24 January 2018

Ophir - A Delightful Central Otago Town

If I had to choose a town in Central Otago to move to, my top choice would be Ophir (and Naseby would be right up there too!). This quaint little town was once the busiest gold-mining towns in the Manuherikia Valley. Another claim to fame is that it holds the record for the coldest temperature in the country at -21 degrees!

Ophir has an instant appeal and adding to its charm are the lovingly restored historic buildings and hollyhocks randomly growing along the roadside.

In 1886 the Ophir Post Office and Telegraph Office opened - it's still open every week day (for 3 hours), making it the the longest running Post Office in New Zealand. You can buy a postcard from the Post Office and frank your own mail with the unique pick and shovel gold mining postmark. Any letters sent from this post office have the original VR (Victoria Regina) rubber stamp postmark. The locals go there to collect their mail instead of having it delivered to their house - making it an ideal place to meet for a chat.

Originally this bustling gold-mining town was named Blacks after the Black brothers who owned the farm where gold was discovered in 1863. Several years later, in 1875 it was named Ophir after the biblical place where King Solomon gained gold for the temple in Jerusalem. 
The hotel at Ophir still has the name 'Blacks Hotel'. The Art Deco style Blacks Hotel was established when a new bridge crossing the Manuherikia River was built. An Irishman named Micky used to keep the community amused with his exploits and sayings. Apparently when electricity came to the district, Micky installed power and as the story goes it took him three days before he found how to turn it off!

One of the buildings that caught my eye was The Old Drapery Shop, with a novel way of holding the roofing in place!

Below is a photo of the stone barn with a lean to of iron and a two stall stable behind. It belonged to the McKnight brothers who used to build horse - drawn vehicles many years ago. It was also used as a smithy and a hay barn*.

The Ophir Hall was built by John McKnight, a local builder, and named the Ophir Peace Memorial Hall. It has an excellent dancing floor with boards only 5cm wide. Today it's still used for community functions and events*. 

The 1880 suspension bridge with stone piers crosses the Manukerihua River. The bridge is named after a 19th century Irish nationalist, Daniel O'Connell, as a reminder of the Irish miners that came to the area.

The local sheep can obviously tolerate extreme temperatures, with scorching hot summers often reaching mid 30s and winter temperatures that drop well into the minuses! I spotted these Ophir sheep relaxing on the edge of a rocky tor - proof that not much fazes them.

Close to Ophir on Ida Valley Road is an old restored miner's cottage known as MacTavish's Hut.  This two-roomed hut was built on an acre of parched mining land owned by Lockhart MacTavish. At one stage it was occupied by a goldminer named Clem Daniels who died there at an old age. When Clem went to Ophir he'd dress in a blue suit - it was always obvious when Clem discovered gold, as he held a huge celebration at the old pub*.

*Thanks to the 'Promote Dunstan' website for information on Ophir's historic buildings.


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