Named after William Heywood Dansey, a North Otago run holder who used the route to move stock, Danseys Pass links Central Otago to the Waitaki District. Danseys Pass is an alpine unsealed, narrow road winding through and over the Kakanui mountain range. At its highest point the saddle is 920m above sea level and can be closed by snow in the winter months.
The Pass Hotel (now the Danseys Pass Coach Inn) was built in 1862, with the original stonework constructed by a mason known as “Happy Bill”. Bill’s remuneration was in beer, and he received one pint for every schist boulder shaped and laid. Legend has it that after a particularly busy day the blithe craftsman fell into an open grave at the cemetery, and slept the night away.
Danseys Pass Coach Inn is located deep within the Kyeburn Diggings about 20km from Naseby and has a colourful history traced back to 1860s, when it serviced a multicultural gold prospecting community of 2000. Teamsters with their wagon train plying trade between Waitaki Basin and Central Otago gold fields used the Coach Inn as a stopover when travelling on to the more remote prospecting areas of central Otago.
During 1861 the prospector Leggatt found gold at the Upper Kyeburn, and in July 1863 a rush at Mount Buster took place about eight miles from Rayburn Diggings. There was once a thriving community at Kyeburn Diggings, the Mount Ida Chronicle of 1870 lists business places at Kyeburn Diggings as three hotels, three stores, one butchery and one bakery. The district was also accused of having six unlicensed grog shanties. Coal mining was also important at Kyeburn, and good quality ignite was worked until 1900.
One report in 1880 estimated the number of Chinese working the diggings as six hundred. There was even a Chinese store about two hundred yards above German Creek, which was not pulled down until 1920. The deep cutting on the terrace behind the hotel was worked by the Chinese, as was the adjacent cutting on the road as Chinaman’s cutting.
In September 1869 the first service was held in the new Union Church, the preacher being The Reverend James Burchette. This tiny church served the community for twelve years, and was then moved next to the school and used as a library. A new church of sun-dried brick was constructed and stood until 1923.
Today only the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, first built in 1862 and standing at 2,000ft about sea level remains to remind travellers of a colourful history, and a gold prospecting community of more than two thousand souls. Now only clumps of trees and an occasional decaying wall, mark the places where many large families were raised. The early miners planted trees in what was originally a treeless country, and one fine specimen of Redwood is still to found about four hundred years old up German Creek.
Source: From “A Condensed History of Keyburn Diggings”, by “Trooper”, author of the Hawkspurr Adventure Series.