2013 population: 405
Lumsden is a farm service centre for the western Waimea Plains, 84 km north of Invercargill. It was originally known as ‘The Elbow’ because the Ōreti River turns 90° from east to south at this point.
The town is at the junction of State Highway 6, which runs north to Queenstown and south to Invercargill via Josephville hill, and State Highway 94, which runs north-west to Te Anau, Manapōuri and Milford Sound, and south-east to Gore.
The Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu tribes fought on the nearby Five Rivers plain about 300 years ago. European settlers took up land in the district from 1861, and the first building, the Elbow Hotel, was built in 1862 on the east side of the Ōreti River. The name was changed in 1876 as a compliment to the Honourable George Lumsden, a Scottish trader who became a politician.
Railway lines reached Lumsden from Invercargill in 1878 and Gore in 1880, and the town became a rail junction. Rail services stopped in 1971, but the station building remains a major feature.
Fescue to the rescue
In the 1890s Mossburn farmer George Chewings developed a successful grass seed for the district’s infertile soil. ‘Chewings fescue’ was planted in many New Zealand farms, and sold around the world until the 1950s.
2013 population: 210
Mossburn is 19 km north-west of Lumsden on the road to Te Anau and Milford Sound. A conspicuous stag monument proclaims it ‘the venison capital of the world’. New Zealand’s first deer farm was established nearby in 1972 and a game-processing works has been in operation since 1962. A 29-turbine wind farm has been set up by Meridian Energy at nearby White Hill. West Dome (1,271 m) and Mt Hamilton (1,487 m) are prominent local landmarks.
Where the rivers run
Three of the four main Southland rivers have their headwaters in the Eyre Mountains, between Lake Wakatipu and the Lumsden–Te Anau highway. The Ōreti River approaches within a kilometre of the Māraroa (tributary of the Waiau) and Mataura rivers. Long ago the Ōreti ‘captured’ the headwaters of the fourth river, the Aparima, which rises in the Tākitimu Mountains, south of the highway.
Lumsden to Kingston
Due north of Lumsden, State Highway 6 bisects the Five Rivers district before passing through Athol and Garston and their surrounding sheep stations.
Here the plains give way to rugged country – the Eyre Mountains on the west and the Hector and Garvie Mountains on the east. The area is popular with cross-country skiers, trampers and climbers.
The road continues past Fairlight to Kingston at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu. From 1971 the Kingston Flyer vintage steam train ran as a tourist service. In the early 21st century it operated between Kingston and Fairlight, 14 km to the south.
Settlements between Lumsden and Gore are:
- Balfour (2013 population: 126)
- Riversdale (2013 population: 372)
Vintage aircraft can be seen at Mandeville, where an 1885 homestead has survived.
The Waimea Plains railway company opened the line between Gore and Lumsden in 1880. In 1886 a number of political figures got the government to buy the line, to shore up their land speculation in the district.
Waikaia is 15 km north of Riversdale, in more rugged country. The first visitors were Māori hunting moa on the tussocklands of the Garvie Mountains and Old Man Range.
Gold discoveries further up the valley in 1862 brought a rambunctious town, known then as Switzers, with hotels, dancing halls and gambling dens. The last productive claim was King Solomon’s Mine, which closed in 1937. A rail line operated from 1909 to 1959.
Sheep and cattle farming are important today, with large runs in the hinterland including the 300,000-hectare Glenaray Station. Deer are also farmed.