The history of gold mining in and around Queenstown and the Central Otago goldfish adds a fascinating, intriguing and sobering dimension to the rugged beauty of this region. The hunger for gold tamed this pristine wilderness of jagged peaks, crystal blue lakes, deep, green forests and windblown alpine plains. The men who came here in their thousands truly struggled and suffered for the promise of a little wealth. Their legacy remains in silent ravines of clay and gravel washed out by sluicing jets, piles of tailings overgrown with foxgloves and lupins; ancient rusting tramways that wind nowhere and old stone dwellings tumbling and decaying alongside rushing rivers.
The Goldfields Mining Centre, set beside the Kawarau River just before it heads out into the Cromwell basin, brings home the harshness of life in the 1860’s. It’s a rugged moonscape of sand, gravel and stone. Rudimentary machinery demonstrates the simple technology and back breaking work required to win bounty from the earth.
The huts are restorations of a Chinese miner’s village that stood here. Chinese were invited here by the Otago Regional Council after the first rush of men had moved on to new finds on the West Coast. Building materials were scarce back then and shelters were made from found materials – local rock; iron roofing made out of flattened tins. Even timber was in short supply in this treeless landscape.
As I wandered this historic reserve recently, it’s history came to life. The sheer guts and tenacity of the men who labored here is written in to the landscape they carved out of this valley. Their ghosts seemed to peer still from the doorways of these hovels.
You too, can experience frontier history on our half or full day themed tours.