In the 1860s, before the Pigroot from Palmerston to Ranfurly through the Maniototo Plains became popular, the Old Dunstan Road was the route to the Central Otago goldfields. The bleak and exposed road over the top of the Lammermoor and Rock and Pillar ranges gradually lost out to the easier and more sheltered Pigroot, with coachlines making the switch in 1864.
The road begins at Clarks Junction on SH87. It winds through typical Central Otago farmland -small rounded hills intersected by countless streams - to eventually climb to over 800m at the southern end of the Rock and Pillar Range.
Farmland gives way to sandy brown tussock and rock along the route. Great Moss Lake lies below, a former swamp that was dammed to feed the Maniototo irrigation scheme. The lake offers fishing and boating, but the treeless surrounds give no shelter for camping.
The road climbs to 1000m before beginning its steep descent to the old town of Paerau in the valley of the upper Taieri River. As you follow the road down off the Rock and Pillar Range and into the Styx Basin, you get a rare opportunity to view the Upper Taieri Scroll Plain, rated by the New Zealand Landform Inventory as having scenic, scientific and educational importance.
The Taieri's meandering journey has created the plain's intriguing scroll pattern of sediment swirls, serpentine channels, oxbows and ponds that can really only be appreciated from two vantage points - from the air and from Old Dunstan Road.
Paerau marks the end of this part of the Old Dunstan Road. The town was called Styx in the 1860s. A hotel and stables, built in 1861, and a jail remain from the former township.
HOW TO GET THERE
Turn off SH87 at Clarks Junction to follow Old Dunstan Rd.
H43 (Middlemarch), H44 (Lawrence)
E > W. Start at H44 801938
The road is sealed at the start and turns to gravel after 9.2km. It then varies between gravel, clay and bare rock. It is rutted in places, slippery when wet, dusty when dry and can be closed in winter by snow and ice. There is no shelter from the weather, which can change quickly, and it is bitterly cold in a southerly.
For further information see 4WD South Island Volume 1 (Ken Sibly & Mark Wilson)