The headwaters are up in the Lammerlaw Range and the waterway winds around the Rock and Pillars before crossing the Taieri Plaines and melding with the Pacific Ocean, some 30 kilometres south of Dunedin. Middlemarch, Outram, Mosgiel, Henley and Taieri Mouth are all small townships dotted along the river, and the water flow generates power at Patearoa and Maniototo. The Taieri also feeds Lake Waihola, and Taieri Lake, both popular holiday destinations.
Looking back into ancient times, moa bones have been found on the rivers muddy banks, and during the early 18th century, there were two Māori pa’s in the area. The Tititea tribe had a fortified pa at Taieri Mouth and the Tukiauau people had their pa on the edge of Lake Waihola. Some gold was found in the river during the gold rushes but nothing compared to Gabriel’s claim. Farmers have worked the Taieri Plains since the 1860’s, making use of the southern regions most fertile farmland. Names like Jeffery and Milne are synonymous with early agrarian efforts in the area.
The John Bull picnic area is about 1½ hours walk along a DOC track that starts at Taieri Mouth. The picnic area was named in honour of the ‘Hermit of Taieri Mouth’, whose real name was John Edward O’Neil. After doing some research I can only assume that the tag line ‘Bull’ came from ‘The Hermit’s’ immense strength. John was known to do almost anything for a wager; he made some extra coin by proving that he could carry a five hundredweight cannon ball from the Otago Heads to the Māori kaike, and a sack of flour from Dunedin to Clutha.
Today, the first twenty kilometres of the Taieri River is navigable by boat, which makes the John Bull Picnic Area popular with both boaties and trampers. When we had our lunch at a railway sleeper table at the water’s edge, speed boats, kayaks and jet skies all floated by as we munched on our sandwiches.
John Bull Gully can also be reached via the Otago Regional Council’s Millennium Track which has a somewhat gentler gradient compared to the Taieri River Track. However, the views from the lookout high on the hill reveal the river mouth and Taieri Island and make the uphill slog worth it.