Discovering Central Otago Goldfields: What do mining, jet boating and Wild Earth wine have in common?
Just South of Cromwell Township at the start of the Kawarau Gorge, the Goldfields Mining site has revolved around gold mining activities for over 130 years. Today, in addition to discovering how to extract precious metal from Central Otago’s landscapes, visitors can also enjoy a jet boat ride through the Kawarau Gorge and a tasty meal at Wild Earth Wines.
There is something especially spectacular about speeding over snow melted water through a rocky canyon, dotted with historic miner’s cottages. The Kawarau River is fed by Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu and if you fancy a forty-minute ride through the Kawarau Gorge in a boat with a V8 engine and Hamilton 273 jet unit, the team at Goldfields Jet are happy to oblige.
You’ll be given a raincoat and a lifejacket before you head down to the dock, and if you want to stay dry, don’t choose the seat at the rear of the boat directly behind the driver. Off course, I chose the wet seat! The tour heads down river towards Bannockburn first so everyone gets a chance to acclimatise to high-speed turns before heading into the high walled gorge.
Back on dry land, I had an ear to ear gorilla grin thanks to my jet boat induced adrenalin rush. Finding a quiet spot under a willow tree and enjoying a Wild Earth lunch overlooking the river was just what I needed. If you have the time a tasting of Wild Earth Wines is also highly recommended.
The final part of my visit involved a walking tour led by our ‘gold fevered’ guide Geoff. I can honestly say there are not many people out there that know as much about gold and gold mining as Geoff does. He was able to describe the human history, engineering and science behind gold extraction in Central Otago.
The Clutha gold rush started in August 1862 and according to official records over75,000 ounces of alluvial gold was deposited in Dunedin banks by the end of that year. Gold mining didn’t seem to be the most salubrious occupation at the time. Rates of crime were high and if you didn’t catch typhoid, tuberculosis or scurvy, hypothermia and drowning helped hundreds of people into an early grave.
Perhaps that’s why the miners used to escape to one of the 32 hotels that could be found in Cromwell in the 1870's, or gain the favours from the fairer sex within minutes of their arrival by stage coach. Geoff detailed the plight of early hoteliers who were forever frustrated by the lack of barmaids as most women were married within a week of arriving!
For me, the highlight of the tour was seeing the stamper battery in action and the California sluice gun powering water across the landscape. The stamper battery was still being used in the early 1940’s and the Department of Conservation relocated it from Glenorchy to its current site in the early 1970’s.
To finish our afternoon group also tried gold panning and explored the Gee’s Flat Central Otago gold mining relics on the one-hour loop walk. If you are interested in either stepping back in time, getting a fully-fledged Goldfields jet boat adrenalin rush or sampling some fine wine and food at Wild Earth go to www.goldfieldsmining.co.nz.