Duntroon was named by an early Scottish runholder, Robert Campbell, and many of the fine buildings of the area can be attributed to him and his widow. Among these are the Church of St Martins in Duntroon, the vicarage and chapel near Kurow and the Campbell mansion in Otekaieke. Present day Duntroon is a farming village with a school, tavern, garage, three churches and an authentic blacksmith’s shop. Close behind are the Earthquakes, an impressive formation of limestone cliffs.
Close to Duntroon are two good sites to view early Maori rock drawings. One is 400 metres up the Dansey’s Pass Road and the other is under the cliffs of Takiroa on SH83. Fat, charcoal and red ochre were used by these nomadic people on the limestone surfaces of shelter areas. The drawings, from rough sketches to beautifully stylised pieces of art, reflect a graphic portrayal of another culture.
Early European settlers and gold diggers travelling in bullock wagons and horse-drawn coaches left legacies of their migration. On the north bank where SH82 meets the Penticotico River is Patterson’s accommodation house built in 1872. On the south bank, near the confluence of the Waitaki and Kurow Rivers, is the restored accommodation house and water wheel built in 1860 by Christian Hille. Hille also established a punt service in 1865 and a coach service from Oamaru in 1867.
The first Europeans in the Lower Waitaki were probably whalers, sealers and missionaries in the 1830’s. In 1851 the Crown issued licenses for pastoral run leases and 13 sheep runs were established.
In 1864 Edward Shortland became the first European to describe the Waitaki Plains. After trekking north to the river and crossing in a mokihi with Huru Huru, the rangitira, he described the soil as ‘stony and barren’, ideally suited to sheep grazing. From this time, settlers began to arrive crossing the river first by ferry and then, in 1876, by road and rail bridge.
In addition to sheep grazing, the soil and climate proved productive for crops, primarily wheat and barley. Drought was an ever present threat, but the advent of widespread irrigation in the 1960’s trebled production; led to a diversity of new crops such as peas, rapeseed, sunflowers and fruit; and introduced dairying to the region.
Further inland, near Papakaio, was the only forested area left in the Lower Waitaki. It was first settled in the 1850’s when the Filluel brothers took up a sheep run, and today the area is all rich farmland.
Near Duntroon where the Maerewhenua River enters the Waitaki, is a road leading to Livingstone. In 1874 gold was found here but it was a poor man’s diggings and the town has all but vanished. There is a holiday camp nearby where you can spend a pleasant day swimming, fishing or panning for gold before heading back to Duntroon. Alternatively, you can return to Oamaru via Ngapara and the spectacular limestone downlands, or take the gravel road to Central Otago over Dansey’s Pass amid wonderful mountain scenery.
The road from Duntroon to Naseby, once used by pack trackers and gold prospectors, crosses over Dansey’s Pass, named after William Dansey, who discovered it. The Dansey’s Pass road is winding, narrow in places, and largely unsealed, and is sometimes closed during the winter due to snow.