Gold Prospecting is easy to do on the south Island, mostly in part because a large number of gold mines are scattered throughout the island. New Zealand’s gold rush, in the mid to late 1800’s was after the big rush in California. So called Fossicking, ie, gold panning is allowed in many areas – with special “fossicking” sites available for you to use free of charge. There are still quite a few active mines and if you visit some of the mining towns you can see them. One town, Reefton is sitting on huge monetary gold deposits, which have never been mined. There are several “touristy” type mining attractions scattered throughout the South Island. These are usually located on the site of an old gold mine, and they have been converted to show the tourists what mining was like. They usually contain a gift shop that contains gold and gold jewelry for sale, a fossicking site where you can learn how to gold pan and keep the small flakes that you find. Some also contain old mining equipment and may throw in a tour of the old gold mine. Several of these places are the following:
The Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure & Heritage Park is located along Highway 6 in the Upper Buller Gorge not far from the small town of Murchison. This park contains New Zealand’s longest swing bridge which is actually an enjoyable experience when its not raining! You can shoot across the river in a harness connected to a steel cable, or simply walk across the very narrow bridge. Additional activities include gold panning – you can learn how to pan in the gold “trough” and then you can take your newfound skills down to the actual gorge and try panning for real. Jet boat rides are also offered. Be sure to check out the main office – they have gold for sale which has been found locally. For more information visit their website: www.bullergorge.co.nz
The Gold Fields Jet is located just outside of the town of Cromwell in the Queenstown region. This is site is located on the huge Kawarau River – see old gold mining artifacts here, and a good collection of gold nuggets. The Jet boats are the main attraction here and you can zoom up and down the river visiting relicts left over from the rich mining days. Visit: www.goldfieldsjet.co.nz for more information
Reefton as the name somewhat implies derives from the gold in quartz “reefs” that were abundant in the early mining days. It is located on the junction of highway 69 and 7 just south west of Westport. This is a very small town of about 1000 people. Ten to twelve motels are available – a park is in town with public restrooms – near the park is camping facilities. This town is not only known for the richness of the nearby goldfields, but more so as being the *first* place in Australasia to generate and use its own electricity – starting in 1888. That is before major cities in Australia and New Zealand had their own electricity.
Your first stop in Reefton should be the very informative Reefton Visitor’s Center. Its located right on the main street – at 67-69 Broadway. They have and excellent free travel literature collection – brochures, guides, maps etc for not only the Reefton area but for many tourist destinations on the South Island. There is a small replica of a mine here which you can enter for 50cents. If you have never been in a mine before, its a bare sample of what a hard rock mine looks like. They also have displays about local vegetation and they sell a variety of nice souvenirs. Internet access is available here, but as of press time its on an older computer and is very slow dialup. PHONE 03 7328 391
An easy to get to gold panning location is Slab Hut, located about 6-7 km’s outside of Reefton just off the 69 highway heading towards Greymouth. There is a campground here and the river runs right next to it. The best gold panning is found by hiking up the creek a few hundred meters and attacking the river washed rock strata located on the side of the actual creek. The gold is a bit scattered here so it may take several panfuls before you find a small flake.
While in Reefton also be sure to visit the old “Miner’s Hut” called, Bearded Mining Co. Ltd. This is located not far from the Reefton Visitor’s Center, just across the street.
Here you have a chance to visit with “grizzled prospectors” and find out how life was like during the heyday of gold mining in New Zealand. Some of the old grizzled mining veterans will be hanging out – outside their cabin if the weather is decent. They are easily identified by their long beards and miner-esque look. There are several panning troughs outside the cabin, and they will show you how to pan for gold for free (quite a deal as most other panning troughs you come across in New Zealand will charge at least $5. For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Reefton a must visit is: www.reefton.co.nz
The Gold Room, located in Hokitika (a bit south of Greymouth) on the west coast is well worth the visit. They have a large collection of gold nuggets, mostly well washed placer specimens. Some jade is also available for sale at this store. They are located at 37 Tancred Street or on the net at www.thegoldroom.co.nz
Visit Arrowtown for more information on gold there.
Nelson Creek is located on Highway 6 on the way to Westport (West South Island) between the small towns of Inangahua and Murchison. There is a campground here and several small streams. The gold area is along prices creek – which unfortunately there is no trail to be found to this area – see photo of map:
Visit www.findgoldnz.com/fossick.html for a list of free Gold Fossicking sites on the South Island: