One of the things that fascinates me about the Wakatipu is how the region had been such a pristine wilderness of unspoilt lakes, rivers and mountains since glaciers carved them out ten thousand years ago.
Small parties of Maori passed through, en-route to the mountains in the west, in search of precious pounamu (Jade), with negligible impact on the landscape. Then, within the space of a mere two years the land was overrun by white men from far-away places. The native matagauri burned and cloven hooves churned the soil as first sheep, driven by hardy shepherds, advanced over the plains. Then followed a flood of men from Australia, Europe, America and China, all hungry for a shiny yellow metal, gleaming as dust in beds of fast flowing glacial rivers like the Shotover and Kawarau. They tramped over the mountains and through icy streams in hundreds, then thousands and the clang and ring of steel replaced the sounds of wind and rain. News of gold travelled fast. Soon they were altering the landscape – digging and sluicing, diverting river courses, building houses and towns. Within a year of gold’s discovery, Queenstown grew from a remote station to a bustling town, Arrowtown from a camp by a river to a busy frontier centre.
Today some of the old workings have been preserved as museums. Arrowtown’s main street has been restored to display some of it’s old time charm. But out there, in the hills, the evidence of the past is everywhere. Look further then the signposted lookouts and bus stops and you’ll find decaying huts, “moonscapes” and strangely eroded gorges dotted here and there with piles of stones.
I had a day to myself and decided to explore old diggings with my camera. On the way I took a detour from my planned route up to the Crown Terrace, a massive shelf of alluvial till some 200 hundred meters above the Wakatipu plain. I followed a road which led along the edge of the terrace toward Arrowtown. Along the way I passed a ruined house or two. I came upon Tobin’s Track, an old road from the days when travel by foot was the way of life. The road ended at a farm gate, but there with Arrowtown far below I discovered an otherworldly scene, a canyon with a view across the district to distant mountains. Here were the washed out canyons and piles of rocks – clearly tailings from gold sluicing.
This was a place which stirred the imagination. A mere hundred and fifty years ago the silent rock sentinels that now remain were surrounded by busy men, toiling hard, with dreams of a better life.
Finding these incredible locations is always thrilling. Capturing the beauty, the otherworldliness and a sense of the history are challenge. Before pulling out the camera, I walked around the site. There were three troughs that had been washed out of the hill. Eerie columns of rocky clay, large and small, were dotted around and the valley floors held heaped piles of rocks. There were caves in some of the valley walls. A lone sheep appeared suddenly from one of these holes.
Remarkable Imagery has tours which take to some of these hidden historic treasures. Spend the day with us and explore the history of the Wakatipu’s frontier past.