King Solomon’s gold came from Ophir. Today historians cannot agree upon where exactly this gold-rich location was. Rider Haggard, in his classic novel, King Solomon’s Mines, placed Ophir in Africa. Perhaps it was in Africa, although some think India, others Burma and still others believe Ophir was in the Philippines.
We are in Ophir, New Zealand. The gold-rush in Central Otago began in the 1860’s but proved short-lived although the precious metal is still extracted on a commercial basis at Macrae’s mine. After the gold rush Ophir came close to being declared a ghost town. These days it is tourism, and specifically the Otago Rail Trail, that is resurrecting the town’s fortune. There are a couple of things you should know before you move to Ophir though. The area experiences both the coldest and the hottest temperatures in New Zealand. In 2011 a record low temperature was recorded in Ophir of – 25 degrees celsius. Water froze in toilets.
For accommodation over our holiday, rather than use clinical motel rooms, we have been staying in vacant baches (holiday homes) thanks to Bookabach. I am so glad we did. When we arrive at Ryan’s cottage there is a vase of flowers on the window-sill and the fire is already lit. The cottage is decorated with cheerful teacups and homely antiques and within minutes we are ensconced in front of the fire with a cup of tea. There is also a healthy selection of books to peruse. Staying in other people’s holiday homes we get to investigate other people’s bookshelves which is an interesting hobby in itself. In Ryan’s cottage we find a stack of books on the history of the area and discover the cottage was once a dressmaker’s and then a sweet shop. There are even photographs of the original owners, the Ryan’s, on the mantelpiece.
Ophir does not have a grocery store although it does have a post office and a restaurant/cafe. Our expectations of the restaurant are not high but we decide to eat out anyway. A surprise awaits us! Pitches restaurant is almost booked out for the evening and it’s only Wednesday. The menu is stunning. Rabbit pie with fresh vegetables, Salmon with caviar – again served with fresh vegetables – and the tea! It’s all proudly local fare including the tea which, if not actually grown locally, is blended in Queenstown by Stir Tea. I try the Coconut Cream blend and it is delicious. The service is special too. I want to live here I tell my husband.
The next day, between cold showers of rain that charge at us from the southwest, we bravely unhitch our bikes at Lauder to cycle a section of the Rail Trail we have been told is spectacular. The schist scattered across the hills looks like the ruins of an ancient city.
We turn back after the tunnel when a gust of wind almost blows me off my bike. Tomorrow we head down to the east coast to spend the last few days of our holiday beside the sea with family. I hope the weather improves, even though exciting weather is all part of the Otago experience, really I’m a heliotrope.