A Little History of the Area

The Railway

Construction of the Seaward Bush Branch started back in 1883. Originally it ran from Invercargill to Waimatua, this section was opened 1886. Two yeas later the line was extended to Mokotua. In 1895 the line was further extended to George Road, with a siding added at Ashers. 1899 saw the line further extended to Waimahaka. 12 years later the final track was laid on this line ending in Tokanui. The total length for the line was 54.4km. A further edition was contemplated to join this branch with the Catlins River Branch, which looked good on paper, but due to the rugged terrain never eventuated. This line remained operational until 1951 when to try to reduce costs the number of trips were reduced, and with the improvements to the roads from Invercargill, the passenger service was cut in the 1960's. The final train service was in 1966. The line was dismantled within the next few years. Some remains can still be seen, but most have been erased by time.

Old Railway
Courtesy of David Grant. 'Southland places - The Southland bush', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 14-Nov-12 URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/20195/opening-of-the-seaward-bush-railway


In 1904, after the discovery of lignite in the area, some of the deposits were found at a depth of only 1 metre, so with the rail right next door this made for a very likely spot for a mine.
With that the first open cast mine in Southland was opened at Ashers. 
Fred Bowden leading a team of 12 men and horses started the labour of removing the top soil to get at the riches below.

In 1907 a small fire started between Tisbury and Waimatua. This soon grew and several homesteads were destroyed, this included 5 local sawmills. Some of the rail lines were badly twisted and many lengths of rail and sleepers needed to be replaced.
This fire spread to the lignite mine and the north face was well alight by the time a team of workers arrived from Invercargill to help put it out. 
The fire in the pit was eventually put out by the team digging a channel from a near by creek and flooding the pit.
For a long time after local school children used it as their swimming hole.

In the 1930's mining shifted to traditional tunnelling methods. The mine shaft only went in about 1 chain, approx 20m. A tram line was added to load the lignite on the north side of the line by going under the railway viaduct to the siding. At this time the railway were carting the lignite freight free as an inducement to buyers.

Later this was then transferred to the south side of the line. At this time the mine went into a wholly open cast pit.

In the 1940's Bill Monk, the next owner, started to use bulldozers to help the mining operations, this vastly increased the minability of the pit.

Later when William Holland took over the pit, they used explosives to break up the face, and used a modified front end loader which screened the dross as it loaded the trucks. The loader had a bucket which could carry half a cubic yard per scoop, this is the equivalent of a quarter of a ton.

Due to the lignite sales declining in the late 1960's early 1970's the mine was closed for mining in 1971, and the pumps keeping the water out of the mine were switched off, and the pit started to fill.

Ashers Lignite MineLignite

The start of the Garden

In 2001 Dave and Maria Sanderson took over the property. A few years later while walking around the top of the pond, Maria stated to Dave "this beauty must be exposed" and in 2004 they started the mammoth task of cleaning up the property from 30 years of neglect.

The family got in a digger and bulldozer and started to remove the rubbish from the flooded lignite pit. Three weeks later, a number of cars and appliances were removed from the flooded pit. Then the transformation of a gorse and pine covered paddock started to become the beautiful site it is today.

In 2007 the Cafe was built overlooking the pond adding another place to view all their hard work.

So with several years of hard work and love later, they have transformed the disused lignite pit into the nature friendly habitat is it today. With several paths that weave their way around and over the pond, you can spend hours enjoying the beauty and nature around the 17 acres of the gardens.

Garden at night
Ore CartGarden View