It’s been over three decades since local enthusiast Roberta Laraman got hooked on the Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust Cavalcade.
Olivers Restaurant then-owner, the legendary Fluer Sullivan, was worried that Clyde township was going to be by-passed in the wake of the Think Big project.
Always a person of action, she called a meeting, and Roberta went along.
The rest is history.
Roberta’s early years were spent in Heriot, and then in Roxburgh, where her family had the first motels in Central Otago.
She went on to do nurse aiding in Roxburgh, and then the Otematata Maternity Hospital.
She met her husband Ken at age 15, became engaged at 16, and married at 17.
Nine years later, she became a mother. The couple have two children, Amber and Rhys.
Roberta had taken on quite a few challenges before the Goldfields days.
She has worked for the Ministry of Works for the Clyde Dam and Twizel projects, gained a pilot’s licence, managed the waste water services at Lake Pukaki and worked at Ripponburn Home and Hospital.
In 1987 as a celebration of the Goldfields, a Cobb and Co coach travelled from Dunedin to Central Otago.
In 1991, the first cavalcade rode in what was meant to be a one-off re-enactment of the Dunstan Trail. They carried a letter from he mayor of Dunedin to the Major of Cromwell. The riders numbered 222, with 250 horses, including buggies and wagons, and Roberta was among them. By no means a horsewoman, she persuaded Jacky and Murray McMillan to loan her an ex-rodeo horse, and she was away.
The cavalcades continued, and Rebecca remembers that demand ‘grew like topsy’.
At that stage Jean Gibson was the club’s volunteer secretary, and in 1993 Roberta volunteered as the Cavalcade Co-ordinator.
Roberta believes that the popularity of the trails comes from the fact that they are over different country each time, and therefore offer fresh adventures, and that people get to know great country, made accessible by the generosity of the landowners.
Options have now been extended to walkers and cyclists, as well as riders and wagons.
The Goldfields Trust now has a permanent home in the deconsecrated Methodist Church in Erris Street. Rebecca believes that Anne Jones was the last bride to be married in the church, back in 1962.
She retired from the co-ordination role about 10 years ago.
“I tried to a couple of times before, without success,” she says with a wry smile.
Since then, Roberta has not stood still. She has travelled to adventures in countries like Iran and Beijing, and in 2008 she began her saffron production venture in Twizel, where she and Ken still own the Ministry of Works house they lived in before moving to Cromwell.
She is still a volunteer and historian for the Trust, and is a worthy recipient of the MNZM for services to tourism and heritage preservation.
The Cavalcade is a far bigger operation today. It is so popular there are now nine different trails, each with their own distinct character. Most people still ride horses, but you can also choose to do it on a horse-drawn wagon, take a walking or hiking trail, or cycle or even run a trail.
“The combination of shingle rock, tussocks, shepherd’s huts, big expansive views without a road in sight, deer bounding across. It’s real New Zealand like it was 100 years ago,” says Terry Davis, Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust Co-ordinator.
Behind the scenes is a team of volunteers who do the vast preparation and ensure everything runs well during the trails. Terry Davis says that the volunteers who run the event do a power of work and take on considerable stress and worry to make the trails happen. Each one has a dedicated crew: a trail boss, wranglers on horse trails, and leaders on the walking and cycle trails. There are landowners to persuade, health and safety rules to take care of, accommodation and food for people and animals, all provided for in the price.
There are gophers and first aiders who plan the trails, logistics, and look after everyone for the week,” says Terry. “But the greatest thing they do is to create a feeling of family.”
The result is something very special. The 2022 trail will be centred on Millers Flat.