our little Riley Elf struggled and needed to rest along the route. But back in 1944 this 11 kilometres of steep gravel road was not for the faint hearted. It was definitely not a road to bicycle over. Hence my belief my mother was very adventurous, not to mention fit as a buck rabbit.

“Off over the Crown Range we went. We walked most of the way to the top and when we got there it was snowing. (Mid summer in New Zealand) We tried to shelter down a bank at the side of the road and crawled under some gooseberry bushes we discovered growing there. The fruit was ripe so we enjoyed some of them. The snow went off so we  carried on down the hill side and it was freezing cold and no bridges over the creeks so we just biked through them. By the time we reached Cardrona we decided if we could get a bed for the night we would stay there. They had a double bed and a huge feather mattress in a spare room so we stayed there. The bed was lovely and warm.

Over The Crown Range Was The Cardrona Hotel

Over The Crown Range Was The Cardrona Hotel

“Next day we went on to Wanaka and then Cromwell. By that time we reckoned we’d had enough of the bikes so caught a train to Omakau. Ivy (eldest sister) and George lived at Ida Valley at that time so decided to ring them and see if we could have a day or two with them. George met us at Omakau station and we just left our bikes in the station. We came back a couple of days later and they were still there. We got on the train and returned to Dunedin and back to work.


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