Gold Mining in Central Otago
Central Otago is so strongly linked to the initial discovery of gold in New Zealand. This golden past today attracts visitor interest, from interpretive walks to historic reserves, museums and even preservation of authentic Central Otago gold rush taverns and stores.
The Central Otago Gold rush is a story about the desperate need of prospectors living and dredging for their fortune – their conquests, their tragedies.
Early Maori had no use for gold, instead focussing on sourcing pounamu from the Clutha-Mata-au River. Pastoral farmers and stockmen in Central Otago NZ chose to focus on grazing the natural grasslands of wide valleys and basins of the Central Otago landscape. Early settlers ignored the possibility of mining gold in an effort to preserve their way of life and avoid the potential disruption, violence and social ills that reportedly accompanied the Californian and Victorian gold rushes.
That ideal was short lived once Gabriel Read discovered substantial gold deposits at Lawrence. The invasion ensued! Storekeepers, coroners, doctors, publicans and miners peaked the Central Otago population to over 20,000 in the mid 1860s.
The bed of the Clutha bore rewards in gold but also created history internationally, providing opportunities for mighty technological developments in dredging. In the 1890s, with the invention of an elevator to move the tailings away from the dredge and the paddock dredge operating in its own self made pond, mining could move from its focus on the river and head further and further inland.
Much remains today to evoke the spirit of the Central Otago gold mining days. The Landscape of Central Otago New Zealand is littered with reminders of the miner’s quest here - water races, stamper batteries, dredge tailings, original hotels and coaching inns still stand. Ancient deposits of alluvial gravel terraces by the Clutha River in the lower Clutha and Manuherikia basin even now are home to a rare species of grasshopper, Sigaus childi.
Explore the paths of gold, pan for your own and experience our world of difference as it was 150 years ago. Click here to read more about the Chinese gold miners who inhabited Central Otago.
Gold - "Shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night" (Gabriel Read)