Chatto Creek is a hamlet 17km (10.5 miles) from the Central Otago town of Alexandra. Opened in 1886 in the village, the tavern was originally a Cobb & Co stop for the coaches from Dunedin to the Otago goldfields. At the time, it serviced a population of close to 800. Over the years, it has not only supplied goldminers with food and drinks, but also construction workers on the Central Otago railway. More recently it has been popular with rabbit hunters and today, being on the Otago Central Rail Trail, it is a magnet for cyclists from all over the world doing the trail.

Apart from the pub, Chatto Creek’s other attraction is New Zealand’s smallest post office which is still operating. Established in 1892 in a tent insulated with newspapers, the Chatto Creek post office was originally located beside Chatto Creek station but at a later date it was shifted to its current position beside the tavern. Visitors can post a card or letter and it will be delivered within the country’s postal system. The walls are lined with old newspapers and magazine pages. You can even read a page from the Otago Witness dated 23rd July 1919. It has to be said, it’s not a very attractive structure, being a rusting corrugated iron shed with a tiny lean-to housing a row of post boxes to add to its very rustic appearance.

Otago Central Rail Trail

The charming story of Miss Kinney is a noted part of the structure’s history. The dedicated postmistress worked there for over 40 years and knew the business of everyone in the district. She used a butter box for a chair and would bike 2.5 miles (4km) from her home every day. In bad weather, she would accept rides but only from Catholics. She refused to ride in a vehicle if it was driven by a Methodist, Anglican or a person of any other religion. The post office was closed in 1975, but local efforts saw it re-open in 2004.


Just a short drive away is another historic post office. The appearance of this stone building in Ophir is in sharp contrast to the tin shed at Chatto Creek.

In 1862 gold was discovered on the sheep station owned by Charles William Black and the area quickly became known as “Blacks Diggings”. Six years later the population had grown to approximately 600 as miners arrived and spread into the surrounding hills. To service these men a post office was opened on 1st of October 1863 in the Blacks Diggings general store.

At this time, miners were finding gold in a growing number of sites along the Clutha and other rivers. Post offices were opened on each goldfield within a few months and a regular mail service was introduced from Dunedin via Palmerston through Mount Ida to Naseby and Dunstan Creek, thence south down the valley through Blacks Diggings to Manuherikia. At first a packhorse was used until mail coaches later took over.

The opening of the Central Otago Railway diverted traffic and business centres away from the declining goldfields. This railway reached the new settlement of Ranfurly in December 1898 and two years later it had been extended to the Ida Valley. From there the line twisted through the Poolburn Gorge into the Manuherikia Valley reaching Omakau on the 1st of September 1904 then onto Chatto Creek reaching Alexandra on the 18th of December 1906. Mail which had previously been carried by coach now travelled by rail.

In 1863, to service the growing population, a post office was opened under the name of “Blacks Diggings” then changed to “Blacks” the following year. On the 7th of May 1875 the post office officially became known as “Ophir”.


The name Ophir was given by James Macandrew, Otago Province Superintendent, after the Biblical Ophir, from where King Solomon obtained the greatest part of his gold. As gold prospecting declined in the area people turned to farming and later fruit growing and by 1946 the population of Ophir had dropped to 142 and then just 57 in 1976. The only striking feature in the village is the beautiful little post office building which was erected in 1886. It is of schist masonry with plaster quoins and window dressings. After the postmistress retired in 1974, it was acquired by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust for preservation. Today it is a NZ Post agency office and serves local households as well as the many tourists who purchase postal items from this quaint, eye-catching historic Central Otago building.

Heritage NZ

Ceidrik Heward

Speak Your Mind